Sermon on Psalm 130 for the Third Sunday in Advent, December 13 & 16, 2018
- John the Baptist’s call was a shocking one. “You brood of vipers.” If you don’t know, a “brood of vipers” is a nest full of baby snakes. That’s more than an insult—it’s an accusation and a judgment. He is making this connection: “You are children of the Satan, the original snake!” And then he attacks the main point of their pride. “Do not even think of saying to yourselves ‘We have Abraham as our father.’” Then he says, “Judgment is about to begin.” “The ax is ready to strike the root of the trees—because you are unfruitful.” How would you feel if those things were said to you? I would imagine either angry, because you didn’t think it applied to you, or sad, broken, and devastated because you knew it did apply to you.
- We call that using God’s law as a God’s law works as a very broad mirror when we hear what God says about the human condition, which also applies to us individually. “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). God’s law also works as a narrow mirror, a close-up mirror or a magnifying mirror. It does that especially when we hear the individual commandments of God. “You shall have no other gods.” What has been most important to you? What kind of example have you given your family and those around you? “You shall not misuse God’s name.” What do you shout when you’re angry? Do you use God’s name to pray, praise and give thanks, or do you shout it in anger or surprise? “You shall not murder.” What is your attitude toward life? All life. The young and small, the old and sick? What is your attitude toward your neighbor? …especially the neighbor who always angers you. “You shall not commit adultery.” How have your eyes strayed? …or your heart? …or your whole body? How have you treated that wife, that husband that God gave you to love and work with, to build a family? With love and respect? Or with resentment and contention? “Do not give false testimony or false witness.” How do you talk about other people? Do you try to sway opinion and destroy a reputation of someone you dislike? The microscope view or the magnifying mirror view shows you what the broad mirror view already showed you, only with proof you can’t deny. “All have sinned,” you included. Me included.
- John’s hearers asked, “What shall we do?” “We’ve broken it all. How do we fix it?” If you don’t know the gospel, then the law and its judgment is all you have. And if law and judgment is all you have—how would you feel? That’s where Psalm 130 begins. “Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord.” The depths of woe—that’s what we deserve. We deserve nothing from God because our sin-infected human nature is always leading us to serve self, not God. …To do what feels good at the moment without thought about how God wants to preserve the gifts he’s given us and how he wants us to live to his glory and for the good and service of our neighbors. Sometimes, when we stray too far from God’s path of righteousness, God steps back and lets us experience the consequences. Think of King David, committing adultery with Bathsheba, committing murder to cover it up. Living with an unrepented sin pushes God into the distance. David later described that time of his life as the feeling like his bones were wasting away and that the Lord’s hand was heavy upon him (Psalm 32). It leads to nothing but regret. Those are “the depths.”
- But this psalm is a psalm of repentance, and as gloomy as it begins, it really is a psalm of hope and joy. “Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord.” The writer knows and feels his guilt. He also knows where to turn. “Let your ears be attentive to my cry for mercy.” That’s the only hope in the middle of hopelessness. The mercy of God. “Mercy” is a word similar to “grace” – both have the sense of But mercy seems to have more to do with pity. “I am down. Lift me up.”
- And then the writer talks about grace without using the word grace. “If you, O Lord, kept a record of sins, O Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness; therefore you are feared.” Grace is undeserved love. It is also love that has its source in God’s heart alone. There’s nothing we can do to earn that love. The love is there in spite of what we have done. Because of his love—and looking at this from the view of New Testament fulfillment—because of God’s love in Christ, God does not keep a record of our sins. Because Jesus bore the sin of the world as the Lamb of God, God forgives. This psalm also tells us what forgiveness truly is. It is God not keeping a record of our sin. But it is not permission to sin. It is not acceptance of sin. What is the psalm writer’s response? “With you there is forgiveness; therefore you are feared.” Think of a presidential pardon, or a governor’s stay of execution. What would that mean to you if you were the one who was condemned? Let’s say an individual was in prison for embezzling millions from his corporation, but he had made some good contributions to society, and then the president gives him a pardon. Does that mean that embezzling is now a good thing? No, it doesn’t. Does it mean permission to do it again? Certainly not. Does it mean that the crime will not be held against that person? Yes. That’s what it means. But doing it again would mean disaster. It would really be a rejection of the pardon, wouldn’t it? Instead of regarding the pardon as a precious thing, an opportunity for a clean, new start, you go back and do it again. The writer says, “With you there is forgiveness; therefore you are feared.” Biblically, fear of God means a holy respect. You know God’s mercy and forgiveness. You also know God’s power and his judgment. If mercy and forgiveness are rejected than only power and judgment are left. “For if we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the full knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains any sacrifice for sins” (Hebrews 10:26). We should fear and love God. We should have a holy respect for God’s commands as our guide in life.
- Because we have forgiveness, we also have hope. Sometimes the consequences of sin that drove us to repentance remain hard. David had to grieve the loss of his son because of his adultery and murder. People who abuse drugs or alcohol often have health problems that remain after they repent. People who abuse others lose the trust they once had—and will never get that trust back. Repentance will restore them to God, but life will never be the same with those around them. We hear that kind of longing in Psalm 130. “I wait for the Lord and in his Word I put my hope. My soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen wait for the morning.” The consequences of sin don’t have easy solutions. So we wait for the Lord. Sin in the world is something that will linger until Christ comes in judgment. So we wait for the Lord. Pain and loss and death come because of sin in the world. That was the curse from the beginning (Genesis 3:14-24). So we wait for the Lord.
- “And in his Word I put my hope.” Word means the promise of God. The Word is also another name for Jesus, “the Word who became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (John 1:14). Jesus is called the Word because he is the fulfillment of all God’s promises. He is the highest and greatest way God expresses and communicates his love to us. “In his Word I put my hope.” “Just as I am without one plea / But that thy blood was shed for me” (CW 397:1). Jesus is our source of hope. He’s the one who brought forgiveness. He’s the one who makes repentance worth it. And hope means that you expect good things because God has promised it.
- “O Israel, put your hope in the Lord, for with the Lord is unfailing love and with him is full redemption.” Unfailing The mercy that endures forever. (Hebrew: chesed). The love that is as expansive and enduring as Jehovah (the LORD, YHWH) himself. Our hope is all in him. Not in ourselves. Not in the times we live in. Not in the latest gadget the world is selling. Not in “princes,” mere mortals who cannot save (Psalm 146:3). Our God—our Advent Lord and Savior Jesus Christ—is the only one who redeems us and gives us hope—when we look at our hopeless selves, when we look at our hopeless world, he alone gives us hope and joy!
A song of ascents.
1 Out of the depths I cry to you, Lord;
2 Lord, hear my voice.
Let your ears be attentive
to my cry for mercy.
3 If you, Lord, kept a record of sins,
Lord, who could stand?
4 But with you there is forgiveness,
so that we can, with reverence, serve you.
5 I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits,
and in his word I put my hope.
6 I wait for the Lord
more than watchmen wait for the morning,
more than watchmen wait for the morning.
7 Israel, put your hope in the Lord,
for with the Lord is unfailing love
and with him is full redemption.
8 He himself will redeem Israel
from all their sins.