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Sunday, August 26, 2007

Good Friends II: Nathan (2 Samuel 12:1-14)

Sermon by: Robert Austell

August 26, 2007

Good friends are hard to find. I mean real friends, the kind that aren’t in it for what they can get from you, or even ultimately what they can give you, but are seeking God’s best for both of you. That’s holy friendship and it’s exceedingly rare and precious.

I remember a particularly dark period in college. I was frustrated, numb, and really feeling cut off from God and everyone else. I was in the habit of meeting once a week with a friend named Roger. He was a friend like Barnabas, the kind we talked about last week. He encouraged me spiritually and helped point and cheer me towards Jesus. But then there was that time we met at Wendy’s up in Cornelius. I told him how I had been feeling for over a month. I had been putting on a show and a happy face for a while. That day Roger had a different kind of conversation with me. He told me about his ongoing need to be set right before God and he talked about the need to continually examine myself and confess my sins to God. Without getting in my face, he helped me see that I had taken my eyes off of Jesus and was running my own way. As that truth broke through to me, tears came, my heart softened, and God reached in.

Last week I said there were two kinds of people in the world: those who are turned or turning towards Jesus Christ and those who are turned or turning away from Jesus Christ. We looked at Barnabas as an example of how to be a good friend, a godly friend, towards those who are turned or turning towards Jesus. This week we are looking at Nathan, who was a godly friend to David when he turned away from God and sinned.

“Let Me Tell You a Story”

So, Nathan’s friend and boss and king has sinned royally! If you think talking to a friend about sin is sticky, you don’t know the half of it. The king had all the power and David could easily have had Nathan executed for being a bother. Nathan had to be very careful in how he confronted David with his sin. And this is the genius of the story. Ultimately it is only marginally or not helpful to try to be someone else’s conscience. Right? I could preach at you all day long about the evils of adultery and murder and it could wash right over you. But Nathan managed to prick David’s conscience.

“So let me tell you a story.” That’s what Nathan said. That’s also what Jesus often did. Let me tell you a story so you can see good and evil and right and wrong at an arm’s length. Let me tell you a story so that if there is any conscience in you that hasn’t been drugged or subdued or knocked senseless by repetitive sin, you might engage with that story.

Let me tell you a story.

There once were two men. One was a rich man who had much – many flocks and herds. The other was a poor man who only had one little lamb. And as you might imagine, he treasured it and loved it and tenderly cared for it. It meant so much to him it was like his own child. When a traveler came to visit the rich man, he stole the poor man’s lamb and served it to the traveler.

Now, any of us can sense the injustice in that story. The big guy is picking on the little guy and took his one precious treasure from him. On top of that, David was the King and responsible for justice in his Kingdom. He reacted from the gut – “that’s wrong and that guy is going to pay!”

I want you to notice two things in particular at the end of v. 5 and the beginning of v. 6.

David declares (swearing to God!):

…the man who has done this deserves to die… He must make restitution fourfold…

David recognizes two key things: he recognizes and names sin and its consequence, death; and he describes the ancient understanding of atonement or restitution, righting a wrong.

I want to take a step back from Nathan and David’s interaction for a moment. We’ve talked before about how to share the Gospel – how to witness to Jesus Christ. And one of the ways we’ve talked about is not just listing out a set of beliefs, but telling God’s story. Nathan was, in a simple and powerful way, telling God’s story. There is sin in the world and it leads to death. And mercifully, God has provided a way to make atonement for sin. It is necessary for salvation for a person to understand these two truths. And David understood these things. He should have; he already knew God. And when he heard this story of a very human injustice, he was able to articulate what he knew in his head. Beyond that, he even had an emotional reaction, growing very angry at the sin and injustice of the rich man.

But this is not enough. It is not enough to know the Biblical story in our mind or even with our feelings. The ancient Hebrews would have said it is a matter of the heart. To them ‘heart’ was the seat of the will. I must interact with God at the heart-level… not just feelings, but where my will yields to God’s will. And that’s where Nathan pressed in and showed himself a godly friend.

“Hey, I’m Talking to You”

Nathan risked a lot. He could have lost David’s friendship or much worse (like his life). But that’s where I get my definition of holy friendship. It’s not about me or you, but about what God desires for you and for me. Your relationship and rightness with God is more important even than you liking me. Our call to worship was from Ephesians 4, which says that we are to mature as believers, speaking the truth in love so that we “grow up” in Christ. So Nathan spoke the truth in love. Realizing that David could still see the difference between right and wrong he pressed in: “Hey, I’m talking to you!”

