If you have your Bibles, please turn with me to Psalm 130. The Psalmist says:
Out of the depths I call to You, Yahweh!
2 Lord, listen to my voice;
let Your ears be attentive
to my cry for help.
3 Yahweh, if You considered sins,
Lord, who could stand?
4 But with You there is forgiveness,
so that You may be revered.
5 I wait for Yahweh; I wait
and put my hope in His word.
6 I wait for the Lord
more than watchmen for the morning—
more than watchmen for the morning.
7 Israel, put your hope in the Lord.
For there is faithful love with the Lord,
and with Him is redemption in abundance.
8 And He will redeem Israel
from all its sins.
This is the word of the Lord.
Our Psalmist starts out today’s passage by saying “Out of the depths I call to you, Lord.” The obvious question to ask would be, “what depths?” He doesn’t say. But I could venture a guess. You ever feel like you’re drowning? Like you’ve been buried alive? Maybe you lost your long-time job and you don’t where your next mortgage payment is coming from. Or maybe you had a bad harvest season, and you haven’t got nearly enough produce to break even on the debts you owe, let alone pay for any of the things you need to keep on living as the days and weeks and months pass by. You’re in the depths.
Maybe your marriage is hanging by a thread, or maybe the thread already broke so there’s no marriage to speak of and you’re just hanging, you’re holding on to whatever you can get your hands around, but as these things usually go, your hands are getting sweatier and the surface you’ve grabbed hold of is slipping out from between your palm and your fingers and in a minute or two you’ll be falling and you’ve got not idea how far you’re gonna fall or where you’re gonna land, or who or what’s gonna be there when you do. All you know is that you’re in the depths.
If you’re anything like me, you’re in the depths more often than you have any intention of telling people. You know what I’m talking about? You’re in the depths more often than anybody could possibly know, because when you’re drowning you won’t tell a soul about it.
Any given Sunday, if I come up and say, “How’s it going?” What’re you gonna say? You’re gonna say, “Fine.” And then you’re gonna ask me the same question, and I’m gonna say, “Fine.” And then we’re gonna go our separate ways, having absolutely no idea that the other person is suffering because “Fine” is what you say when people ask you how you are.
Nobody says, “I’m suffocating.” Nobody says, “I’m in the depths.” It’s not socially acceptable in our day and age to tell people how you really are because that would make you look vulnerable. Right? It would make you look weak. It would make you look like all those people you judge as you’re walking by them on the street or at the Food Lion or in the courthouse when you’re up there contesting a parking ticket.
Our culture stigmatizes vulnerability. It stigmatizes anything that smacks of weakness, and even if you’ve never thought about it like that before, your subconscious has, and so every time you hit a rough patch and need help, every time you’re genuinely in over your head, and you cannot make it through what you’re going through alone, you make sure than alone is exactly how you face it.
You bury it deep in yourself, tell next to nobody, get a stress-ulcer, or something, and white-knuckle your way through 187,000 “I’m fine”-conversations before eventually getting back to a place where things are semi-okay again and you can breathe easier. That’s what makes the depths so lonely. Not simply that you’re struggling but that you’re struggling alone. That you’re struggling in silence. That you’re so determined not to burden anybody else with your problems that you hold your tongue and just quietly sink further, and further, and further into the depths.
But the 130th Psalm show us a very different way. The Psalmist says, “Out of the depths, I call to you, Yahweh.” He says, “Lord, Listen to my voice.” He sounds desperate. He sounds afraid. He knows that he’s asking a lot. He says, “Let your ears be attentive to my cry for help.” What do you do when you’re in the depths? You call out to God.
And we can do that. I don’t wanna sail past that. I wanna plant down roots and fixate on that fact. You can actually do that. You can call out to God from your depths.
Because God is not like your insurance policy, where its value grows the less you use it. Right? Like, when I have some sort of traffic collision, it is incredibly unlikely that I’m gonna phone up my insurance company and file a claim, because I don’t want my monthly rates to go up. You know what I’m talking about? Because if I rear end somebody, my insurance might cover the damage to their car, but they’re also gonna raise my monthly rates. So I’m gonna spend more in the long run filing a claim than I am just biting the bullet and paying for the damage out of pocket if I’m able to. Some people treat God like that. You treat God like your car insurance. You go as far out of your way as you possibly can to avoid calling out to him.
And so what eventually happens is that your prayer life is practically nonexistent until your marriage is on the rocks. Or your bills become unpayable. Or your doctor finds a mass in your lungs or your brain or your pancreas and then, finally, you call out to God, but the whole time you’re doing it you feel fake and uncertain and you worry that you’re imposing on God’s time or attention but listen to me: You aren’t imposing on God’s anything.
