Please turn with me to Psalm 130. If you were to ask me what my favorite Psalms were I don’t think you would be surprised that among them would be: 1, 8, 15, 23, 51, 90, 100, 103, 119, 121, 139 and 145.
If you were to ask Martin Luther what were his favorite psalms I think you’d be surprised. He said 32, 51, 130, and 143. The common thread connecting these four psalms is that they are classified as penitential psalms, psalms of repentance. There are seven all together and to Luther’s favorites we add 6, 38 and 102.
In some ways I suppose we should not be surprised that the penitential psalms were his favorites. The biographies tell us he was a man who agonized over his sins, climbing up cold stone stair after cold stone stair on his hands and knees, kissing each step and begging for forgiveness, a monk who spent up to six hours a day confessing his sins to his fellow priests before the truth and comfort of the gospel transformed him.
As I happened upon Psalm 130 recently I was struck by the Psalmist’s depth of anguish that begins the prayer and the heights of assurance that conclude the prayer. How did he go from the depths to the heights? That is what this sermon is about. Psalm 130 is a plea for pardon that culminates in the assurance of pardon. We all know how necessary the knowledge of God’s pardon is to us in our daily perseverance.
We have certain fundamental needs and therefore certain fundamental truths that we cannot hear enough of.
- Wives need to be assured of their husband’s undying love and commitment
- Husband’s need to be assured of their wife’s ongoing support and respect
Because of our sin nature and its continuing debilitating influence we are intimately acquainted with regular guilt and shame and disappointment, even despair and therefore we need to know that when we sincerely repent we are forgiven.
The assurance of God’s pardon is critical to us. What if God never gave us any assurance of his pardon? Think of it this way: You have asked forgiveness from someone you have offended, but instead of forgiving you they turn and walk away in silence. I do not mean they said, “I forgive you, but I still need some time to warm up to you.” I do not mean they said, “I forgive you, but the consequences of your sin changes some things.” I mean that the person you have sinned against and have sincerely apologized to withholds forgiveness and gives you absolutely no assurance of pardon. It would be quite tolerable if this person were the checkout lady at Fred Meyer because we would just go to a different aisle. But what if that someone were an officemate, teammate, classmate, roommate, sibling or spouse? What a strain! Nothing is the same.
Your witticism that once elevated the atmosphere does not work. Your humor that once brought smiles, if not laughter, is met with a blank face. The relating of a trial or disappointment that once evoked sympathy now evokes no response. Times together are strained, unnatural, awkward and painful. You try to avoid being in each other’s presence. You are no longer sharing life; you are sharing space and necessary information.
- The garbage needs to go out.
- This bill needs attention.
- Junior needs to be picked up after school and brought to the dentist.
That would be unbearable. What if God never gave us any assurance of pardon? What if next Lord’s Day, after we have knelt together confessing our sins we rise and Dr. Rayburn says in a defeatist tone, “Of course, we can never actually know for sure that God heard our plea for mercy and will give us what we ask for, but let us be like our father Abraham and hope against hope.” That would be pathetic, unsettling and disturbing.
How did the Psalmist climb from the depths that his guilty conscience sunk him to the heights of God’s reassuring pardon? What does he model for us? Follow along as I read please.
Read: Psalm 130
What does the Psalmist put his hope in? Like faith our hope is only as good as the object it is placed in. He puts his hope in God’s word, secondly in God himself or his character and reputation and finally in God’s redemptive work.
- You have confessed your sin but you still feel guilty, not forgiven and weighed down.
- You feel like God did not hear your prayer.
- You feel like God just turned away in silence and walked off.
What do you do?
- Put your hope in God’s word.
