Midweek Lent 2: I Have Sinned

Lessons: Psalm 41, 2 Samuel 12:15-23, 1 Peter 2:19-25, John 1:29-32

Listen to the entire service here (the sermon alone is above).

      Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

      Our focus tonight is on Psalm 41:4, which God the Holy Spirit inspired King David to write, “As for Me, I said, ‘O Lord, be gracious to Me; heal Me, for I have sinned against You!’”

      While David wrote the Psalm, Jesus is the One who is speaking in this psalm. From the surface it may seem strange that Jesus is praying to God our heavenly Father to be gracious to Him, to heal Him, for Jesus says He sinned against the Father. This is perhaps why some are inclined to remove Christ from the psalms and perhaps this one in particular.

      Now, Christ is found in the psalms in various ways. Sometimes they speak of Him or to Him. Sometimes they speak of His grace or His saving work. Sometimes Jesus is speaking, as in Psalm 22 and this psalm.

      But why does Jesus say to His Father, “I have sinned against you?”

Did Jesus really sin? We know that Jesus was without sin, that He perfectly fulfilled the Law, and that He shed innocent Blood on the cross. In fact, the Bible says, “Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:14-16). Also consider these words of Scripture: “In Him there is no sin” (1 John 3:5). “He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in His mouth (1 Peter 2:22). And “He had done no violence, and there was no deceit in His mouth” (Isaiah 53:9).

      Despite the temptation He faced, Jesus remained without sin. So how can Jesus say that He sinned in this psalm? Using human reason, many have tried to answer this question. Some have claimed that Jesus could not have remained innocent, and therefore He would have sinned. Others suggest Jesus was just an ordinary person like the rest of us with no divine abilities or attributes. Others have made the claim that Jesus committed His own personal sin when He bore the sins of the world.

      All these claims are contrary to Scripture. In fact, to answer questions of theology, we must go to where God reveals His truth—to the Scriptures themselves and listen to what God teaches in the Bible. In doing so, we use our reason to understand what the Scriptures are saying, but we do not use our reason above Scripture or to interpret the Bible to match our thinking.

      From the Bible, we know that Jesus is fully God, and since His incarnation, He is also fully human—as He was born of the Virgin Mary. Jesus was submissive to His earthly parents, and grew in wisdom and stature (Luke 2:51). He experienced the full range of human emotion, weeping at the grave of Lazarus (John 11:35), getting angry at the moneychangers in the Temple (John 2:15), and was “sorrowful, even to death” while in the Garden of Gethsemane (Matt. 26:38). He experienced the full extent of physical pain as He was flogged, beaten, whipped, and nailed to a tree.

      So far we have heard that Jesus is fully human, yet He did not sin. But how can Jesus say that He has sinned against His Father in Psalm 41:4? The answer lies in a theological word known as “impute.” To impute means to credit, recon, or count as something. This word is found several times in Romans 4 in the New King James Version. It is written in verses 5-8, “But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness, just as David also describes the blessedness of the man to whom God imputes righteousness apart from works: ‘Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, And whose sins are covered; Blessed is the man to whom the Lord shall not impute sin’” (Rom. 4:5-8 NKJV). What does God do as He justifies sinners? He imputes to them the righteousness of Christ. He does not impute man’s sin. That is, God credits us with the very righteousness of Christ; He does not count our sins against us. He reckons us as righteous; He does not reckon us as sinners through Christ.

      Romans 4 concludes, “Therefore ‘it was accounted to [Abraham] for righteousness.’ Now it was not written for his sake alone that [righteousness] was imputed to him, but also for us. It shall be imputed to us who believe in Him who raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead, who was delivered up because of our offenses, and was raised because of our justification” (Rom. 4:22-25 NKJV). Already in Abraham’s day it was acknowledged that Christ’s righteousness is imputed to sinners by grace through faith. The righteousness of Christ was imputed to Abraham. That same righteousness is also imputed to us. That is why God can call us sinners saints.

      But what about Jesus? How can He say He sinned? Just as Christ’s righteousness is imputed to us, so also our sin is imputed to Jesus. After all, the Scriptures declare, “The Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6). And it is also written, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21). The Father imputed to Jesus our sin so that His righteousness can be imputed to us. Martin Luther called this the blessed exchange. He’s declared the sinner so that we can be declared saints.

      Now this does not mean the nature of Christ has changed. He did not become sin in the sense that His nature is that of a sinner. In the same way, we do not become righteous in the sense that we no longer have our sinful nature. In this world, we are sinners according to our nature and saints according to the imputation of Christ’s righteousness. In the same way, Jesus who went to the cross was innocent and holy according to His nature but was a sinner according to the imputation of our sin upon Him.

      And so, Jesus rightly prayed, “O Lord, be gracious to Me; heal Me, for I have sinned against You!” (Psalm 41:4). He prays for the grace of God to fall upon Him. He prays that He may be healed—or restored. He prays that He would be raised through the glory of the Father as He redeems the world through His sacrificial payment on the cross.

      Concerning this verse, Martin Luther wrote, “It is extremely comforting to us that in the fourth verse He declares Himself to be a sinner, even though He was without sin, for in doing so, He stands in for us and speaks in our stead, bearing our sins as though they were His own, as though He had actually committed them.”

      And so Jesus must be the Lamb who goes forth to pay for our sin. The cup of God’s wrath cannot be withheld from Him. Jesus is counted as the sinner so that we can be counted as righteous and acceptable to Heaven. It is the only way we may be acquitted and achieve eternal life. Through Christ our Lamb who died for us and rose for us that we may obtain the victory. What a gracious Lord! Amen.

     The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus to life everlasting. Amen