September 17, 2023

When you're at your lowest

So, if I were to give you this list and I were to say to you that there is a blind spot that's pervasive, especially in American culture — I could say that it is definitely, probably, worldwide, but really specifically here in American culture. If I could tell you that there's a blind spot that will lead to one or more of these — and the list could be longer, but I just picked four) — you probably would say, "I want to know what that blind spot is,” because I think many of us do lack security with God from time to time. We wonder where are we at. Does God love me? Does He not love me? And people don't want to talk about it because if you share that in church, then people start to question things. We’ve learned this way to just sort of move in the midst of Christianity when sometimes we're not being as honest as we should be, and be able to say, "Hey, I sometimes struggle in my relationship with God."

Or maybe if you were honest — and it's tough to be honest, at times — to be able to say, "Yeah, you're right. I am a little critical of others and sometimes can be a little condescending towards people. I mean, yeah, I don't really want to admit it, but now that you mention it, I probably am.”

Or maybe somebody says, "When I come in, I don't know, I just feel like there are songs, there's music, and whatever, but I just don't really feel like I want to worship or whatever. I don't know. I just feel strange.”

Or maybe some people just don't feel really close with God. If I were to tell you — I suspect this to be true. If I were to say there’s a blind spot that leads to one or multiple of these up here — in fact, what I found is that it doesn't just lead to one, but it usually leads to two, three, or four. If I were to say there's a blind spot that we could maybe look at and see that might help us with those, I think all of us would go, "I want to know what that is."

So, we're going to talk about that this weekend because we're in a series called "Blind Spots." What we're trying to do is look at these areas in our lives where we just don't see. It's like when you're driving in your car, you look, you didn't think you saw that car, and then you pull over and somebody honks. You realize, “Oh, man, I didn't see that. It was in my B-pillar, or I didn't see it in my rearview mirror. There's a blind spot.”

We have blind spots. All of us do. There's not one person in here who doesn't have a blind spot. We all do, and many of us have multiple ones. The problem is, many times, we don't know that they exist. We just think it's sort of normal until somebody can come along, maybe, and shine something on it. So we're going to look at a psalm tonight, and it's Psalm 130. In Psalm 130, we’re going to see, I think, a huge blind spot, but I think we're going to see some huge freedom. But before we get to the Psalm, I've got a confession. I remember — and I don't know when it was. I might've been reading something, or I might've been listening to something, and I heard that, historically speaking, this psalm was transformational for Augustine. This Psalm was transformational for Martin Luther. One of the Wesley brothers, Charles or John, one of the two — I can't tell for sure. I think it's John, but it may be Charles. This Psalm was integral to their coming to Jesus. I'm going to be transparent with you. I remember that when I read that or heard that, I was like, “Man, I don't remember Psalm 130 being that powerful. I just don't remember that.”

And then, because I heard that, I said, "I need to go back and really look at this again and study this."

I remember when I did, I was like, “Whoa, okay. Yeah, there's a lot more in here than I had seen.”

I say that just to say that oftentimes when we read scripture, sometimes we read a passage of scripture and we don't see maybe what's really going on, or we sort of just work through it and move on to the next Psalm or whatever else. Many of you have said to me, "Hey, sometimes we get in the scriptures, we start doing stuff, and I see some things that I haven't seen."

I want you to know that's also true for me. Many times I've read things over and over again, and then I finally read it and it reads me, and I'm like, “Whoa.”

And I'm hoping as we go through this psalm that you have that same type of moment that Augustine had, that Luther had, that the Wesley’s had, that I've had, and that so many other Christians throughout the history of Christianity have had when they read this psalm. The only background I'm going to give you, because I want to just sort of let it unfold as we read, is that it is in the Psalter, which is all 150 Psalms. There's a special group of Psalms that go from Psalm 120-134, and they're called the Psalms of Ascents. That’s going up. An ascent. A psalm of ascent. Typically, what would happen is that these were like the hymnal of Israel. When the children of Israel would make that trip to Jerusalem, however you went to Jerusalem, you had to go up. So, these were the Psalms. It’s like if I were to say some current songs that we sing today, you would know them, and you would know the words. They knew these words, and they would sing them, chant them, or recite them on their way to Jerusalem. So, they form a very special part in the actual Psalter, all 150 Psalms. So, this is one of those Psalms of Ascents. But let's look at this. This is something people would have said, something they would have recited, and I think we're going to see how powerful this psalm is. So, let's go through the whole psalm because we're going to go through the entire psalm.

