Psalm 130 – From the Depths We Find Forgiveness and Hope
Psalm 130: From the Depths We Find Forgiveness and Hope
A sermon preached by Joe Fleener on 19 May 2013 at Howick Baptist Church
Note: This sermon transcript has been edited for readability.
Thank you to all the readers this morning. You probably are in a minority in this church if you only heard the Bible in one language that you understood today. Most of us in this church, many of you, would speak more than one language. It’s quite a unique opportunity to hear the Word of God that has been faithfully preserved and translated into many languages around the world.
And we could have gone on and on in this church – I counted three or four other languages we could have represented just out of the members of this congregation. And we could have just continued to hear this psalm read. And yet we have the privilege of considering this psalm in a more detailed fashion.
It’s quite appropriate that the Lord providentially worked it out that Cathy was the regularly scheduled bible reader, so you did hear the Word read in proper English. Now it’s in American, which I understand has destroyed the Queen’s English, and yet I’ll do my best to communicate this psalm to us.
What’s your favourite Psalm?
The Psalms. If you’ve been a Christian, or frankly even associated with Christianity, if you’ve grown up in a country like New Zealand, the Book of Psalms is incredibly familiar. We hear psalms read, we hear it referred to. In fact, even in secular literature, even in the news, or even in the things like the Herald, you might hear the psalms referred to. It’s actually in some ways just a part of our cultural fabric.
But for a Christian, for someone who’s come to know Christ, the Psalms are far more than that. Anyone who’s been truly a believer for very long at all has found within the Book of Psalms a place to go for the wellspring of life.
We go to the Psalms when our hearts are glad, we go to the Psalms when our hearts are aching. We go to the Psalms when we’re confused. We go to the Psalms when we think we have a great sense of clarity of God’s work in our life. The Psalms is really the inspired record of God that expresses the full gamut of human emotion.
And yet for each of us, if I were to go around and ask: “What would be a favourite psalm?” I would imagine there would be many that would be quite different. Many have gone to the psalms and found one has just been a refreshment and encouragement to their soul over and over again.
And yet I would bet for a group this size there would be some consistency too: there are just some psalms that seem to encourage everybody in some way or another. All believers at some time have found Psalm 23 to be a deep refreshment, especially in times of great loss or tragedy.
Psalm 130: a deep and special favourite
Psalm 130 has been a favourite of believers, of Christians, for at least centuries, if not millennia. In fact, I just went scanning around and even in my little collection –today, it’s of course, it’s in iTunes, it’s not in CDs, or vinyls, or tapes, or anything like that – I’ve got five, six, seven different CDs that are a collection of psalms. And on every single one, there’s a recording of Psalm 130!
Some are arrangements of Psalm 130, some new or modern. And we sang one this morning, and it was just a refreshment to sing a psalm that was an arrangement written by Martin Luther in the 1500s, but many people have taken his words and written a new arrangement, or a new melody, and new music to those words.
And in fact I went online and just scanned, and there are literally hundreds, if not multiple hundreds of editions of Psalm 130 that have been written to music: everything from John Rutter’s Requiem, to Mozart, to Bach, to Sons of Korah, to all kinds of modern editions.
Psalm 130 has been a deep and special favourite. If you’re not familiar with it, you might be wondering why. Hopefully we’ll answer that question before we’re done this morning.
A song of ascents
Psalm 130 falls within a category of psalms that starts in Psalm 120. From Psalm 120 to Psalm 134, you’ve got a collection of psalms that are known as the “Psalms of Ascent”. In fact, every one of those songs, at the beginning of them you’ll see that phrase: “A Song of Ascents”. In some cases it’ll tell you not only that it’s a song of ascents, but also who the author was. Like Psalm 127 is Solomon’s, and some of them are David’s. Most of them though don’t tell us the author. We just know that they became known as a collection of Ascent Psalms.
