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Putting Your Past Behind You

Finding Your Way Back

Dr. Erwin W. Lutzer | December 10, 1989

Selected highlights from this sermon

King David took a wrong turn in life by committing adultery with Bathsheba. And he kept taking wrong turns until he ended up killing Uriah. It was several months before he came clean.

His life shows us how, even when you’ve made huge mistakes in life, forgiveness is possible and God can give you a new start. He understood God’s mercy and His forgiveness. He understood God’s ability to transform the heart.

And it was through Bathsheba that Solomon was born—and both are listed in the lineage of Jesus.

This is the eighth and last message in a series entitled Putting Your Past Behind You. Today what we hope to do is to draw together a number of different themes and end this series. If you weren’t here for the other messages they will be available in CD form so that you can put it all together and get it all behind you.

You know, when you take a wrong turn off of the road of life, sometimes the results are disastrous. This can even happen when you are involved in just driving a car as my wife and I discovered way back in 1974. We were invited to the home of some friends in northern Wisconsin. And we were invited there in the dead of winter, and these friends of ours wanted to take us to a restaurant. And they had not lived there very long and they thought they knew the area, but they began to drive along in the car with us with them, of course, and they discovered several miles along the road that they were not headed in the right direction.

This little country road is difficult to describe, but I think you can visualize it. It was narrow and snow-packed. We discovered that we were making some new tracks in the snow. The car made deep fresh ruts as we went along mile after mile, hoping that we’d be able to find a place to turn around. Eventually we did come to a crossroad that was big enough and strong enough and high enough, I should say, that it looked as if we would be able to get the car onto that road and back it up and get it back so that we could return home. We tried it. We were stuck for about an hour and a half in sub-zero temperatures, but eventually we were able to get that big Buick turned around and headed for home.

I want to use this story today as an analogy regarding our spiritual lives. And specifically I would like us to think of the life of David whose story is recorded for us in 2 Samuel, the details of which I will be giving you in a moment. But all of us know that David committed adultery with Bathsheba, and then to cover his sin, he did something far worse. He murdered the woman’s husband, Uriah, to cover the deed.

As I think back over to that experience that my wife and I had so many years ago, there are several lessons that come immediately to mind about making wrong turns. The first is that time is lost that cannot be regained. Time is lost. In our case, there in Wisconsin, we never got to that restaurant. As a matter of fact, I have never been to that restaurant because we lost several hours. By the time we got home it was too late to go and we were content to sit there in a warm house and to eat a bowl of soup.

But you think of David. Years went by, and those years were lost and they could never possibly be regained. You can take a calendar and you can burn it. And you take a clock and you can throw it into the garbage, but time moves on relentlessly without stopping, and you can never recapture it.

There’s a second lesson that comes to mind about some of these wrong turns that people make in life, and that is others can be misled because of the trail you leave. Others can be misled. We have no hard evidence that this ever happened, but I could imagine it could have happened. After we had taken that wrong turn and driven so many miles—perhaps ten miles to where we were able to turn around and another ten miles back—someone else coming along might have seen our trail and said, “Well, this track surely leads somewhere,” and they might have decided to go along that same road, thinking for sure it would also lead to a small town somewhere. Much to their disappointment, they’d have discovered that it led nowhere.

I’ll tell you this. Upper Wisconsin is not the end of the earth if you can see it from there. (laughter) And do you know something? We were able to turn around and come back. Perhaps they would not have been able to do that. Maybe they would have gone beyond the spot where we were able to turn around, and mile after mile they would have gone into the wasteland, following that trail to its destructive end.

David discovered that. David committed those sins of immorality and murder, and he repented, and he bounced back in fellowship with God. His children committed those sins and they never did turn around and get back into fellowship with God. David had a son by the name of Amnon. Amnon committed incest with his half-sister, Tamar. Absalom committed immorality on a rooftop in the sight of the entire city of Jerusalem, and he committed that immorality with some of David’s mistresses, simply to prove to everyone the rebellion against his father as he was leading a revolt to capture his father’s kingdom.

Now you think of this for a moment. God said to David, “Because you killed Uriah the sword will never depart from your land and from your family.” And Absalom was killed by Joab, and another of David’s sons by the name of Adonijah had to be killed as well because he desired the kingship.

Never forget it. David went down the wrong path and repented and turned back. His kids followed the tracks he made and they never did come back. They died in their rebellion and in that destructive end to which the trail led.