It says, "Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord!”

Now, if you're like me, and you probably are, a lot of times when you're going through things or you've got struggles or whatever, the Psalms become this great book to read because the Psalms are real. I mean, people will say they're mad at God in the Psalms. They'll ask God where He is at, why He’s not acting on behalf, or they'll cry out to God. A lot of times, we can feel in the Psalms what we're going through. So, a lot of times — and I can say this for myself. I've read this psalm before I had my real, “Oh, man. Hold on. What's going on here?”

I would read a psalm like this — “Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord” — and I would think about if I were going through a difficulty or a challenging situation, this would be comforting. I'd be like, "Okay, the psalmist knew what it was like to be struggling. God, I'm struggling, so I'm going to call out to You."

And there's nothing wrong with that. There’s nothing wrong with us, when we're going through difficulties, calling out for God. In fact, that's what we should do. But I think as we go through this psalm, we're going to realize that this is a very particular situation. The more we can focus in on what's going on in the Psalm, the more freedom, understanding, and light will shine into our lives as believers, or even a light that shines into our lives if we're not believers because this is a powerful Psalm.

So, the first thing you notice when you read this is that it doesn't start with "I". Normally, when you say something like, it’s like, “Hey, I'm going through a struggle."

You don't go, “Struggling, I'm going through.”

That’s not the way unless you're Yoda, and then you do it backwards like that.

But he says, "Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord!”

The first place that we're at, the first place that we go to with the psalmist here is this place of the depths. To understand these words becomes important when we're reading something because we may think that we know what those words mean, but they meant something to the original writer, they meant something to those who were chanting them, and they meant something to those who were singing these songs. This word “depth,” when you go and look at how it's translated throughout the Hebrew Old Testament, you will see that many times it has sort of a water or chaos type of translation. In other words, the waters are rising. They’re deep waters. The waters always signify chaos. Remember, when you go back to the very first book of the Bible, Genesis — that's the table of contents, turn right, and Genesis is right there. It says, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth, and the earth was without form and void, and darkness covered the face of the deep. The world was covered with the briny sea. There was no life. There was nothing. For the Jewish people, they never wanted to see the world go back to that. And plus, they knew about Noah's flood. So, there was this fear that the waters would come in again or the chaos would come in. And you even see this in the New Testament because even in the Book of Revelation, where does the beast come from? It comes up out of the sea, out of the water, out of the waters of chaos.

So, this word here has this sense of drowning. An absolute. Nothing can be done. And you can see how this is used. I'm just going to use one Psalm, Psalm 69:2 and Psalm 69:14 just so that you can see how this word is used in other places.

“I sink in deep mire, where there is no foothold; I have come into deep waters,”

Same word here. You can taste the flavor here.

“…and the flood sweeps over me.”

It almost has even the connotation of Jonah being in the belly of the large fish, calling from the depths of the water, calling from a place where nobody could get to you.

You see it here in Psalm 69:14: “Deliver me from sinking in the mire; let me be delivered from my enemies and from the deep waters.”

There's a real sense here that this is a really profound place to be. Whatever this “deep” is to the psalmist at this particular moment, it is a really significant, deep, deep place. We’ll see where he's at in a little bit as we go through this, but it's just important to understand what's going on here.

He says, “Out of the depths [the deep] I cry to you, O Lord!”

There's a sense here, from the psalmist's perspective, that the only person that may — because there's something so far away that nobody's going to get to where the depths are, it’s almost this feeble cry to the Lord. So, out of the deep, there's this cry. I want to give you the image here that's going on in the language and in the Psalm. There's this chasm. There's a chasm that the psalmist finds themselves in. There’s no way to scale it, there's no bridge, and there's no way to bring this together. The psalmist is in the deep, and there's no way that anything is going to rescue the psalmist from the deep that he's aware of, so he cries out to the Lord. And if you know your Old Testament and you hear “cry,” “water,” “deep water,” and all of that, there's a story. It's the most pervasive story in the Old Testament. It's the story of the Exodus. One of the commentators on the book of Psalms says it this way: "The Exodus is described as being evoked by the people’s crying out to God, and prophet of the exile recalls that the exodus is God's making the depths of the sea a way for the redeemed to cross over. Given this pattern, it's crucial that the psalmist cries out to God asking for a sort of personal exodus and, perhaps, encouraging Israel to anticipate a new exodus as well.”

