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Psalm 130: From Here to There

June 25, 2017 Speaker: Omar Johnson Series: The Psalms

Topic: Affliction & Suffering Passage: Psalm 130:1–130:8

From Here to There

This past Wednesday officially confirmed what most of us already knew: summer is here. And with it comes all those seemingly requisite summer-time activities: cookouts, trips to the pool and the playground, playing outdoors late into the evening. Some of us will use this season to travel, whether for a week-long vacation, or weekend getaway or day-long escape to somewhere new or relaxing. And whether to cut costs or bypass TSA security lines, many of us will choose to travel by car rather than by air. We’ll make it a road trip.

But what makes a good road trip? What do you need? What are the essentials? The car needs to be gassed up. All the fluids topped off. Tire pressure checked. You need to have some snacks. Drinks in the cooler. And one other especially important element: you need some good music.

Old Testament Jews shared at least this last sentiment of an essential for a good road trip. As many of them travelled far distances up to Jerusalem for one the three main annual feasts, having good music was an essential for the journey. And preserved for us today, thousands of years later, is their road trip playlist. We find it in Psalms 120-134, all inscribed, “Songs of Ascent”. That is, while the people ascended up to Jerusalem for these feasts, these were the songs they sang on the journey. And what genre of music was it? Well I contend that these Old Testament Jews were among the first to sing truly “gospel” music. Songs about our sin, and God’s forgiveness, and our response to Him. The type of music that’s not only good, but needed for the soul, both then and now. And so, I invite you to turn with me to Psalm 130 as we learn one of these songs together. Psalm 130 – if you’re using one of the Bibles provided under the chairs, you can find it on page 518.

Psalm 130 – A Song of Ascents

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!

If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities,
    O Lord, who could stand?
But with you there is forgiveness,
    that you may be feared.

I wait for the Lord, my soul waits,
    and in his word I hope;
my soul waits for the Lord
    more than watchmen for the morning,
    more than watchmen for the morning.

O Israel, hope in the Lord!
    For with the Lord there is steadfast love,
    and with him is plentiful redemption.
And he will redeem Israel
    from all his iniquities.

Now as we walk through this song of ascents together, I think we’ll see three ascensions on the way. That is, we’ll note three instances where the psalmist goes from “here” to “there”. Three ascensions, or inclines (if you will), of the psalmist’s heart.

The 1st ascension we’ll see is in verses 1-4 as the psalmist goes from “the depths” to “God”.

The 2nd ascension we’ll see is in verses 5&6 as the psalmist goes from “urgently pleading” to “patiently waiting”.

The 3rd ascension we’ll see is in verses 7&8 as the psalmist goes from “me” to “us”.

And these three ascensions feed what I believe is the main theme or the main point of this song: that In present distresses, remembering God’s mercy to us, produces patient hope, for a glorious future. In present distresses, remembering God’s mercy to us, produces patient hope, for a glorious future.

Let’s look at the first few verses as we see the psalmist ascend from the depths to God.

  1. From the depths to God (verses 1-4)

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!

Now “the depths” could be a physical description. After all, the psalmist is going up to Jerusalem, so anywhere below could be described as “the depths”. But more than likely, the depths describe the psalmist’s spiritual condition, as often in the psalms “the depths”, or “the deeps” are used to illustrate inner turmoil or unrest, despair, sorrow, spiritual depression. What does the psalmist do in this situation? Where do you go “from the depths”? Many of us have experienced the low places in life. Infertility, the death of a child, the death of parents, some of your husbands have abandoned you, and your mothers and fathers have forsaken you, there’ve been drug addictions, physical abuse, mental abuse, sexual abuse. We’ve been through some dark places in this church. It’s not lost on me that when we gather together there is a great gulf of grief that accompanies us. What do we do? Where do we go from here?

