Peace in Death (June 24, 2018)
Peace in Death
2 Samuel 12:11-25
If you think about it, we put a lot of time into death. We give it a lot of focus and attention. If you think about it, there’s really only a few anniversaries that we remember for years to come. We celebrate birthdays every year. We celebrate wedding anniversaries every year. And we often remember the anniversary of a loved one’s death. All over the country we set up large institutions that are geared toward preventing death. There’s one just up the road called Scott & White. When someone does die there is a funeral service for them in which many of their friends and family gather. We even dedicate large plots of land for memorials of those who have passed away.
But then, you have three people whom we met in the Bible readings today, who just seem to gloss right over death like it isn’t a thing. There was Jesus, who was asked to come quickly to heal a dying girl. But when news reached him that the girl had died before he got there, he simply said, “Don’t be afraid; just believe” (Mk 5:36). Don’t be afraid? Believe what? And then he had the audacity to ask people at the house, “Why all this commotion and wailing?” (Mk 5:39). You have the apostle Paul, who is writing to a man he loved like a son. And although Paul knows he is facing his death as he waits in prison, he barely mentions it. Do not be ashamed of me, a prisoner for the Lord… He saved us and called us to a holy life (2 Tim 1:8-9). I am suffering, yet this is no cause for shame, because I know whom I have believed (2 Tim 1:12). And then, perhaps the most vivid of all these examples, we have David, who won’t eat, won’t get up, won’t do anything while his child is alive, but then almost immediately goes about his life once the child is dead.
You might expect something very different from each of these men. You might expect a little more heart, a little more caring, a little more concern for those who are dealing with the loss of death. That’s what David’s servants expected. After days of trying to persuade David to eat, after trying to have him at least get up off the ground with no avail, when the child actually did die they were terrified to tell him. They thought “While the child was still living, he wouldn’t listen to us when we spoke to him. How can we now tell him the child is dead? He may do something desperate” (2 Sam 12:18). He may take his own life after the child had lost his! But David didn’t take his life. He didn’t explode into a fit of rage or break down sobbing. In fact the Bible just skips over his reaction and gets to his action. “Then David got up from the ground. After he had washed, put on lotions and changed his clothes, he went into the house of the Lord and worshiped. Then he went to his own house… and he ate” (2 Sam 12:20).
Why? Why this seemingly backward reaction? Why this seemingly calloused attitude toward the death of his own son? It’s not a calloused attitude. David’s own words tell us that. It isn’t a shocked reaction before a later breakdown. It’s because David understood that a person’s death should not be the focus of life. It’s because David understood that there is something more important than a person going on living, and that’s how they lived. That’s the main point of this account. This account is not mainly to detail the death of David’s son. The main point of this account is confession of sin, complete forgiveness from God, and learning from the consequences of sin. Go back to the beginning of this account and see how it all started.
It all started with David taking another man’s wife and trying to cover up his sin. He did it well. He had Uriah killed seemingly by accident in battle. He took Bathsheba to be his own, and they had a son together. It seems that he got away with it. It seems that he hid it well; even, he thought, from the Lord. But it wasn’t a pleasant way for him to live. He who had poured out his heart to God in prayer on a daily basis, now allowed his prayer life to become virtually nonexistent. He cut off the support line that sustained him through being chased and hunted down by his predecessor. He cut himself off from the one he could share the burden of leading a country with. And it seems that David, who loved to fill the temple courts with the Psalms that he himself composed, was not able to pen another Psalm of praise during this time. In fact, he wrote about this dark period in his life after the fact in Psalm 32: “When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy on me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer” (Ps 32:3-4). It took all he had to keep this sin hidden. It separated him from the peace of God who lifts us up as on wings of an eagle. And rather than being lifted up, he was pressed down, burdened, and sapped of all but his physical life.
David’s life was not pleasant as he lived in unrepentant sin. The peace he sought by covering up his sin only led to distress and utter despair. Yet even more distressing than living in unrepentant sin would have been dying in unrepentant sin. If that were the case, David would have been sapped of his strength for all eternity. He would have been weeping and gnashing his teeth. He wouldn’t just be groaning all day long, but for all eternity.