I see it all the time. A father leaves his wife, commits immorality and marries another woman, but because he is a believer in Jesus Christ, years later as the Spirit of God begins to work upon his heart, his heart becomes softened before God and he begins to repent of his sins. But his children follow his footsteps. They do the same thing that he does, but they never repent. They live that way to the bitter end. They follow in Dad’s footsteps, but they don’t have to do that. Of course, not all children do, but some do. And other people who watch this man begin to live their lives accordingly too, and they may never get turned around. Even if, in the goodness of God, he should get turned around, they don’t.

There’s a third lesson, and that is once you have chosen a wrong road, you cannot take care of your mistake by choosing other wrong roads in the area. That’s what happened to us. You see, we began on a road that was wrong, and then we turned off, taking another road, thinking that it would lead to the town. But, you see, once you are on the wrong road, just to simply choose another road does not mean that you can make it right. You must be able to go back to the point where you got off track. Not in relation to time, because I’ve already said it. It’s too late for that, but in relation to spirit, in relationship to God, you must go back where you got off track because all the decisions you made after you have made some wrong ones can never straighten that wrong one out.

You see a fork in the road. You travel. You take one way. After that there is no way to get back onto the right path. All that you have before you is another fork in the road, and then another, and another, and each successive decision gets you further from where you got off track.

Think of David. Just think of him. He commits immorality with Bathsheba. We know the story very well. Then what does he do? He brings Uriah home from battle. What David should have done is bring Uriah home from battle, look him square in the eye and say, “Uriah, I want you to know that your wife and I have had an immoral relationship and she is pregnant with my child. I’m very sorry for what has happened. I would ask you to forgive me, and we are going to work out whatever we can work out for the benefit of that baby.”

You say, “Well, Pastor Lutzer, how could a king do that?” Let me ask you this question. What did he do? Having chosen a wrong trail, he went and chose a worse one and a worse and worse until he ended up committing murder too. He brings Uriah home and says, “Uriah, take a few days off.” He wants Uriah to go home to his wife to make love with Bathsheba so that Uriah will think that the pregnancy is his.

Let’s suppose the cover-up would have worked. Would David be scot free? No, Bathsheba knew the truth, he knew the truth, and more importantly, God knew the truth. But it didn’t work. Uriah wouldn’t go home. Do you know what David did? David made Uriah drunk, hoping that Uriah would go home, and he still wouldn’t go home. And David said, “I’ve got a trump card to play.” He gave Uriah a note and it was a sealed note, but on it were these words: “Please put Uriah in the heat of the battle and then withdraw from him. Have him killed for me.” (Signed, David) He so trusted Uriah that he actually gave Uriah that note and he knew that Uriah would never look at it. And Uriah takes that death note and he gives it to Joab, and Joab, being a good commander in chief, does exactly what the king wants to have done. And Uriah is dead in battle in accordance with David’s instructions. What a mess!

Is it ever right to commit sin to try to cover sin? You make a wrong decision in life and what you discover is that now that you have made a wrong decision, unless you come back to God, all the decisions you make from now on only take your problem and add to its dimension and to its hideousness. You never get out of wrong decisions that way.

There’s a fourth lesson we can learn, and that is that when you take a wrong road, it’s easy to think that there is no convenient place to turn around. We went mile after mile looking for a crossroad that we thought would be big enough and wide enough and high enough to hold that car. We saw some but we knew that if we took them, we would be stuck there for the rest of the night in sub-zero temperatures. But finally we did come across one that we thought we could trust, and eventually it worked for us. But, you know, there is something about taking a wrong road. We even were saying, “Let’s just keep going farther and farther. Surely somewhere there has to be civilization out here.” Well, there wasn’t.

That’s the way some people are in life. They say, “Now that I’ve made my bed I’m going to lie in it. I am going to continue in my rebellion against God. I’m not going to try to clean anything up. Having decided to go this way, I’m going to the bitter end.” And I’ve heard people who were near death, dying of cancer, say, “I’ve lived without God. I’m going to die without God,” finding no place to turn around.

You know, David lived several months before he came clean before God. David, a man after God’s own heart, decided that he was going to harden his heart toward God, trying to cover his sin, and not repent of it, because he knew that if he repented of it he’d have to come clean in relationship to other people, so he said, “I’m going to hide this thing and I’m going to do whatever I can to keep this sin covered.” Very interesting!