“In his word I put my hope.” v. 5b The psalmist must have been acquainted with portions of scripture that spoke “peace” to his guilty conscience. Maybe he had this one in mind. “I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more.” Isaiah 43:25
John Piper reminds us that God’s ultimate goal in all that he does is to preserve and display his glory. He prizes and delights in his own glory above all things. So when he blots out our transgressions it serves his glory and promotes the glory of his mercy. God is his own greatest cheerleader. He likes to draw attention to his glory and he likes to promote his glory. We can be sure that he will continue to forgive us when we come to him in penitence because it promotes the glory of his mercy and he gets a great name for himself. Maybe Isaiah 43:25 was a passage that our psalmist put his hope in.
I am so glad the Bible does not teach “Blot out my transgressions according to the zeal with which I confess them.” Or “Cover over my sins according to the tears I cry.” If you live with a dark cloud of guilt, consider committing Isaiah 43:25 to memory.
Or maybe he had this one in mind: “He does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.” Psalm 103:10-12
Or maybe my favorite: “Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy.” Micah 7:18
God is not only a cheerful giver, he is a cheerful forgiver. He does not forgive sins reluctantly and begrudgingly. He is not a miser with his mercy. It actually gives him pleasure to pardon our sins. God will not deny himself that pleasure.
Those are just a couple of places the psalmist may have had in mind when he said, “And in his word I put my hope.” We, of course, have been given more revelation and more places to turn to find promises of pardon.
“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:31, 38, 39 Not present sins, not future sins, not the power of sin! No wonder Dr. Packer refers to Romans 8 as a rhapsody of Christian assurance. The chapter begins with no condemnation in Christ and ends with no separation from Christ! We are meant to put our hope in this word!
Is God the kind of person that keeps his word and oaths? According to Psalm 15 the kind of person that we are to highly regard and desire to be like is the kind of person “Who keeps his oath even when it hurts.” Why? Because it is God-like. He keeps his oaths; all of them, without exception even when it hurts.
The first rung on this ladder up out of the depths is to put our hope in God’s Word. “How firm a foundation, is laid for us in his excellent word! What more can he say than to us he has said….”
- Put your hope in God himself, that is, his character and reputation.
I get that from v. 7a “O Israel, put your hope in the Lord, for with him is unfailing love…”
The L.O.R.D. used six times in this Psalm is the name our God chose for himself when he entered into covenant to rescue a people for himself.
The Lord does not do anything carelessly, as significant as naming things are in the Bible, we can be sure God did not choose a name for himself thoughtlessly. When God proclaimed his name to Moses, or maybe we should say elaborated upon the meaning of his name Yahweh, “I am who I am.”
“The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin…” Exodus 34:6, 7
“Moses, that is how I behaved toward Abraham and the Patriarchs, toward Joseph and his descendents, and that is how I am going to continue to behave toward you and my people forever – it will be my conduct toward you and therefore my reputation with you. I am a forgiving God who abounds in love.”
“With the Lord is ‘unfailing love’”, steadfast love, in five of the seven penitential psalms we see the psalmist appeal to the Lord’s “unfailing love” six times.
Is he the kind of God that is true to himself, his nature, will he live up to his own reputation and keep his own standards? It is in his bones to keep on loving and forgiving.
- Put your hope in God’s deeds and works particularly his deeds of redemption.
I get that from v. 7b-8 “With him is plentiful redemption. He himself will redeem Israel from all their sins.”
The NIV Dictionary of Theology defines redemption as “the action of a relative in setting free a member of his family or buying back his property or in general that of purchasing something for a price.” P. 560
The Psalmist most certainly would have had the Exodus in view. “…say to the Israelites ‘I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. I will free you from being slaves to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm…” Exodus 6:6-7
Psalm 130 is thought to be a post-exile psalm [Incidentally Psalm of Ascent sung on 3 pilgrimages climbing steps up to the Temple.] meaning it was written sometime after God’s people returned from their Babylonian captivity. Their release from Babylon and return to the Promised Land was regarded as a second Exodus, another type of God’s great work of redemption.
