This post is a part of our series of Psalms reflections for Lent.
Blessed is the Man who by Faith is Saved: A Maskil of David
“Blessed is the one whose transgression is lifted off; whose sin has been covered over.
Blessed is the man to whom YHWH does not impute iniquity and in whose spirit is not deceit.
For I kept silent and my bones wasted away in my groaning all day long.
Day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my life was drained as by the heat of summer.
My sin I made known and my iniquity I covered not up. I said, “I will confess my transgression to YHWH” and you yourself lifted off the iniquity of my sin.
On account of this, let all the saints pray to you at a time when you may be found. Surely in the flood of many waters, the flood will not find the saints.
You are a hiding place for me; from distress you keep me; songs of deliverance surround me.
I will instruct you, I will teach you in the way you will go, I will advise you with my eye upon you.
Be not like a horse, like an ass with no understanding. With bit and bridle its desires are curbed so that it stays near.
Many are the pains of the wicked one, but, for the one trusting in YHWH, covenant faithfulness surrounds him.
Rejoice in YHWH and be glad, O righteous one, cry with joy all you upright of heart”
(Psalm 32, Author’s Translation)
The year 1517 has become synonymous with the posting and publication of the 95 Theses, however, perhaps more important to Luther at the time was the first publication of his lectures on the penitential Psalms, or Psalms of Confession, in that same year. In the Augustinian order, the Psalms held a special place of honor and were chanted in their entirety every week. Having been a monk, Luther was fully immersed in the language and rhythms of the Psalms, and it is from these penitential Psalms in particular that Luther finds the comfort and hope of the Gospel amid the affliction and pain of the Law. Psalm 32 is the second of seven penitential Psalms on which Luther lectured. Even before Luther had fully rediscovered a biblical understanding of salvation by grace through faith, this teaching appears powerfully in his early lectures.
Following Luther’s footsteps, the language of Psalm 32 almost leaves no room to proclaim anything but the Gospel in its full sweetness. “Blessed is the one whose transgression is lifted off; whose sin has been covered over.” This Psalm doesn’t start with the man being blessed by God because he is a hard worker or because of the righteousness he has accrued over a lifetime of fasting, prayer, and meditation like the medieval monks. It begins with the confessor. The sinner is the one who is blessed, not the righteous, and he is blessed because God is at work and his sins are lifted off of him. The picture of sin here is comparable to the myth of Atlas who was tasked with holding up the globe; except that as the weight of the world begins to crush and consume the sinner, the weight is lifted. In fact we find out that the weight is not only lifted, it is no more.
Like a child watching a magician vanish a coin we ask, “But where did it go?” It can’t just disappear! If sin is not “imputed” or “reckoned to” the sinner then who is it reckoned to? The good news is that it’s reckoned to God. Instead of God counting the sin to the sinner, He makes His very own Son the Sinner of sinners. Jesus on the cross is the one who has and bears the sins of the world. And what blessed good news this is because when the devil shows up at your door to accuse you of sin by the power of the law you can, with all boldness and confidence, tell him, “You have the wrong address! There is no sin here you wicked oaf! My sin has been taken by Christ, and it was conquered on the cross. He is my Lord, and against Him you are powerless!”
If sin is not “imputed” or “reckoned to” the sinner then who is it reckoned to? The good news is that it’s reckoned to God
This is blessedness. Whereas before David sings that when he did not confess his sins, they were a heavy burden upon his soul. His very strength was dried up as in the heat of summer so that day and night, he was constantly sore afflicted in his heart. This is the power of the Law, the “hand” of God against the sinner or the “alien” work of God to kill, crush, and destroy. And we find that it is precisely against the Christian here that God works His Law. The Christian is not exempt from its accusation because the Christian is still flesh. In this flesh still dwells the remnants of sin and thus he is at the same time a saint, and a sinner and this condition will endure until death when the Christian finally makes “progress” in becoming less a sinner.
He is at the same time a saint and a sinner and this condition will endure until death when the Christian finally makes “progress” in becoming less a sinner
But in the crushing of the Law, God is not praised for His righteousness. It is only in the covering of sin, the lifting off of iniquity, and the answering of prayer that God is seen as the faithful and righteous God. God is good because he is a hiding place for the sinner. He is a hiding place, not in the abstract, but in the concrete because it is concretely in Christ that God has hidden our sin. As a result, the winds and waves of life’s afflictions take on a new meaning. The “floods” and disasters that are thrown our way in this sinful world no longer are the end because God is no longer against us, but for us in Christ. Just as God preserved faithful Noah in the flood, God has given us an ark to cling to and in which we have salvation, the wood of the cross. Whenever we face various afflictions in life, we know that whether we live or die, we have a sure and invincible promise to which we cling which transcends all. It is not according to the Law that we are declared righteous before God, but on account of faith in Christ that we have life and salvation.
In fact, what God requires of the Law is that the Law be ended. “Be not like a horse, like an ass with no understanding. With bit and bridle its desires are curbed so that it stays near” (Ps. 32:9). Don’t be dumb asses, Christ says, that need to be controlled by the Law which curbs and accuses. Be free. By faith, all the things of the Law are done and behind us already so that we are free simply to be. Free to be in Christ by faith. Free to be in the world in love toward the neighbor. “Many are the pains of the wicked one, but, for the one trusting in YHWH, covenant faithfulness surrounds him” and that’s a promise to you today (vs. 10). God has promised that His faithfulness and love will surround us every day. “Surely I will be with you always,” Jesus says, and he will be. Thus the prayer of the Christian is always, “Come, Lord Jesus,” in the sure hope that He is here and will gloriously come again to bring us finally and fully to Himself.
With such great news, the only thing a Christian can help but do is sing for joy. With sins forgiven, iniquity covered, and transgression hidden in Christ, all we can do is sing the praise of Him who saved us. Thanks be to God in Christ Jesus! Amen.