He says in Psalm 32 during those difficult days of secrecy, “Day and night your hand was heavy upon me.” He said, “My moisture is turned into the drought of summer.” He said, “Oh Lord, my sin was ever before me.” David is saying, “I’ve had all kinds of physical reactions because of the guilt that was flowing through my body. I had a fever and I couldn’t sleep, and whenever anybody interrupted me I always thought, ‘Ha! They know.’ It was always there,” said David.

Why did David hold out on God? Well, one of the reasons is because he did not want to have his secret sin exposed. That’s certainly one of the reasons. Another reason probably is he said to himself, “You know, even if God forgives me for what I have done, there are some things that I cannot repair. The consequences are so disastrous that nothing can ever make them right.” And he was correct. There were some consequences that were disastrous that could never be made right. It did not matter how often David cried himself to sleep. He could have wept buckets of tears and Bathsheba’s purity could have never been restored. He could have wept in deep remorse and regret until the day he died, and the dead man, Uriah, would have never come back to life. But David was wrong in holding out before God, because eventually he began to realize that even though he was in a mess, that would never be straightened out, God could still take that ugly past and forgive it and give David a new beginning. And you need to hear that message today.

The man who gave his wife AIDS said, “I wouldn’t accept God’s forgiveness even if He gave it to me because I am not worthy to receive it. I deserve to die.” Yes, of course, he deserves to die as all of us do, but what he needed to hear is that there are some things in life—some circumstances that are so terrible, they may never be straightened out. But forgiveness is possible. You can have a past that is put behind you.

I’m speaking today to some women who have had an abortion. I’ve had women tell me, “I have killed my baby.” You know there are some women who, when they have that experience, actually think of when the baby would have been born. Maybe it was in November. Maybe it would be an April baby. And years later, in the month of April they being to think, “You know, there should have been a birthday party for a little boy or a little girl that’s not going to happen.” It’s amazing the memories remembered! Can it be straightened out? No, it can’t be straightened out, any more than Uriah being brought back to life. Can it be forgiven? Can God give you a new start? And the answer is yes, yes, yes!

I’m going to ask that you turn to Psalm 51 where David finally came clean and poured out his heart before God, and God gave him a new beginning.

In Psalm 51 I want us to notice four attributes of God that helped David put his past behind him, and get on with the business of singing again. What was it that David discovered about God that helped him? He was an Old Testament believer. He knew God personally, but he was walking away from God as quickly as he possibly could, just like some of you who know Christ as Savior. But if the truth were known, you are not walking in fellowship with God today. You are walking with your back toward Him.

What brought David back? First of all, he began to understand the mercy of God. Notice in the very first verse of Psalm 51 he uses three different words to illustrate, to define the mercy of God. He says: “Be gracious unto me (The Hebrew word means “Oh God, do me a favor. Do something for me, oh God, that I do not deserve.”) according to your (second word) lovingkindness.” You know that the root of the Hebrew word is from the word stork. Have you ever wondered about why, when we speak about the birth of a baby, we speak about the stork coming? It is because the stork takes such particular care over its young. So what David is saying is, “Treat me, oh God, with loving kindness, with gentleness. Oh God, take care of me.”

Third word: “according to the greatness of Thy compassion.” The Hebrew word comes from the same root as the word womb. Why? It’s because once again it is picture of the love that a woman has for a newborn baby. And what David is saying is, “Oh God, treat me with the same gentleness with which a mother treats her newborn baby, because God, I hurt all over, and I need some tender compassion, and I need some love.”

There are some of you to whom I speak today who need that. You need God to hold you in His arms. You need God to hold you with tenderness because you are aching, and you need the forgiveness and the compassion and the loving tender care of God.

I want you to notice that David understood theology. He said in verse 4: “Against thee and thee only have I sinned and done this evil.” We want to correct him. We want to write a Bible with a footnote and say, “David was wrong here,” because, after all, he sinned against Bathsheba. He sinned against Uriah. What does he mean by saying, ‘Against Thee and Thee only have I sinned?’”

Ah, listen. David is a good theologian. He understands something. He understands that all sin is really sin against God. It violates the character of God, and in the process of violating the character of God, we happen to hurt people. But all sin is first and foremost against God, and people just get hurt in the process when we sin against God. He understood that.

Do you know why I need to say that? It’s because it gives some of you hope, doesn’t it? You see, what David is saying is, “I cannot bring Uriah back to life.” You know that there are some circumstances in life where it is impossible to straighten out the mess. The Bible is very clear that we should seek restoration wherever we can find restoration. And as long as people are living our goal ought to be restoration, but you know when you murder someone you can never be restored to them. You can never say, “I’m sorry.” You can never say, “Goodbye.” Some of you have lost loved ones. You can never say you are sorry. You didn’t have a chance to do that.

