The Lord who hears - Psalm 130
An audio recording of this sermon is available.
I heard recently of a young boy who went swimming in a large lake at dusk. (Philip Yancey. Files of Leadership). As he was paddling at a leisurely pace about 100 yards offshore, a bizarre evening fog rolled in across the water.
Suddenly he could see nothing! No horizon, no landmarks, no objects or lights on shore. Because the fog was so thick he couldn't even discern which
direction the sun was setting.
For thirty minutes the boy splashed around in panic! He'd start off in one direction, lose confidence, and strike out blindly again in another direction, for he'd lost all orientation. At times he' stop and float, trying to conserve energy, and concentrate on breathing slower. He was utterly lost until, finally, he heard voices calling from the shore. Had these voices not guided him into safety he would have surely drowned!
The feelings, emotions and perspective that this young boy must have experienced when the fog rolled in over him, are rather like the way that people sometimes speak of bouts of depression; feelings of overpowering fear, hopelessness, helplessness, and isolation.
Depression is no respecter of persons. It strikes young & old, male & female, rich & poor, believer and non-believer alike it knows no boundaries.
"Depression" is a term that has definite medical meanings but at least in its more popular usage it is a relatively common human experience, one that many of us here tonight know from our own lives or of those close to us. And as we turn to the Bible this evening we find a man who was in many ways going through such an overwhelming experience.
Do turn to p624 consider the 2nd of the OT psalms in our sermon series Psalm 130.
Here is someone who feels himself in "the depths" v1. The word's connected to being at the bottom of the sea away from normal life with it's light to see & air to breath. Here is someone who is down in the dumps someone who is, at least in the popular sense, "depressed".
One of the attractions of the Psalms for believers is that they are honest & realistic, they express for us the kinds of experience that is so often ours.
And the truth is believers get depressed sometimes medically, clinically depressed but also more generally we get weighed down by troubles & difficulties which loom large, we get attacked by anxieties, we get discouraged by circumstances; at this time in history belonging to God & his Kingdom doesn't mean we are protected from all situations & emotions that are characteristic of this broken world.
Some Psalm writers speak of feeling in the depths because they've been let down by others (Ps 55), because they were being persecuted for their faith (Ps 69) or because they were ill (Ps6) or pining for their homeland (Ps 42).
But here, being in the depths of depression seems to have been provoked by a sense of guilt for sin. V3 " If you, O LORD, kept a record of sins, O Lord who could stand?"
The depths for this psalm writer are that he feels cut off from God he feels himself in the depths of Sheol the place of the dead apart from God He feels himself away from the life & light of the creator. And his separation is caused by his awareness of his own rebellion against God & he can't help himself.
Some today tell people with guilt feelings that they have no reason to feel that way it's just an unhelpful neurosis that needs to be thrown off! After all for many we are simply victims of circumstances or genetics.
But here is a man who knows he is responsible & is rightly aware of his sin & how it offends God. He is ridden with guilt that is real, but what is his reaction? Well he prays & as he does so (in our hearing) we are reminded of some vital things about the God to whom prayer must be made;
1st thing is that He is;
1. A God who is prepared to listen. v1-2
In any human relationship if you're not sure the other person has any time for you or is preoccupied with other things or has something against you, you are not likely to feel much communication is possible. Sometimes in our distress we don't feel like communicating with God our sense of guilt can make us feel God won't listen or has given up on us. So why pray?
Well the Psalm writer despite his sense of depression knows he will be heard in his prayers because of who it is he is praying to; V 1 "Out of the depths I cry to you, O LORD; 2O Lord, hear my voice. Let your ears be attentive to my cry for mercy."
Five times when God's addressed in Ps 130 He is not simply called "God" or "master" but LORD (capital L.O.R.D.) - Notice v1, v3, v5, & twice in v7.
Whenever you see this in your Bible it should make you sit up & take notice it is something very significant. "LORD" translates the unique name of God, which in the original Hebrew is made up of 4 letters sometimes translated as Jehovah or better Yahweh. This is the name God revealed to Moses (Ex 3;14) "I am what I am, I will be what I will be" it helps us see that God is personal & always present & that he is the God of the covenant - utterly faithful to his promises.
The God to whom the believer prays then, is not merely the ruler & creator but also the loving & completely faithful, ruler & creator.
So, it is worth crying out to God because he is prepared to listen, indeed longing to listen. As someone has put it "If out of the depths we cry, we shall cry ourselves out of the depths" - & that because of the God to whom we cry.
Do you remember Jesus' story which we had as our other Bible reading (Lk11: 5-13)? There was the man whose friend wakes him up in the middle of the night & keeps on bothering him to give him some food eventually the man gets so fed up with the friend's irritating behaviour he gets out of bed & gives him what he wants.
