The Greatest Relationship
Scripture: Psalm 130:1–8
The Greatest Relationship
Sunday, May 11, 2008
Pastor Randy Smith
Today is a special day. Though they deserve many more, we have set aside one day each year to pay special tribute to our mothers. To the ones who drove us to dance recitals and soccer practices. To the ones who stayed by our side when we were sick. To the ones who brought our lunch to school when we forgot it. To the ones who were always there to listen to our stories. To the ones who taught us about tenderness and compassion. It is hard to imagine where we would be if it weren't for our mothers, and for that, we express much gratitude.
A mother has a special relationship with her child. God has woven her heart in such a way that she serves as a source of comfort. Friends may come and go, but mom is always by our side. Fans may turn their backs, but mom is always cheering us on. Foes may chew us up, but mom is always there to pick of the pieces.
It is hard to imagine many relationships better than the one between a mother and her child. But as great as that relationship is, it is only a reflection of a greater relationship that exists between God and His children. For only in that relationship do we fully receive the concern and mercy and forgiveness and acceptance that our heart really craves.
But what does this relationship look like? And have you enjoyed the fullness of this relationship?
A great way to answer those questions is by looking at God's word and considering the eight verses found in Psalm 130. In this Psalm we are able to probe into the heart of a man who had a deep relationship with God. Though the journey begins in the valley of deep sorrow, it ends on the mountaintop of inexpressible joy.
1. A CRY OF SORROW (verses 1-2)
First, the Psalmist begins with a cry of sorrow.
In verse 1 he says, "Out of the depths I have cried to You, O LORD."
"The depths" are a metaphor for being in a position of extreme adversity or trouble. It speaks of existing in a place of severe distress. Today we might say, "I am down in the dumps." From the start we are told that something very heavy was burdening this man's heart to the point where the weight of the world was crashing down upon him.
Have you ever felt this way? Extreme pressure? Paralyzing anxiety? Relentless tension? No apparent way out?
Well, at this point we are not informed of his specific burden, but we are informed of where he went for relief.
We do not see him reaching for a quick remedy to numb the pain. We do not see him reaching for excuses to shift the pain. We do not even see him reaching to others to soften the pain. In this Psalm, right from the beginning, we see him reaching out to his God to transform the pain. In the sorrow he simply says, "I have cried to You, O LORD." He knew what C.H. Spurgeon knew: "He that cries out of the depths shall soon sing in the heights."
Oftentimes these depths silence us. But as we survey the Bible, we see the greatest prayers usually rising out of the worst places.
In the belly of the fish Jonah said, "I called out of my distress to the LORD, and He answered me. I cried for help from the depth of Sheol; You heard my voice. For You had cast me into the deep, into the heart of the seas, and the current engulfed me. All Your breakers and billows passed over me. So I said, 'I have been expelled from Your sight. Nevertheless I will look again toward Your holy temple'" (Jon. 2:2-4). When Peter was drowning, his prayer was only three words, but none ever more powerful: "Lord, save me!" (Mt. 14:30). Daniel's great prayer in Daniel 9 was offered after he was exiled to a foreign land, and our Lord's great prayer in John 17 was offered just prior to His crucifixion. And we know most the Psalms that so richly comfort our souls were written in the valley of adversity and affliction. This is where God's people go and how God's people speak when they too find themselves in their own Garden of Gethsemane.
Does this give us a new perspective of suffering? Could it be that God permits these crushing times of affliction for a good purpose? Could it be that these are opportunities of crying to God produce maturity and deepen our relationship with Him? Could it be that we lose out on this blessing because too often we waste our sorrow in complaining and worry and self-pity?
Have we like this Psalmist learned to really cry out to God? Is He the first place we go during these times? When things are going well, our prayers are often no deeper than our lips. But when we are in the depths, they come from our hearts. And when we cry out to God in this fashion, there is never any greater time when our devotion is proven and our relationship with Him is strengthened.
Verse 2, "Lord, hear my voice! Let Your ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications."
It is almost as if the Psalmist is saying, "Despite the fact that I am unworthy and contaminated with sin and consumed with trivial problems on the world's scale, I come before You "poor in spirit" (Mt. 5:3), acknowledging that You are my only hope for deliverance." The human mouth before the divine ear. The created before the Creator. The peasant before the King. Humility, respect, and honor, yet confidence that God is more prepared to answer than oftentimes we are prepared to ask. And confidence that God will never turn away a broken spirit and contrite heart (Psm. 51:17; Isa. 57:15; 66:2).
2. A CRY OF FORGIVENESS (verses 3-4)
As we move to verse 3, we are finally exposed to the nature of this man's burden. "If You, LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?"
