A Psalm of Forgiveness

A Psalm of Forgiveness

Aug 06, 2017

Passage: Psalm 130

Preacher: Jason Wolin

Series: The Psalms

Category: Honesty




If you have a Bible please turn with me to Psalm 130.

Now today is communion Sunday. There two reasons why this Psalm is really great help in preparing us for communion.

  1. It's theme.

If you didn't know any better, you'd think that this was a NT passage. It really is a gospel Psalm. Psalm 130 is kind of like the John 3:16 of the OT in that the entire gospel is wrapped up in a nice succinct package.

Martin Luther called it “a proper master and doctor of Scripture,” by which he meant that the psalm teaches the basic truth of the gospel. John Wesley had heard the psalm sung on the afternoon before his transforming experience at Aldersgate.

It's a cry from the pit. It's a confession of need and inability and hope all pointing to something outside of the self. And then we see the rescue and the infusion of grace. So the whole Psalm from its theme to its tone to its object is a perfect setup for communion. It puts in the proper posture to receive from God.

  1. It's usage.

The theme is great but there's something else that makes this fitting. It's how the Psalm was originally used. If you look at how this Psalm fits into the larger arrangement, you will discover that this particular Psalm was one of the songs of ascent. We've referenced this in passing before but There are 15 Psalms of ascent and one of the theories on the usage of these Psalms was that they were read as preparatory Psalms as you approached the temple to worship. Now if you were an OT Israelite you might make a days or a weeks journey to get to the temple, so to approach it for you would be a special deal. And it may be helpful to just think on this a little bit.

Here's a model of the temple:

Now in order to get onto the temple mount you had to go up a series of stairs. So you start here.

And you probably cannot see this but you can take my word for it that there are 15 steps that lead into these arched doorways which then lead you underground in a subterranean passageway and then they exit on to the ground floor of the temple mount here:

So think about it as you approach the temple and there are these long wide steps. And the whole thing is designed to slow your progress. There's a very wide step and then couple of short steps. It would be very unnatural to just run up it. And so you would read and pray through each of the 15 Psalms of ascent, one on each step as you "ASCENDED" into the temple.

So here's a picture of what this area looks like in the modern day and some students do this very thing.

Now think about this. You spend all this time preparing. You pause at each step and you read a Psalm. You are not rushing into the house of God. This preparation, humbles you and lowers you as a worshiper. And then you go into those archways which are long tunnels that lead underground and it's dark in there and your eyes dilate and then you come up and there the temple is in blinding light. It's covered in gold and the sun is blazing off it. That physical act of approaching God is what we want to do mentally as we approach communion this morning.

So much like ancient Israel we are going to use this Psalm to approach the altar this morning, we will approach the communion table via Psalm 130 as they approached the sacrificial altar.

They approached the physical substance of an actual animal but sacrificed a symbolic lamb, we can approach a symbolic piece of bread, but we remember the substance and sacrifice of the ultimate Lamb. The heart attitudes are nearly identical.

Now here's the way we are going to organize this Psalm. The Psalmist starts out in the pit and he ends in triumph. He starts out in the darkness of that tunnel and then ends up praising God in the blinding white light of hope. So we will take that simple organizational approach under these two headings.

Let's look first at the pit.

Now clearly the Psalmist sees himself as in a bad place. He's sinking into quicksand. He's in distress. And further we are told why he feels that way. He's overwhelmed by his iniquities. He's overwhelmed by his sin. He looks over the course of his life and he says, "Man my record is just absolutely blemished. If God is keeping score up there, I don't want to see it. It's too overwhelming. Just the thought of all his iniquities bearing down on him is crushing him into the earth.

Now right away I think we need to work to make this relevant because most people in our modern world don't really feel this way. Who is just absolutely scared of judgment? Who is terrified of God keeping track of iniquities? In large part our culture has abandoned the whole idea of sin.

If you look up the word sin on google ngrams to see how it's been used over time, you can see that just the usage of the word has experienced some serious decline.