Do you know what David is saying? “Even though there are circumstances that I cannot straighten out in relationship to people, there is still one thing that gives me hope, and that is the supreme law giver of the universe before whom I stand is able to wipe my slate clean.” And so David cries to God and says, “Against Thee, and Thee only have I sinned. And because it is primarily against Thee there is still hope because you can forgive me.”

David understood the mercy of God. He understood the forgiveness of God. I don’t have time even to list all of the ways David spoke of God’s forgiveness. But just look at the text. Take a marker and go through it sometime and underline all the different ways that David characterizes God’s forgiveness. In verse 1 he says, “Blot out my transgressions.” In verse 2 he says, “Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.” Later on he says in verse 7, “Purify me.” “Wash me and I shall be clean, and I shall be made whiter than snow,” he says. He says, “Hide your face from my sins.” All of these are graphic references to David coming before God and saying, “God, take my ugly sordid past and blot it all out so that I may no longer be subject to its memories and to its spiritual debilitation.” That’s what he’s praying for.

So he understood the forgiveness of God. He understood also the transformation of God, God’s ability to transform, God’s creative power. He says in verse 10: “Create in me a clean heart, O God (God, give me what I don’t have. I need a clean heart.) and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me away from thy presence. Do not take thy Holy Spirit from me.” David prayed this in the Old Testament. We don’t have to pray that today because we have the sealing of the Spirit, but in the Old Testament, the Holy Spirit sometimes came and then He left, and so it was a very legitimate prayer.

But he says, “Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me (sustain me) with a willing spirit.” That’s what he’s praying for. And then he says in verse 14: “Open my mouth and my tongue will joyfully sing of thy righteousness,” because David says, “I can’t sing joyful songs with all this guilt.”

In the Old Testament it was always clear that singing was related to the mood. If you were in a bad mood you sang mournful songs. It was when you were in a joyful mood that you sang songs of rejoicing, because there is something about singing that said it is not right for you to have a heart that feels one way and then to sing something that is really a different kind of a message. And so the heart and the words that were sung were so closely united. David says, “Oh God, only You can open my mouth so that I can sing your praises again.” The transformation of God!

Listen carefully. David was praying that God would do this even though the circumstances would not be changed. The little boy that was conceived out of wedlock with David and Bathsheba would die. Uriah was dead on the battlefield. Bathsheba went through, undoubtedly, a time of resentment and anger, knowing full well what had happened both sexually and as far as the murder was concerned. And all that was not going to change.

David’s wives were talking behind his back. How do you think they felt when a new first lady moved into the palace? Anger and resentment! It was terrible. David said, “God, you can do a miracle within my heart, but even if nothing changes, I can still sing.”

I think also that David experienced the providence of God. I know that it’s not in this passage, but I want to remind you that God did do some good things as a result of David’s sin. That doesn’t justify the sin. It only magnifies the grace and the mercy of God, how God can sometimes take a mess in life and have something come of it.

David experienced the mercy of God, the forgiveness of God, the transformation of God, but also the providence of God. What do I mean? After Uriah was dead Bathsheba did move into the palace, and she became David’s wife, and they had a child by the name of Solomon. And who was Solomon? He was a man undoubtedly with two hearts. That’s the way we best remember him, but he was a remarkable individual. He prayed that God would give him wisdom, and he is responsible for most of the book of Proverbs. Not all the Proverbs but most of them come from Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived.

And not only did Solomon do that but he ended up building the temple that David wanted so much to build. And in the lineage of Jesus Christ in Matthew 1, Bathsheba and Solomon are both listed as being the lineage through which the Redeemer is born. Now isn’t that grace? Solomon may have said to himself, “Well, strictly speaking, I should never have been born because my father, David, should have never married Bathsheba.” That’s true. Does that throw God off guard?

In the Old Testament there was a man by the name of Jephthah, the son of a prostitute, undoubtedly illegitimately conceived. Does that mean that God says, “Well, I have no plan for such contingencies?” Oh my friend, my God is much bigger than that. It says the Spirit of the Lord came upon Jephthah, and he became mighty in strength. God taking a mess and doing something with it!

Remember the story of the man who had a beautiful cloth, but on it there was that blotch of ink? An artist took the cloth and said, “There’s no way you can get that blotch of ink out.” But the artist took it and painted a very beautiful picture, including that blotch as part of the scenery. That’s what God is doing all the time. He is taking something that is ugly and growing something that is beautiful. And David experienced that.