Now what's Jesus getting at? He has been talking about prayer so it's something to do with prayer. It seems he's saying God is not like this man who only listens & gives to his friend after lots of annoying hassling! Yet this selfish man eventually gives in & listens to his friend how much more God is ready & willing to listen to his children who pray to him. So Jesus adds "Ask & it will be given to you. Seek & you will find knock & the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, he who seeks finds & to him who knocks the door will be opened."
I wonder who needs to be reminded of this, this evening? Maybe it is a sense of guilt you struggle with, perhaps your feelings tell you God is far away, maybe you're simply perplexed by what seems to be going on in your life or the lives of others around you. Take the psalm writer's words as your own with the knowledge that God, the faithful covenant God hears you; v2 "O Lord, hear my voice. Let your ears be attentive to my cry for mercy." We have a God who is more than prepared to listen to his people's prayers. (p)
[2. A God who is prepared to forgive. v3-4]
The Psalm writer wonderfully realises something else about God indeed something vital if someone is to have his or her guilt before God removed. And that is that the perfect, totally pure & holy God is, amazingly, prepared to forgive.
Our eldest daughter Joanna who is 7, has just brought home her school report for the end of Year 2. This includes the customary comments about the different areas of the curriculum she has covered but also there are assessments about her attainment & the effort she's put in.
For attainment you can score a 1= above average, a 2= average or a 3 = below average. And for effort you can get a 1 tries very hard, a 2= acceptable effort or a 3 could try harder! (I won't embarrass her by telling you how she was graded!)
The spiritual truth is that as people made by God & given everything we have from his hand we have a duty to please God. We owe him so much He deserves our respect & cooperation.
Now God knows all about all of us (whether we recognize him or not) & God sees everything. So He knows all our failures to achieve his standards, our good efforts & our "could try harder" ones. But because the standard needed to relate to the completely pure God is complete purity, God's report on our lives is an overall fail; whether an above average fail or a below average fail.
The blunt truth is that if God's report of our sins was held against us no one not a single individual on the earth today, could be in the presence of God. Look at v3 If you, O LORD, kept a record of sins, O Lord, who could stand?
Without this recognition (that we're sinful & have a pretty disappointing indeed failed - report from God on our lives) there can be no hope of forgiveness!
Now & again when I go & visit a bereaved relative before a funeral they tell me "Oh John (or whatever their loved one was called) he always tried to help people & he never did anything wrong!"
In some ways in the early stages of bereavement people have a very glowing view of the one they have lost & that is understandable but when you think about it, if what they said was literally true he'd be the only person in the world it was true of! Who has "never done anything wrong?"
The Psalm writer knows this is a total misunderstanding of God & of people. He knows that he cannot face the holy God because of his own sinfulness; 3If you, O LORD, kept a record of sins, O Lord, who could stand?
If God keeps in mind our sins & treats us as we deserve in the light of his perfection we are doomed. We have no hope of ever being able to relate to Him.
But there is something else about the true & living God that this man knows; something transforming given his guilt-induced depression; v4; "But with you there is forgiveness; therefore you are feared."
God the loving, faithful God somehow can find it possible to maintain his standards & purity yet at the same time acquit people for their sin against Him; "But with you there is forgiveness.."
This is a truth this man needed to remember as he wrestled with his awareness of sin.
It was Empress Catherine the Great who when speaking about her need of forgiveness is reported to have said "God forgives c'est son metier it's His job!!" That's what many people think "God'll forgive me if I need it I don't need to think about Him now - that's what God does, isn't it!"
But it is not so straight forward God's job as the righteous judge would be to rightly condemn us all for our dismal reports how then can he be just & forgive at the same time?
Well the clue comes at the end of the Psalm when having received forgiveness the psalm writer speaks to the rest of his community that they might come to appreciate it too & says;
v7O Israel, put your hope in the LORD, for with the LORD is unfailing love and with him is full redemption. 8He himself will redeem Israel from all their sins.
Now for the Psalm writer & his contemporaries this word "redemption" would have conjured up the wonderful rescue God had given His OT people in their escape from Egypt in the so-called "Exodus" (6:6).
God despite their sinfulness was very very kind to them & bought them back from slavery, he ransomed them at the price of great effort on his part, he rescued them from the mess they were in.
But there is more this Psalm (130) was one of the great church reformer Martin Luther's favorites. He called it a "Pauline Psalm" in other words it is a Psalm that points so clearly to the truths of the gospel of Jesus so clearly outlined by the Apostle Paul in the NT. In (Ephs 1;7) Paul writes; "In Jesus we have redemption [at the price of] his blood the forgiveness of sins."
I heard once of a young man who took a girl out for a meal on a first date.
