Pentecost: Ps. 50-51: The Holy Spirit & Covenant Mercy

God is love, and this is because He is Trinity. The love that binds the Father and the Son is the Spirit (Rom. 5:5, 15:30, 2 Cor. 13:14, Col. 1:8). God’s love is not just a feeling, an emotion, it’s a fierce, personal, saving loyalty. This is what the Bible calls God’s hesed, His lovingkindness, His covenant mercy toward us (Ex. 34:6-7, Dt. 7:9, Lk. 1:72-73). Today we consider the gift of the Holy Spirit as God’s covenant mercy.

The Text: Psalm 50 begins with God calling Israel to court (Ps. 50:1-7). His complaint is not with their sacrifices per se (50:8), but with the fact that they don’t understand what they mean. God doesn’t need their sacrifices because He’s hungry or poor (50:9-13). He wants their sacrifices to embody their worship, their praise, their loyalty, their need for Him (50:14-15). God’s complaint is with the fact that they take His covenant in their mouth, but they are wicked, hate instruction, are friends with thieves and adulterers, and love lies and slander (50:16-20). God has not kept silent because He doesn’t know about it, so they need to do some serious thinking and seek His salvation or be destroyed (50:21-23).

While the occasions for Psalms 50 and 51 are very different, the themes match perfectly. David opens Psalm 51, pleading for mercy (51:1). David not only asks for mercy but also cleansing (51:2). He acknowledges his sin as sin (Ps. 51:3). He also recognizes that the greatest evil is his treason against God (Ps. 51:4). Godly sorrow that results in real repentance is before the Lord not just a fleshly sorrow about consequences (cf. 2 Cor. 7:9-12). David acknowledges that his sin problem goes all the way back to birth (Ps. 51:5). He doesn’t have truth in his inward parts, and only God can cleanse him all the way down (Ps. 51:6-7). Another sign of true repentance is real, abiding joy (Ps. 51:8). David knows that if God forgives him, gives him a clean heart, and covenant is renewed and restored (Ps. 51:8-12), not only will that give him joy, but he will be in a position to teach others about this salvation (Ps. 51:13). This covenant renewal in Ps. 51 is what God had called for in Ps. 50: it includes crying out to God in need of salvation and singing and praising with a broken and contrite heart (Ps. 51:14-17). God keeps covenant by His mercy which means that the foundational way people keep covenant is by confessing their sins. When this happens, God builds the walls of Jerusalem and receives our worship (Ps. 51:18-19).

Covenant By Sacrifice
Asaph says that God’s saints make covenant by sacrifice (50:5), but he agrees with David that true sacrificial worship flows out of broken and contrite hearts (50:15, 51:17). And David knows that the Holy Spirit is essential to this process (51:11). Putting this all together, we can see that one of the purposes of the Holy Spirit is to be the mercy of God in us and for us for confession of sin and covenant keeping for true worship (cf. Jn. 4:23-24, 16:8). Confession and forgiveness is the flammable material the Spirit loves to ignite. When Jesus came, God came “to perform the mercy promised to our fathers, and to remember His holy covenant, the oath which He swore to our father Abraham…” (Lk. 1:72-73) God came to do in Jesus what He promised in covenant to Abraham (e.g. Gen. 17:1-8). But the whole Old Testament teaches that the sons of Adam cannot keep covenant on their own. This is why Jesus had to come. He came to keep the covenant perfectly, to listen to the words of His Father. He came to be and do what Israel was always supposed to be and do. But the reason why the Old Covenant couldn’t fix our problem was fundamentally because it didn’t take away sin. The sacrifices pointed to the fact that God would take away sin and that we needed sin taken away, but the blood of bulls and goats doesn’t actually do the trick (Heb. 10:4). Man sinned, and therefore man needed to die (Rom. 6:23). And so in the greatest act of covenant keeping, Jesus offered His own blood to cleanse us from all our sin (Mt. 26:28, 1 Jn. 1:5-9). By the Holy Spirit, God gives this mercy to us: the gift of broken hearts and true worship.

Conclusions: Keeping Covenant & Walking in the Spirit

A broken and contrite heart flows from honest confession, complete forgiveness, and restorative repentance in the power of the Spirit (Eph. 4:30ff) and results in:

  1. Joy of Salvation (51:8, 12)
  2. Evangelism (51:13-15)
  3. Worship (51:17, 19)
  4. Justice (51:18-19)

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