Summary: A. The depths of despair (vss 1-2); B. God’s forgiveness (vss 3-4); C. The process of waiting and hoping (vss 5-6); D. Motivation to tell others (vss 7-8).
Psalm Steps> “Steadfast Hope” -Psalm 130 Pastor Bob Leroe, Cliftondale Congregational Church, Saugus, Massachusetts
Introduction and Outline
Psalm 130 is a literal Song of Ascents—it climbs from the abyss of depression to the high ground of steadfast hope. In this brief penitential psalm we discover: A. The depths of despair (vss 1-2); B. God’s forgiveness (vss 3-4); C. The process of waiting and hoping (vss 5-6); and D. Motivation to tell others (vss 7-8).
The depths of despair (vss 1-2)
In the course of our lives, we sometimes find ourselves in “the depths” (vs 1). Sometimes we feel like asking, “Where do I go to give up?” Despair is a kind of dieing within; despair is the death of hope. Job reflected that we are “born to trouble”. To be human is to be in trouble. The question is whether we will remain troubled or choose hope. The cause of despair is sin. We need to recover a sense of sin, and how desperate our condition is apart from God. Psalm 130 is an anguished prayer, but it conveys hope in God’s power to intervene. This prayer may seem anxious, but far worse is to have no One to cry out to when we reach the depths.
Everyone gets into the depths, but not everyone chooses to reach out to God. Someone wrote with a marker on a “Dead End” sign the words: “What isn’t?” To some people, every road is a Dead End. Disheartened people need to look to God for a way out of the depths. When we reach rock bottom, it is there that we realize our need for mercy. We then want God to reach down and rescue us from our troubles.
God’s forgiveness (vss 3-4)
Despair comes from our weight of guilt before God. These verses strip us of any pretense or presumption that we are inherently “all right”. If God were any different than He is, not one of us would have a leg to stand on. Paul says in I Cor 13:5 that “love doesn’t keep a record of wrongs.” If God chose to build a case against us, there would be no hope for us; we would appear judged and condemned. There is no way we can bargain with God. It’s not a matter of wishful thinking that our good might somehow outweigh our bad. We can forgive ourselves, and others can forgive us, but that’s not enough. God has to forgive us. Our salvation depends completely on God’s mercy. He is our only source of help for now and eternity. Because of forgiveness, we have a place to stand. This truth is so comforting, that St. Augustine wrote verse 4 on the wall of the room in which he lay dying.
Sometimes we’re reluctant to approach God because we’re afraid that He will reject us since we’ve already failed Him so many times. We know our sins aren’t accidents—they are willful acts of rebellion against God; and so we feel like hypocrites approaching God one more time to ask for forgiveness. We fear that God will appear with His arms crossed and sternly say, “So—it’s you again! Well, let’s get your ledger out…my, that’s a disturbing list of iniquities you’ve piled up! What do you expect Me to do about it?” If the way to heaven was by being perfect, no one could endure that kind of scrutiny. If all we could expect is a record of our sins, we wouldn’t even bother to show up before God to defend our case. But verse 4 says we can count on the mercy of a forgiving Father. God’s forgiveness is accomplished, unconditional, and undeserved. Forgiveness is for all who want it. We confess in the words of the Apostles’ Creed, “I believe in the forgiveness of sins.” To be forgiven we must actually ask God to forgive us—and He will.
A new owner of a Rolls Royce broke down in a remote area of France. He called the dealer, who flew in a repairman to fix the car. The next day it was running again and he was on his way. Months later, since he had never received a bill, he wrote the company thanking them for being so responsive to his problems, and he mentioned that he hadn’t received a bill. Rolls Royce wrote back, “We have no record of any Rolls Royce ever having mechanical problems.” The payment of sin is death, but Christ cancels out our debt with His blood. He wipes the record clean. However, God doesn’t overlook our sins; they were punished—on the cross.
Our response is to revere God: “therefore You are feared.” When we truly understand God’s forgiveness and the cost of it—in sending Christ to the cross—we are broken and humbled, and we bow in awe before God our Father.