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“Out of the Depths”

Psalm 130
Bob DeGray
August 4, 2002

Key Sentence

The wonders of forgiveness and redemption should always bring us hope.


I. The Depths (Psalm 130:1-2)
II. The Forgiveness (Psalm 130:3-4)
III. The Hope (Psalm 130:5-6)
IV. The Redemption (Psalm 130:7-8)


        Psalm 130 begins with a cry of need: “Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord.” Nine coal miners in Pennsylvania must have known exactly how that feels as they huddled 240 feet below ground last week. Imagine yourself in absolute darkness, cut off from human contact, the water rising around you, the cold seeping into your very bones and marrow. In those depths you would cry out to the Lord. I don’t know if any of the miners were Christians, but I’m sure there was a lot of prayer during the three days they were trapped. As one former miner, Harold Ankeny said "I know what they were doing. I've been there. They were praying."

        It began on Wednesday July 24 when miners inside the Quecreek mine inadvertently broke into an adjacent, abandoned mine that their maps showed to be hundreds of feet away. Quickly the Quecreek mine was flooded with 60 million gallons of water. The crew got out a warning, and the others working underground escaped. Miner Doug Custer was one. He cried and prayed for three days, knowing he was alive only because the trapped men managed to shout to him to run for safety. "They’re heroes," said Custer. "If not for them, there'd be dead bodies."

        On Thursday rescue workers first heard tapping from the area where the nine miners were trapped. Unable to reach the mine exits, they had roped themselves together and struggled back through the rising water to a high point in the mine - still 240 feet below ground. By the end of the day a drill rig large enough to bore a rescue shaft had arrived from West Virginia. More importantly, a small hole was drilled to carry heated pressurized air into the underground chambers. The miners later cited this as the moment they knew they were going to live - as they went from gasping to breathing. The warmth of the air also helped prevent hypothermia. "Getting the pipe down with the warm air was probably lifesaving," said Dr. Russell Dumire.

        Late Thursday they started drilling a rescue shaft. But early Friday morning the drill bit got stuck in rock about 100 feet down and broke. By noon new equipment had started a second shaft. But then the broken bit was removed from the first shaft and drilling resumed. As it turns out, the delay may have been critical, for it gave huge pumps a chance to lower the water level in the mine so that a breakthrough by the rescue shaft would not cause a water surge into the chamber where the miners waited. By 7:30 on Saturday the shaft was only a few feet from that chamber. After a short delay, the drill broke through at 10:20 p.m. and by 10:50 rescue workers had lowered a telephone and light. At 11 p.m. smiling rescue workers begin to give thumbs_up signs and hugs. The miners had been heard from on the telephone.

        A cage was lowered into the shaft and one at a time all nine miners were pulled to the surface - all very much alive. After three days underground all were suffering some symptoms of hypothermia, but given their ordeal, their lack of health problems was remarkable. "If you were to meet any of these guys on the street right now, you would not know that they were trapped in a cavern full of water for three days," said Dr. Dumire on Sunday. Mostly they were hungry. Dumire later commented that at the trauma center “they pretty much devoured anything that we brought into the room. They weren’t picky. They just took whatever we gave them.”

        The governor of Pennsylvania, who stayed by the rescue shaft throughout the ordeal was only one of the many who called this result miraculous. Even Amy Louviere, of the Department of Labor's Mine Safety and Health Administration, not an organization known for its religious bent, said "Hallelujah. Amen. Thank God. Thank God." They recognized that despite the technology used, the odds of rescue had been very, very low - so they rightly attributed the success to God.

        It’s always a miracle when God rescues those who cry out from the depths. In our Psalm this morning we’re going to hear the testimony of someone who cried out for rescue from sin. Just as we were encouraged by the smiles and the thumbs up signs from those weary miners I trust we’ll be encouraged by the words of this Psalm, because the wonders of forgiveness and redemption should always bring us hope.

I. The Depths (Psalm 130:1-2)

        We read this Psalm earlier in the service. It starts in the depths, as low as the human spirit can go. Verses 1 and 2: Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord; 2O Lord, hear my voice. Let your ears be attentive to my cry for mercy.