Verse 7 is riveting. Nathan then said to David:

You are the man!

In that instant David couldn’t dodge the truth anymore. It had been spoken in love. Until then, he had been able to rationalize and look away from and bury the truth. You can imagine the thoughts:

I’m the king; I deserve whatever I want.

I couldn’t resist such a beautiful woman.

Her husband was bound to die sooner or later in the army.

I’ve been a good king and honored God; I deserve a little reward.

When it’s just us alone with our sin, we can push God’s truth away or twist it so that our sin gets overlooked. Nathan got David to see right and wrong more objectively, to reconsider it in the light of God’s truth. He made it personal: God and sin and our need for God’s help and forgiveness is not just a nice religious belief out there, it’s what God is saying to YOU.

Steps Towards Wholeness

Verses 7-14 are packed with God’s Word and with the realities of sin and God’s mercy. I want to take time to look at them with you.

In v. 7 Nathan says to David, “You are the man!” This is the first word of conviction, perhaps better described as the indictment. Sometimes this comes from God’s Holy Spirit; sometimes we hear it through the Bible, God’s Holy Word; and sometimes it may come through a holy friend like Nathan, who is speaking truth in love.

In vv. 7-8 Nathan goes on to describe God’s goodness, God’s grace towards David. It is God who anointed David king and who delivered him from Saul. God also blessed David richly. Nathan describes these things to say, “Was God not good enough to you that you would disobey Him in this way?” It points us to the importance of gratitude in our lives. A thankful heart is an obedient heart.

In v. 9, Nathan names David’s sins. He “despised the word of the Lord by doing evil.” He “struck down Uriah” and “[took] his wife.”

And the Bible makes clear that there are always earthly consequences for sin. Nathan speaks for God in v. 10 and following. This is signaled by “Thus says the Lord” in v. 11. David’s sin will reap tragic and horrible consequences in his household, with adultery and death coming back to haunt him.

Further, in v. 12, God says that while David sinned in secret, the consequences will be played out in full view of all. This is not particular to David, I think, but the usual way of sin and it’s consequences. Consequences are almost always public.

Finally, in v. 13, after this horrible litany of sin and consequences, David responds, “I have sinned against the Lord.” This, finally, is where I would say ‘conviction’ is complete, because David confessed to all his sin. If this were the only account we had, I would have trouble saying that David reached the point of repentance, but having read Psalm 51, I believe that he did.

Finally, in v. 13 Nathan speaks the word I am longing to hear: “The Lord also has taken away your sin; you shall not die.” While David’s sin is real and deserving of death, God has taken away the eternal consequence. Only God can do that sufficiently; it is a demonstration of His mercy and grace.

It would have been more pleasant to end our text there, but v. 14 is important, for David did indeed suffer horrible consequences because of his sins of adultery and murder. While God might indeed ease the earthly consequences of sin if we earnestly ask Him to, like gravity, it seems as though the weight of our sin often falls inexorably where it will. God’s great gift is to save our life and to help us not sin.

Is God Talking to Me?

What do I take away from this story?

I read a pretty thorough description of God’s story of creation, sin, consequence, and redemption, both in story form with the poor man and the lamb, and in David’s life as God redeemed him from his own self-destruction.

I recognize that it is not enough to know the story at arm’s-length. Just as God used Nathan to say “You are the man!” to David, God would have me recognize that I am the man! Likewise, if you miss this, you’ve missed the point of today’s text. You are the man; you are the woman; you are the boy; you are the girl.

God created you for goodness, for obedience, for a relationship with Him. You and I and every other human in history has messed up God’s creation like a three year old kicking over the tower of blocks I carefully built. But we cannot destroy God’s creation, just mess it up. God’s gracious invitation through Jesus Christ is to hear His Word and Spirit, and in our conviction that we (I!) have sinned, turn back to God with a broken and contrite heart and say, “Help me!” And God will rebuild our lives and give us life with Him.

That’s the promise; that’s the Good News.

That’s the Word of hope that folks need to hear when they are turned or turning away from God.

A friend who will speak that Word of hope – that’s a friend worth having and that’s a friend worth being. Amen.

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