Forgiven

Scripture: Psalm 130

 

Title: Forgiven

 

Structure:

  • Introduction
  • Guilt
  • Forgiveness
  • Waiting
  • Conclusion

 

Introduction:

When I was a kid, for special occasions like birthdays, we would go to Pizza Hutt for dinner

–         This was in the days when Pizza Hutt had an actual restaurant you could sit down in – It seems to be all takeaways now

–         Anyway one of the exciting things about Pizza Hutt, for kids, was the little red pencils and activity sheets they gave you as you waited for your pizza to come to the table

–         On these activity sheets they usually had a maze like this one…

 

The idea was to trace your pencil through the maze, in one side and out the other, without going down a dead end

–         It doesn’t sound like much fun when I explain it now (in an age of iPads) but when you are young almost everything is full of wonder

 

This morning we continue our series on the Songs of Ascents

–         These songs were probably sung by Jewish pilgrims as they made their way to the temple in Jerusalem

–         They are songs about drawing nearer to God

–         Sometimes drawing closer to God can feel like trying to find your way through a maze – you don’t always know if you’ve taken the right turn and you sometimes get lost and come up against a dead end

 

Our focus today is psalm 130

–         In this song the psalmist describes a way out of the maze when you are lost – It is the way of forgiveness & waiting in hope

–         From the New Revised Standard Version, we read…

 

Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord.     Lord, hear my voice! Let your ears be attentive     to the voice of my supplications!

If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities,     Lord, who could stand? But there is forgiveness with you,     so that you may be revered.

I wait for the Lord, my soul waits,     and in his word I hope; my soul waits for the Lord     more than those who watch for the morning,     more than those who watch for the morning.

O Israel, hope in the Lord!     For with the Lord there is steadfast love,     and with him is great power to redeem. It is he who will redeem Israel     from all its iniquities.

 

May the Spirit of Jesus illuminate this song for us

 

Psalm 130 shows us a way out of the maze

–         It takes us from the prison of guilt to the freedom of redemption

–         The way out is characterised by forgiveness and waiting in hope

–         Let’s begin by considering the depths of guilt

 

Guilt:

Tell me, what happens as you go down deeper and deeper under water? [Wait]

 

That’s right, it gets darker and darker

–         Not only that but the pressure on you gets heavier and heavier

–         We can’t breathe under water so the deeper we go the more we feel trapped and therefore the more panicky (or fearful) we become

 

In verse 1 the psalmist says…

–         Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord.

 

The ‘depths’ are a metaphor – they are a place of great pressure and fear, where it is dark and it feels like you can’t breathe and everything is closing in on you

–         It is a place of profound despair and weakness

–         A place where many people might lose hope because they can’t see a way out – but not the psalmist, he sees a way

–         Even though no one can hear you under water (in the depths) the psalmist still cries out to the Lord saying, ‘Hear my voice’

–         It may seem like a long shot but what’s he got to lose

 

‘Supplications’ is a word which here means to ‘beg humbly’

–         The psalmist is begging God for mercy from a position of vulnerability and weakness

 

It’s not until verse 3 though that we learn what is causing all this distress

–         If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, Lord, who could stand?

 

‘Iniquities’ is another word for ‘sins’ – in particular sins of injustice

–         If God were to keep a record of all our mistakes, all our moral failures, then we wouldn’t have a leg to stand on

–         This tells us it is guilt which is weighing the psalmist down in the depths

–         Verse 3 also tells us everyone is guilty of iniquity – no one is innocent

–         So we are all in the same sinking boat

 

Now it needs to be said that guilt is a slippery critter

–         Sometimes we don’t feel guilty when we should – it’s like we have this blind spot and can’t see how our actions have been unfair to others

 

Other times though we can misplace our guilt, which is when we feel guilty about the wrong things

–         For example we might feel guilty because we ate a bar of chocolate or we didn’t go to the gym

–         These things are not really ‘iniquities’ – they are not moral issues of injustice and we don’t need to feel bad about them

–         (Unless of course the chocolate isn’t fair trade chocolate)