What in the world does that mean? Well actually there’s a lot of discussion as to what that means. At best we know they were a collection of psalms that were used by the people of Israel as they journeyed to the Temple for their annual feasts of sacrifice, particularly the Day of Atonement. The Temple of course was built on the High Place within Jerusalem, so to go from anywhere to the Temple meant to being going from below up. You had to ascend to the Temple from anywhere, because it’s on the top of the hill.
And so these psalms were used as the people of God journeyed. Some suggest that they were used basically just as they ascended the steps up to the temple. Some people say “well, that’s an awful lot of psalms in a very short amount of steps” (though if you’ve been there it’s not actually a short amount of steps, there’s quite a few steps to get up to the top of the temple.)
And yet some have also suggested that perhaps they were used on the full journey, so from wherever people would come from their homes as they travel all the way to Jerusalem, as they arrive at the Temple, these would be psalms that they would sing together as the congregation of God’s people.
A psalm for Atonement
This psalm is near the end of the listing of the Psalm of Ascents. Whether it’s going up the steps or whether it’s all the way from home the whole journey to, it doesn’t really matter because by the time you get to the end you’re almost there. And so this psalm would have been one of the ones they would have been singing as they got very near the Temple, very near the place where they would be observing the Day of Atonement, the sacrifice for sin.
Remember we’ve been in Exodus and we’ve learned about the Tabernacle. We’ve learned about the fact that the Day of Atonement was the one day a year, when one man went behind the Holy of Holies. He went into the Holiest Place; he stood before the mercy seat of God and offered sacrifice for the sins of his people. This is that psalm that would be in the mouths and the ears and echoing through the hearts of God’s people as they’d be approaching that day, when their sins would be atoned for, behind the curtain, before the mercy seat of God. What would be on the mouths of God’s people? What would be echoing in their hearts? It would have been the content of this psalm.
Out of the depths
This psalm is not just simply in the collection of the Psalm of Ascents. It itself is a Psalm of Ascents. It starts in the depths of agony. And it ascends to the great heights of rejoicing and forgiveness that’s found in God.
Verse 1 and 2 tells us this Psalm is reflective of one who is crying out of the depths. Out of the depths the psalmist, the author of this psalm, comes to the Lord for mercy.
“Out of the depths I cry to you, O LORD!
O Lord, hear my voice!
Let your ears be attentive
to the voice of my pleas for mercy!”
We don’t know the author; we don’t know the exact setting. We don’t know the circumstances that he was surrounded by. And yet we can very much imagine being in a place where we are in desperate need of the mercy of God, whether it be circumstances of great suffering, whether it be just living in a fallen world.
We are living in a world today that is just riddled with sin, riddled with the consequences of foolishness, riddled with all the ingredients of self-destruction. Our culture, our society, our country, our neighbours and our friends are literally destroying themselves with the expressions of absolute and utter sinfulness. And yet there are things that are just very much out of our control.
Perhaps it’s disease. Perhaps it’s sickness, perhaps death.
Whatever it is, we know that if you’ve been a person for very long, you know well that it’s one thing to pray. And it’s entirely different to cry unto God.
Out of the depths, when we are finding ourselves at a place where we are absolutely and utterly at the bottom, we don’t just pray. We cry unto the Lord. We cry unto the Lord and we beg for the Lord to hear our voice. We come to Him for mercy.
If God should count our sins
And yet in this psalm, we don’t have to guess what has placed the psalmist in the present reality of his depths. It’s not circumstances. In this psalm, it’s not difficulties around him. It’s not the sin that surrounds him. It’s not the suffering, or the death and the disease. What has brought him to the place of being in the depths of crying out to God for mercy is the sin he sees in his own heart.
We know that because verse 3 tells us:
“If you, O LORD, should mark iniquities,
O Lord, who could stand?”
This psalmist is first and foremost — beyond everything else that might torment him, beyond everything else that may be the source of great confusion and suffering – the thing that has him in its grip at this moment is the reality of his own sin. He stands before God as one who, if God counted his sins, he would be in absolute despair.
My friends, do we recognise that? Do you recognise that God knows everything? There is no possibly way for you to stand before the sovereign Creator of the universe and somehow or another get through because you’re going to figure out a way to maybe slide past Him, and He won’t catch something. God knows everything!