This particular graph starts in the 1850s and moves to today. Sin has dropped out of our literature usage. Modern people don't feel the way the Psalmist feels. Why? Because the feeling of guilt is directly associated with an absolute moral standard against which you have failed. If you don't have an objective moral standard that is telling you you have failed, well then there's not going to be guilt.

The very concept of guilt is quickly diminishing, and that is the goal. What does modern psychology teach? If for some crazy reason you feel guilty, the solution is simply change the standard.

It think one of the ways to illustrate how drastically our culture has shifted from what it was 30-50 years ago is to think about how the school system used to treat children.

Bob Greene wrote an article in readers digest a while back that caught my attention. He talked in the article about how there used to be this idea of a permanent record in the school system. Some of you here can remember the Permanent Record. In school, you were constantly being told that if you messed up, the news would be sent to the principal and placed in your Permanent Record.

Nothing more needed to be said. No one had ever seen a Permanent Record. That didn’t matter. We knew it was there. There was a time when people really stopped before they did something they knew was deceitful, immoral, or unethical. They didn’t stop because they were walking with God in piety. They stopped because they had a nagging fear that if they did the foul deed, it would end up on their Permanent Record.

But here's what happened. People wised up to something that amazed them: there is no Permanent Record. They discovered that regardless of how badly you fouled up your life or the lives of others, there was nothing about it on your record. You would always be let off the hook, no matter what.

So pretty soon men and women—instead of fearing the Permanent Record—started laughing at it. The things that they used to be ashamed of, that once made them cringe when they thought about them, now became “interesting” aspects of their personalities.

If the details were weird enough, the kinds of things that would have really jazzed up the Permanent Record, people sometimes wrote books confessing them, and the books became best-sellers. They found out that other people—far from scorning them—would line up in bookstores to get their autographs. Talk-show hosts would say, “Thank you for being so honest with us. I’m sure our audience understands how much guts it takes for you to tell us these things.”

And that is where we are today. We have accepted the notion that no one is keeping track. No one is even allowed to keep track. I doubt you could scare a school kid nowadays by telling him that the principal was going to inscribe something on his Permanent Record. And as adults it brings us a nostalgic smile to think about it.

But let me ask you, is there a permanent record? You see according to the Bible there is.

Do you see how this represents a true gospel challenge. How do we share the gospel with a world that has almost entirely abandoned a moral standard and as such does not even FEEL guilt, does not even FEEL the need for the gospel? If the gospel is good news, it's only good news to somebody who acknowledges the bad news. You are a sinner in need of a Savior. Well if modern thinking has erased the concept of sin, then have they not effectively done away with the need for a Savior. Do you see the problem?

The Inability to Erase

Now here's what modern thinking cannot erase. You can erase the concept of an absolute standard but that leaves you with something almost worse. Before you had a standard that at least told you how to define something that was worthy and something that was not. You were good if you obeyed the laws and you were evil if you didn't. You were able to get rid of the standard, but you weren't able to extinguish the desire to be worthy? What makes me worthy?

What gives me value? How do you justify your existence? What gives you worth? What makes you special? Tell me why your life is not just absolutely absurd? Give me one reason why you should get out bed that makes any sense whatsoever?

The human heart cannot erase the craving to have real answers to those questions. There are many people who have totally and completely are at peace in their sin. They may lie with a smile on their face without even the slightest prick of conscience. They may be living with their girlfriend or boyfriend in complete harmony without a thought that they have offended God in his design for marriage. I'm sure of it. And they have effectively erased any moral standard.

But try as you might, you cannot erase the yearning and this anxious craving for life to have meaning and for your life to have worth. And so we all try to make meaning and define worth in our own terms. Usually you pick something you are naturally good at and you build an identity around it.

And people will pick there thing. Maybe as an artist, I have worth because I can paint. But all it takes is a better artist than you to feel either envious or worthless, neither of which are great feelings. Worse, it's a worth that is guaranteed to diminish. Nobody is a better artist at 85 than they were at 35. The hands get shakey, the eyes dim.

Or maybe you build your identity around athletics. The competition is stiff, the window where you can dominate is short. The kings of whatever sport are always dethroned, 100 percent of the time.

