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Desperate for Forgiveness

Tom Pennington • Psalm 130:3-4

  • 2021-06-20 AM
  • Sermons


Today is the Lord's table, communion, that we'll take together and so I want us to turn our thoughts to that. Someday, we will all be completely free of sin. All of us, in Christ, will never be able to sin again. Won't that be a wonderful thing? That will happen either when we die or when Christ returns, whichever happens first. Sadly, however, until that day, sin will continue to be an ever-present reality in our lives. Because that's true, because we get accustomed to our sin, because theologically we know that we'll always have sin with us, frankly, it becomes something that's pedestrian, and ordinary, and we are tempted to take our sin lightly, almost frivolously. But that is not how we are to respond to sin as believers. We are to hate our sin. We are to lay it aside like clothes that no longer fit the new person we become in Christ. Hebrews reminds us that we are to actively pursue sanctification without which no one will see the Lord.

Part of the process of dealing with our sin is that we are to daily confess our sins to the Lord. Proverbs 28:13 says, "he who conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will find compassion." In the Lord's Prayer, the Disciples Prayer, in Matthew 6:12, our Lord teaches us to pray regularly, "forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors." 1 John 1 says that we're not to claim that we don't sin or have not sinned. Instead, we are to confess our sins to the Lord, and if we do that, God is, "faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness."

So, confession of sin is to be a regular part of the life of every true believer. But the question is: how? What should the daily confession of our sins look like? And the big answer is this: it should follow the patterns that are given to us in the Scripture. This morning, as we prepare our hearts for the Lord's table, a time of confession of our sins, I want us to study one of the seven penitential Psalms. These are the Psalms that provide a Biblical pattern of repentance. Those seven Psalms are: Psalm 6, Psalm 32, Psalm 38, Psalm 51, Psalm 102, Psalm 130 and Psalm 143. But this morning, I want us to examine the sixth of these seven penitential Psalms and it's my personal favorite, I think - although Psalm 51 is a close second. It's Psalm 130. Would you turn there with me?

The author and occasion for Psalm 130 are unknown. It was likely written after the Babylonian captivity. You'll notice, we're told that it's a Song of Ascents in the title. That means it is one of 15 Psalms that Jewish pilgrims who were coming to Jerusalem for one of the annual feasts would sing on their way up to the temple a Song of Ascents. Although, this song was sung corporately, it is an intensely personal prayer of confession from the heart of an individual. The dominating feature of the Psalm is a confession of sins and a plea for God's forgiveness. Let's read it together. Psalm 130. You follow along.

Out of the depths I have cried to You, O Yahweh.

Lord, hear my voice!

Let Your ears be attentive

To the voice of my supplications.

If You, Yahweh, should mark iniquities,

O Lord, who could stand?

But there is forgiveness with You,

That You may be feared.

I wait for the Yahweh, my soul does wait,

And in His word do I hope.

My soul waits in hope for the Lord

More than the watchmen for the morning;

Indeed, more than the watchmen for the morning.

O Israel, hope in Yahweh;

For with Yahweh there is steadfast love,

And with Him is abundant redemption.

And He will redeem Israel

From all his iniquities.

Now, even as I read that, you may have noticed a flow. In verses 1-4, the psalmist speaks to God. He cries out in prayer to God for God's forgiveness. In verses 5-6, the psalmist speaks to his own heart. He speaks to himself, encouraging himself to believe what God has said about forgiveness. And then in verses 7-8, he speaks to us as the people of God and encourages us to find the forgiveness that he himself had found.

He begins, you'll notice, in verse 1 with these words, "out of the depths I have cried To You, O Lord." the Hebrew word for, "depths," literally refers to deep waters, the kind of waters that overwhelm you in which you quickly find yourself drowning. Sometimes in the Psalms, the depths speak of difficult, severe external circumstances. We've all been there - circumstances where we find ourselves feeling like we're drowning. But here, the psalmist is drowning in a sea of a different kind - in an overwhelming sense of his own guilt because of sin.