The psalmist is instructive, “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!” There’s no self-help here. In dark times the psalmist instinctively goes to God in prayer. And in his prayer, we see both passion and persistence. There’s passion: he cries out to God, He lifts his voice to the Lord. There’s no room for these stoic, pious sounding prayers. No, there’s desperation, urgency. Help! Hear me crying to you! And there’s also persistence: Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my pleas for mercy. This is not just a one-time request, but pleas, multiple pleas, continual pleas for mercy. Lord, have mercy upon me! Get me out of this. Have mercy on me!

Now, it’s often said that all people respond like this in the pits of life. Maybe you’ve heard the popular expression, “there are no atheists in foxholes.” It’s meant to imply that in times of trouble, everybody cries out to God. But that’s not true, is it? There are atheists in foxholes. Atheists with terminal cancer. Atheists on their deathbeds. To assume otherwise minimizes sin, and the deadening effect it has on us. The truth is, in the deep, dark places, often we look deeper within. To our own resources, to our own abilities, to our own intestinal fortitude. Crying out to God is not our natural response. No, man’s natural response in deep trouble is not to run to God, but to run from God.

We see that in our first parents Adam and Eve. After they eat the fruit from the forbidden tree, burdened with sorrow and guilt, they don’t ascend to God pleading for mercy. No, they descend to their own crafty inventions and put leaves around their bodies to try to hide their guilt and shame, to try to fix the situation. That’s the basic mode of operation even now. If you did a quick google search of “what to do in times of darkness”, here’s some of the advice you’d get: trust your heart, get to know yourself better, become aware of what doesn’t work, never give up on yourself, fight on. The world just gives you a bunch of law: do this, explore that, change these habits. From the depths, the world drives us into deeper despair. It’s only the LORD who takes us through the depths and in them graciously calls out to us, “Come to me!” “Lift up your eyes to the hills from where your help comes. Your help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth.” “Lift up your voice and cry out to me for mercy, for I am the LORD, a God merciful and gracious.” To go to God from the depths is a demonstration of the grace of God in the depths.

And as we draw near to God, our present distresses shrink. But not because He makes them go away. Rather, in the face of a holy and righteous God, we’re made aware of our greatest problem, our deepest affliction, that thing that will bring us eternal distress: our sins against God. Suddenly, whatever depth we’ve been crying out to be delivered from, pales in comparison to the immeasurably deep pit that we have been delivered from. We see the psalmist come to that realization in verses 3 & 4. “If you, O LORD should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared.” He’s been pleading for mercy, for God to withhold his heavy hand in his present distress, but now he’s reminded of the great mercy God has already shown. As it’s brought to his mind the great iniquities, sins that he’s committed against God. The plural form of that word should terrify us…iniquities against a righteous God.

Remember, it was one iniquity, singular, that plunged all humanity into damnation. One bite of one piece of fruit in the garden brought the fury of God on all mankind. Jennifer read that for us earlier in Romans 5. Romans 5:16, “one trespass brought condemnation”. Romans 5:17, “because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through one man.” Romans 5:18, “one trespass led to condemnation for all men.” Romans 5:19, “by the one man’s disobedience [one time] the many were made sinners.” Adam’s one sin, his one act of rebellion against God, his one iniquity, brought the judgment of God’s wrath upon all men and women. And here’s the thing, that’s never presented in the Bible as God overreacting. But rather, as his only and rational response as a holy God towards the creatures who rebel against him.

One iniquity brings the whole-hearted fury of God. What then of the whole catalog of iniquities that you and I have committed against him? The psalmist asks, “If the LORD should mark, would keep account, would record iniquities, who would be able to stand?” He wouldn’t. You and I wouldn’t. We have a tendency to look outside ourselves for evil, to feel good of our comparative record with others. So we look through the annals of history and see Pharaoh in Moses’s day, or King Herod in Jesus’s day who both ordered babies to be slaughtered. In more recent history we look at the Hitler’s and Mao’s as symbols of evil. We look to slave-owners and slave traders. We look at child molesters and human traffickers. We look at doctors and nurses in abortion clinics. Some look at protesters and activists in the Black Lives Matter movement and see evil. Others to Richard Spencer and the alt-right movement. Some look at President Obama as the very anti-Christ. Others to President Trump as the most wicked man alive. But friends, if you want to see the full embodiment of evil, if you want to see the very face of iniquity, take out your cell phone, open the camera app, rotate the view to selfie mode, and take a picture. “Thou art the man!”