 

Misplaced guilt, however, can be more serious than not going to the gym

–         Like when someone survives a car crash while others in the car die and the survivor feels guilty even though they did nothing to cause the crash

–         Or when kids feel guilty for their parents’ divorce even though it’s not their fault and they were powerless in the situation

–         Surviving a car crash is not a sin

–         Nor is being the child of divorced parents

–         There’s no reason to feel guilty about that

 

The author of psalm 130 is not blind to the way his actions have affected others

–         Nor is his guilt misplaced

–         His guilt is appropriate in the face of his moral failure

–         We are not told specifically what the psalmist is feeling guilty about

–         But we do know he is a pilgrim who is drawing closer to God

–         And when we draw closer to God it is inevitable that our conscience will be pricked

 

If you are sitting in a room in the dark or the half-light then you don’t tend to notice the dirt and the grime that has accumulated on the ledges and windows

–         You probably don’t see the cobwebs in the corners or the bits of broken biscuit trampled into the carpet

–         But when someone turns the light on, suddenly all the marks show up

 

It seems to be a principle that as we draw nearer to God we become more aware of our guilt

–         This is because God is a moral being, he is supremely & thoroughly good

–         The Lord is light and as we draw closer to the light all our dirt (all our iniquity) is exposed and we realise we don’t have an excuse

 

The inconvenient truth of the gospel is that before we can feel good we need to feel bad – before we can enjoy God we must grow sick of ourselves

 

Guilt is the thirst (parched and desperate) that draws us to drink from the well of life

–         Guilt is the coldness (long and bitter) that draws us to warm ourselves by the embers of love

–         Guilt is the pain (stabbing and relentless) that draws us to Christ the doctor of our souls

–         Guilt is the boil (sensitive and fierce) that longs for the lance of forgiveness to release the infection

 

Forgiveness:

When I was at Baptist College preparing for ministry my mentor, Walter Lang, gave me his complete set of the Journals of John Wesley – all 8 volumes

–         I can’t say I’ve read them all but let me read to you a small portion

–         In May 1738 John Wesley writes…

 

In this vile, abject state of bondage to sin, I was indeed fighting continually, but not conquering. Before, I had willingly served sin: now it was unwillingly; still I served it. I fell, and rose, and fell again…

 

During this whole struggle between nature and grace, which had now continued above ten years, I had many remarkable returns to prayer, especially when I was in trouble; …But I was still ‘under the law’, not ‘under grace’; for I was only striving with, not freed from, sin. [1]  

 

Now what you need to understand is that John Wesley was not a bad person by society’s standards

–         He wasn’t a slave trader or a drug dealer or anything like that

–         He was a minister of the church, a preacher and a missionary

–         By most people’s standards he was a very virtuous man

–         And yet he was struggling in the depths

–         He still wrestled with sin and guilt having not felt touched by forgiveness

 

John Wesley wrote that this is the state [that] most who are called Christians are content to live and die in

–         It is possible to come to church and call yourself a Christian and not feel truly forgiven

–         We might know in our head that we are forgiven but do we know it deep down in our soul

 

Some people give up on the Christian faith because it makes them feel stink about themselves most of the time and they don’t want to feel bad anymore

–         That is such a tragedy

–         I don’t believe God wants us to feel guilty any longer than we have to

–         Guilt may be necessary for a time but it’s not meant to be the norm

–         Just like feeling thirsty or cold or in pain should not be the norm

 

John Wesley persevered with his guilt for more than 10 years

–         Perhaps you have suffered longer

 

On the morning of Wednesday the 24th May 1738, John Wesley opened his Bible on the words: “Thou art not far from the Kingdom of God”

–         That afternoon he was asked to go to St Paul’s (a church)

–         The hymn they were singing was psalm 130

–         Out of the deep have I called unto Thee O Lord: Lord hear my voice

 

In the evening of that same day John Wesley writes…

–         I went very unwillingly to a society in Aldersgate Street, where one was reading Luther’s preface to the Epistle to the Romans.