Now, it's important to note that the psalmist has already believed in God. In the language of Romans, he has already been justified. He is already one of God's people when he experiences this crushing weight of guilt. If you're a Christian, you understand this. You have experienced this. You had every intention of doing what was right. You had every intention of pleasing the Lord. And then, as you began the day with that mindset, something happened. Circumstances came for which you were unprepared. And you chose to sin. And as soon as you sinned, as soon as you expressed your anger again, as soon as you indulged your lust again, as soon as you deceived, as soon as you lied, as soon as you worried, as soon as you gave in to anxiety, or a critical spirit, or whatever it was, you were immediately overcome with shame and guilt. How could I? How could I have sinned against God and against His goodness to me again? Perhaps then you were tempted, like David in Psalm 32, to say, "you know what, God doesn't want to see me. He doesn't want to see my face. I'm just going to stay away for a time." But because, if you're in Christ, you are His, He's not going to leave you. He's going to seek you. You were drawn back to God by the conviction of the Holy Spirit and by the reminder of God's steadfast love. The reminder of who He is.

And when that happened, in that moment, you did what the psalmist did. Then, "out of the depths," you cried to God. First to Lord, "hear my voice. Let Your ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications." You see, he knew he had no right to be heard because of his sin. And so, he began by asking God to listen to his plea for mercy and grace. You know what? He's coming to God like, we have to come - as a beggar. "God, please hear. Please listen." And what he's asking for is God's mercy and grace. That's really the heart of this Psalm.

Martin Luther was once asked over dinner which were the best Psalms, and which were his personal favorites. His answer was, "the Pauline Psalms." And of course, immediately, he was pressed for, "what are the Pauline Psalms?" and he responded they're Psalm 32, Psalm 51, Psalm 130, and Psalm 143. And the reason he called them the Pauline Psalms is because those are the Psalms that teach us that the forgiveness of sins comes entirely without works. We come seeking forgiveness, and we have nothing to claim in God. These Psalms, including Psalm 130, teach us to renounce all self-merit and to beg God for His mercy and grace. That's what this psalm is about.

Now, as we prepare for communion this morning, I just want to focus on two verses in this Psalm, verses 3-4. Look at them again.

If You, Yahweh, should mark iniquities,

O Lord, who could stand?

But there is forgiveness with You,

That You may be feared.

Those two verses are really the heart of the psalmist prayer. There is here an acknowledgement of his guilt, the expression of his repentance, and his request for God to forgive him. And just as he did, as he confessed his sins and sought God's forgiveness, he here encourages us as the people of God to follow his example. He challenges us today to believe about God, and about repentance, and about forgiveness exactly what he believed. In this simple confession there are three great truths about God's forgiveness of sin that I want you to see this morning. These will prepare our hearts to take of the Lord's table. Three great truths about God's forgiveness of sin.

The first truth we discover is: receiving forgiveness is our only hope.

Verse 3: "if you LORD should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?" Notice, first of all, the word, "iniquities." It's one of the primary Old Testament words for sin. Its basic meaning means, "to twist, to distort, to pervert what is right." But the word not only speaks of the sin itself but it also speaks of the resultant guilt, the legal guilt, because of that sin - the judicial state of being liable to the punishment of a crime. That's the idea here. The Hebrew word for mark means to keep or to guard. So, unlike verse 1, the psalmist here is not talking about a subjective feeling of guilt. He felt that in verse one, "the depths." Here, he's talking about an object of state of guilt before God's law. Notice verse 3, "if you should mark iniquities." If You should keep track of my various occasions of being guilty.