You and I were brought forth in iniquity another psalmist tells us. And we’ve loved and pursued it since birth. Who can count the number of sins you committed at 6 months old? At 2 years old. At 5. At 8. At 10. Those 13-18 years weren’t just of an innocent adolescent exploring different things trying to find themselves, but actual outworkings of your rebellion against God. Can you number them? How many iniquities did you commit in college? Can you remember them? Alcohol and drugs may have dulled your recollection, but there is an accurate record kept somewhere. How many sins have you committed against a holy God this year? This month. This week. This morning? How many things have you preferred above God? How many prideful thoughts, or lustful thoughts, or bitter thoughts, or envious thoughts have accumulated in your heart? How many curses have you spoken? Even every empty or careless word will be judged! What is the sum total, to date, of your sins? Can you tally them up? Of course you can’t! No one can!

So friends, if you’re here this morning as a moralist. Or as a good Muslim. As a law-keeping Christian. As a good man or a good woman. Trusting in your good deeds, that somehow they will outweigh your bad deeds and earn you some future reward, let me tell you, on the authority of God’s word, they will not! No man or woman, me and you included, will ever be able to stand in our own righteousness. Remember God’s judgement against the first, initial iniquity. What will be his response to the multiplied millions of yours?

You think life’s the pits now?! Consider the pit you should be in! The pit of hell! But even there, in the depth of depths, God draws us up and we go to him. And surprisingly, with him, there is forgiveness! Not because He sweeps our sins under the rug, but because He does something to bring us out of the pit. He is merciful, and gracious, and loving enough not to leave us in the depths. From the depths to You, O LORD! That’s the biggest incline! And God does it all. He comes down to bring us up.

God sent His Son into the world, not to condemn the world (which we deserve), but that the world might be saved through him. The Son of God descended from heaven, took on flesh, and became a man. He lived 33 years of an iniquity-free, sinless life. And then, in fulfillment of Scripture, he laid down his life, and picked up a cross, that we might live. He bore our griefs and carried our sorrows. He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities. 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. His name is Jesus. And there’s no other name, no other person who has ever lived a perfect life. And who legitimately would be able to stand righteous in his own right before God. But instead, Jesus stood condemned in our place. He bore our sins in his body on the tree, suffering on our behalf, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring us, from the depths, to God.

How do you respond to such glorious good news? The psalmist tells us how we should respond: in absolute awe. Understanding how deep in sin we have been, and how full and free God’s forgiveness is, the psalmist says that our only appropriate response is to fear God, we see that at the end of verse 4. Not fearing him as a threat. For a non-Christian, that’s absolutely the type of fear you should have – he’s going to judge all your sins one day. But for Christians, this type of fear is fading as we grow in knowing Christ has satisfied God’s wrath on our behalf. But rather a worship-fear. A reverent submission to God as the awesome God. To fear him is to revere him. To stand in awe of Him. What mercy! What grace! What forgiveness!

And the psalmist only saw a glimpse of what this forgiveness would look like. He only saw in the sacrificial system, with its lambs and goats, a foreshadow of what we have seen accomplished in full, when Jesus the Lamb of God was slaughtered to take away the sins of the world. And if the psalmist could stand in awe of God for the forgiveness promised to him, how much more we who have seen the fulfillment of the promise in Christ Jesus our Lord! We stand amazed at the foot of the cross, as we behold God’s mercy and his justice, His love and His wrath displayed. We stand amazed in the presence of Jesus the Nazarene. And wonder how he could love us, sinners, condemned, unclean. Singing, “how marvelous, how wonderful is my Savior’s love for me!” And that’s exactly God’s design. To lead us from the depths to Him. From despair and agony to awe.

