"A Cry From the Depths"
(Delivered Sunday, June 5, 2005 at Bethany Bible Church. All Scripture quotes, unless otherwise indicated, are from the New King James Version.)
One of the things that I love about our church family is that we treat our observance of the Lord's Supper as something very important. And it should be treated that way! We should always approach the Lord's table with a spirit of reverence and thoughtful gratitude.
Near the end of our service, we will be celebrating the Lord's Supper together. And first, I invite you to open your Bible this morning to the Old Testament; and look with me at a particular psalm that, I believe, uniquely prepares us for remembering Jesus' sacrifice for us. It's a psalm that is found in the section of the Psalter called "the Songs of Ascent" - that is, that collection of psalms that Jewish pilgrims would sing while making their sojourn to the city of Jerusalem in biblical times.
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Each of the Songs of Ascent highlights a particular aspect of the spiritual journey of a pilgrim; and I believe that the particular psalm I invite you to look at - Psalm 130 - is unique among them. As you turn to this psalm, let me share a few things with you about it.
This psalm is often categorized under the Penitential Psalms - that is, the psalms that express deep sorrow over and confession of sin (the others being Psalm 6; 32; 38; 51; 106 and 143). But this psalm also made another interesting list. It was among the four psalms that the great reformer Martin Luther said he loved the best. There were certain psalms that he referred to as 'Pauline'1; that is, certain psalms that seem to strongly express the message that the apostle Paul preached (such as Psalms 32; 51; and 143). Luther considered Psalm 130 to be very "Pauline".
I believe that what made it seem so "Paul-like" to Luther was the fact that it speaks of God's gracious gift of justification on the basis of faith. You might say that it's an evangelistic message in a psalm! It tells us the bad news of our sin; but then tells us the good news of God's gift of righteousness by faith in His grace. In only eight verses, it lifts us up from out of the very pits of hopeless despair in sin and sets us high upon the hilltop of joy and gratitude for salvation.
Let's read it together. The psalmist - very possibly Kind David himself2 - writes:
Out of the depths I have cried to You, O LORD;
As I read through it, I find God mentioned very much in it:
Altogether, there are fifteen references to God in this little eight verse psalm! That's a lot! And that's very important thing to consider; because it's a psalm about a sinner coming to terms with his own sinfulness before a holy God - to the point, in fact, of being in the pits of despair about his situation; and then crying out in his helplessness for mercy from this awesome God. We really don't see the truth about our sin, or cry out to God for mercy, until we first get our focus off of ourselves, and off the other people with whom we might compare ourselves; and place it squarely upon Him! Only then do we see the truth about ourselves and our deep need.
But the wonderful thing is that God answers the cry of the despairing sinner; and by His great grace, He pardons the sinner and sets him among the redeemed! I love that wonderful phrase in verse four: "But" - oh, how thankful we should be for that wonderfully precious word "But"! - "But there is forgiveness with You . . ." The story of this psalm starts sadly, but ends joyfully - thanks to that wonderful word "But . . ." Trace the action in this psalm. You'll find that the psalmist's focus goes from (1) the depths of despair, to (2) God's ear, to (3) God's forgiveness marked out to us by the word "But . . ." , to (4) waiting on God's word, to (5) hope in God, to (6) mercy from God, to (7) abundant redemption with God, and finally to (8) assurance before God!
From the depths of hopelessness in sin, to the joyous assurance of God's mercy and redemption! This psalm is good medicine for broken-hearted sinners! And I trust that God means for it to be particularly good news to someone here today who may be in deep despair over his or her own sin! What a wonderful God of grace He is to have given us this psalm for our exhortation and encouragement!
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So then; let's prepare our hearts to come reverently and thankfully to the Lord's table this morning, by looking closer at this psalm. I find in it four key elements: (1) a "cry", (2) a "confession", (3) a "committal", and (4) a "confidence".
First, let's consider . . .
1. THE CRY OF THE NEEDY (vv. 1-2).
He says, "Out of the depths I have cried to You, O Lord!" (v. 1). What a place to begin a Song of Ascent - from out of the depths!