Now there are two ideas in that expression that I want you to see. The first one is this: God sees and remembers every sin. This is the bad news. Stay tuned, we'll get to the good news, but to really appreciate the good news you've got to understand the bad news. God sees and remembers every sin. He sees every sin. Proverbs 5:21, "the ways of a man are before the eyes of the LORD, and He watches all his paths." God sees. He sees all of our acts of sin - even those we intend to hide. Psalm 90:8 says, "You God have placed our iniquities before You, Our secret sins in the light of Your presence." Hebrews 4:13, "there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do." You see, from the very day that you were born, God has personally observed every sinful act you have committed. He has personally heard every sinful, careless word that has left your mouth, every sinful thought. Think about this: every sinful thought that you have ever had - whether lust, or anger, or bitterness, or worry, or jealousy, or a critical, proud spirit – God has fully and completely known. He even knows what we don't know. He knows our motives and affections that drive our wills and calls us to make these decisions.

But not only does God see our sin, He remembers, or records, our sin. Every sin. It's interesting, in Revelation 20, at the judgment scene that's unfolded there, John saw and describes the books being open at the judgment and Revelation 20:12 explains, "the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds." In other words, their deeds, their acts, their words, their thoughts were all recorded by God in these books. Now, the books may be literal books - that's certainly how its framed in the Book of Revelation - or it may simply be a reference to the omniscience of God. The fact that in the mind of God there is a record of every single sin that every sinner has ever committed, and that record will be used to judge him. You see, we forget, don't we? We forget more of our sins than we remember. Not God. When the psalmist speaks of God's marking iniquities, he means God sees and remembers every sin we commit.

But the second idea behind this expression is that God responds with perfect justice to every sin. He will punish, think about this, God will punish every single violation of His righteous law. This is what He says about Himself. Exodus 23 7, God says, "I will not acquit the guilty." God says, "that's not going to happen. I'm never going to acquit the person who is guilty." Exodus 34:7, God, in His own sermon on His name where He declares His self-revelation, He says, "I will by no means leave the guilty unpunished." In Ecclesiastes 12:14, Solomon writes, "God will bring" - listen to this – "God will bring every act to judgment, everything which is hidden, whether it is good or evil." Why is that? Because that is God's nature. The justice of God, His very nature, demands that without exception, every sin be punished. And you know what? You understand that. I mean, what would you think of a human judge who day after day had a string of those who had broken the law come before his bench and one after one, he says, "listen, I know you meant better, you're forgiven. Leave." What would you think of that judge? You would say that's not a just judge. That's a perversion of justice.

How much more would that be true of a perfectly just God? In fact, God says that justice, listen to this, is the foundation of His throne. In other words, His entire rule of the universe is based on justice, perfect justice. What that means is somebody is going to pay for every single sin you have ever committed. Somebody is going to pay. The psalmist says that if God were to see and record every sin, and He does, and if He were to respond to those sins with justice, the justice they deserve, notice verse 3, "who could stand?" That is, who could stand before Him when He judges without being swept away in judgment?

Albert Barnes writes, "If God, should thus look with a scrutinizing eye, if He should deal with us exactly as we are, if He should overlook nothing, forgive nothing, we could have no hope." "Who could stand?"

What's the understood answer to that question? No one. Think about that. Not even the most righteous people who have ever lived on this planet could stand in God's presence at the judgment apart from forgiveness - not Noah, not Abraham, not Moses, not Elijah, not Peter, not Paul. If God gave them, if He marked their iniquities and He gave them the justice those iniquities deserved, they would be swept away in the judgment. Now, let me ask you question, if that would happen to them, what chance do you think you have? What chance do I think I have? The answer is: none.

Ezra 9:15, "Oh, God of Israel, You are righteous…behold, we are before You in our guilt. For no one can stand before you because of this." Psalm 1:5, "The wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous." Now, do you get the point that's being made here? This is really important. It is not enough to understand that we commit sins. You and I must instead come to the full realization that our sins are frequent enough and evil enough that if God kept track of them - and He does - and if He treated us with the exact justice they deserve, we would all be swept away at the judgment.

