What do you think King David was thinking when his little baby boy got sick? What do you think King David was thinking when seven days later we are told that his newborn son had died? I can’t imagine that he would have said anything other than what probably almost everyone of us would have said in a situation like that, “I wish it would have been me, instead!”
That would have been an appropriate desire under the circumstances, don’t you think? Do you remember the circumstances? For example, do you remember who the mother of that baby boy was? You may very well know her name right now – or you will likely know it when I tell you – but interestingly we aren’t told her name in this section of the Bible. These verses, however, do clearly describe who she was. She is only mentioned in the first line of our lesson and in the second last line of our lesson. Take a quick look at those lines. Both at the beginning and at the end she is referred to as “Uriah’s wife.” We know her as Bathsheba, but before this in the Bible she had only been referred to by her name one time – and that was after King David lusted after her and told one of his servants to find out who she was. The servant came back and said her name was Bathsheba, but it was almost as if that servant was saying, “Control yourself, my king,” because the very next thing that that servant said was that she was “Uriah’s wife.” And because she was Uriah’s wife – and not David’s wife – this whole thing that eventually happened stunk to high heaven and, as we are told, “displeased the Lord.”
It’s no wonder that David likely was thinking when that child died, “I wish it would have been me, instead!” It’s bad enough when something tragic just happens; it’s even worse if it happens because of me. And it’s bad enough if something tragic happens because of me by an honest accident; it’s even worse if it happens because of me by an “I don’t care” on purpose. If you know the story, this truly was an “I don’t care” on purpose – a cover-up to rival any cover-up we read about today or on any day in the history of the world, because they are always the same. In this case the King had a child by someone not his wife and through a series of efforts tried to make it look like it was Uriah’s child, only to have those efforts fail, so he took it upon himself to make sure Uriah would die in battle, so that he would look like a noble and honorable person to place a grieving and vulnerable widow under his care.
The Lord God did not care one bit how it looked, any more than he cares one bit how it might look on the outside of our lives if on the inside we are hiding something that we have sought to hide from God. Our conscience and the Bible make it very clear about any and every sin we have ever committed – whether it is something seemingly huge like this sin of David with Bathsheba, or whether it is something seemingly small like wondering self-righteously how David could have been so dumb – our conscience and the Bible make it as clear as Nathan the prophet made it clear to David: “You are the man, you are the woman, you are the boy, you are the girl. You are the one who has sinned. You are the one who has done wrong. You are the one who has acted like the rich man toward the poor man in the prophet’s Nathan story and, despite how richly you have been blessed, have acted like you need something more, like you must have something more, like you will not stop until you get something more.”
What else can you and I say but what David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.” And, thankfully, what else can you and I say but what you and I sang with each other before: “I run to Christ…
I run to Christ when plagued by shame
And find my one defense,
“I bore God’s wrath,” He pleads my case—
My Advocate and Friend.”
What else can we who wanted more more want to hear than the few words Nathan said to the mighty fallen one standing before him, “The Lord has taken away your sin. You are not going to die.”
That is what faith wants to hear, because that is what strengthens faith. Only when I realize that I am no different than King David, because I am no different than anyone else in the world, can I appreciate the words spoken by a friend whose trust I have betrayed, or a family member to whom I have said something that I should never have said, or my pastor, with whom I have joined in confessing my sins at worship — those words: “God our heavenly Father has forgiven all your sins. By the perfect life and innocent death of our Lord Jesus Christ, he has removed your guilt forever. You are his own dear child. May God give you strength to live according to his will.”
That is how God works. The more he tells us how much he loves us despite what we have done, the more we want to do things according to his will — the more we want to live in a way that doesn’t need to try to cover up our failures – the more we want to be like the sinful, but forgiven, woman in the Gospel reading who loved much because she had been forgiven much — the more we want to say “Thank you, God” by being people whom other people like to be with, people whom other people respect, people whom other people can tell are followers of the Lord – not because we are perfect people, but because we are people who look at the perfect Christ on the sin-filled cross and are able to say, “It should have been me, instead.” I know it should have been me on that cross instead of Jesus, but if it had been me on that cross instead of Jesus, it would only have been a justifiable curse against me. What I needed was something that satisfied God’s justice by justifying me – by having me be looked at as “not guilty of sin” – which is exactly how it is when we look at Jesus on the cross, because when we look at Jesus on the cross, we can say, “He was guilty of sin” – but it wasn’t his sin. The one who did not deserve to die did die, so that Nathan’s words to David can be just as true for you and me, “The Lord has taken away your sin. You are not going to die.”
So why did David and Bathsheba’s son die? Questions like this are probably some of the most confusing of all the questions we would like to ask God about. This is where faith hangs on to God’s promise that he loves his people with a perfect, everlasting love, because what we see with our eyes certainly does not seem to always look that way, does it? We do not know if perhaps it was to spare David and Bathsheba’s son from a horrible earthly life or from all the temptations that are part of the fabric of earthly life, all of which is possible. But we do know that the God who had all power to keep him alive on earth far longer decided it best to not have him live on this earth any longer. And what we also know from God’s Word is that everything that he allows to happen is meant to show us how important it is to keep our eyes focused on him and his purpose for our lives – to keep our eyes focused on him and his promise of everlasting life – because all of us know from bitter experience how easy it is to slip and fall, how easy it is to stop running the race and fighting the good fight of faith, because sometimes it just seems so hard. How much more we pray we can say what we sang with each other before, “I run to Christ…
I run to Christ when torn by grief
And find abundant peace.
“I too had tears,” He gently speaks;
Thus joy and sorrow meet.”
The one who shed tears when he walked this earth lets us shed tears as we walk this earth so we can know how and where those tears can be dried.
The prophet Nathan predicted that King David would have more tears and sorrow in his life – especially in his own family – as a loving discipline to keep him close to God. You may remember perhaps the most heartbreaking discipline for him – the rebellion of another of his sons, the one named Absalom, who took over his kingdom and had his army fight against his father’s men. Do you remember what King David said when later on Absalom was killed, and that death was reported to the king? “O my son Absalom,” he said, “if only I had died instead of you.” Yes, “I wish it would have been me, instead.” There likely have been moments in your life where you have wished the same thing for reasons great or small. There likely will be more of them down the line. But remember what every heartache is meant to remind us of: You and I are feeble people, who need to daily confess to God where we have failed. But you and I are also forgiven people, who cherish hearing the prophet’s words, “The Lord has put away your sin. You are not going to die.” With all the reminders of sin and death all around us, remember that through Jesus Christ God’s people never die. So, now through Jesus Christ, go out there and live – even if there are some tears along the way! Let’s cry them – and let’s dry them – together – in the name of the one who lived and died instead of you and me. Amen.