Have you ever been in "the depths"? The "depths" is a figure of speech for a distressing situation from which you cannot save yourself - a situation in which you are clearly over your head, and in which your feet no longer touch the bottom. I believe King David wrote very vividly about the depths in Psalm 69. He cried out;
"Save me, O God! For the waters have come up to my neck. I sink in deep mire, where there is no standing; I have come into deep waters, where the floods overflow me. I am weary with my crying; my throat is dry; my eyes fail while I wait for my God" (Psalm 69:1-3).
This gives us a clear picture of what is meant by "the depths"; doesn't it? Perhaps you've spent some time in the depths yourself. Some of us have been in the depths of poverty. Others have been in the depths of sorrow or depression. Others of us have been in the depths because of illness or physical pain, and some have been in the depths because of the emotional pain caused to us by others we love.
In the case of the writer of our psalm this morning, he was in the depths for a very specific reason. It was a reason that we all must come to terms with. He was in the depths of sorrow over his own sinfulness before God. We know this, because we've already read the whole psalm; and we've seen how he acknowledges that no one can stand before God because of iniquities (v. 3); and that he cries out to God for forgiveness (v. 4), and for God's mercy and redemption to be applied to him (v. 7).
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My attention was drawn to a very striking front page article this weekend in USA Today. I wonder if you saw it. The article was on the former heavyweight champ Mike Tyson. The headline quotes him as saying, "My whole life has been a waste."
The champ is 39 years old now. But after years and years of drugs, sexual addictions, failed marriages, lost wealth, and the outlandish acts of misbehavior (with which we are all sadly familiar), Tyson is now deeply sorrowing over the fact that he has squandered the great opportunities in life that he'd been given. Today, Tyson admits to feeling deeply confused, humiliated and fearful about the future. He told the interviewer, "I'll never be happy. I believe I'll die alone. I would want it that way. I've been a loner all my life with my secrets and my pain. I'm really lost, but I'm trying to find myself. I'm really a sad, pathetic case."3 Don't those sound to you like the words of someone who is in the depths?
Tyson goes on to say; "I just want to escape. I'm really embarrassed with myself and my life. I want to be a missionary. I think I could do that while keeping my dignity without letting people know they chased me out of the country. I want to get this part of my life over as soon as possible. In this country, nothing good is going to come of me. I'm so stigmatized, there is no way I can elevate myself."4
". . . There is no way I can elevate myself . . ." That's a characteristic of the depths. As I read the article, I was very impressed with Mr. Tyson's openness; and I found myself sorrowing deeply for him. I believe Mike Tyson truly is in the depths over sin; don't you? I believe we should be praying for him - that God will put someone in his life that can share the love of the Savior with him.
Now; many others before him have cried from the depths in a similar way. It's a natural reflex, when you're in the depths, to cry out. Even when in the depths because of sin. But please consider that many people, when they cry out from the depths, don't follow our psalmist's example. They cry; but they don't cry out to the right source of help - that is, to God. The psalmist says, "Out of the depths I have cried to You, O LORD" - that is, "to You, O YHWH; to You, O Promise-Keeping Covenant God of Israel!"
Crying out from the depths - whatever the nature of those depths may be - doesn't do us any good if it isn't a genuine cry to the only One who can rescue us! I hope that one of the great lessons we can walk away with from this psalm this morning is that the "cry" from "out of the depths" doesn't accomplish anything unless it is directed to the Lord.
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And there's another important thing we need to notice about the cry from the depths as we find it in this psalm. As we read on, we find that the psalmist makes an appeal to God on the basis of His grace - not on the basis of the psalmist's own worth.
The psalmist says, "Lord [that is, Adoni - or "Master"], hear my voice! Let Your ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications" (v. 2). He doesn't cry out to God as if he feels he deserves to be rescued. In fact, he knows that he doesn't deserve rescue. He has clearly fallen into a pit of his own making - the pit of his own iniquities.
This psalm describes a spiritual journey that leads to assurance of salvation. And I would suggest to you that the place each of us must begin in that journey is to cry out to God, in a state of our own helplessness and unworthiness, for His mercy and grace. So long as we hold to the idea that 'we're not really so bad'; or that, 'as bad as we may be, we're certainly not as bad as other people'; or that, 'if God were to just look over the record and see all the good deeds we've done, He'd certainly see that we deserve to be saved' - so long as we hold on to any idea of our own worthiness, we will not cry out to God for His unmerited grace. And so long as we do not seek to be saved from the depths of sin on the basis of God's unmerited grace, we cannot be saved at all.