“Leave Babylon, flee from the Babylonians! Announce this with shouts of joy and proclaim it. Send it out to the ends of the earth; say, “The Lord has redeemed his servant Jacob.” Isaiah 48:20
These events were regarded as the great deeds of redemption. They were passed on from one generation to the next.[Psalm 145] They were celebrated in song. How often was the Song of Moses and Miriam on the lips of a common Israelite in the course of their life-time? It is easy to imagine it as their National Anthem or the Battle Hymn of their Theocracy those redemptive acts were sung during feast times and celebrations. And they were remembered during tough times, times when it appeared or felt like God had forsaken them and times when they were captives in their own land. This is the Psalmist’s point, “Remember what God has done. Take comfort, find consolation, and place your hope in his former works of redemption. He will redeem again, just you watch. Wasn’t that what we find Simeon and Anna doing in Luke 2? Were they not looking for the consolation and redemption of Jerusalem? God’s past activities of redemption fueled their hope in his future promised acts of redemption.
And don’t we feel their joy every time we read the Christmas story? There is Simeon cradling Baby Redemption. There is Anna fawning all over the Infant Redeemer as Naomi must have with Obed.
He came to give his life as a ransom. He was the price paid to redeem us, to free us from the slavery we were born into. Our Redeemer has come and worked a perpetual peace for us. Yet our full redemption is still future.
Is my Redeemer the kind of Redeemer that starts things but doesn’t finish them? Is he the kind of Bridegroom that betroths us to himself and then leaves us waiting at the aisle, jilting us on our wedding day?
The book I most enjoyed reading to my girls when they were much younger was the children’s version of Pilgrim’s Progress called Dangerous Journey. Many of you are familiar with it. I cannot recommend it enough to our families with younger children to introduce them to the concept that their Christian life is like a journey filled with thrills and dangers, diversions both good and bad, and friends and foes of this pilgrimage they are on. The story is classic and the many illustrations are graphic and priceless.
In one picture we see Christian with his knees buckled and his back bent under the heavy burden of his guilt and sin. He is wearing rags and despair is etched in his face. He comes to the cross and confesses his sin. The next picture the straps that hold his burden on his back are snapped and the burden rolls off his back into the empty tomb. The next illustration we see Christian dressed in new clothes leaping in the air for joy and the relief of pardon animating every muscle in his face!
What if every time you and I confessed our sin we felt like Christian looked in that picture? What if every Lord’s Day after we have knelt confessing our sin and Dr. Rayburn assured us of God’s pardon we were instantly as light as a feather and catapulted into the air with relief, joy, pardon and assurance?
Sadly, it is not that way. Some have consciences that are more easily burdened by their sin. Some days are better than others but relief never seems complete and never lasts long. Sadly, they often doubt whether they are a Christian at all.
Still, I think the counsel of Psalm 130 is the same for us all and is reliable. When we’ve honestly confessed our sins and we simply do not feel forgiven, let us put our hope in God’s Word. It is the only reliable gauge of our standing with him, not our feelings. Put our hope in God’s character, reputation and in his past great works of redemption.
I did not mean to suggest at any point in the sermon that the climb from the depths of guilt and shame to the heights of relief and hope will be quick and easy by just memorizing a couple of verses. I know that from personal experience.
More importantly, more authoritatively, I know it from Psalm 130. Look with me at vv. 5-6. Notice the dominate verb. “I wait for the Lord, my soul waits and in his word I put my hope. My soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen wait for the morning. More than watchmen wait for the morning.” That is a lot of waiting. Why must there be so much waiting in the Christian life?
“Waiting is a great part of life’s discipline and therefore God often exercises the grace of waiting. Waiting has four purposes. It practices the patience of faith. It gives time for preparation for the coming gift. It makes the blessing the sweeter when it arrives. And it shows the sovereignty of God to give just when and just as he pleases.” James Vaughan – Spurgeon’s Treasury of David 129
As I close, notice the object of the Psalmist’s waiting. It is not first and foremost the assurance of God’s pardon, it is God himself. “I wait for the Lord. My soul waits for the Lord.”
And if we have to wait longer than we would like in the aisle in our wedding dress, the waiting will only make the blessing sweeter when he arrives and he is so worth the wait.