Young people, your parents may never find out. God already knows; there is no escape! That disrespectful look? That under-your-breath comment as you go to your room, when your parents are trying to discuss a serious matter with you? God knows!
The bitterness towards your spouse, because they’re not what you want them to be, when you want them to be, the way you want them to be it? God knows!
The dishonestly in your workplace that no one’s yet discovered? Perhaps it’s just stealing time, not working your employer as your employer expects you to. Using his time and his money to do what you want to do on the Internet, instead of doing the work that he’s employed you to do. God knows!
My friends, if God were to count the iniquities, you wouldn’t be able to stand. I would not be able to stand. There is no standing before a holy, sovereign God who knows everything, and somehow claiming that we’re going to slide through! It doesn’t matter how good a person you think you are. It doesn’t matter who you’re comparing yourself to. You are doomed; I am doomed before God!
“If you were to count sins, O Lord, who could stand?”
Here’s the situation: what if God was like a Roman emperor? Who at the end of the gladiator match within the Coliseum, sees the defeated gladiator who was not actually dead: seriously wondered, but he could recover? And yet the gladiator has purely and utterly cast himself before the mercy of the emperor.
The only hope he has is that the emperor – completely, arbitrarily, for no apparent reason whatsoever – will stand up, and he’s going to decide. It’s either going to be thumbs up or thumbs down. The guy’s either going to live… or he’s going to die. You have no way of knowing what mood the emperor’s in today. You have no way of knowing: is he going to be merciful? Or is he going to entertain the crowds?
But with You there is forgiveness…
But here’s the thing: that’s not God. Because verse 4 takes verse 3, and flips it so far upside down.
The very first word of the very next verse is the most profound word that you can come across in much of your bible reading: the word ‘but’. And my friends, when you come across the word ‘but’, and particularly when you come across it in the context where the focus turns from you to God, it’s time to pay attention. Because listen my friends: God is not arbitrary. God is not random. God is one who is merciful.
“But with you God, there is forgiveness.”
You can know without a doubt that if you cast yourself upon the mercy of God, He forgives. God is not one who says: “Well, maybe I’m not in the mood to forgive”. God forgives! He is merciful! He is gracious. That’s who He is, and it’s what he does.
But O Lord, if you would count iniquities, if you would actually hold me accountable for all of my sins, there’s no possible way that I could stand.
“But with you there is forgiveness…”
Oh my friend, in God we find forgiveness. In God we find all that is necessary to be free from guilt and punishment and judgement, now and forever. In God, there is forgiveness: true and utter and absolute forgiveness.
This is a wonderful word. Spurgeon even said, blessed be the word in this sentence: but.
“…Because his nature is mercy, and because he has provided a sacrifice for sin, therefore forgiveness is with him for all that come to him confessing their sins.”
My friends, you can come to God, and you can cast yourself before Him, confessing your sins. And you can know that God forgives.
…that you may be feared
And yet, quite surprisingly, notice what the Psalmist says:
“But with you there is forgiveness,
that you may be feared.”
But you fear judgement, right? Why would I know I’ve received forgiveness, then that produce in me fear? If I was afraid, if I thought I might be judged: then it makes sense that I would have fear. But why can I know that God has forgiven me, and that produce fear?
Let me read to you what a gentleman named Thomas Adams said:
“One would think that punishment should procure fear, and forgiveness love; but no man more truly loves God than he that is most fearful to offend him.”
My friends, here’s the thing: when forgiveness costs nothing, it’s easy to take it for granted.
Imagine the situation where you’re in big trouble financially. You’re out of work, you’ve pretty much gotten to the point now where you’re possibly going to lose much of your possessions. You’re no idea how you’re going to get out of debt. And you perchance just happen to meet a multi-billionaire, who hears about your situation. And he says, “Ah – no problem. Here, I’ll just give you a cheque. Here’s $300,000 to pay for your debt.”