–         About a quarter before nine, while he was describing the change God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation; and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death. [2]   

 

The Lord is not standing over us waiting for us to make a mistake

–         He is standing beside us waiting to forgive

–         In verse 4 the psalmist says…

 

But there is forgiveness with you, so that you may be revered.

 

Walter Brueggemann makes the observation here that…

–         Forgiveness is the first fact of a new life

–         From forgiveness everything else flows [3]

–         The forgiveness is not earned, not reasoned or explained and not negotiated – it is simply believed in, trusted

 

Forgiveness comes before reverence (or fear) of God

–         It is because the psalmist knows the Lord has the power to forgive that he is able to show God the proper respect of obedience

–         Grace is the horse which pulls the cart of obedience

 

(It’s interesting that the psalmist doesn’t talk about God’s punishment being what inspires fear & reverence – it is God’s forgiveness that causes us to fear him.)

 

Psalm 130 shows how the Lord’s forgiveness provides a way out of the prison of guilt to the freedom of redemption

–         This sounds straight forward enough but on closer inspection we find there’s quite a bit of waiting in between our guilt and our redemption

 

Waiting:

In verses 5-6 the psalmist uses the image of a watchmen standing guard on the walls through the night – waiting for the morning…

 

What we notice here is that waiting and hoping are virtually the same thing

–         To wait for the Lord is to place your hope (or your trust) in his promises (in his word)

 

Not only is the waiting eager but the hope is certain

–         It may feel like a long wait but the morning is certain to come

–         So too the Lord’s forgiveness & redemption are certain to come for those who wait in faith

 

I said earlier that guilt is like a boil (like an abscess)

–         And I compared forgiveness to a lance (or a needle) that pierces the boil of guilt allowing the infection to drain out (what a lovely image for you)

 

When I was preparing the sermon I wondered whether I should make it the antibiotics of forgiveness for the boil of guilt

–         After all, antibiotics seem like a more gentle approach to treating an abscess – the image of lancing a boil evokes anticipation of pain

–         But I decided the lance was a better metaphor of forgiveness because forgiveness is not always pain free

–         What’s more forgiveness is about releasing the infection of sin

–         And antibiotics don’t convey the same image of release

 

The other reason I stuck with the lance of forgiveness is that antibiotics on their own aren’t usually enough for serious infections

–         Anyone who has had a decent boil knows it has to be drained eventually

–         But before it is drained there is a period of waiting for the boil to come to a head

–         To lance the boil before it is ready doesn’t achieve much – in fact it probably delays the healing process, if anything

 

Now some people may be thinking, ‘Why does God make us wait for forgiveness and redemption from our sins?’

–         Poor old John Wesley struggled for over 10 years

–         While the people of Israel had to wait 40 years in the wilderness until they were properly released to enter the Promised Land

–         Well, the boil of guilt must be allowed time to come to a head before God can release the puss of sin

–         Imparting the peace of forgiveness before someone is ready is like trying to lance a boil before it is ready – it delays the process

 

In thinking of this point I’m reminded of a scene from the 1986 movie The Mission

–         ­The Mission tells the story of some Jesuit priests who travel deep into the Amazon jungle to bring the gospel to the Indians living there

–         One of the priests used to be a human trafficker – he hunted the Indians and sold them as slaves

–         For a long time this reformed slave trader couldn’t accept forgiveness

 

As part of his penance he dragged his armour through the jungle to where the Indians lived

–         At one point one of the Jesuit brothers tried to cut him free from his burden but the reformed slaver just gathered it up again and carried on

–         It was like he was carrying his guilt and he wasn’t ready to let it go

–         The boil hadn’t come to a head

 

Eventually, when he finally did reach the Indian tribe their chief cut him free

–         That was the sign he needed to know that God had forgiven him

–         Once he felt forgiven then he could serve the people

 

The other thing to say about waiting in hope is that it’s actually good for us

–         When we wait for something we tend to value it more

–         If you give a diamond ring to a 3 year old they are not likely to take care of it – they will probably lose it