Here we see that his struggles were not from without. They were not the external influences that often weigh us down like unfulfilled expectations or dysfunctional families or overloaded schedules or unhealthy bodies. This man was grieved to the point of death simply over his own sin, which brought upon him excessive guilt and feelings of alienation from God.
It was like Peter after he denied his Savior for the third time who went out and "wept bitterly" (Lk. 22:62).
I was just recalling Thomas Cranmer this morning - a leader in the English Reformation in the early 16th Century. He was assigned to burn at the stake. Fearing his painful death, he signed a recantation. As Foxes Book or Martyrs puts it, "Cranmer was miserable, not being able to die honestly or live honestly" (p. 172). The internal pain pressing upon his conscience was more than he could bear. He recanted his recantation and said "Since my hand offended, it will be punished: When I come to the fire, it will be burned first" (p. 172).
The Psalmist was a living example of the second beatitude we recently learned: "Blessed are those who mourn (over their sin)" (Mt. 5:4). Why is there a blessing in mourning over our sin? Because as the Beatitude continues, "They shall be comforted." And how was this man comforted when he cried to God? The following two verses provide the answer.
In verse 3 he said, "If You, LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?"
The answer to his rhetorical question is obviously, "No one!" Paul tells us in Romans 3, "There is none righteous, not even one… there is none who does good, there is not even one (Rom. 3:10-12). Were God to mark our iniquities, our single greatest prayer contains enough sin to condemn the whole world (John Bunyan)!
There can be no doubt that our holy God hates every sin. There can be no doubt that our omniscient God sees every sin. And there can be no doubt that our infinite God is always aware of every sin - past, present and future. Yet while all this is true, we have our forgiving God that does not condemn us despite our every sin.
Look at verse 4: "But there is forgiveness with You, that You may be feared."
That tiny three lettered conjunction "but" could be one of the greatest words found in the entire Bible. God sees all our sins. We deserve His wrath. "But" He has chosen to forgive our transgressions. We praise the Lord that part of His nature is His free, full, sovereign desire to pardon the iniquities of His children (Neh. 9:17; Psm. 34:7; 86:5; Dan. 9:9; Col. 1:14; 1 Jn. 2:12).
We will stay in the Old Testament: Isaiah 1:18, "'Come now, and let us reason together,' says the LORD, 'Though your sins are as scarlet, they will be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they will be like wool." Isaiah 55:7, "Let the wicked forsake his way and the unrighteous man his thoughts; and let him return to the LORD, and He will have compassion on him, and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon."
But how, how can an all-seeing, never-forgetting God forgive sin without compromising His perfect character? Can a holy, righteous and just God just look the other way and allow us to sneak in the backdoor of heaven? Would a God like that be able to command the worship of the entire created order?
This is where the sacrificial Lamb of God, Jesus Christ, enters the scene. Jesus willingly went to the cross to accept our sin upon Himself. The Bible says, "(God the Father) made (God the Son) who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf" (2 Cor. 5:21). Once our sin was placed upon Jesus, He received the punishment we deserved.
Thanks to the work of Jesus Christ, God can exercise the full revelation of His holiness in punishing sin and the full revelation of His forgiveness in excusing the sin of those who receive His gift of pardon through faith and repentance. God's justice is never compromised. As Romans 3:26 tells us, He is the "just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus."
Last Wednesday we learned about the prophet Isaiah's vision before the Lord. We learned as he came into contact with the thrice holy God ("holy, holy, holy"), every nerve in his body was trembling. There was nowhere to hide as his sinfulness was exposed before the purity of God. The man was in pure moral anguish-the kind that this Psalmist experienced-the kind that rips out the heart of a person and tears his soul to pieces. Yet as the relentless guilt screamed from every pore, we learned the Lord immediately brought cleansing. Remember, "Behold…your iniquity is taken away and your sin is forgiven" (Isa. 6:7).
Verse 4 does not say there "will be" forgiveness with You. It says there "is" (present tense) forgiveness with You-a confident assurance! Just ask David who committed adultery. Just ask Noah who committed drunkenness. Just ask Paul who committed murder. Just ask Abraham who lied and Peter who falsely swore. For all who have entered a relationship with Jesus Christ, complete forgiveness is offered regardless of the sin because God is always true to His word and grace is always greater than our sin. "Where sin increased, grace abounded all the more (Rom. 5:20).
Now, there is probably someone feeling a little uncomfortable about me stressing the bountiful forgiveness offered in Christ. No doubt there is someone that may be concerned that if I overstress grace, people will be led to believe they have a free license to sin. Kind of like what the biblical church in Rome believed: "Let us sin therefore so grace that may increase!" (cf. Rom. 6:1).
Such a thought is completely contrary to biblical teaching! If sin brings about the wrath of God, if sin brought about the death of my Savior and if God has transformed my heart to be delivered from sin, how can I presently desire it anymore in my life? We already saw the pain and anguish personal sin brought upon the Psalmist!