Now here’s the thing: you might think — as I would, if I initially hear that – that’s just wonderful, and just walk away with overwhelming gratitude. But let me just enlighten you a little bit into your own heart and mine. If I met a multi-billionaire who just gave me $300,000? Honestly, it cost him nothing. I would be thankful initially, but I would be quite tempted to blow it. Because frankly, it didn’t cost him anything anyway. It cost the giver basically nothing, so it’s quite easy for me to take advantage of it.
But change the situation. Say it’s a friend of yours. They hear about your situation. They go and sell everything they own. They sell their home, their cars, their possessions. They give you all of that. All they keep is a tent and the clothes on their back. They give you everything they have so that you can pay off your debt.
Now how are you going to respond to that? I’d suggest probably differently than to a guy who it basically cost him nothing to help you, when it cost your friend everything to help you. You’re going to be far less likely to abuse their gift, to use it for selfishness, to think: “Hah! I’ll just blow this on whatever I want, and go get some more later.” There isn’t any more to get: they gave you everything they had!
Forgiveness isn’t free
When we come to God for forgiveness, we have to understand my friends: forgiveness isn’t free! Forgiveness cost God the death of His Son! He killed His Son so that you and I could be free from our sin. There is no greater cost, there is no greater price. There is no greater sacrifice.
When I know that I have been forgiven by God through Christ, then that brings a fearful response of awe, of respect, of wonder. I don’t wonder that my sins can be forgiven. I wonder at the forgiveness of God in Christ. And I fear offending my Heavenly Father who has forgiven me much. So my friends, we come to God for mercy and we find that He abounds with mercy. He abounds with forgiveness, because He has provided everything for the forgiveness of sins.
If you’re here this morning and you have not come to Jesus and confessed your sin, trusting in Him and Him alone…
Don’t just try harder
My friends listen: when you see the depths of your sin, no self-help program provides you any help.
Nobody who sees that they are utterly and completely helpless before a Holy, Sovereign God —
Nobody who sees themselves as totally sinful, in need of nothing but forgiveness —
Nobody in that situation, then runs to the bookstore and grabs the next cool book written by Dr. Phil (or Joel Osteen, or somebody else).
Nobody goes and looks for those books when they see that they’re utterly depraved and doomed to spend eternity in hell.
Nobody looks to those authors. There is no hope to just read another book that just tells you to try harder! You’re already at the bottom, you can do nothing!
My friends, if you’re here this morning and you’ve never seen that, you need to see that today. You need to see today there is nothing you can do. You cannot do enough. You cannot earn God’s favour. You cannot climb out of this hole. You must come to God. You must come to Jesus. You must come to Christ. You must say: “I am a sinner. You are the only one who can save me.”
If you’re here this morning and you’ve not confessed your sins, it doesn’t matter how old you are. You must come to Him. No self-help is going to solve the biggest problem the world has ever known. And that is, the sin of mankind.
We are a waiting people
And yet, when you come to Him, you find forgiveness. And you find it’s only the beginning. Because you know what you’ll find?
And this where I’m speaking to most in the room. You’ll find that as you come to know Jesus and you come to know Christ, although you know the depths of forgiveness, you also know the depths of the fact that you still live in a fallen world. And life is hard. And God brings into lives at times, great difficulties and great trial.
And we find ourselves waiting. Waiting and longing for the Lord.
Don’t you? Christian friend, don’t you?
I’m looking around and I’m seeing heads nod, and most of the heads I’ve seen nod, to be quite honest with you, are older than myself. And I don’t mean that in a bad way, I mean that because that’s true, right? The older you are with the Lord, the longer you’ve been with the Lord, the more you feel the frailties of life, the more you feel the pain around you… you long for the Lord. You long for Him. You wait for Him.
Very few young people, very few on the day of their wedding… in fact let’s be honest, the day before our weddings, we’re begging Jesus not to come back! Any other time it’s like: “Even so, Lord, come” but the day before my wedding, at least give it till the day after! But as you grow in the Lord? No.