We've basically got to come to the place in which we realize we have nothing to offer God whatsoever. We have to come to the end of our sense of self-sufficiency; and accept that we have no worth in and of ourselves that could make us the slightest bit worthy of salvation. We have to accept that all we can do is, in utter helplessness, cry out to God to have mercy upon us - and beg Him to even hear our voice, and to be attentive to our supplication.
Have you come to that place in your life? Have you felt the heavy burden of your sin? Have you found yourself in the depths - without hope; except that God Himself save you? And have you cried out to Him - not because you deserve to be heard, but only because you hope that he would have mercy upon you and hear your desperate cry?
If so, I have a wonderful promise from God that we can cling to. God Himself says, "Call upon Me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify Me" (Psalm 50:15). God inclines His ear to the poor, helpless sinner who cries out to Him from the depths of sin, and who hopes His gift of salvation on the basis of nothing else but His mercy and love.
That kind of a cry is at the beginning of this psalmist's spiritual journey. And it's where we, too, must begin.
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So then; that's the cry. Now, let's consider . . .
2. THE CONFESSION OF THE REPENTANT (vv. 3-4).
The psalmist writes, "If You, LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?" (v. 3).
To "mark" iniquities means to "identify" them, as it were; and "keep a record" of them as counts against us in the heavenly court of judgment. And the name of God that the psalmist uses in that respect is the name "YAH" - that name that speaks of His awesomeness in majesty; and also of His terribleness in judgment! The psalmist says that, if such a record were kept against us, none of us could stand before Adoni - the Master and Lord of the universe!
The Bible teaches us that "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23). If we were to measure ourselves against our own standards, or compare ourselves against one another, we'd all come out looking "righteous" - on a superficial level, anyway. But we aren't going to stand before ourselves or before one another on the great day of judgment. We're going to stand before a God who is majestic and awesome in His holiness. And when we hold ourselves up against the standard of this God's commandments, and compare ourselves to the standards of righteousness that He holds us accountable to in His law, then we are all convicted as hopeless sinners. As the apostle Paul has written:
"There is none righteous, no, not one;
The Bible teaches us that "whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all" (James 2:10). And yet, if God were to examine our lives, how many multitudes of points of stumbling would He find?!! Even if God were to examine a man who would - in the evaluation of all other men - be the most righteous man in the world, an infinitely righteous and holy God would still discover him to be a hopeless sinner.
This struck home, I believe, to the psalmist; and that was why he was in the the depths. He had a realistic view of himself before God. He confessed to the truth; that if God were to identify and keep careful record of all our iniquities, no one could stand before Him. That of course included the psalmist. But it also includes you and me.
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It's interesting that the psalmist says, "If" - that is, "If You, LORD, should mark iniquities . . ." Perhaps you noticed that as we read those words, and wondered to yourself, "Why 'If'? Doesn't God know all our sins perfectly?"
Well; I believe, of course, that He does indeed know them perfectly. He knows every sin of every one of us. But I also believe that He doesn't "mark" all of them - that is, He doesn't examine them and keep careful record of them as things to be charged against us. And I believe this because of what the psalmist says next.
He says, "But . . ." And there's that all-important word again. I believe it's the most important word in all this psalm. It is the turning-point. It means that all these things could be our undoing because of the guilt of our sins before an all-holy and all-seeing God; "But" they're not our undoing because of something else that that is true of Him. "But there is forgiveness with You, that You might be feared."
We need, of course, to understand this "forgiveness" rightly. The Bible doesn't teach us that God - as a holy God - simply ignores our sins when He forgives them. He extracts the full payment for every one of our sins; and that whole payment is death. As the Bible teaches us, ". . . The wages of sin is death . . ." (Romans 6:23). But He is able to forgive us, because of the fact that someone else has paid the payment for our sins, and has died in our place. God knew all the sins of the psalmist perfectly; but God was also able to forgive the psalmist completely when he confessed his sin, because God looked ahead to that one who was to come and pay the penalty for all of the sins that he committed.