And at the end of the evening he realised he had no cash on him. So he gave the waiter a credit card but back he came to the table saying it had been refused (which wasn't great on a first date
So desperate thinking, then a brainwave. He said to the young lady that he just needed to nip out to the loo, under cover of which he actually nipped out and raced down the street to a cash-point - where his bankcard was also refused!
So, back to the restaurant, (strangely out of breath for what was just a trip to the loo), more desperate thinkingWhen he suddenly realised his new girl friend was smiling at him. "It's OK,' she said, 'I've paid."
Morally and spiritually, each of us is in debt to God. We have a "record" of sins standing against us. God's nature of purity & justice says the penalty must be paid for our failed report.
What we need is someone owing nothing, someone infinitely in credit with God, who would be willing to step into our shoes and pay for us.
The Bible says that's just what Jesus, God's Son did when he became a man & died that 1st Good Friday, that's just what Jesus did as he died on the cross to bring "full redemption". (P)
The answer to a sense of guilt before God then, is not denial or pretence, but rather humble recognition & acknowledgment of our sin to God & then confidence in God's remedy. This attitude means we recognize that sin against God is serious for such a great price was required to rescue us from it, but nonetheless it is available v4 "With you there is forgiveness therefore you are to be feared revered." God should be revered for his mercy.
I wonder if there is anyone here tonight who still has a sense of guilt for confessed sin? Or still struggling with a sense of guiltiness? Through Jesus' dying and rising again then, God is saying loud and clear, 'It's OK. I've paid. You can be free, you can be in friendship with me, with me "there is unfailing love and with [me] there is full redemption. 8 [I will redeem [my people] from all their sins." (p)
Well finally here is;
2. A God whose Word is worth Trusting v5-6
For this man in his depressed state he has come to release that God's forgiveness is real recognizing & confessing his sin brings acquittal, based on the redeeming work of God. But it seems the wonderful truth needs time to penetrate his heart & brain.
v5I wait for the LORD, my soul waits, and in his word I put my hope. 6My soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen wait for the morning,
more than watchmen wait for the morning.
The writer "waits" for the loving, faithful God. He turns his being towards God in expectation that God's forgiveness will be real to him.
But this "waiting", is not a vague wish. He says he waits like the watchman who waits for the day to dawn. A watchman had the job of staying up all night to look out for enemies approaching the settlements where people lived & if necessary sounding a warning.
This watching out involved having to wait through the most frightening time the dark of night. The Psalm writer says he waits like the watchman waits for the morning; it may be difficult, it may involve anxiety, but he knows the morning will come.
He waits trustingly knowing that God's goodness will be fulfilled as surely as day follows night. It may still seem dark to him, but he knows the light will arrive.
And notice where the man's hope is placed. 5I wait for the LORD, my soul waits, and in his word I put my hope. God's character is revealed through what he makes known of Himself, he meets God in his word, so God's promises are his confidence.
John Stott one of the great Christian leaders of the last 50 years once wrote "I sometimes wonder if there is any more vital lesson for Christian living than this: that God has condescended to our weakness by making us promises, that he will never break them, and that faith reckons on his faithfulness by grasping hold of themmany of us complain of spiritual doubt, darkness, depression and lethargy, of besetting sins and unconquered temptations, of slow progress towards Christian maturity, of sluggishness in worship and in prayer, and of many other spiritual ills, while all the time we do not use the secret weapon which God has put into our hands." - God's very great & precious promises.
I am certainly grateful to those who taught me early in my Christian life to read God's promises in the Bible & seek to hold onto them, to learn them (memorise them) & repeat them to myself & to God in prayer.
As we "wait for the LORD", especially when things seem dark, what great encouragement & comfort & what an incentive to faith it is to keep dwelling on God's promises, clinging to them especially when our feelings don't match what we know to be true from God's word. "..in his word I put my hope." When we struggle with guilt what better place to go than this Psalm? v7; "for with the LORD is unfailing love and with him is full redemption."
Many of us have heard of Oscar Wilde the 19th C Irish author & poet who wrote books such as the Importance of Being Ernest.
Wilde also wrote an agonizing book whilst in prison which he called De Profundis. He took the title from the Latin Vulgate Bible's opening verse of this psalm ("Out of the depths"). De Profundis is a letter that describes Oscar Wilde's feelings about a relationship that was strongly disapproved of & which had lead to his imprisonment he felt in the depths.
The tragedy is that this highly gifted man seemed to know enough about this Psalm we've considered tonight to quote it's 1st line, but, in the book at least, it appears that he didn't go on to appreciate what kind of God the rest of the Psalm points us to.
For depression caused by the guilt of sin can be addressed it may take a while for the truth to penetrate our hearts & we shall need to keep trusting God's promises, but the true & living God revealed supremely in Jesus is a God who is prepared to listen to those who cry to him from the depths, a God who is prepared & able to forgive because of the rescue & "full redemption" that comes through Jesus & him crucified.
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