My mom used to tell me, “It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it.”
The truth is I was a little bit smart-mouthed as a kid. And even though technically I would comply with whatever my mom was asking me to do, it wasn’t without a certain tone in my voice. I’m sure it drove my mom nuts, because it drives ME nuts when I hear it now. You know the voice. “OKAY!” “I’LL BE RIGHT THERE!” Technically, it’s compliance, but…not really. That tone would get me in a lot of trouble and I would ask her why since I said I would do it. To which my mom replied, “It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it.” I’m sure that saying wasn’t unique to my mother, but it’s true nonetheless. The words coming out of my mouth were not as important to her as the intention behind it and our intention can be measured not just in what we say, but how we say it, and if we do it. What we say, how we say it, and if we do it reveal our true intentions. Because when our intentions are good, the other person knows we understand. We “get it.” We’re someone who can be counted on. A person who does something begrudgingly likely won’t do a good job, will cut corners, and won’t understand the importance of what you’re asking them to do. They’re someone who can’t be counted on. When we ask someone to do something for us, how they respond is an indication of their heart. That’s why, when Paul was asking the church at Corinth to help fund his ministry he wrote to them, “Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” He wanted more than their money. He wanted their heart. Because if he had their heart, he knew they could be counted on. More than anything God wants our heart.
For a long time, it puzzled me that Paul said that King David was “a man after God’s own heart.”
That phrase is troubling at times, because it’s hard to imagine that a man who plotted murderer and committed adultery with the wife of the man he plotted to murder could BE a man after God’s own heart. I’d say it was the plot of a bad Harlequin romance novel except it actually happened. But as the saying goes, truth is stranger than fiction. So it creates this tension, if you will, about what this phrase really means. If by his actions, David committed murder and adultery, why is he a man after God’s own heart? If you have a Bible or a Bible app on your phone, please go to 2 Samuel in the Old Testament, chapter 24, beginning with verse 15. 2 Samuel 24:15. We’re going to read a passage to help clarify this tension and delve deeper into what it means to be after God’s heart. Now, there are two ways we can understand that phrase. To be a man after God’s own heart can mean that David is patterned after God; that David does the things that God wants him to do. But it was God who each time rebuked David when he fell into sin. So perhaps that is not the best understanding of this phrase. Instead we can interpret it more literally – that David is a man who is pursuing God’s heart. That David, although he makes mistakes, although he sins about as badly as a person can sin, does not do it with the intention of hurting God. That in all things, he wants to please God and do right by him. That doesn’t mean that David doesn’t make mistakes. It doesn’t mean that David never sins, because we see in the Scripture that he sins more than once. But it means that in all things, David has a heart for God. So when the Paul says to the assembled crowd that God calls David “a man after my own heart” he doesn’t mean that David is modeled after God, but that David is trying to please God. The phrase “a man after my own heart” doesn’t mean that David is modeled after God, but instead that David’s life is dedicated to trying to please God. And in the passage we are about to read we see that very clearly.
Now when we pick up the story, David has committed a sin against God.
A sin so big that God decides to punish all of Israel for it. A sin so horrible that 70,000 people end up dying because of it. Do you know what that sin was? Are you ready for it? You may want to cover your ears it’s so horrible. He took a census! That’s right. David ordered a census to be taken of all the fighting men in the kingdom. That was the big sin. We might be tempted to say, “So what?” Or “What’s the big deal?” So he counted the men, is that really worth the lives of 70,000 people? But it wasn’t the action that angered God, it was the intent. Scholars have debated about David’s intent – was it pride or was it a lack of trust? Maybe David wanted the men counted to feel good about himself, about the army “he” created and maintained. Maybe he wanted to be able to brag at the next King’s get-together. “Hey, how many do you have? You know how many I have? 1.3 million! Pretty good, huh?” On the other hand, maybe David was worried that there weren’t enough. Maybe he was having doubts about whether he was strong enough to maintain power. Maybe he forgot that he followed the same God who had Gideon lead a force of only 300 men to defeat an army of thousands. But either way he had angered God. And immediately after he had done it, he knew he had done something wrong. Even before God had lifted a finger in punishment, David was already feeling guilty. And this is what happened.
15 So the Lord sent a plague on Israel from that morning until the end of the time designated, and seventy thousand of the people from Dan to Beersheba died. 16 When the angel stretched out his hand to destroy Jerusalem, the Lord relented concerning the disaster and said to the angel who was afflicting the people, “Enough! Withdraw your hand.” The angel of the Lord was then at the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite. 17 When David saw the angel who was striking down the people, he said to the Lord, “I have sinned; I, the shepherd,[c] have done wrong. These are but sheep. What have they done? Let your hand fall on me and my family.”
