I had a friend in high school who always parked in the teacher’s parking lot. Now, this was a big deal not only because he wasn’t a teacher, but also because the teacher’s parking lot was much closer to the school than the student parking lot. While we were all walking from the back student parking lot, he was just taking a few short steps into the school. After about three months of this, someone finally was brave enough to tell the principal. One day, he was called into the principal’s office and we all knew he would lose his parking permit and his parents would probably have to drop him off each morning. But to our surprise, when he left the principal’s office he was just given a warning. No punishment. No consequences. He totally got away with it!
That’s what it feels like happened to David. Even though there were consequences for his sin, the Lord seems to just pass over his sin. It really is a radical statement when we read, “The Lord also has put away your sin; you shall not die.” If the man in Nathan’s story deserved to die for stealing a poor man’s lamb, then surely David deserved to die for committing adultery, having a man killed, and then lying about it. The Lord himself rightly accuses David of despising the word of the Lord and scorning God. These are sins against God that deserve death. But David does not get what he deserves. He deserves death, but he receives divine mercy. This just doesn’t seem fair!
How is it right for God to just put away or pass over David’s sin like this? How can he just put away David’s sin? How does an adulterous, lying, murderer get set free? John Piper points to Romans 3:25-26 and comments, “The outrage we feel when God seems to simply pass over David’s sin would be good outrage if God were simply sweeping David’s sin under the rug. He is not.”
The only way for God to pass over David’s sin and to pass over your sin is for David’s sin and your sin to be covered by the blood of Christ. God was able to show mercy to David because there was coming a day when Jesus Christ would live without sin and die for sinners. Jesus would one day die in David’s place. In a mysterious way, David’s confession of his sin and trust in God’s mercy and work of redemption connected him to Jesus, so that David’s sin and Christ’s righteousness are exchanged for one another. Christ became sin for David. David was counted righteous by Christ.
Is it fair that David’s sins were put away? Only if they would be put on another. David did not bear the full penalty of his sin. Jesus did. And because he did, God is now the just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus (Rom. 3:26). God remains a good judge even when he shows mercy to sinners like us.
Mathew Gilbert (B.A. Boyce College) is Associate Pastor for Children and Preschool at The Church at Trace Crossing in Tupelo, MS. He is the author of Come to the Well: 50 Meditations to Fuel Your Joy in God (Westbow Press, 2016). He is a M.Div student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Mathew is married to his high school sweetheart, Erica. Mathew and Erica live in Tupelo with their son, Jude. You can follow him on Twitter @mat_gilbert.