Call out to God. You are welcome to. You are more than welcome to. You’re so welcome in God’s presence that you belong there more deeply than you belong anywhere. God’s presence is exactly where you belong, because God has made you belong.
That’s why Hebrews chapter 4 tells us to “go before the throne of grace with boldness.” What does that mean? That means the boldness of a child who hasn’t learned modesty yet. The boldness of a child whose parents have never turned them away, never chastised them for dreaming, or wanting, or asking. We’re invited to come before God’s throne, and just sit there with him. To share with him. To listen to him. Complain to him. Lament to him.
If your prayer life is mostly panic, I’ve got nothing bad to say about it. That’s holy panic. Panic at the throne of grace. Do it. Spin out at the throne of grace. Pull a Job and sit outside your house for seven straight days, saying nothing or saying everything, bringing your fears and anxieties and laments and grievances to God and expect him to show up, comfort you, maybe challenge and confront you, and then restore you. Expect that. Reach for that. Desire that. Go boldly before the throne of grace in search of that because God has made you welcome in his presence and invited you to come.
And the Psalmist knows that this is true, but the reason that he gives for his confidence is very different than the reasons that we’re usually given. He says “Yahweh, if You considered sins, Lord, who could stand? 4 But with You there is forgiveness, so that You may be revered.” We’re invited into the presence of God, not because God is super chill and doesn’t take our flaws seriously, but because he does. When the Psalmist calls out to God from the depths of his anguish, his hope is not in the notion that God is a Cool GrandmaTM. His hope is in the reality that God is forgiving. Like Psalm 103 says, that the Lord is “compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in faithful love.”
But what is “faithful love?” Over against the image that we’re sometimes given, God is not a harsh taskmaster, watching closely for the day you inevitably mess up and then taking some perverse pleasure in casting you out for not measuring up – as the Bible actually frames it, that’s more like what the devil does. Instead, there’s more references than anybody’s got fingers to count that celebrate God’s patience. God is patient. If you’ve got the KJV, it might say “long-suffering,” and that means exactly what it sounds like: God “suffers long.”
He’d rather be wronged than give wrong. Like Paul says in 1 Corinthians, we imitate God by our own patience, our own longsuffering-ness, he says “Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated?” God is slow to anger and full of faithful love, instead of erupting with wrath when we screw up, God pours out his patience onto us. He pours out his kindness onto us, as Paul tells us in Romans, with a kindness that brings us to repentance. That is where our Psalmist’s hope comes from. God has shown him a kindness that has brought him to repentance. God has shown him a kindness that brought him home.
But what does that kindness look like? He says “if You considered sins, Lord, who could stand? 4 But with You there is forgiveness, so that You may be revered.” God’s kindness looks like forgiveness. God does not consider the Psalmists sins. That’s where his boldness comes from. That’s where he gets the courage to “call out to Yahweh.”
But he recognizes that he shouldn’t be able to do this. Have you ever thought about that before? The Psalmist says “If you considered sins, who could stand?” If God considered my sins, we wouldn’t be fishing buddies. If God considered my sins, I wouldn’t be invited to the Christmas party at his Lake House, right? He says “If you considered sins, Lord, who could stand?” And he knows that the answer is nobody. Not him. Not me. Not you.
But he also knows that his sins have been dealt with. He says, “But with you there is forgiveness, so that you may be revered.” Now, there’s a lot in that sentence. As strange as it might sound, “forgiveness” was usually an economic term. Think of “debt forgiveness.” “Loan forgiveness.”
At that particular point in time, everything was agricultural. You maintained a healthy crop year in and year out or you died. Those were the options. And if your crops failed, and you wanted to not die of starvation instead of dying of starvation, you had to go into debt to a larger, wealthier, more successful farmer as a means of securing food. And so, throughout most of the world, throughout most of history, that’s how it worked: Your survival was almost entirely at the mercy of the weather patterns, and if you had a bad harvest you became somebody’s debt slave.
And as you would imagine, next to nobody ever actually got out of debt slavery, and so year after year, more and more and more of the population consisted in debt slaves, rather than free citizens, till there was a relatively small group of free landowners supported by a sprawling class of debt slaves whose labor did nothing to improve their lot in life and whose families would never be free again.
And then something very strange happened. God rescued a large group of people from the nation of Egypt. You probably know the story, because you’ve probably seen the Prince of Egypt. And when God rescued a people for himself out of Egypt, he gave them a Law.