Where do you go from there?

Well, we see the 2nd ascension in the psalmist’s heart in verses 5&6 as he goes from “urgently pleading” to “patiently waiting”.

  1. From urgently pleading to patiently waiting (verses 5-6)

The psalmist says,

I wait for the Lord, my soul waits,
    and in his word I hope;
my soul waits for the Lord
    more than watchmen for the morning,
    more than watchmen for the morning.

You wonder if this is the same person, don’t you? The anxious and animated pleas we saw in verses 1 & 2 have been replaced by a seemingly calm, confident hope. In the midst of his present distress, remembering the magnitude of God’s mercy to him seems to have changed the psalmist’s posture. “I wait for the LORD.”

Now we hate that word, don’t we? Wait. It’s so deflating. So uninspiring. So frustrating. I suspect much of our frustration is because we’ve often waited for things that never materialized, or people who never showed up. Relationships that never blossomed. Future spouses that are still future. Promotions in the workplace. Some of us have waited for parents to act like parents – to love us and care for us. Some have waited for depression to lift. For happiness to characterize our lives.

For many of us, “wait” is the worst word, because we never see waiting work out. But the psalmist here doesn’t seem dejected, or even skeptical. His waiting is an expectant waiting, a hopeful waiting. He almost seems to be encouraging himself by the repeating, “I wait for the LORD, my soul waits. My soul waits for the Lord”. There is a sure, certain expectation that the LORD will deliver. That He will indeed be merciful. That He will provide relief and comfort. So sure is he, that he compares his waiting to that of watchmen for the morning. Those men positioned around the city in times of trouble, watching over the night, looking forward to the break of day. So, the psalmist is eagerly anticipating the light of God’s mercy breaking in out of the darkness. Even if the present distresses don’t disappear, the psalmist is certain, is confident that the Lord will indeed respond to his pleas for mercy, that he would be delivered from distress, if not in this life, then most certainly in the one to come.

Sometimes as Christians as we walk through trying and distressing times together, we try to encourage one another by saying things like, “Hold on. It’s just a season.” Now, that can be helpful and unhelpful. If we mean, “it’s just a season”, to imply that things will change in a few months, or a few years, or a determinate amount of time, we may be guilty of offering false hope. The depression may not dissipate now that winter is over and sunny days are here. The loneliness may not be filled in a few months. The pressures and demands at work may not lessen after the busy season. The cries and selfish demands of the kids probably won’t go away in a few years, they’ll just morph into another version. 2018 might not be the year of breakthrough, but one of breakups and breakdowns. Let’s be careful of what we mean when we say, “it’s just a season”. As if to say, hold on for a little while, and just look forward to another few weeks, or few months, or few years and then you can experience life as its meant to be experienced.

But if we mean, “this is just a season” to imply that no matter how deep the sorrow, the grief, the valley of trouble or trial, that it will only extend as far as this life does, that it will not extend to the next. If we mean that weeping may endure for a night…and a night may be another 50 years, but that joy comes in the morning, then by all means, let us encourage one another that this is just a season. That because of Christ’s sacrifice for us this life is the worst we’ll ever live, but that unending joy is set before us, when Jesus returns and calls us home. Let us assume the psalmist’s stance of waiting for the LORD. That’s the normal posture for God’s people in this life: to wait.

And it’s not just blind faith that the psalmist is banking on as he waits. He’s not just holding on to some imaginative illusion of some make-believe deity showing up. He’s not wishing for God. He’s confidently waiting for Him. And what is his main support? What’s the rock-solid source of the psalmist’s confidence? God’s word. I wait for the LORD, and in His word I hope. You won’t find a better doctrine of Scripture than the psalmist’s here. You show what you believe about the Bible in real-life trials.