–         But if you wait until they are 33 then they will look after it

 

God makes us wait, not because he needs time but because we need time

–         By the same token, when the time for forgiveness arrives we shouldn’t put it off

 

Examining your guilt is a bit like looking in the mirror – you don’t want to spend too long doing it

 

What we find with the author of psalm 130 is that his focus changes

–         He becomes less introspective and more outward looking as the psalm progresses

–         In the first six verses the psalmist is focused on himself in relation to God: ‘I cry to you, hear my voice, I wait, I hope…’

–         (This is what guilt does – it narrows our peripheral vision)

–         But in the last two verses the psalmist stops his navel gazing and thinks about the wider community of God

 

In verses 7-8 he calls Israel to hope in the Lord because of God’s great power to redeem

 

To redeem is to set free, to release, to liberate and so it’s very close to forgiveness in its meaning

–         Guilt makes us a prisoner in our own soul

–         Forgiveness releases us to think outside of ourselves

–         We need to be prepared to seek forgiveness while we can and wait in hope for God to bring his redemption when the time is right

 

The point we shouldn’t miss is there’s often a gap (a time of waiting) between being forgiven and realising our full redemption

–         Just like there is a time of waiting between when the boil is lanced and drained and when the wound finally heals over

–         Or to use a different analogy: the stain of guilt may be removed from clothes of our soul by the washing of forgiveness but we still have to wait for the clothes to dry before we can wear them

 

Conclusion:

There are many stories of forgiveness in the gospel

–         But the story which (I think) fits best with psalm 130 is Jesus’ forgiveness of the criminal on the cross

 

Jesus was crucified between two criminals

–         The first criminal was not in touch with his own guilt

–         He didn’t feel bad about what he had done

–         He seemed to be blind (or unfeeling) when it came to the impact his actions had on others

–         He gave Jesus a hard time saying: Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us.

–         Jesus ignored this first criminal – he said nothing to him

 

The second criminal was in touch with his own guilt

–         He rebukes the first criminal saying: Don’t you fear God? You received the same sentence he did. Ours, however, is only right, because we are getting what we deserve for what we did; but he has done no wrong.

 

The second criminal does feel bad for what he has done – and what’s more he feels bad for Jesus who hasn’t done anything to deserve crucifixion

 

What I find particularly interesting is way the second criminal begins by saying:

–         Don’t you fear God?

–         To fear God is to have deep respect and reverence for him

–         This connects with verse 4 of psalm 130 where the psalmist says…

–         But there is forgiveness with you, so that you may be revered [or feared]

–         We hold God in deep reverence and respect because he has the power to forgive

 

It’s like the second criminal is saying to the first:

–         What are you doing?! You are guilty and without excuse.

–         You need forgiveness and God is the only one with the power to forgive.

–         This man Jesus, who you are insulting, is God’s representative

–         Why would you insult the one man who could help you get forgiveness from God

–         Don’t you respect God – don’t you believe God has the power to forgive?

 

Clearly the second criminal did believe that God could forgive him and take away his guilt

–         What’s more he also believed Jesus was the key to God’s forgiveness

–         So he says: Remember me, Jesus, when you come as King

–         The man is in the depths and he is begging Jesus for mercy from a position of vulnerability and weakness

 

And the Lord replies: I promise you that today you will be in Paradise with me

–         Jesus is promising the man redemption

–         The implication here is that the man’s sins are forgiven

–         Jesus is not standing over the man waiting for him to make a mistake

–         He is hanging beside the man waiting to forgive

–         All the man has to do is wait in hope and keep trusting in Jesus’ promise of paradise

–         What we notice is there’s a gap – a time of painful waiting – between being forgiven and being fully redeemed

 

In a few minutes we will share communion together

–         Communion is a time to remember that with Jesus there is forgiveness

–         The musicians will come now to lead us in song as we prepare our hearts to receive God’s grace

[1] The Journal of John Wesley, Volume One, pages 471.

[2] Ibid, pages 475-476.

[3] Walter Brueggemann, The Message of the Psalms, page 105.

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