Now this is the very thing that most people won't admit. You run into people in life, maybe there are some here this morning, who are more than willing to say, "Yeah, I sin. Yes, of course. Everybody sins. I sin." But those same people often are the very ones who believe that the good things they have done - when they get to the judgment - the good things they have done will outweigh the bad. Listen, what the psalmist is teaching us here is that every one of us needs forgiveness - not for a few bad things, but for a sheer volume of sins that will destroy us at the judgment. You see, he's making the point - and this sets the stage for the good news - receiving forgiveness, it's our only hope. It's your only hope. You understand that? You will not stand before God at the judgment without being swept away unless He forgives your sins. And the same is true for me.

A second truth about forgiveness in this confession is: extending forgiveness is God's very nature.

Now we get to the good news. Extending forgiveness is God's very nature. Although Yahweh is a God of justice, it's clear here that towards some He does not mark iniquities and, therefore, they will be able to stand before Him. How? There's only one way. Look at verse 4, "but there is forgiveness with You." Don't you love those words? "There is forgiveness with You."

Now, the Hebrew word for forgiveness here is never used in the Old Testament of people forgiving other people. This word is reserved for God's offer of forgiveness to the sinner. But what exactly is this forgiveness? One Lexicon describes it like this, "it's extremely important to note that the focus and the Biblical words for forgiveness" - listen carefully to this now – "is upon the guilt of the wrongdoer and not upon the wrongdoing itself. The event of wrongdoing is not undone, but the guilt resulting from such an event is pardoned. To forgive, therefore, means essentially to remove the guilt resulting from the wrongdoing."

You see, God's forgiveness doesn't erase the event. It doesn't even erase God's knowledge of the event. He's omniscient. He knows all things. Rather, when God forgives our sins, He cancels out the objective guilt or liability before His law, and He treats us as if we had not broken the law but as if we kept it and then He chooses – although, obviously, the event is recorded in His omniscience - He chooses not to remember that actively against us. In other words, He chooses not to call it to mind and treat us as that sin deserves. That's forgiveness.

Now, notice verse 4 says, "forgiveness is with God." This means not only that God forgives but it means it's characteristic of God to forgive. It's who He is. In fact, God defines Himself as one who forgives. Again, in that self-revelation of Exodus 34:7, "He forgives iniquity, transgression, and sin." God says, "that's what I do. I forgive iniquity, transgression and sin." Nehemiah 9:17, Nehemiah says to God, "You are a God of forgiveness." Psalm 86:5, "for you, Lord, are good and ready to forgive, and abundant in steadfast love to all who call upon you." Daniel 9:9, "to the Lord our God belong compassion and forgiveness." Forgiveness belongs to God. It's part of His makeup. It's part of His character. It's part of who He is. Micah 7:18, "who is a God like You, who pardons iniquity and passes over the rebellious act of the remnant of His possession?" "Who is a God like You?" This is what You're like, God.

But the question is: how? And this is a really important question. How can God forgive our sins? You see the conflict. We just talked about the fact that God is a god of perfect justice - that every sin has to be punished. So, how can He both punish your sins and forgive them? That's the key question. Now, what I'm going to say next may surprise you, but God can't just declare your sin forgiven. He can't do what you do when somebody sins against you and they come to you and they say, "would you please forgive me?" What do you do? You don't do anything but say, "I forgive you." Listen carefully. God cannot do that. God cannot do that. He can't just say, "I forgive you." Why? Because He's a God of perfect justice. Every sin has to be punished. We just saw that. "I will not acquit the guilty." I will deal with every sin in perfect justice. So, scripture teaches that God can only forgive sins when a ransom has been paid to redeem that life from God's deserved justice. In other words, justice has to be satisfied. Sins have to be punished. Hebrews 9:22, listen to this, "without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness."

Now the Old Testament worshiper, like the psalmist here, hoped in the forgiveness, that God promised in His word that was pictured in the animal sacrificial system but an animal - the death of an animal - could never pay the ransom to God's justice for human sin. Hebrews 10:4, "it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sin." The only ransom God accepts for the sinner is when a human being who is righteous stands in the place of another as his substitute and absorbs the justice that that sinner's sin deserves.

