Good morning. It’s a pleasure to be with you. Sheri and I have been more or less engrafted into your family since Friday, and when we leave tomorrow, we’ll take some of this family with us. It’s been a gift to us to be present with you. I guess that also makes me an old timer. So, if some of you are new, if you’ve never been to North Hills, welcome. I can welcome you as somebody who’s been around for quite a while.
What we’re going to do is we’re going to be led in a psalm this morning. What the psalmist of Psalm 130 invites you to to four different stanzas that are actually part of a movement. Each stanza can stand by itself because they’re going to be so rich, but the psalmist is going to take you places as we follow him together. The original context for the psalm is it’s called a psalm of ascent. Psalms of ascents — they were happy psalms because the pilgrims were coming to Jerusalem for one of the great feast days, and they were going to be seeing friends that they hadn’t seen for the past who-knows-how-many months, and it was a simply joyous occasion.
Now for us, it … Let’s do this. Martin Luther in his commentary on this particular psalm called it a Pauline psalm. Obviously, Paul didn’t write it, but it sounds so much like the apostle Paul. It sounds like someone who has witnessed Jesus Christ and is speaking about Jesus Christ. So, with that in mind, what I’d like to do is I’d like to transport Psalm  and sort of tuck it in maybe right after Ephesians. Think of it as a New Testament psalm together — four stanzas, one larger movement. Here’s what you need to be able to follow the psalmist this morning.
Has life been hard for you? Is it hard? Are there times or have there been times when your life seemed completely overwhelming and unable to manage? I’m assuming that many of you can identify this immediately in your own life. That’s really what’s going to make this psalm sing for you this morning. He’s inviting those who are very familiar with hardships that put you utterly beyond yourself. If some of you are familiar with misery in your life, that when the misery strikes, it feels as if you can’t even breathe. And that is some of the image here. You feel like you’re in the depths close to death itself. That’s the way … Oh, by the way, it’s a joyous psalm, ok? It’s a joyous psalm! But this is the entry that we’re going to have into this first stanza. And it goes like this. The psalmist invites you to take this journey with him.
“Out of the depths, out of the depths”
The hardest places we could possibly imagine that we never thought would overtake us, but they have.
“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!” [1-2]
For those of you who were here Friday and Saturday as we were together, notice in Psalm 130 there’s going to be a summary of many of the things we spoke about. And among those things we spoke about Friday and Saturday is in the kingdom of heaven, in God’s house, you speak to him. You speak to him about everything.
If you are in a marriage and your spouse is going through something great or something horrifying, for your spouse to keep that to him or herself is illegal. You’re not allowed to do that. You would feel like somehow your spouse was holding out on you. That’s what happens in marriage, and it happens in marriage that way because that’s the way the universe is ultimately constructed. In God’s house, you speak those things that are wonderful on your soul, and you speak those things that are really, really hard. That’s the way this psalm begins. The psalm invites you to speak those hard places to him.
But there are some details here. As if that wasn’t challenging enough, there are some details here that will be arresting to you. You will find in this particular psalm; the psalmist uses two words for his God. The first word you find here was capitalized — Lord or Yahweh. When you think of Yahweh, think that he is the God of steadfast love. When he first defines himself in Exodus, by the way, to a bunch of rascals who had just betrayed him by following after idols. To those rascals he identifies himself, when they are fickle, he will be the God of steadfast love, and he’s willing to repeat it. So, the first way the psalmist invites you to speak to God is he is the God of steadfast love.
The second way he invites you to speak,”I cry to you, O Lord! O Lord, hear my voice!” He is, he is your king. He is your master, and you live humbly before him. When people speak of Adonai and Lord in this way, they are sorely tempted to get down on their knees before him. Now, this love and loyalty it comes together. The God who is being proclaimed here is the God who will stick to you. He will stick to you.