Has there been a time in your life when you sought peace by hiding sin? When you thought that covering up was the only way you could find relief? Maybe you’ve had a period in your life when you lived under the burden of unrepentant sin. Maybe you are living in it right now. How does it feel? Are you finding the peace you were looking for, or is your conscience sounding all the alarms telling you to turn to God before something worse happens? Because keeping this sin concealed until the day you die is not your biggest concern in life. Rather, keeping your soul for eternity is the biggest concern in life. As Jesus himself says, “What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?” (Mt 16:26). You will not find peace in life by living in sin. You will not find peace by concealing your sin. Taking your sins to the grave is not the most important thing in life. It is cause for even greater despair even after the grave. Rather, lay your sins on Jesus. He knows them completely already. He already took them to his grave so that you wouldn’t have to! Don’t hold on to sins, but leave them to Jesus so that you can find peace even in death.
When confronted by his good friend Nathan, David repented of his sin. And God forgave him completely! But, it’s a false notion no think that with the grace and forgiveness in Christ everything in life is immediately put back the way it should be. Sometimes there are still consequences to our sinful actions. Although David was completely forgiven, Nathan told him he would still have to bear the consequences of those sinful acts. Sometimes we can view these consequences as continued punishment even after the forgiveness, but that isn’t the case. Rather, these consequences are often meant to remind us of our sin, and that isn’t such a bad thing. It’s all part of keeping us living in repentance of that sin. I doubt David was ever able to hear a baby cry without thinking of the child he lost. Perhaps it was impossible to go out on his rooftop without being reminded of his sin. Such reminders are not designed by God to keep us in despair, but to keep us from falling into despair again – to keep us living in peace.
Despite the consequences, David was confident that when he confessed his sin, there was forgiveness. It’s even in the same verse, with barely a word between the two statements. “David said to Nathan, ‘I have sinned against the Lord.’ Nathan replied, ‘The Lord has taken away your sin. You are not going to die’” (2 Sm 12:13). There was no further rebuke after his confession. There was no interim period to determine whether or not David was really repentant. There was just forgiveness – full and free forgiveness. God waits on repentance, he longs for it. He want to forgive and heal and restore the hearts of all who turn to him in repentance. In fact, he wants you to have forgiveness so much that he already entered into human history, and in a very physical way paid the price for all your sins already! So that you would know, without a doubt, that whenever you come to the Lord in repentance – seeking forgiveness, seeking peace – you already know the answer. “The Lord has taken away your sin. You are not going to die” (2 Sm 12:13). Through this cycle of repentance and forgiveness, the Lord teaches us that the one thing needed in life will never be taken away. That one thing needed, full and utterly gracious forgiveness, will be the one constant, the one source of strength to endure, the one compensation greater than every and all losses. Forgiveness of your sins is your peace in life, and the peace that sustains you in death.
David took hold of this forgiveness and penned Psalm 51. It actually says right in the heading that David himself penned for Psalm 51, “A psalm of David. When the prophet Nathan came to him after David had committed adultery with Bathsheba” (Ps 51). David continued, “Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow. Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones you have crushed rejoice… Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me” (Ps 51:7-8, 10).
You have this forgiveness as well, for every one of your sins. Just as David confessed his sin to the prophet Nathan and Nathan, as a called servant of God, announced God’s forgiveness, so also God’s forgiveness is announced to you each and every Sunday we gather! And if there is still ever a sin that just keeps bothering you no matter how often you hear that Sunday announcement of forgiveness, come see pastor during the week and you can talk about God’s forgiveness for that specific sin. Because God wants to forgive. He is more willing to forgive than we are to repent. He wants you to know the peace you have in life so that you can have peace in death.
Forgiveness in Jesus is the reason why death is not a thing anymore. It’s why Jesus could say, “Don’t be afraid; just believe” (Mk 5:36) even though a young girl had just died. It’s why he’s so calm throughout that whole situation. It’s why Paul can be positive and focus on the gospel of forgiveness even while he is in chains for that gospel and facing his own death. It’s because he has the one thing needed! He has that peace of forgiveness. And he wants everyone to have it!
Despite the consequences, David had peace. He had peace knowing that his sin was forgiven by God. He had peace knowing that his son was safe at home in heaven. He even had peace in the consequences of his sin knowing that they were God’s reminders to live in repentance so that he would die in peace. In fact, God blessed David with another son whom he named Solomon. Guess what Solomon means! It’s related to the Hebrew word “Shalom” which means “peace.”