You can build your identity around anything, your health, your lack of health, your reputation as a businessman, being a mother, ministry, whatever.

And those little micro-identities that we establish help fill this desire for us to have worth, but they can never do it perfectly. They can never satisfy? Why? There's an answer to this.

These micro-identities are designed by God to fail you. You know how God ensures that these micro-identities will fail you? Because the human has an insatiable appetite, an anxious CRAVING, a longing, a mega-desire to be perfect. We all want to be perfect. And we can never achieve it.

I can prove to you that your heart warmly embraces the idea of perfection. Whose heart does not just leap into your throat when you watch an Olympian get a gold medal. The tears well up inside him. He worked so hard and the verdict that comes back is ABSOLUTELY perfect. In this one small area of your life, you earned a gold medal. You were perfect. You are the best.

Who isn't moved by that? Who doesn't want that. Maybe you've given up on it and say, that will never be me. But what if it was you? What if you were that guy? How would that make you feel? With tremendous effort, we may get a perfect score in bowling or golf or some sport. You may, with tremendous effort be the best quilter in Boise or the best lawyer or the best salesman. But you likely had to sacrifice a hundred other things to do it. You likely feel horribly guilty about abandoning your family in pursuit of your perfection. You can never be perfect through and through.

We are Sysyphus trying push a rock uphill. How can we ever get it to the top. Every time we try, the standard just rolls back over us and crushes us.

We tell ourselves that to err is human. We console ourselves, by finding other people who fail like us so that by relative comparison we can convince ourselves that we are good enough. But that cannot erase the inbuilt longing But what we really want, what we really crave and desire is ABSOLUTE perfection.

So we are up to our necks in quicksand here. We have desire to be free from the pit but we are absolutely stuck. We are absolutely up to our neck.

But there is a way. There's a rope we can grab onto that is outside of us. That's exactly what we need - something outside. It's no help to have someone jump in the pit with you. You need someone outside the pit to reach in and rescue.

And the gospel can rescue people from this nagging suspicion that they are worthless. And here's how it works. If you have never heard the gospel articulated listen closely: I'm going tell you exactly what separates Christianity from any other religious system ever devised. This is the gospel. This is how you are saved.

You acknowledge the standard. You acknowledge that ABSOLUTE moral standard. You just let the full weight of that judgment rest upon you.

  • You let it search you out.
  • You let it inspect those secret motive closets of the heart.
  • You drag out into the light all of your life.
  • You discover things you never thought wrong were horribly evil.
  • You discover that the things you thought you were doing as things that earned you credit are actually things that earned you condemnation.
  • That your selflessness was actually selfishness.
  • All this evidence keeps piling up against you and you just let it come.
  • You let the gavel drop.
  • And the verdict that falls is HORRIBLY guilty.

But see here's why you can accept that. Here's why you don't just shrink back in horror and protect yourself with pure denial and refuse to admit any of it. Here's why you aren't defensive. Here, my friends, is one of the most beautiful verses in the Bible.

You see the gospel sees you just as you are, which is way, way worse than you ever could have imagined, far worse than you feared, and says, I have a way to wash you entirely and utterly clean.

There is forgiveness available. With you there is forgiveness that you may be feared. Now that wording is unexpected. You would expect, "but with you there is inescapable judgment, that you may be feared. Or, with you there is a sword and an electric chair that you may be feared" But the fear is a result not of the hand of judgment but instead it's a result of being forgiven.

Now in one sense this is unexpected, but it takes no explaining. You know exactly what kind of fear we are talking about here. It's wonder. It's awe. It's that amazement that comes when you step into the presence of something so great and entirely other that you tremble. What kind of person could look at me, follow me all the way down to the core and see the hidden recesses of my heart, know me completely clean down through to the motive level and forgive me.

I've spent my whole life HIDING, living in terror of someone knowing who I really am.

  • I hide behind my exaggerations because I'm terrified of people discovering how common I am.
  • I hide behind my makeup because I'm terrified of people discovering how plain I am.
  • I put out this front that I am intelligent and smart and a real thinker because I'm terrified of who I really am which is childishly simple.
  • I hide behind my high octane Facebook profile because my real life is filled with arguments, unflattering interactions with my family and tons of self-righteous fault finding in others.