So, we have the psalmist crying out from the deep, crying out to Yahweh, the sovereign of the world, with this cry. Then we go to the next verse. We hear, “I cry to You, O Lord,” so we’ve got all this together. “I'm crying to You, O Lord! You're the only person I can cry to.”

In other words, the only solution is for the Lord to answer. The only solution is for God to answer.

And then we read this: “O Lord, hear my voice!”

There's almost a faith here; a faith of, “I believe You will hear me, but I also know where I'm at. I am in the deep.”

“O Lord, hear my voice! Let your ears be attentive…”

Listen to what's being asked for. It’s not deliverance or an answer to prayer. He says, “Lord, what I want You to do is be attentive to the voice of my pleas for mercy. I need from You something I do not deserve. I need something from You that I can't bridge myself.”

In fact, in the deep, there isn't a cry for justice, there isn't a cry for fairness, there isn't a cry for judgment. The psalmist’s cry from the deep is, “Lord, I need mercy.”

Why? Why is that the cry? Well, the next verse will start to unfold this for us.

The psalmist says, “If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities,”

“Lord, it wouldn't make a difference if it were three or fifty million. If You were to take a catalog of anybody's iniquity, especially mine, what I know is because of how holy You are, because of how just You are, because of how righteous You are, there is no way in the world that I could stand. It’s impossible. I am so far in the deep that if You even took a knowledge of any of the things that I've done, there's no way that I could stand. There's no way anybody could stand at all. Lord, I'm calling out from the deep for mercy because what I know is this: In relation to who You are, in relation to Your perfection, and in relation to Your holiness, I am so far away. I am in the deep. From the deep, I cry to You for one thing. I cry that You would not treat me in the way that I deserve to be treated. I cry to You for mercy.”

And then there's this three-letter word. We’ll continue into the psalm in just a second, but this word is so important.

He says, “But…”

I want you to hold there for a minute. Just hold there. Here in the Old Testament because what I want to do is walk you into the New Testament for a second. I want to read you a passage in the New Testament where there is no way, in my opinion, that the Apostle Paul is not thinking about Psalm 130. Then we'll come right back to Psalm 130 and continue on. But I want you to hear it because he picks up on the same thing, and he picks up on the same language, but here's what he says.

He says, “And you…”

He’s writing to the church at Ephesus, and by way of Ephesus to you and me.

“And you [all of us] were dead in the trespasses and sins…”

Not sort of alive, not somewhat aware, not waking up one morning, going, “Yeah, I think I really need to seek God. I think that makes sense.”

No. We were dead in our trespasses and sins.

“…in which you once walked,”

Now, he's writing to Christians, so they're not there anymore, but he says, "This is what you were. You were in the deep. You once walked this way. In fact, you followed the course of this world, you followed the prince of the power of the air. You may not even know that you did it to, but this is what you did. The spirit that's now at work in the sons of disobedience…”

To Paul, people who are not in Christ are children of disobedience. They're in the deep. We were in the deep. Maybe there's something profound about the deep. Maybe there's something that we didn't know about the deep. Maybe there's something that we need to remember about the deep. Maybe something about the deep shapes you in me in ways that, maybe if we don't think about it or we don't process it or whatever, we forget about it. Maybe this is important.

He says, “…among whom we all…”

Paul throws himself in here too. He goes, “Just because I was Jewish, just because I was a good Pharisee, doesn't mean it wasn't true of me too.”

He says, "…among whom we all once lived in the passion of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind,”

And this is not popular, but he says, "…and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind."

Let me tell you something. You may not like this, you can get mad at me, or whatever. Can I tell you something? I want you to hear this. When somebody says to you that everybody is a child of God, that's not true. It says in John 1, "Those who believed in Him, He gave the right to become the children of God."

We're children of God by adoption. Do you know what we are outside of Jesus. Children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. We’re in deep. I mean, the deep, so far away from the holiness, righteousness, purity, and perfection of God. Like, so far away. But he doesn’t stop there. Listen.

“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ — [because] by grace you have been saved...”

We're in the deep. Outside of Jesus, we are in the deep. There's no way to scale it. There's no way to bridge it.