You know, in seminary we are sometimes told that what we should do is summarize our message in a single sentence. Sometimes I do it for you. I say, “This is the bottom line.” You know that! I don’t want you to miss it. I think the bottom line today is a reminder that only God can put your past behind you. Only God can. You can’t. For you to go on and continue to make decisions you only take the messes of life and you create greater problems for yourself. But God is in the business of taking messes and doing something.

Many years ago I wrote a book on failure. Interestingly enough, though it was written fifteen years ago, it still sells very well, particularly at Moody Bible Institute at exam time. I pointed out in that book that the people who blew it the most were Adam and Eve. Nobody ever blew it like they did, and yet God took their mess and made something beautiful out of it. A Redeemer came to save people.

Now, you know, as we were going along that road up there in Wisconsin, what we were looking for was a place to turn around. We needed a crossroad to turn around. The road we were on was too narrow and the snow was too deep.

We need to know that God has provided a place to turn around—the cross, because when Jesus died on that cross, His death, as we understand it more clearly than David could have understood it, was a sacrifice for sins. And because sin was laid on Him, God says, “I can give you a brand new beginning no matter what the past.” You can go back to the fork in the road, not in time, but in spirit.

And it’s never too late to begin again. When you die it is too late, but as long as you are alive there is still always the possibility. Indeed, I urge you let today be the day when you begin again with the forgiveness and the cleansing of God. It’s never too late to begin again.

And may I say to those of you who are Christians that one of the signs, one of the ways you should measure your spiritual maturity, is to ask yourself when you are out of fellowship with God, how long do you stay out of fellowship? How far do you go down the road before you turn around again, because all of us sin? All of us fail, and it would be very easy for us to become so discouraged, and we say, “Having begun this particular path in life I’m not turning around.” I urge you to turn around as soon as you become conscious of having made a wrong turn, because from there on it will only get worse. It’ll never get better.

There was a man who had a messy desk. His staff is probably smiling at this point, but it’s not the person they think it might be. All kinds of stuff was stacked up, all kinds of papers that he would never look at. It was on the desk; it was on the file drawers and all throughout the office. The secretary prevailed upon him: “Please let me throw this stuff away.” He said, “No, you can’t.” Eventually she won him over and he said, “Okay.” He said, “You can throw it all away,” but he said, “Remember to photocopy everything first.” (laughter)

Now let me tell you something. God says, “I have blotted out as a thick cloud your transgressions, and as a cloud your sins.” Why keep photocopies? Why fill your mind with memories that bind, when God says, “I’m not remembering it anymore? Why should you remember something I have chosen to forget and have no longer any regard for?” God says, “Put your past behind you.” And do you know that when you do that, my dear friend, do you know what the good news is? You can spend the rest of your life looking through the windshield rather than through the rearview mirror, because from this point on where you are going in life is much more important than where you have been. Because when God cleanses the past the circumstances may not change, but you can sing again, you can be free again, you can love again. And God gives you a new beginning.

I am speaking to people who are Christians today. And those of you who do not know Jesus Christ as Savior, listen to me very carefully. Your first step in making that new beginning with God is to respond to the free gift of eternal life through Jesus Christ, because His death on the cross satisfied a holy God. And today God says to you, “I can give you eternal life free,” and that’s the starting point. You are welcomed into the family of God, and then God begins to put your ugly past behind you so that you, too, can be free.

Way back in the year 1865 there was a woman in a choir, just like we have women in our choir here today. And she was sitting there in the choir loft listening to her pastor preach in Baltimore, Maryland. And during the closing prayer she did something that all of us have done. We’ve thought about other things during the prayer. I know you think I never have, but I have. Well, she was thinking of something very good. There were some words that were coming into her mind, and she decided to write these words down during the prayer, and then she copied them out.

Some [of the stanzas] of the words were:

Jesus paid it all.
All to Him I owe,
Sin has left a crimson stain.
He washed it white as snow.

A brand new clean beginning, the past behind you!

Let’s pray.

Our Father, we have not been able to address in this message all of the various pasts that people who are listening have had. Earlier we have spoken about abuse and addictions. We’ve spoken about all of the hurts and the injustices, and yet today, Father, we believe with all of our hearts that You are able to take those circumstances that are painful, those open wounds, and You can turn them into scars that are healed.

We pray today that each person who is struggling may cast himself or herself upon the mercy, forgiveness, the compassion and the providence of God that You might enable them to sing again. We pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.

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