God’s people have always been a waiting people. It’s not because they don’t know forgiveness, it’s not because they don’t know the care of God. It’s because the fullness of God’s plan is not done yet. And so God’s people have always been a waiting people.
Think about this in the Old Testament, in the Psalms. This psalm is being written to a people who are a waiting people. They’re waiting for the coming of the Messiah. God’s people all throughout the Old Testament, for thousands of years, waited for the promised Redeemer.
Starting from Genesis 3:15 at the very moment sin entered the world, God promised that He would send a Redeemer. He would send a seed of a woman. He would send one who would undo everything that sin had done. He would bring ultimate and final redemption, and bring all of humanity and creation back to its intended purposes.
And then God’s people waited. And they waited, and they waited, and they waited.
And then God sent His Son and God brought about the fullness of His plan for salvation. In the fullness of time, God did send forth His Son, born of Mary. And yet, the fullness of God’s ultimate plan is still not done yet. It’s still unfolding. As the gospel goes out amongst the people, and people still come to Christ, we still wait for the Lord. We wait for Him to come.
But we wait in the same way that God’s people of old waited. People the psalmist were writing to, the echo of the words as these people, as they would ascend the steps to the Temple to worship God on the Day of Atonement.
They would come to a place where they would see their sins atoned for once again, upon the altar of the mercy seat of God, and yet they would leave the Temple waiting. Waiting for the Messiah.
How to wait upon the Lord
But here’s how they waited. And here’s how we wait.
I wait for the LORD, my soul waits,
and in his word I hope;
Do you see? The people of God, they wait upon the Lord as they trust in His word. They wait upon God as they hope in His promises. They wait upon God as they rely on His sufficient strength, that’s found within His word.
I wait for the LORD, my soul waits,
and in his word I hope;
It’s quite interesting actually: in Hebrew the word for wait and hope is the same word! It’s the same: you can’t wait unless you’re hoping for something, and if you don’t hope you give up waiting. If there’s nothing to hope for, give it up! But if there is something to hope for, then I can wait. And I can wait because I’m waiting on the LORD.
Notice “I wait for the LORD”. And I’ve mentioned this before — most of you all know this right – LORD is in all capital letters. That means it’s representing the word YHWH. It’s the covenantal name of God. I wait for the God of the covenant, the faithful God of Israel, the one who cannot lie. He cannot break His promises. He is a God who has loved His people from everlasting to everlasting. There is great hope as I wait upon the promises of the covenantal God, the Creator of the Universe. I wait for Him.
More than watchmen for the dawn
My soul waits for the LORD.
Here’s a wonderful phrase, right? Then, repeated twice:
more than watchmen for the morning,
more than watchmen for the morning.
What’s that mean? Who are the watchmen for the morning? It’s a little distant from our culture, to think about this. This is an ancient world, these are sentries. These are guardsmen, watchmen, going around the walls. They’re in the lookout towers on the walls of the city. It’s not hard to imagine. They’ve been on night duty. They’ve been on sentry duty all night long. Night is the time when it’s most dangerous: if there’s going to be an enemy attack, it’s going to be at night.
And so you can imagine: every time your turn comes for night duty, the thing that you long for is the first rays of sunlight over hill. In fact, that’s why you’ve got the towers. Not just so you can see the enemies coming, but it’s like the first rays there say that the day is dawning. As the watchman longs for those first rays of the coming sun: “The new day has dawned, I know that the danger’s almost over, I know that I can go to rest!”
As the watchman waits for the morning, we wait – we long, we yearn for the return of our Saviour. The people of God in Psalm 130, they longed for God to come in the form of the Messiah. They longed for the Messiah to come. And yet we as God’s people today, we watch, we wait, and we hope in the promises of God.
And here’s why we can. We can, because we know that: if God has been faithful to provide the forgiveness of sin through Christ, then He can be trusted to provide all the other answers to all the other promises that are yet to be fulfilled.
We can trust Him because He’s been so faithful in the past. And the most profound faithfulness he’s ever displayed has been through the work of His Son in the forgiveness of sin. If we can trust him because of that, we can trust Him as wait for His return.