This is what Isaiah 53 teaches. Turn there with me for a moment. This famous passage makes it clear. This is what the Messiah would do. At the heart of His work was standing in the place of others and absorbing the justice of God for their sins. Isaiah 53:5, "He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; The chastening for our shalom fell upon Him, And by His scourging we are healed. All of us" - collectively, all of humanity – "like sheep have gone astray, each of us" -individually – "has turned to his own way: but the Lord has caused the iniquity" - the guilt, the legal guilt of us all, who trust in Him, notice – "to fall on Him." Literally, "to strike Him." Our guilt struck Christ. Notice the end of verse 8, "He was cut off out of the land of the living for the transgression of my people to whom the stroke was due." Verse 10, "but the Lord was pleased to crush Him, putting Him to grief." And here's why: He was rendering, "Himself as a guilt offering." That was the reason for His death. He was the ultimate fulfillment of the sacrificial system. He was the guilt offering. The end of verse 11, "My servant will justify the many as He will bear their iniquities." The end of verse 12, "He poured out Himself to death, He was numbered with the transgressors; yet He himself bore the sin of many and interceded for the transgressors."

The only acceptable ransom that will satisfy the justice of God is the death of Jesus Christ. That's why, when He was instituting the Lord's table that we're going to take in just a moment, in Matthew 26:28. He says, "this is My blood of the covenant which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins." Ephesians 1:7, "in Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses." Colossians 1:14, "in Christ, we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins."

I want you to listen to me for a moment because this is so important. Your soul, my soul, hangs in the balance and understand this: the penalty God's justice requires for your sins and mine, the penalty must be paid. Either you will suffer the penalty, you deserve in Hell, or you'll repent and believe in Christ so that His death becomes the full and complete payment of God's justice. There are only two options. Please hear me. There are only two options. You have door number one, and you have door number two. That's it. There's no third door. There's no other way and you won't be the exception. Either You will pay the penalty for your sins or Christ will pay them, but somebody is going to pay them because God's justice demands it.

Go back to our Psalm. There's a condition that God puts on His forgiveness. There is forgiveness with God, that's a wonderful reality, but there's a condition He puts on this forgiveness that's purchased through the death of His Son and that condition is: repentance.

It's the kind of repentance spelled out in this Psalm, and Psalm 32, and Psalm 51. As one author puts it, "when we come before God, the ground of our hope is not that we can justify ourselves, not that we can prove we've not sinned, not that we can explain our sins away, not that we can offer an apology for them, it is only in a frank and full confession and in a hope that God will forgive them. He who does not come in this way can have no hope of acceptance with God."

There is forgiveness with God - isn't that a wonderful reality? - but to gain that forgiveness you have to come God's way. You have to come willing to turn from your sin willing to embrace His justice satisfied in Jesus Christ. Receiving forgiveness is our only hope and extending forgiveness is God's very nature.

There's a third great truth here about forgiveness: granting forgiveness is not God's primary goal.

Forgiveness is a means to an end. Notice verse 4. "There is forgiveness with You, that You may be feared." Literally, "in order that You may be feared." Fearing God is not a consequence of forgiveness, it's the purpose for which God forgives. God forgives our sins so that we will fear Him. In other words, the idea here is that, in God's forgiveness of us, it brings us to fear Him, to stand in awe of Him, to reverence Him, to worship Him, to love Him, to serve Him. That's the picture.

Sadly, a lot of people want cheap forgiveness. John Owen, the great English Puritan, described it like this. He said, "The kind of forgiveness which we reject," – in other words, this is not Biblical forgiveness – "the kind of forgiveness which we reject works no love to God, no delight in Him, no reverence of Him, but rather a contempt and commonness of spirit in dealing with Him. There are none in the world that deal worse with God than those who have an ungrounded persuasion forgiveness." God forgives us in order to produce love, and gratitude, and obedience that He might be feared, that He might be loved, and worshipped, and followed, and obeyed. You see, the world – and, frankly, a lot of churches - are filled with people who willfully sin and then carelessly ask God to forgive them. Sometimes they even think this before they sin, "Well, you know what, I really want to do this and so I'll just go ahead and do it and then I'll ask God for forgiveness afterwards. It'll be fine."