Just how clearly the psalmist understood that payment that was going to be made is something that we can only guess at. He no doubt had faith in the promises that God made about it in the Scriptures. But how clearly he grasped it all, we simply don't know. But what he understood darkly and in shadows, we can understand clearly today. It was none other than Jesus, God's own sinless Son, who has paid the penalty for our sins on His cross. The prophet Isaiah spoke of Him when He said, "All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, every one, to his own way; and the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all" (Isaiah 53:6). As Paul writes, "In Him [that is, in Jesus] we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins . . ." (Eph. 1:7). And it was because of Jesus that the psalmist was able to say, "But there is forgiveness with You . . ."
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This, then, constitutes the great "confession" of the man or woman who cries out from the depths and is delivered by God's grace. Such a confession has two key aspects. First, it is a confession of the fact that we are all guilty sinners before a holy God; and that if He were to mark our iniquities, none of us would be able to stand before Him. All of us are helpless in our sins. But second, it is a confession of the fact that, with this unspeakably holy God who sees our sins, there is forgiveness. That forgiveness has been purchased for us at the cross of Jesus Christ.
And that leads me to one more thing to point out to you. The psalmist says that, with God, there is forgiveness, "that you might be feared." The idea behind this word "feared" is more than the idea of being 'afraid' of God. When we look at the cross, and see the high price our sins cost the Savior, it certainly should make us afraid to sin. But the word itself means much more than that. It includes the idea of holy reverence and awe on the basis of grateful love. In other words, the stated reason why this awesome God - before whom none could stand - presents Himself as a God of great forgiveness is so that we forgiven sinners might respond with gratitude to Him, and that He might be held in reverent awe by us.
I believe that the lesson from this is that someone who is truly forgiven will show his or her gratitude by a transformed life. The fact that God is a forgiving God doesn't make the truly forgiven sinner careless about sin - but rather, it causes him or her to become so reverent toward God that he or she would fear to sin out of an attitude of love and gratitude toward Him. Jesus taught us that "to whom little is forgiven, the same loves little" (Luke 7:47). There is forgiveness with God, that He may be 'feared' - that is, responded to with such reverential awe and love that we would tremble to fall into the same sins again.
And again, I ask; is this your confession of faith? Do you admit that, if you stood under God's scrutiny for sin, you would never be able to stand before Him? But do you also confess a faith in the fact that He is a God of great forgiveness because of what Jesus has done on the cross for us?
This too is a part of the pilgrimage toward the assurance of being fully accepted and fully righteous before God.
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So then; we have seen the "cry" and the "confession". Thirdly, let's look at . . .
3. THE COMMITTAL OF THE BELIEVING (vv. 5-6).
I believe that the psalmist has cried out to God because of God's promise of a Redeemer who would make forgiveness possible. In the psalmist's day, that Redeemer had not yet come. But there were many promises that God had given that pointed ahead to that Redeemer; and it was these promises that moved the psalmist to cry out to God from the depths. He believed the promises of God. And so, he says, "I wait for the LORD, my soul waits, and in His word I do hope" (v. 5).
The psalmist commits himself to the promises of God. His commitment is a practical one. He "waits" for the Lord. To "wait" on the Lord is a spiritually "active" thing. It means that the psalmist has his focus upon this One to whom he has cried out; and expects that, in time, He will fully answer. He looks to Him to pull him out of the pit, to pardon his sin, and to accept him as fully forgiven.
And the psalmist presents this as a deep-seated and resolute kind of "waiting". First, after calling to the Lord, he waits for the Lord. He is confident that God has heard his cry; and so he waits. Then he says that his soul - that is, his very being; his living self - waits. He waits for God, not with a superficial kind of waiting; but with a deep longing and confident trust down to the core of his being. And then he says that He places his hope in God's word - that is, he hangs his eternal destiny upon the very promises of God that are recorded in the Scriptures. And finally, he expresses a deeply intense kind of waiting - one in which he says, "My soul waits for the Lord more than those who watch for the morning - yes, more than those who watch for the morning" (v. 6).