        The unnamed poet who wrote this Psalm is overwhelmed. In English we might say he is down, in over his head, in the pits - just like those coal miners, trapped far below the surface. There are many things that can put us into that kind of despair - guilt, trial, sickness, persecution, relational issues, losses, even fatigue. But they all share the sense of being out of control, a sense of not being able to breath, a sense of weight on the shoulders and in the pit of the stomach that bends you to the ground.

        All of this is common to the human condition, and in all of these situations it is right and proper to cry out to God for mercy. The Hebrew word for mercy is often translated as grace or gracious as well as mercy or merciful and it is very common. When the Psalmist is pressed hard by his enemies, he cries for mercy. When he is physically sick, he cries for mercy. When he is downcast or depressed, he cries for mercy. Psalm 25:16_17 is typical: “Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted. The troubles of my heart have multiplied; free me from my anguish.” But probably the most significant cry for mercy in Scripture is the cry for mercy and grace when we have sinned.

        Psalm 51:1 “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions.” David cries out for mercy when he finds himself in the depths of despair because he is faced with his own sins.

II. The Forgiveness (Psalm 130:3-4)

        This is what we see in verses 3 and 4. This psalmist is crying out from the depths specifically for the forgiveness of sins. If you, O Lord, kept a record of sins, O Lord who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness; therefore you are feared.

        The problem is sin. It is the great problem facing mankind. Sin creates the greatest need in all people, because everything that alienates us from one another, and all the evil in our world can be traced, directly or indirectly to sin. As one commentator said: “The most horrible depth into which a man’s soul can descend is sin. Sometimes we begin on gradual slopes, and slide so swiftly that we soon reach great depths, depths in which there are horrors greater than poverty, sorrow, or mental depression. These are the yawning depths of sin.”

        Yet few in our culture seem to have the same sense of sin that the Psalmist had. Does sin still represent mankind’s greatest need? You know I’m convinced it does because that is what the Bible teaches. “There is none that is righteous - all have turned aside, all have become corrupt.” “Your sins have separated you from your God and your iniquities have hidden his face from you.” “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” The Bible’s message hasn’t changed.

        What has changed in our culture is the acknowledgment and understanding of sin. Chuck Colson has several chapters on this subject in his classic book Loving God. One of his comments is that our culture has written sin out of existence. “In recent decades popular political and social beliefs have all but erased the reality of personal sin from our consciousness. Take for example the passionately advanced argument that society, not the individual, is responsible for the evil in our midst: people commit crimes because they’re forced to, not because they choose to. Poverty, hunger, slums, racial oppression - these are the real culprits: the evildoer is just a victim.”

        But no amount of making ourselves victims, no amount of shirking personal responsibility can ever get rid of the problem of sin, because as Colson says, sin is in us: “What do we see at the end of a century that has produced such advances in knowledge, technology, and science? Hideous crime. Countless shattered families. A globe scarred by constant wars and oppression. Our knowledge has not ushered in a brave new world. It has simply increased our ability to perpetrate evil. History continues to prove the biblical truth that man is by his own nature sinful - bound by sin.”
        Colson’s evaluation is echoed by other Christian writers. Martin Marty says in his book A Cry of Absence: “In the world revealed in the Psalms, guilt is related to sin; but in recent times the connection has seemed to be broken: guilt has raged, but sin has gone unmentioned.”

        John Stott in The Cross of Christ develops the biblical reality of sin in a chapter called ‘The Problem of Forgiveness’. He says ‘many have neither carefully considered the seriousness of sin nor the majesty of God. In order to do so we shall review four basic Biblical concepts, namely the gravity of sin, human moral responsibility, guilt and the wrath of God. We shall thus see ourselves successively as sinful, responsible, guilty and lost.” C. S. Lewis puts it most graphically. He says “ The true Christian’s nostril is continually aware of the inner cesspool of sin.” Colson agrees: “When we truly smell the stench of sin within us it drives us helplessly to despair. But God has provided a way for us to be freed from the evil within.”

        Which brings us back to the Psalm: “O Lord hear my voice. Let your ears be attentive to my cry for mercy.” The reality of sin requires a cry to God for mercy. When I look at my own life, and see the persistence of sin, the ways I have hurt loved ones and myself, the ways I have given in to selfishness and failed to care about others in any practical way, I sometimes despair of holiness, despair of righteousness. What can I do? I can give up, or I can cry to God for mercy. You have the same choices.