You may believe that the Bible is inspired, that it’s breathed out by God, that it’s His word. You may believe that the Bible is inerrant: that it contains no errors, no falsehoods. That every single jot and tittle is true. You may believe that the Bible is clear: that it’s comprehensible to the physicist and the fisherman, to the PHD graduate and the 11-year old student, that it makes clear everything we need to know to be saved and live a godly life. You may believe that the Bible is authoritative: that it sits over us and not under us, that it’s the supreme standard by which we test all things. But here’s the area many of us Bible-believing Christians get shaky on: Is the Bible sufficient? Is the Bible enough, when life gets difficult, when trials come, when God seems distant? Or do you then lay it aside, and look for new words, new revelations, new experiences to bring you closer to God? The psalmist shows us by his example that the Word of God is enough to sustain the people of God as together we patiently wait for God.

And this is a together waiting, a corporate waiting.

We see that in the 3rd and final ascension in this song in verses 7 & 8, as the psalmist goes from “me” to “us.”

III. From “me” to “us” (verses 7-8)

O Israel, hope in the Lord!
    For with the Lord there is steadfast love,
    and with him is plentiful redemption.
And he will redeem Israel
    from all his iniquities.

As we continue trekking upward, we see the psalmist’s confident trust in God go viral. Now he’s exhorting others, “O Israel, hope in the LORD!” As the Lord has taken him from the depths to himself, from urgently pleading to patiently waiting, and in the process, has shown him more of Himself, more of His mercy, more of His forgiveness, more of His character, we see that it’s not just for the psalmist’s own benefit. The LORD deals with us individually, but never just for the individual. He means for us to tell of His wondrous work to others, to encourage and exhort them. He has not brought us out of the pit and placed us on an island. He has brought us out of the pit and placed us with his people. This is no solo, this is a congregational song, where the voices of the redeemed cry out to one another, “Hope in the LORD!” And we have reasons to hope in Him, “for with him there is steadfast love, with him is plentiful redemption! And He will redeem His people from their iniquities.”

O saints, there is a final redemption that will be ours. It’s not just about my salvation, but ours. We will not be on an isolated island, just us and God. But in the throne room, at the foot of the throne, in the actual presence of God, with a number that cannot be numbered of the redeemed, singing a new song, “Great and amazing are Your deeds, O LORD God Almighty! Just and true are Your ways, O King of the nations! Who will not fear, O Lord, and glorify Your name? For You alone are holy. All nations come and worship You, for Your righteous acts have been revealed.” That’s what we’re waiting for. Our full and final redemption is coming soon. It won’t be long, saints. It won’t be long.

Last Sunday, PG mentioned this would be my last week here. Thankfully, that’s not true, not yet at least, we’ve still got about another month. But this will be my last time preaching here for a while. In August, we’ll be heading to DC for an internship for a few months, and then to Kentucky for seminary for who knows how long. But while many miles will soon separate us, we’ll still be on the same journey together brothers and sisters, up to that celestial city, to the heavenly Jerusalem, where King Jesus reigns. And while the road may be filled with many trials and tragedies, burdens and sorrows, oh the greatest burden has been lifted. All our sins have been forgiven, our souls have been set free, and the LORD is leading us home.

Hope in the LORD THBC, as elders transition out, and rotate off, and one day retire. As members move and transfer their membership, or pass away. As the faces in the seats and the names in the directory change. As desires go unfulfilled and needs remain unmet. Hope in the LORD. When, as a fellow pilgrim reminds us, the deep waters of distresses come, know that they are not a sign that God has forsaken you, but are sent to test you, to see if you will call to mind all the goodness you’ve received from Him.” Hope in the LORD! For with the LORD is steadfast love, with Him there is plentiful redemption, and He will redeem us from all our iniquities.”

Let’s pray.

More in The Psalms

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October 25, 2015

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