Imagine a night watchman back in the days when this psalm was written. His job is to stand upon the wall and watch for the coming of daybreak - so that he can announce the time of the morning sacrifice. Such a watchman has no wrist-watch to tell him when the sun will come. All he can do is look to the east - toward the mountains of Moab - and watch for the first signs of sunlight piercing over the horizon.
I can't imagine that it was anything but a monotonous job. But it's not a fruitless one; because the watchman is absolutely certain that, soon, the sunlight will come. For him, it's not a question of "if"; but of "when". And so, he patiently "waits" for the sunlight of morning to break. He knows that, as soon as he sees the sunlight, he can announce it to the others; and then, his job is done and he's free to go. And so, no doubt, all of his powers of attention are focused eagerly upon the horizon - as he watches intensely for the break of dawn. And it's with that kind of intensity - and more - that the psalmist "waits" for the Lord to answer.
Have you called out to God from the depths of your sin? And do you confess that His testimony about your sin is true; and also that He is a God who forgives sin? If so, do you also "wait" upon Him? Do you hang your eternal hopes upon the promises of His word? Do you keep on looking eagerly and confidently to Him; and do you "wait" upon Him from the very deepest part of your soul? Do you keep at it?
Have you committed yourself to the promises of the God who forgives and who saves?
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Now we come to a joyful assurance on the part of the psalmist. Such assurance before God comes as a result of these other things. It comes from calling out to Him in the depths of our sinfulness; and from confessing the truth before the God who forgives; and then committing ourselves to the hope of His promises.
This leads us, finally, to . . .
4. THE CONFIDENCE OF THE REDEEMED (vv. 7-8).
And I believe these wonderful words are words that we can bring with us to the Lord's table this morning. The psalmist spoke to the Lord in verses 1-2; and then, he spoke as if to himself in verses 3-6. Now, it's as if he speaks to you and me from out of his own joyful experience:
O Israel, hope in the LORD; for with the LORD there is mercy, and with Him is abundant redemption. And He shall redeem Israel from all his iniquities (vv. 7-8).
He says that, with the Lord, there is "mercy"; and the word that is translated "mercy" is one of my favorite Hebrew words "chesed". It means "mercy"; but it means more than merely mercy alone. It means a full flow of genuine affection. It's sometimes translated "lovingkindness". We poor, helpless sinners are invited to hope in God; assured that He is a God of great "lovingkindness" - who is affectionately moved toward those who cry out to Him, and is glad to show them mercy and eager to respond to their cry. He gave His Son Jesus for us, to pay the debt of our sins and make it possible for us to be freely and fully forgiven; and so, how will He not with His Son also freely give us all things?
And what's more, the psalmist says that with the Lord is "abundant redemption". The word "redemption" here is meant to speak of God's power to loose us from our bondage to the depths of sin. We may think that our sins are just too great for us to be delivered from; but with God, we're told, there is "abundant" or "plenteous" redemption. As the Bible promises; "where sin abounded, grace abounded much more" (Romans 5:20).
And here's the promise: "And He shall redeem Israel from all his iniquities" (v. 8). Not just some, but all. And not by our own hand, but by His! He has accomplished all that is necessary through His Son Jesus Christ. And all that is necessary for us to do is to place our faith in the cross of Christ, and hope in the promises of the God who will bring about our redemption.
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So then; as we come to the Lord's table this morning, let's come joyfully, confidently, and thankfully in Christ. Through the sacrifice of His precious Son, our great God has mercy on all who hope in Him. He brings them out of the depths of despair in sin, and into the full assurance of His love and acceptance by faith.
Thank Him this morning, as you come to His table.
1"Psalmi Paulini"; cited in Franz Delitzch, Biblical Commentary on The Psalms; vol. 3, p. 302.
2A few of the Songs of Ascent are clearly attributed to David in the preface (122, 131, 133); and one is strongly based on God's covenant with him (132). One of these psalms is attributed to David's son Solomon (127); so if they were not penned by him, the Songs of Ascent may have at least been written or collected under David's supervision, or under the supervision of others authorized to act in David's name. The words of Psalm 130:7 seem to be echoed in Psalm 131:3; which was clearly attributed to David. And the fact that each of the other penitential psalms were penned by David may support the idea that Psalm 130 was written by him as well.
3USA Today; June 3-5, 2005, 1A.
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