        Sin creates our most basic need, which only God can meet. The psalmist says, “but with you there is forgiveness, therefore you are feared.” That word forgiveness is used only of God. There is a separate Hebrew word for men forgiving one another. This forgiveness is uniquely God’s because sin against God is unique. I’ve said before that if you throw black paint on a black cloth, little is changed. Throw the same black paint on a pure white cloth and you will have made a mess. To sin against a God who is entirely pure, holy and sinless is an entirely different category than the sins we do to each other. Therefore the forgiveness of God is an entirely different thing than our forgiveness - more undeserved, more merciful, more sacrificing.

        We need to be forgiven. The Psalmist asserts that with God we find forgiveness, though it’s not clear how he expect to obtain it. It may be that he looked to the sacrificial system, lambs and bulls and such for freedom from his sins. But I don’t think so. In this Psalm he is looking forward to something - to full redemption. He seems to have experienced present forgiveness based on faith in God’s promised atonement. He is not saying that God can simply overlook the sins of some. He is saying that for him and other believers of his generation, God would overlook present sin in recognition of a future event of redemption.

        If God justly reckoned our sins, none of us could stand. All would be in the depths. If God extracted at once the penalty every time I blackened his name and stained his purity I would be destroyed many times over. But, the Psalmist says “With you there is forgiveness. Therefore you are feared.” Great phrase. One commentator, Thomas Adams said “One would think that punishment would procure fear, and forgiveness love; but no man truly loves God who is not in awe of His mercy.” Spurgeon said: “None fear the Lord like those who have experienced his forgiving love.”

        Clearly for those who have been forgiven this fear is not terror but wonder and reverence. The terror has passed, but the wonder of God’s forgiveness remains. This is the wonder of Jesus that we celebrate in communion, that “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son.” In communion we remember undeserved love, undeserved grace; we remember the cross, where undeserved sacrifice paid the just penalty of our sin. The message of the cross should instill in us the wonder, awe, fear and respectful obedience that God desires. I recently read a good novel called ‘The Hawk and the Dove’ about a medieval monk with a lively faith despite tragic circumstances. One of the things that strengthened his faith was gazing on the cross. When he considered how Christ suffered for him, without complaint and without looking back, he was moved to wonder and obedience - to the fear of the Lord.

III. The Hope (Psalm 130:5-6)

        But the wonder of forgiveness does not lead solely to fear. It also leads to hope. What we see on the cross gives us hope for what we will see in the future. The Psalmist, in verses 5 and 6 affirms this hope: “I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I put my hope. 6My soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen wait for the morning, more than watchmen wait for the morning.”

        In beautiful poetic language the Psalmist says he is waiting for God to come and redeem. He was, more or less consciously, waiting for Jesus. In the same way, though we are not now waiting for the cross, we are still people who look forward to his return, to his reign, to his eternal kingdom and release from a sinful world. These verses are assurance for us who wait. The Hebrew means looking for something with eager expectation. It means enduring patiently in confidence that God will decisively act. It is a heart waiting: it is not just I who wait, but my soul waits. It is a state of eager peace: not tense hand-wringing, but a quiet confidence in God.

        The key discipline in this waiting is found in verse 5: “I wait on the Lord. My soul waits. And in His word I put my hope.” Where does the psalmist put his confidence? In God’s word - where we must put ours. No words but God’s words can be counted on. No promises but God’s promise are sure to be kept. No comfort but God’s comfort is eternal. No truth but God’s truth is certain. We must base our hope on what is written in the Bible: any hope worth having must be a Scriptural hope.

        Depending when he lived the Psalmist could base his hope on God’s prophetic promises given to Moses, David, the prophets. He may have looked specifically for God’s promises of forgiveness, like 2nd Chronicles: “If my people, who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin.” If the Psalmist lived late enough, he could learn hope from Jeremiah "This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time," declares the LORD. "I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more."

        Whatever promises he was clinging to, it is clear that God’s words formed the foundation for his hope. And so it must be for us, who have not only the Old Testament promises to cling to, but the many promise given by Jesus and the writers of the New Testament. It is in a daily infusion of these words that our hearts find hope.