One of my delights as a grandparent is wrapping one of the grandchildren up and saying “Uh, oh, uh … I can’t let you go. I can’t let you go. You’re stuck to me. You’re going to have to … you’re going to … you can’t go to school this week. You’re going to have to go to work with me!” The last time I did that, it was great! My grandson said, “That’s great, Griffey! I can’t wait to do that. We’ll go to work, and I’ll miss school!” Well, he took it farther than I anticipated, but that is actually one of the images that is relevant to steadfast love. He sticks to you. You’re not going to stick to him, but he is going to be the one who pursues and stays with you because his faithful love is absolutely unchanging.
Now, this is just the first stanza, and it’s harder than it looks. First, the psalmist is saying in the midst of your hardship, speak to the Lord. And for many of us, that’s not our instinct. Our instinct is just to be utterly overwhelmed by the hardship and think of nothing else but it. So, the first challenge is for us to actually speak of those places that are very difficult in our hearts.
But the psalm is even going farther than this. The psalmist is inviting you even to speak to your God with two different names. “Out of the depths, I cry to you, O you of steadfast love.’” That’s going to be a reach, but the psalmist invites you to try this on. “O Lord, O master, the one who is above all, the maker in heaven and earth, the one before whom I humbly walk, hear my voice.”
Now, we could stop right there, and I won’t. But we could stop right there, and this would be more than enough for us to feast on and pray over and learn and meditate on for the rest of the week. This is more than enough! But the psalmist says, “deeper, farther in, follow me.” This is the first stanza of four. He says this.
This next stanza is one that you’re eager to hear because you see that you’ve just spoken of the miseries of your life to the Lord. And now your question is how will he meet you? How will he rescue you? There’s something immediate here. You feel like you could die. You feel like you can’t breathe anymore, and so what is he going to do that will dramatically break through that particular misery? That’s what we’re thinking about it. Everything is going to change. Everything will change on this particular stanza. And this is what he says. He’s speaking to the Lord here, and he’s inviting us to speak to the Lord as well.
If you, O Steadfast Lover,
“If you O Lord, should mark iniquities,”
if you had your eyes wide open to my sins and kept them before you,
“O Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared.” 
Now, it’s important for us to remember that in this psalm, the misery that the psalmist is experiencing is not a result of his own sin. We simply don’t know why the psalmist is experiencing these things. So, it raises the question why would the psalmist embrace forgiveness of sins as the immediate rescue for his soul?
Well, it goes something like this: misery, as we know, can be loud and overwhelming. It can push the rest of life away. But misery will have an endpoint. You see, there’s a deeper problem the psalmist is aware of, and it is his own sin. And the problem with his sin is his sin has the capacity to separate him from his God. And what he’s saying is what he needs is his God to be with him. That is the only way that somehow things could be made right in the midst of this misery, and forgiveness of sins is essential for his very presence.
The psalmist is saying because–let’s move it to the New Testament– because there is no condemnation for us in Jesus Christ, we are now joined to him. We’re now joined to him in an intimate way where everything that is his is now ours, which means everything. Everything is now yours as you are joined to Jesus Christ. A Scripture that captures this, and we spoke about this this weekend, 1 Peter 3:18. It says this,
“Christ suffered once.”
Once was sufficient. Once was sufficient to cover our sins so God would no longer look at them.
“Christ suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous.”
But here’s the important part of the passage. He did this for a reason. He did this to bring you to God. Forgiveness of sins is for the purpose of him being close to you and you being close to him in a way that he says, “I will never leave you and I will never forsake you, and certainly in the hardest of times, I will not leave you or forsake you.”
Paul says this, “Given what Christ has done, what can separate us from the love of Christ, from the steadfast love of Christ? Can the sins of other people? Can the abuse of other people? Can the regrets of our life? Can our future fears? Can Satan himself separate us from the steadfast love of Christ?” And he’s saying, obviously, “Nothing can.” So, when you read “forgiveness of sins” in this passage, extend it to remember that forgiveness of sins means that now you have Christ, and he will never leave. His steadfast love is before you and with you.