Hope in His plentiful redemption
God’s people are a waiting people. But God’s people are a hopeful people, because they have a God who is eternally faithful. Isn’t He?
O Israel, hope in the LORD!
For with the LORD there is steadfast love,
and with him is plentiful redemption.
You know, we’re working on Saturday mornings with a small group that’s going through how to study the Bible, how to prepare Bible study lessons. And we mentioned a few times that we believe that this Bible is fully and totally and completely inspired by God. Every word of this is the Word of God Himself.
And because I believe that, as I come across His Word, I recognise that God doesn’t just use words randomly. You know, He could have said: “For with the Lord there is steadfast love, and with Him is redemption.” He didn’t say that though, he said: “… and with him is plentiful redemption.” I mean, isn’t this amazing? God doesn’t just do a good patch job on our lives. God renews, God restores. There is plentiful redemption.
We can trust in God, we hope in God because in the Lord we find steadfast, unending, inexhaustible love that comes from the Creator of the Universe. There is no way that the love of God is going to reach bankruptcy. He’s never going to run out of mercy. The cup will never run dry. Redemption will never get to a place where God says: “Oops – I overdid it!” There is plentiful redemption in God! There is plentiful redemption that’s found in the eternal work of the Son. We come to Christ and we find redemption. Each and every one has hoped in the redemption of God, as He is one who abounds in steadfast love.
Redeemed from all our sins and sorrows
Oh, there is much hope for the believer. There is much hope. Because Verse 8 says
“And he will redeem Israel…”
He will redeem his people, He will redeem those for which He is covenantally promised Himself to, with faithfulness,
“from all his iniquities.”
My friend, you might be here this morning and again, you’ve considered what I said at the first part of the sermon. But now, throughout the rest, you’ve been scratching your head and saying: “Joe, you have no idea what I have done in my life. You have no idea how much I have erred” — perhaps from the ways in which maybe your parents taught you. You have some sense that God has expectations of you, and you just know that you’ve done things that you really would rather no one ever know.
Do you notice in verse 8 though that there’s no brackets? There’s no “He will redeem them from all… (well not all, I mean most)”. My friends, if you come to God, you find forgiveness that knows no limits.
“He will redeem Israel from all his iniquities.”
So here’s the thing my friend: you must come to Him.
And here’s the thing my Christian friend: if you’ve come to Him, then you have much hope. And you can wait.
Waiting’s never easy. Waiting’s never been easy for God’s people. God’s people have never found waiting for Him easy. And yet, in the midst of the uneasiness of waiting, God’s people have always had hope, because of the promises of His word.
If you’re here this morning and you are in the midst of trial, tragedy, a great sense of weakness in your own life, I pray that you would find much hope, if you’ve come to Christ. That you would find that you can wait on Him. Though you be confronted with your own sin and the sin that surrounds out, I pray that you would rest in the sure hope of forgiveness, found in Christ, and wait for His return, and the ultimate redemption of our souls. Let us pray.
Dear Heavenly Father, I thank You for the hope of Your word. I thank You Lord that You have given us in your Word unmeasured promises. Promises of great salvation, forgiveness, mercy, grace. Restoration, renewal, strength. Even new bodies. Even a new heaven and new earth. Lord, You have given us many, many promises.
I pray Lord as we here this morning who are Your people, who have trusted in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins. I pray Lord that we might be people of great hope, as we wait. Lord, help us to wait. Help us to wait as patient people, with hope as we trust in You. Help us to trust in your Word — which is trustworthy — as we wait hopefully for Your return.
I pray Lord for the one here this morning who isn’t waiting, because they’ve never come to Christ. Instead they’re trying to avoid Him. I pray Lord that you’d help them to run against a brick wall, and realise that they can’t avoid you. That they would cast themselves upon Your mercy, and they would find forgiveness. In Jesus’s name, Amen.
 T. Adams. Cited by C.H. Spurgeon. Ibid.