And then along comes a SAVIOR who can see all of that, along comes a savior who searches you out and wonder of wonders, forgives. But with you there is FORVGIVENESS and that forgiveness causes us to fear greatly.

You see the Bible has this beautiful doctrine called imputation. Two things happen in forgiveness and they happen simultaneously. First the payment of sin is cancelled. The debt is erased. And don't hear there, that God gave you a get out of jail card free. No the court date was set, the trail happened, the jury ruled and the gavel fell. Guilty. And the punishment was set. And when we say the debt was cancelled we mean that Jesus Christ served that sentence that was delivered. It was cancelled because it was served. But secondly, the righteousness of God is given to you. This is why the gospel is so life giving. You can actually be perfect. There is a path to moral perfection. It's not through effort, reform, or performance. It's through the person and work of Jesus Christ.

We all desire to be worthy, to have that stamp of approval that says, "Perfect!" And the human tendency is to water down the standard, create a new standard that we can meet and achieve perfection.

We all want to do what our school systems have done which is take a bunch of mediocre to poor students and make them better by giving them an easier test.

Christianity is on a trajectory to remove the offense of the cross. But this will destroy all of it's power. It's not fun to hear that you are a sinner, that you are far more wicked that you could have ever imagined. We say stuff all the time like, "You are too hard on yourself." Well the reality is nobody is hard enough of themselves.

Whatever you think you are, sorry to say it, but you are a million times worse that that.

But that is no problem if there is forgiveness and the imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ is waiting for you. The more insight you get into your depravity, the more dark closets of the heart get turned on, and they surprise you how dirty and ugly they are, in every one of them you see the footprints of Jesus in the dust. He's already been there. He knows it all and he is willing to forgive.

You see, no secular person can allow that penetrating gaze, that absolute standard. Why? Because their righteousness is up to their own effort, something they can never accomplish on their own. They could never even hope for it. That is why they change the standard, so that they are not condemned by it. That makes sense.

But with Christ we can allow those condemnations, because no matter how bad they are the forgiveness is there.

But how do we receive it? What comes next is an expression of receiving. Technically verse 4 is just the rope. It just tells you that forgiveness is available. You are still in the pit until you grab hold of it. You are still in the mire until you trust in the rope and hope in the rope for it to save you. And that is what verses 5 through 8 represent.

My soul waits for who? The LORD. That title is important. He is Lord. To receive his forgiveness means recognizing that I am a subject of his kingdom, my will is surrendered to him. In calling him Lord we are making him master and ruler of our life. You put him in first position. And we wait for him.

What are we waiting for? Well we are waiting for ultimate redemption. Really what this is expressing is the tension of the already - not yet aspect of forgiveness and redemption. There is an objective reality according to the Bible that we are forgiven. That we are already redeemed. That sin past, present and future is nailed to the cross and we are forgiven. That we are objectively declared righteous and that neither heights nor debts or any other created thing will be able to separate us from the love of God. When Jesus was on the cross and said, "It is finished, those words had meaning about the finality of sin."

But the reality is we still have to wait. We wait as we struggle in the body. We wait as the flesh continues to battle against the spirit. We are in a very real sense still in the pit and waiting for full redemption from it.

So our hope for rescue is not in our current performance, because that is truly hopeless. Our hope is in the finished work on the cross.

Gospel Applications

Now how does this practically play out?

I want you to think about this very carefully. What is your motivation for obedience as a Christian? What is your motivation for not being angry or for making a meal for someone? What is your motivation for training your children?

A Christian's motivation is NEVER God I want you to be more worthy by being a better performer.

That is so hard to erase from our head. Everywhere we look in the world our worth is tied to performance. But a Christian's worth is tied to Jesus' performance. Do you see how secure you can be. Do you see how free you can be? Do you see with what joy we can celebrate?

As we come to the table this morning, let's consider the freedom and wonder and glory of the cross that our identity and worth come through the person and work of Jesus Christ and NOTHING else. Communion is an expression of gospel need. God we have you and need you.