        So my soul waits for the Lord and in His Word I put my hope. “My soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen wait for the morning, more than watchmen wait for the morning.” The image is beautiful. A watchman standing on the walls, straining his eyes for the first sign of dawn, a break to the darkness, an end to the night. When I was in Boy Scouts, and slept badly at some rocky campsite, I would often get up in the middle of the night, no watch, no idea what time it was, and simply sit by the cold campfire and wait for the dawn. Often I’d be fooled by a false dawn, but when the real one came, I was certain. “My soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen wait for the morning, more than watchmen wait for the morning.”

IV. The Redemption (Psalm 130:7-8)

        What was the Psalmist waiting for? Full and complete redemption; rescue from sin. Verses 7 and 8: O Israel, put your hope in the Lord, for with the Lord is unfailing love and with him is full redemption. 8He himself will redeem Israel from all their sins.

        In God’s word we see the character and nature and promises of the Lord. We get to know God, and as we do, we can place more and more confidence in Him. The psalmist rests his hope on two truths about God: His unfailing love and his full redemption.

        You may remember that ‘unfailing love’ is the Hebrew ‘chesed’, the word that embraces God’s love, his mercy, his faithfulness, his eternal commitment to his people no matter what. If you were going to put your hope in one thing, wouldn’t this be it? But the Psalmist also trusts God’s abundant redemption. This word is used often in the Old Testament, and it basically means, ‘to buy back, to gain ownership through payment of a price.’ The word is used early on as a commercial term, but then in Exodus God is said to make the payment that redeems Israel, the sacrifice of the firstborn of Egypt. Later, God says that the firstborn of every family must be redeemed by the payment of a price, and in the Gospels we see Mary and Joseph at the temple paying the redemption price for their baby, Jesus.

        The psalmists and prophets saw God as redeeming from sin, from calamity, from national disgrace and from enemies. Psalm 49 even sees God as buying his people back from death. God is willing to pay the price of redemption: He does whatever it takes. In Psalm 130 he redeems from sin. Verse 8: “He himself will redeem Israel from all their sins.” We have identified sin as our great problem, forgiveness as our great need, but forgiveness can only be offered through a great redemption. So Galatians 4 teaches us that “when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, 5to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons.”

        Colossians adds that “he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, 14in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” And Peter reminds us “Since you call on a Father who judges each man's work impartially, live your lives as strangers here in reverent fear. 18For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, 19but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.” God comes in Jesus. He redeems in Jesus. He saves in Jesus - through forgiveness of sin. The wonder of his forgiveness and redemption should always bring us hope.

        As we share communion, we should remember the answers to a few simple questions. How does Jesus redeem? By making the payment. What is the price? His life. Scripture says that the wages of sin is death, so where there is sin, there has to be the sacrifice of a life. This is a high price, but Jesus paid it. Only he could. He was God and only God could redeem those alienated and separated from God by sin. Only Jesus could do it, because he was also man, and it was fitting that a man pay for man’s sin. Jesus is ‘Immanuel’, God with us, and he is ‘Incarnate’, God made man so that he might be ‘Redeemer’ the one who pays for our sins.

        When A. J. Gordon was a pastor in Boston, he met a young boy in front of the sanctuary carrying a rusty cage in which several birds fluttered nervously. Gordon inquired, “Son, where did you get those birds?” The boy replied, “I trapped them out in the field.” “What are you going to do with them?” “I’m going to play with them, and then I guess I’ll just feed them to our old cat.” When Gordon offered to buy them, the lad exclaimed, “Mister, you don’t want them, they’re just wild birds and can’t sing very well.” Gordon replied, “I’ll give you $2 for the cage and the birds.”

        The exchange was made and the boy went away happy. Gordon walked around to the back of the church property, opened the door of the small wire coop, and let the struggling creatures soar into the blue. Gordon later related his small purchase to the larger price paid by Jesus to save the lost: “That boy told me the birds were not songsters but when I released them and they winged their way heavenward, it seemed to me they were singing, ‘Redeemed, redeemed, redeemed!’”

        Don’t you think that’s what those nine Pennsylvania miners might have been thinking as they were hauled up from the depths? While they were in the heart of the earth no price was too high, no effort too great for their rescue, just as no price was too high for God to pay for our redemption. They may not have said ‘Redeemed, redeemed, redeemed’ as they emerged into the light. But they probably did say ‘Rescued, rescued, rescued’ Their hearts felt the wonder of having their lives given back to them from the depths. Our hearts should feel the same thing. We should find new hope this morning as we remember our great need and the way God met that need through Jesus - through forgiveness and through redemption.