18 On that day Gad went to David and said to him, “Go up and build an altar to the Lord on the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite.” 19 So David went up, as the Lord had commanded through Gad. 20 When Araunah looked and saw the king and his officials coming toward him, he went out and bowed down before the king with his face to the ground. 21 Araunah said, “Why has my lord the king come to his servant?”
“To buy your threshing floor,” David answered, “so I can build an altar to the Lord, that the plague on the people may be stopped.”
22 Araunah said to David, “Let my lord the king take whatever he wishes and offer it up. Here are oxen for the burnt offering, and here are threshing sledges and ox yokes for the wood. 23 Your Majesty, Araunah[d] gives all this to the king.” Araunah also said to him, “May the Lord your God accept you.”
24 But the king replied to Araunah, “No, I insist on paying you for it. I will not sacrifice to the Lord my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing.” So David bought the threshing floor and the oxen and paid fifty shekels[e] of silver for them. 25 David built an altar to the Lord there and sacrificed burnt offerings and fellowship offerings. Then the Lord answered his prayer in behalf of the land, and the plague on Israel was stopped.
He said to God, “I have sinned; I, the shepherd, have done wrong. These are but sheep. What have they done? Let your hand fall on me and my family.” One of his prophets, Gad, tells David how to make amends with God and David does it immediately. He goes to build an altar on the threshing floor belonging to Araunah the Jebusite, and even though Araunah offers him the oxen for the burnt offering for free, David insists on paying for it. He can’t before God and sacrifice something that cost him nothing because it wouldn’t be a sacrifice if it was free. So David pays for it, builds the altar, and offers the sacrifice and God stops the plague. The point here is that David didn’t side-step his responsibilities. David didn’t try to make a bargain with God. David didn’t try to pass the blame to Joab or the people who took the census. Instead he offers himself up to God. He offers himself as a living sacrifice. He tells God to take out his punishment on him and him alone. It’s a testimony to David’s love for God and his belief in God’s grace and mercy that he offers him the only thing that he truly can – himself. And God has mercy upon him.
We see this same scenario play out in the life of Jesus.
Except that Jesus takes it upon himself to act as a living sacrifice for our sins. We know that the process of crucifixion is brutal and painful and we know that Jesus suffered every step of the way, but like David, Jesus offered himself on behalf of the people for their sins. But unlike David, Jesus was innocent. Jesus had committed no sin. But as our shepherd and on our behalf, Jesus offers himself to God for the sins of the entire world. And again God has mercy on us. Even in this moment, under the excruciating pain of death on the cross we see God’s mercy at work. The criminal on the cross who recognizes Jesus for who he is asks Jesus to remember him in front of his Father, and Jesus says to him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” Jesus was able to see this criminals contrite heart and in that instant forgave him, despite what probably had been a lifetime of sin. Because in the end, God doesn’t want perfection, he desires contrition. God doesn’t want perfection, he desires contrition. God wants us to come before him in humility. God wants us to admit to our sins. And God wants us to trust in his mercy. And those are things mere words cannot convey. Humility, mercy, contrition – these are qualities that come from the heart. These are attitudes rather than words. They are a way of living.
God wants lives that are transformed!
God wants lives that are transformed! He wants us to do more than profess our faith, he wants us to live it! He wants us to show it! And by acting on it he can see that we mean it. God wants us to not only voice our faith, but to have that deep sense of conviction about it and to back up those words with meaningful action. The challenge for us then is to be bold in our faith. Let us come before God today and each day with a contrite heart. Let us put ourselves at God’s mercy and trust in him to lead us. We’ve been exploring over the past few weeks how the events in David’s life can bring insight to our own lives and in our first week we talked about the danger in judging a book by it’s cover. We talked about how we need to be wary of our values vs. God’s values and how they are not always one and the same. Last week we talked about being open to new ideas and to challenge ourselves both in the church and in our lives to try something different and to free our mind for God’s possibilities. And today we want to come before God and do more than simply say we will follow or say we will trust in God, but to show our commitment by doing so. Let us pray daily for God’s guidance. Let us follow the example of Christ by willing allowing God to lead us. And let us ask the Holy Spirit to journey with us, both in our personal lives and in the life of the church. Please pray with me.
God in Heaven, we ask that you help us do more than simply voice our faith, but to sincerely mean it and to act on it. Help us to be like your servant David and show you that we too seek your heart. That we too seek to be your people and all that entails. We know Lord that you do not expect perfection from us and we are so grateful for that because we are far from perfect people, but we know that you seek from us only what we can give – our hearts. Lead us Lord. Guide us daily. And help bend our lives so that our will is your will and you can see with us the transformation of our hearts. We pray for these things in name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
 This quote is actually a derivative from the work of Lord Byron who wrote, “…truth is strange; stranger than fiction.” http://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/truth-is-stranger-than-fiction.html