Psalm 130 provides a test as to whether we have truly experienced God's forgiveness. Do you, having experienced what you think is forgiveness from God, do you now fear Him more, love Him more, worship Him more, want to obey Him more than before you were forgiven? If not, then it's unlikely you've really been forgiven. True believers don't sin, "that grace may abound." They hate their sin. They desire to turn from it, and they want to walk with God more as a result of His forgiveness, not less.

So, those are three great truths about forgiveness. Receiving forgiveness is our only hope. Extending forgiveness is God's very nature. Granting forgiveness is not God's primary goal, it's that we might love Him, and fear Him, and serve Him, and obey Him.

I wish I had time to walk through the rest of the Psalm. Let me just point out a couple things.

In verses 5-8, the psalmist is no longer speaking to God and pleading for forgiveness. First in verses 5-6, he speaks to himself. You could picture this, right? It's a Song of Ascents. He's bringing his guilt offering to the temple. He's coming to worship God and he's bringing his sacrifices God commanded. He has this lamb that's going to die to atone for his sins. And you see him anticipating that and reminding himself to believe that God will forgive his sin as He promised in His word. Look at verses 5-6. "I wait for the Lord, my soul waits." You can just picture him ascending the steps of the temple with that sacrificial animal. "And in His word do, I hope. My soul waits for the Lord, more than the watchmen for the morning. Indeed, more than the watchmen for the morning."

And then in verses 7-8, having offered his sacrifice, he speaks to us as God's people, and he urges us to find the same forgiveness that he found. Verse 7, "O Israel, hope in the LORD. For with the LORD there is steadfast love, and with Him is abundant redemption, and He will redeem Israel from all his iniquities."

Folks, the point of this Psalm is that God forgives us for our sins against Him - countless sins that would condemn us in the judgment, that which we pass away from His presence and the only right that we have to enter His holy presence is that He is a God of forgiveness. But it's not cheap forgiveness, it is forgiveness at the extreme cost, forgiveness He purchased for us through the payment of a ransom and that ransom was the death of His own Son. His justice for every sin you've ever committed was fully, finally, completely satisfied when He nailed the list of your sins to the cross of Jesus Christ and for those six hours, Jesus paid the price for every single one of them.

That's what we celebrate in the Lord's table. Take a moment and prepare your heart.

Our Father, we thank You for this magnificent Psalm that provides a pattern for what our confession as believers should be like. Forgive us, O God, for taking our sins so lightly, for taking forgiveness so lightly. Help us to follow the path of the psalmist. Lord, remind us that forgiveness is, in the end, our only hope of not being swept away with the rest of the world at the judgment. But Lord, remind us as well that we have Your character. There is forgiveness with You. We have your promises of forgiveness that we can put our trust in. And, Lord, all of, that's possible because of the work of Your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ who purchased our forgiveness at the cross by the full and complete satisfaction of Your justice against every single sinful thought, every single sinful word, every sinful act that we as Your people have ever committed. O God, we thank You. We praise You. And now, as we come to the Lord's table, we do confess our sins. Lord, individually, we come to You out of the depths, the sense of our own unworthiness, our own guilt before You and we pray for that forgiveness because of Christ, not because of us. Lord, each of us are aware of sinful thoughts that we have countenanced, and allowed, and embraced, and coddled. Lord, each of us is aware of sinful words we've spoken words - intended to exalt ourselves to tear down others, to destroy. Lord, we are aware of sinful actions that we've taken. Forgive us, O God, for the sake of Jesus Christ who stood in our place and who fully satisfied Your justice for every single one of these sins we lay before You this morning. Receive us for His sake. And now, Father, receive our worship through the Lord's table that He gave us. We ask it in His name. Amen.