Notice a comment in the stanza, “Therefore you are to be feared.” We have a backyard at our house. In the backyard, we have snakes. And we have snakes that are this big. They’re this big. They call them garden snakes or garter snakes, and they say they’re not poisonous or deadly. But I have seen them, and my finger could get in their mouth. And you know how these snakes can stretch their mouth really, really big? Who knows what they’re capable of doing? So, when I walk around the pack of sand, where I know the snakes have their little abode, I am thinking only about the snakes. Whatever else might be going on my life, however difficult it might be, I am thinking only about the snakes. That’s the nature of fear. It’s all consuming. It captures us. That’s the idea here — that our misery has captured our souls. And it’s as if nothing else exists, and we need something grand to overtake it.
And the psalmist is leading you down a path that says forgiveness of sins is the one thing and the only thing that will overtake your fears and be your grandest fear. In other words, you can be more controlled by the delight of forgiveness of sins and the confidence that God is with you than you will be overwhelmed by your misery. That’s why the entire psalm, it turns on forgiveness of sins because sins are the only thing that can keep us from our God, and our God delights in forgiving sins. We could stop here, and this would be more than enough.
But consider, after each stanza there is a kind of application for our own souls. The first stanza, it’s speak to the Lord. Speak from your heart and speak to him as the God of steadfast love. Speak to him as the one who is truly the Lord and the master.
The second stanza is an opportunity to consider how forgiveness of sins is not usual. There is no religion in the world where the god forgives sins. The god has rules for you to follow, and maybe if you follow those rules well enough, he will show you favor depending on the time of day and the mood that he happens to be in. Only this God of this psalm, not only does he forgive sins for his own name’s sake, not because you’re so repentant and so great, but to make his name great, he will forgive sins, and he likes it. He enjoys it. This is his desire to do these things. That’s one application — to remember the forgiveness of sins changes everything.
And perhaps as a way to reinforce that, this week we could recognize that in Christ there’s this once-and-for-all forgiveness, but he says, of course, now that you have moved into my house, you still sin. You still sin. Sin hasn’t left us. Now we have the opportunity … What sin does is it doesn’t bring condemnation now. It does, however, in the same way, sin sort of breaches the unity of a relationship. Sin breaches friendship and breaches marriages. In a similar way, we are distanced a bit from our relationship with our Father. It sort of silences us before our Father. Our life is in our unity with him.
So, what we can do perhaps is this week we can confess our sins. We can confess our sins. He is faithful and just, and he has forgiven us sins. But we continue to sin. And as a reminder of the one who forgives, we can confess. We can confess. Well, frankly, once you get started, it’s easy to keep going. Once you find one, you’re going to find twenty, or you can simply say, “Lord Jesus, help! Be merciful to me, a sinner.” And then be thankful and delight in the fact that he has already, and he will forgive your sins and assure you that he is the God who is with you.
Good psalm, isn’t it? Good little walk! And we’re not done! The psalmist is going to take us to another place or two. And this is what he says, “he is strengthened by forgiveness of sins.” By the way, in this particular stanza, you will not hear about the psalmist’s misery anymore. But the psalmist’s misery persists. As all of you know, the nature of misery is it doesn’t simply evacuate when there’s something fine from Scripture that speaks to your heart. But somehow forgiveness of sins is turning us on a different course, where the misery is now second chair rather than first chair.
So, now the psalmist is strengthened by forgiveness of sins, and what he’s going to say has a series of repetitions in it. As you probably know, in the Hebrew language, when you repeat something, it bolsters it, it underlines it, then it highlights it, then it puts it in 3D, and then it puts music all around it. It accents the word. And here is what he says, “Given that there is forgiveness of sins by my steadfast, loving God, given that He will never leave me or forsake me, I wait for the Lord. I wait for the Lord. I wait for the Steadfast Lover. My soul waits.” He was speaking to the Lord before, and now he’s speaking to his own soul.
