“Out of the Depths”Categories: M. W. Bassford, Sermons
The other day, I was talking on the phone with a dear friend of mine who is writing a book about the fear of God. She’s doing this in part because of her concern that the Lord’s people aren’t discussing the fear of God as much as they should be. We like to hear about grace and mercy, but we’re not so fond of teaching about the fear due our Creator.
I found this particularly striking because like sin and grace go together, fear and mercy go together. If it is not a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God, then God’s mercy to us doesn’t matter much either. None of us are deeply appreciative when the doctor fixes our hangnail!
It’s obviously true that God’s fear leads us to appreciate His mercy. Though it’s less obvious, it’s also true that His mercy leads us to fear Him. Indeed, if our appreciation of the forgiveness of God doesn’t produce the fear of God, we’ve missed something. This morning, then, let’s see how this idea emerges, along with many others, when we cry to God out of the depths.
Naturally, we’re going to be studying Psalm 130, and the first portion of this psalm concerns A GOD WHO LISTENS. Look at Psalm 130:1-2. Even in this introductory section, there are two valuable lessons for us to consider, and the first is that even God’s people can find themselves in the depths.
Even in English, the idea of crying out to God from the depths is powerful, but in Hebrew, it is even more so. To the Israelites, the depths were a place of primordial chaos, and if you were in them, it was a sign that you had been cast out from the presence of God. This is why Jonah is swallowed by a great fish that goes down into the depths. We can end up there too, whether because of sin or tragedy. Things can get so bad in our lives that we feel isolated from every source of goodness.
This certainly is where the psalmist believes himself to be, but even though he is there, even though we might be there, calling on God is always possible. This one seems like a sin problem. The psalmist has sinned so egregiously that he has ruined himself, but even there, he cries out to God in the hope that God will listen.
So too for us. It’s possible for Christians to wreck their lives utterly, and some do. Nonetheless, as long as we are alive, it’s never too late to seek the Lord. Everything else may be gone, but if we humble ourselves and come to God, we are sure to find Him.
The second part of the psalm is about FORGIVENESS AND FEAR. Let’s keep going in Psalm 130:3-4. This is not the way that any of us would have written it. We might have said, “If You marked iniquities, we would be afraid of You, but since You offer forgiveness, we rejoice in You.”
That’s not where the psalmist goes, though. Instead, he asks rhetorically who could stand before a God who remembered sin. We know the answer to that one. Not I. Not any of us. Imagine if that were what existence was like. There is a God, He knows everything we do, and one day He will condemn us, fairly but unmercifully, according to His perfect standard. I haven’t found many depictions of the afterlife that make nihilism look attractive, but that one does. If all we had to look forward to were eternal torment, we would long not to exist, and there would be no point to anything.
However, that is not who God is! He will execute justice if we force Him to it, but He longs to forgive, and His forgiveness makes fearing Him make sense. Who would worship a God who is just going to squish them no matter what? On the other hand, because mercy is on the table, we have a reason to honor Him, to revere Him, and to follow His commandments. Mercy and fear aren’t opposites. Instead, they work together.
In the third part of this psalm, we see a truly beautiful description of WAITING FOR THE LORD. It appears in Psalm 130:5-6. The first part of this section, though, explains why waiting for the Lord makes sense at all. We wait because we hope in His word. The better we know the Bible and its promises, the more motivation we have to trust God. Conversely, if we don’t know the Scriptures, we will find waiting on the Lord to be very hard.
This tells us, then, that Bible study is one of the most important tools we have for preparing for disaster. My crystal ball is broken these days, but this I know: the day will come for every one of us when we have no other hope but God. The time we spend with the word now will give us the assurance we need then to persevere through trial.
This is necessary because in the midst of disaster, waiting for the Lord isn’t easy. In one of the loveliest figures of speech in the whole Bible, the psalmist says he waits for the Lord more than watchmen wait for morning. I’ve never been a night watchman, but I can imagine what it’s like, especially back in the day when every little village needed one. It’s boring, it’s frightening, it’s miserable, and it’s dangerous. How grateful the watchman would have been to see the sun rising and realize that he had made it through the night without being eaten by a lion or slaughtered by a Philistine!
Waiting for the Lord is like that, only more so. There have been times in my life when the seconds dragged by, when the minutes felt like hours because of the depth of my despair. And oh! How eagerly I waited for deliverance from God. In times like that we long for Him because nothing and no one else can help.
The final portion of the psalm explores further the value of HOPING IN THE LORD. Let’s conclude our reading with Psalm 130:7-8. Hoping in God isn’t only for the psalmist. It’s for all of His people.
This is because of God’s faithful love. As always, when we see “faithful love” or “steadfast love” or “lovingkindness” in our Old Testaments, we should think chesed, that untranslatable word that is probably the best single-word description of the whole Bible. Chesed is the great covenant love of God, the love expressed in action that continues despite everything.
Right now, God regards every single one of His people with chesed. He feels this faithful love for me and for every Christian in this room, right now. Because it is faithful love, we can be sure that God will make His goodness known in our lives again. However massive the mess, however deep our grief, sooner or later God will make it right.
His chesed for us also leads him to offer redemption that is not minimal or grudging but instead abundant. Because of God’s faithful love for His people, He eagerly overflows with grace for all of our transgressions. We don’t have to worry that the greatness of our sins has exhausted His mercy. As long as we return, He always has more to give.