Immeasurable Compassion

What if God wants the cross to loom larger than your sin?

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Like an invasive species that overtakes what is native and healthy, certain kinds of tumors have the capacity to spread, debilitate, and wither the body. For those of us with first-hand experience, we are thankful when cancer is reduced through chemotherapy or radiation treatments. But what we want most deeply is for the malignancy to be completely removed.

Underlying David’s confession in Psalm 51 is a similar desire. He begs the Lord, “According to your great compassion, blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.” To grasp his desperation, we need to feel the urgency in these words. He is a man in the final stages, on death’s doorstep. Clinging to hope by a thread, he longs for the tumor of his sin--the symptoms and source--to be completely removed.


But it is not just fear that motivates his prayer. Like we hate cancer for what it does to those whom we love, he has come to despise his sin with a holy abhorrence. He longs not only for the symptoms but the source of the disease to be removed. Not partially but totally.

His only hope is for a uniquely skilled physician to perform the operation. There is nothing he can do for himself. Truly, he is at the mercy of the Lord.

For those suffering the effects of sin and under conviction like David, there is good news. In fact, it is great news! Total cleansing is the very promise of the gospel. The apostle John writes in first John 1:9, “If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us of our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

Forgiveness is not granted to those who make payments or promises. It is given to those who confess. We do not negotiate forgiveness. We simply receive it as a gift that cleanses us of the disease--not in part but the whole.

In the lyrics of Horatio Spafford’s well-known hymn,

My sin—oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!—

My sin, not in part but the whole,

Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,

Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!


But if you are like me, it is exceedingly difficult to believe the whole of my sin has been nailed to the cross. Maybe my past sins. But my present sin looms ever so large in my heart and mind. 

One of my dogs recently vomited on the rug in our den. Not only was it a disgusting sight to watch the semi-gelatinous regurgitation soak into the carpet, it caused a stench to waft through the house. Words like horrid, disgusting, and gross come to mind. There’s just not one descriptor that actually conveys the visceral reaction to the stench.

I think this is what David is conveying by using three different words to describe his detestable acts. He says, “Blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity. Cleanse me from my sin.” One word simply cannot convey his visceral reaction to his own vomit.

If your sin makes you sick, consider that clear evidence that your heart has been regenerated by the Holy Spirit, causing you to be sensitive to the stench. But at the same time, we must be sensitive, not only to the stench of our sin but also to the magnitude of God’s compassion.

David says it is great. “According to your great compassion, blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.” He is not talking about the quality of greatness as in better than good. It certainly is qualitatively amazing. But the Hebrew word David uses for great means “excessive abundance.” Compassion is being quantified. It is immeasurable and incomprehensible.


But what about God’s compassion. Again, there is much to glean from a study of the Hebrew word to which David appeals for forgiveness (rahamim, רַחֲמִים). Rahamim means “to feel something in the gut.” This is a particularly relevant translation for conveying pity and grief. 

Sometimes I think we believe God is mad at us because of our sinful behavior. But if we are in Christ, covered by the merits of his blood, we can be sure that he is not mad. He is sad.

In Ephesians 4:30, the apostle Paul exhorts the believers in the church, “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.” Speaking to legit believers, he assures them they are secure in their forgiven status. They’ve been sealed. As adopted children of God in Jesus, nothing can separate them from the love of Christ. Not even their remaining sin.

Therefore, when the Spirit grieves, it is like a father who grieves with pity when a child does something that would cause harm. A father’s heart feels pain. Not anger. 

It is the same way with God. His compassions for his own affect him “in the gut,” where he feels pity for us as those afflicted by a disease. Paul’s prayer for cleaning may be analogous to a child with boils asking for his Father to cleanse the external wounds. Only in this case, the wounds are not physical and cannot be cleansed with mere antiseptic.

They must be cleansed with blood. And they have been. On the cross, Jesus, the Great Physician, took your disease upon himself and has given you his health. He took all of your sin and gives you all of his righteousness.

As a result, the Father wants the cross of Jesus to loom much larger than your sin, transgressions, and iniquity. Nineteenth-century Scottish preacher Robert Murray McCheyne would tell his congregation, “For every one look at yourself (to see your sin), take ten looks at Jesus (to see his blood).” That’s good advice.

So, confess the source and symptoms of the disease and with empty hands receive God’s merciful cure. Make sure that as large as the sin looms that the cross looms larger still, knowing “he is faithful and just to forgive your sin and cleanse you from all unrighteousness.”

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