“My soul will wait, and in his word, I put my hope; my soul waits for the Lord more than the watchmen wait for the morning, more than the watchmen wait for the morning.” [5-6]
Somehow the psalmist now, with that turn of knowing forgiveness of sins, is controlled more by the love, the steadfast love, the forgiving love and the presence, the very presence, the face-to-face presence of His God. He’s more controlled by that than the misery. And he says, now that I know the right person is with me, whatever my rescue looks like and whenever it comes, I am confident that he will give me grace today and I will see the goodness of the Lord even in the land of the living.
He’s so confident that he uses this illustration of a watchman in the morning. The image here is that somebody is alert on the walls. He has the night watch, and there’s one thing that he knows — the night will be over. And somewhere around 6:15 or so AM, the light will begin to come. He is sure of it. So, he waits with confidence.
I think of different times I had to wait as a child, and my waiting was “Daddy, when are we going to get there? When are we going to get there? We’re never going to get there!” That was my recollection of every drive that lasted more than a half hour when I was a youth. But there’s an accent of rest in this. The psalm started with “Save me! Rescue me!” and “You got to do it now!” and it’s moved to a kind of rest. “I can wait, and I’m in this for the long haul because even if this misery persists, you are the One who is with me. You’re the Maker of heaven and earth, and you are the Steadfast Lover. So, I can trust in you with certainty.”
There is something beautiful in this waiting that we cannot miss. Consider, if you would, the very best stories that you’ve heard from people who follow Jesus. Here’s one. When I think of the best stories, this always pops up as sort of the top five.
A man from our church, he struggled with depression for the last twenty years, and depression sometimes can go up and down, but this seems to have been a relentless variety. And as a result, the experience of it is he feels literally dead inside. And actual death is just anticlimactic. He already feels absolutely nothing. There is no life in his soul. He gets up in the morning. We get up in the morning because we want to get to the things we gotta do. He opens his eyes, and he feels nothing. There is no energy compelling him to get out of bed, but he gets out of bed, and he gets out of bed because he knows where life is. He doesn’t even want to go to the life because he feels nothing. But he goes to where the life is, and he opens the Word of Christ. He opens Scripture. And if it’s like a meal set in front of him, it’s like a feast put in front of a man who is nauseous, utterly nauseous, and the last thing you want to do is eat. So, you have to force-feed yourself. And he force-feeds himself truth. And he stays at it, whether it’s five minutes or two hours (not many of us can do such things, I realize) until he notices a spark of life that has caught in his soul from the truth of what God has said.
Now, that was a story that wasn’t from the platform of our church. It was a conversation after church. He said it in passing. But isn’t it true that these are some of the most beautiful of stories? They’re not necessarily the stories where the misery has been suddenly resolved and there has been this miraculous intervention and everything is now great. The saints that capture our attention are the ones who persevere and endure, who wait more than the watchmen wait for the morning. Those are the stories of wisdom. Those are the stories that are precious in God’s house. Those are the people who tend to shine much more brightly than you think.
What do we do with such a thing? Here’s what Scripture says,
“For what was written in the former days [this is the apostle Paul speaking] was written for our instruction that through endurance and the encouragement of scriptures, we might have hope.” [Romans 15:4]
Endurance captures our attention, and it’s beautiful because it is beautiful in the very eyes of God. One of the things that we do in God’s house is we try to get the knack of it. It’s a different culture than what we’re accustomed to. In most houses, resumes and income or whatever it might be — achievements, what you did in soccer recently — those are the things that seem to have some weight. But in God’s house, endurance, knowing that God is with them is among the most beautiful things. May we see these things together. And please don’t forget that there’s no reason to think in this particular psalmist the misery is gone. The misery is there’s something greater, but the psalm is taken, is being smitten by fear. Perhaps for some of us, that might mean we ask for prayer. “Could you pray that I would wait with confidence? Could you pray this particular passage from the psalm that I would be able to wait as the watchman waits for the morning?”