And the Law that God gave them gets a bad rap today, because people today don’t like rules. But if you ever sit down and spend an afternoon reading through the Laws that God gave to his people after rescuing them from Egypt, once you get past how shocking some of them are, the first thing you’ll recognize is that they would’ve been very good news for debt slaves.
Because the Law God gave to his people required them “forgive” any debts that their neighbors built up when they had a bad harvest. It required you to forgive any debts that your neighbors built up if they had to borrow money or food or tools to survive the winter or get back on their feet and so on and so forth. We see it most clearly in Deuteronomy 15, where the Lord says through Moses:
“Every creditor shall cancel any loan they have made to a fellow Israelite. They shall not require payment from anyone among their own people, because the Lord’s time for canceling debts has been proclaimed.”
That would’ve been very good news for debt slaves.
And when the Psalmist rejoices in the forgiveness God has shown him, he’s talking about something very much like that. Because you and I are like debtors. There’s a sense in which our sin creates a “debt.” If you’ve been Baptist for longer than ten minutes, you’ve probably heard some version of the “Roman Road,” that God created us (Romans 1:20), and we know God created us, something in us knows that because we were created to take pleasure in that. We were created to find our ultimate satisfaction in knowing and being known by God.
But that instead of taking joy in God, we rebelled against him. Romans 3:23, “We’ve all sinned and fallen short of God’s glory,” God’s goodness. We’ve revolted against the goodness, the kindness, the gentleness, the lovingness that God has called us to. And that, Romans 6:23, “The wages of sin is death.” Our sin creates a debt of death, for lack of a better term. We’ve rebelled against God’s goodness, and in response, we’re owed death in exactly the same way that you’re owed your wages at the end of a work week.
And yet, Romans 5:8 says that “God demonstrates his love for us,” the same love he demonstrated when he created us and called us good, “he demonstrates his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
That’s very good news for debtors like us.
So I’m gonna recap that, because we ran through it pretty fast. By sinning against God, we earn our own death. We owe a debt of death. But that’s a debt we don’t pay. That’s a debt God forgives. It’s a debt God pays on our behalf. Christ pays your debt. “If you considered sins, Lord, who could stand?” the Psalmist says. “But with you there is forgiveness, so that you may be revered.”
God pays our debt of death for us, and we don’t owe it any longer.
So forgiveness is not a platitude. It’s not a “nice sentiment.” It’s not a cozy wall decoration that you put up next your “Live. Laugh. Love.” Poster. It’s what Christ purchased for you on the cross. Forgiveness is real, and forgiveness is yours, if, like Romans 10:9 says, you throw yourself on the mercy of Jesus.
That’s why the Psalmist is so confident. This was long before the life of Jesus, but the Psalmist has heard the prophecies. The Psalmist knows that a“Promised One” is coming who will one day bury his sin far, far away from him.
So he says “Israel, put your hope in the Lord. For there is faithful love with the Lord, and with Him is redemption in abundance. He will redeem Israel from all its sins.” The Psalmist has experienced the joy of redemption, the joy of forgiveness. God has paid his debts. God has put him back on level ground at God’s own expense. And that joy, the joy of living in a forgiveness that God has purchased for him ushers him into another joy and that is the joy that we were talking about as we opened this sermon, it brings it back around full circle: The joy of forgiveness ushers us into the joy of communing with God.
Listen to the word-picture that the Psalmist paints. He says, “I wait for Yahweh; I wait and put my hope in His word. I wait for the Lord more than watchmen for the morning – more than watchmen for the morning.” He communes with God. He waits, the way you would in a real conversation, with a real person, because God is that. God actually exists. He’s not just an idea. He’s not just a metaphor. He’s actually there. He actually listens to you. He sits. He waits. He joins you every time you stop, sit down, and spend time speaking to him.
So the Psalmist waits, too. He doesn’t quickly rattle off all the requests he has for God and then move on to the next thing. He stops. At risk of being just a little too edgy: He shuts up. He stops talking. He listens at least as much as he talks. He’s communing with God.
The joy of forgiveness ushers us into the joy of communing with God. And it is joyful. Because when Christ purchases your redemption, he sends you the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit makes communing with God sweet. He starts to change your heart so that you take joy in “waiting on the Lord” in ways you probably didn’t yesterday. Communing with God becomes your deep, abiding joy. It becomes your anchor. It becomes the thing you “wait for” more than “a watchman waits for the morning,” like the Psalmist says.