Listen carefully, God delivers us from sin, not to continue in the awful practice we once enjoyed as an unbeliever - the only difference being we were condemned back then but forgiven right now. On the contrary, forgiveness comes that we may fear God, approach Him with a greater degree of awe and respect and seek to live holy lives in His presence. People say, "Oh no, only God's holiness and wrath do that!" Well, obviously they have not read verse 4: "But there is forgiveness with You, that You may be feared."
In the reverential sense, we are to fear God not only because of His holiness and wrath. As we are taught here, we are to also fear Him because of His kindness and mercy!
Recorded in his diary, David Brainerd, made an interesting observation when witnessing to the American Indians of Crossweeksung, New Jersey: "There were many tears among them when I was discoursing publicly, but no considerable cry: Yet some were much affected with a few words spoken to them in a powerful manner, which caused the persons to cry out in anguish of soul, although I spoke not a word of terror, but on the contrary, set before them the fullness and all-sufficiency of Christ's merits, and His willingness to save all that come to Him; and thereupon pressed them to come without delay" (Jonathan Edwards, The Life of David Brainerd, vol. 7, p. 310).
In the life of the true believer, forgiving love results in a greater degree of fearing God, leading to a fresh desire to obey and not disappoint Him again. God's love, when rightly understood, more than His threats of punishment, has the capacity to melt that rebellious heart into one that delights in joyful obedience. And that, my friends, is the greatest way we can truly love God (Jn. 14:15).
3. A CRY OF TRUST (verses 5-6)
Now that the Psalmist has confessed his sin and turned to the Lord for cleansing, he expresses his trust in the character of God - point number 3.
Verse 5, "I wait for the LORD, my soul does wait."
When we confess our sins, the forgiveness from our Lord is immediate. God is not an unpredictable deity when it comes to receiving His forgiveness. We do not have to hope we catch Him in a good mood or on a good day. Our Lord delights in forgiving His repentant children.
Yet while that is true, we always need to wait before Him. You see, sin wreaks all kinds of problems in our lives. And once we create the mess, the Lord in His perfect timetable needs to clean things up. It takes time to enter back into the Lord's joy (see Psalm 51). It takes time to fully restore our broken relationship with Him. It takes time to mend our wounded heart. It takes time to overcome the interpersonal consequences of our sin. But while there are many uncertainties, we can trust the Lord by waiting on Him to fully work out the details. This waiting only serves to increase our faith and make the blessings all the more sweeter when they arrive.
Isaiah 40:31, "Yet those who wait for the LORD will gain new strength; they will mount up with wings like eagles, they will run and not get tired, they will walk and not become weary."
And lest we think this is all a "pie in the sky" belief, we have His word to guide us and provide rock-solid proof of His promises. That is why the Psalmist in verse 5 said, "And in His word do I hope." Lest He forsake His own glory, we know for certain that God will never forsake His word.
We have total confidence that God cares and is not only willing, but also able to work out our worst situations for His glory and our good (Rom. 8:28). That is why he exclaimed in verse 6, "My soul waits for the Lord more than the watchmen for the morning; indeed, more than the watchmen for the morning."
Like the worker on the "grave-yard shift" longing for the sun to arrive in the morning, even greater is our longing for God, and God alone, The Sun of Righteousness, to work out our situation. And like the certainty of the sun rising in the morning, is the certainty that God will do what He has promised in His word.
4. A CRY OF PROCLAMATION (verses 7-8)
Now that the Psalmist has been cleansed from his burden and restored with his Creator, he is unable to keep his joy to himself. Out of the overflow of his heart after being overwhelmed with the greatness of God, he needs to share the good news with others - point number 4.
In verses 7 and 8 he says, "O Israel, hope in the LORD; for with the LORD there is lovingkindness, and with Him is abundant redemption. And He will redeem Israel from all his iniquities."
In the Christian life, the blessings we receive from God are meant to be shared with others. Through his wonderful experience, the Psalmist wanted all of Israel to experience the "lovingkindness" and "abundant redemption" offered by the living God. Moved simply by gratitude and love, without any coercion from outside influences, he served as an evangelist whereby God might receive more glory from others and others may experience the same joy he received himself.
This Psalm began in the depth of anguish, but ended in the height of assurance. It began in a valley of sorrow, but ended on the mountaintop of joy. It began in suffering from personal sin and rebellion against God, but ended with unwavering devotion to God.
Are you willing to go where this Psalmist went? Are you willing to cry from the depths so you may be raised to the heights?
What a wonderful God we serve. And what a relationship is available to those who are truly willing to surrender everything to His care and live solely for His glory. For they are the ones in whom our Lord delights, and they are the ones who experience "life indeed" (1 Tim. 6:19; cf. Jn. 10:10)!