And then there’s one more stanza here, and it began with a very private plea to God. “O Lord, open your ears to my plea for mercy.” Then it speaks to God about forgiveness of sins. It moves to talking to his own soul. Then, from this very private plea, it goes public. It goes public. The psalmist is going to speak to others. He says this,
“O Israel [I’ll paraphrase a bit] I have seen the faithfulness of the Steadfast Lover. So, you can with confidence put your hope in him. He’s the God who will never leave you or forsake you. You see, I’ve seen him faithful to me. You will see him faithful to you. For with the Lord, with Jesus, there is steadfast love.” [Paraphrase of Psalm 130:7-8]
With him is not just redemption and rescue and all the benefits of being joined to Christ, but the psalmist is grappling here, and he says it’s not just this beautiful redemption and rescue. It’s manifold. It’s plentiful. It’s generous. It over exceeds the boundaries of the river. It gets all over you. This is the one who was just basically, barely hanging on early on.
“And he will redeem Israel from all their [iniquities].” 
So, perhaps, as you have been drawn along by this particular psalm, perhaps you can speak today of God’s faithfulness to another person, or perhaps you can invite somebody to speak of God’s faithfulness to you. This is what we do in God’s house. When there’s something good going on, you don’t keep it to yourself. You share it with others.
A dear friend who we spent all kinds of time together, there was a kind of scar or something that was developing on his shoulder, and finally, he went to have it looked at. And when you have it looked at, you (some of you know how this can go) … It was cut out, but it was cut out in silence essentially. It was cut out without any kind of hope that whatever this was, it was going to be ok. It was going to go to pathology. The pathology was going to be coming back in a week. There were no calls. There were no calls in the weeks saying everything’s fine. And we knew that there was something dire that was coming up. During the time he went to the medical center to have his interview with his wife, I went to his home just to be there when he came back. He was diagnosed with a malignant melanoma, and in those days, the treatments were unsatisfactory. And he walked in the door. The first thing he said, first thing he said, “Young children, nothing has changed.”
He had just been given the diagnosis that he had one year to live, which was accurate. Nothing had changed. In other words, his God was the God of steadfast love yesterday to him and to his family. And he was the God of steadfast love today. And he will be the God of steadfast love tomorrow. Everything had changed in his life, but nothing had changed. Those things that are most important, they hadn’t changed. And there was a certain kind of rest in his soul, and obviously I still remember it today. And the story of faithfulness that I’ve received I want to give, my dear friend, to you and his story of faithfulness.
The psalm is coming to an end here, but here are the final words. “He will redeem Israel from all his iniquities.” It’s the final word of the psalm. Remember, forgiveness of sins is the turning point, but this final word, it’s almost as if he’s saying, “Do you believe this? Do you really believe it?” Or are there some sins that you think are … that there are such horrible regrets for you that you cannot imagine that God can forgive these. I see in my own life there are some things that I get a little testy sometimes and a little cranky if I don’t have enough food or whatever it might be, and that’s not good, and I grumble and complain. But yeah, we all do that. But there are some sins that we don’t all do, and some of you have done them. And those are the kinds that you can think this is beyond the pale of God’s forgiveness. Well, if you are among them, the Lord says to you, “Indeed, he will redeem Israel from all their iniquities, all their iniquities,” including the dangling one that still seems to haunt you. It’s his final word as if you didn’t hear it the first time.
And this is why it is the final word — because this proclamation of forgiveness of sins to you, it completes the mission of God. His goal from all eternity has been to draw you close to himself. Forgiveness of sins is the way that you are drawn close, and he is drawn close to you. And that is his delight. That is his delight! Let’s pray.
Father, this is a beautiful journey that this psalmist is taking us on. It’s harder than it seemed. So, (and that’s perfect) this means that we need you to help us. For each one of these stanzas, Father would …. We can trip up on any four of them …. Would you give grace to us in those places where we trip up? Would you anoint us with your Spirit to be those people who can speak to you, who can delight in forgiveness of sins, who can be confident in your presence, and even can speak our stories to others? Father, give us what we need by way of this particular psalmist in the name of Christ. Amen.