“If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, [nobody could stand]…”

None of us.

“But with you there is forgiveness,”

He actually comes all the way to the deep and gives you and me mercy that we did not deserve.

“With You there is forgiveness.”

Do you know what we normally would say?

“That you may be loved.”

No, no, no.

“…that you may be feared.”

Not a fear like scared, but in awe. A respect. The psalmist is saying, "Hey, when I get forgiven in the deep, I’d better remember that I was forgiven in the deep, and I’d better not forget it because I didn't get here on my own. I didn't make it here on my own. I was in the deep, and God came to me in the deep and gave me mercy. So, I'm going to live the rest of my life saying, ‘Thank God for what You did. Thank God that You reached out to me. I'm going to remember where I came from.’”

Because when we remember where we came from, it keeps you and I humble. We're going somewhere. We're going somewhere.

He says, "I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope.”

“I trust that God has scaled the deep, because sometimes I don't feel that way, but I know that He has, and I wait in His Word. I trust Him when He says He forgives me. I trust Him when He says there's forgiveness of sins. I trust Him in His Word. In fact, it's like a watchman who doesn't want to fall asleep at night. He wants to stay up until the morning comes because it's their job to watch and to make sure nobody's coming. They can't fall asleep.”

He goes, “…more than watchman for the morning, more than watchman for the morning."

He says it twice. He says, “I know that this is true, and I also know that one day I will see it for what it is in fullness. I have to wait in that interim, but I know that God has scaled the deep to give me mercy, and I'm waiting and waiting and waiting because I know that God, one day, is going to vindicate that completely.”

“O Israel, hope in the Lord! For with the Lord there is steadfast love,”

Covenant loyalty on God's part to you and I.

“…and with him is plentiful redemption. And he will redeem Israel [his people] from all his iniquities.”

What's going on here? Well, what's going on here is the psalmist is recounting with everybody going up to Jerusalem, going up for maybe a festival, a feast or whatever, and reminding themselves of where they came from. They were in the deep. They're no longer in the deep. They're waiting for God to redeem them. They’re now the people of God, they’re now Israel, but there's a remembrance here. I wonder if we can take a moment here and maybe look at a blind spot that's pervasive, in my opinion, in the American Church. Sometimes we've just forgotten or failed to recognize that we too, at one point, were in the deep. By not thinking that way and remembering that, it can create a lot of problems for you and I.

So, let's look at that. First of all, by not recognizing and/or forgetting the deep, we can develop a critical spirit. And we're good at that right now. We're good, as the American Church, at being critical about a lot of things, saying things about people, accusing people, using our tongues in ways that we shouldn't. And here's the problem: We're forgetting that we were made. Right? We get redeemed and we start thinking that we're right.

“We're the right ones.”

We’re forgetting that there are people over here in the deep, and we were in the deep, but we start going, “No, no. We're good. I'm a child of God,” forgetting we came from the deep, forgetting that we were made right. Nothing that we did made us right. What made you and I right is what Jesus did for you and I on the cross, period. And there should be some humility there. In fact, what does it look like? What it looks like is we are fighting for issues, and we lose sight of the issue. People are in the deep. They need Jesus. They don't need you and I pointing out all of their faults. They need to find mercy in the deep. I’m telling you, if we don't grasp this as Christians, we will continue acting the way we're acting, doing the things that we're doing, and it's not good. We've got to realize that we're not fighting. People who are in the deep, they need the mercy of God. They need to hear the Gospel. They need to hear the good news. Shooting arrows at them isn't going to kill them any more than they already are. They are dead in trespasses and sins, and the only hope that people who are in the deep have is to find out the name of a person named Jesus.

When we forget or we don't recognize the deep, we start desiring justice, and we forget about the greatest injustice. Do you know what the greatest injustice in the world is? Our sin against a holy and righteous God. That is the greatest injustice. What it looks like is we start extending grace to ourselves and look down on others. Let me show you how this looks. I'm going to read you something out of Luke. I will never be able to do justice to it. I will never be able to preach it in a way where you and I can feel the shock that Jesus's original audience would have heard. I just can't even begin to tell you how repugnant this would have been to the people who heard it, but I want you to hear it, I want you to see it, and I want you to feel it.

Luke says, [Jesus] also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous,”

The only righteousness that we have is what has been given to you in me. The only righteousness I have is the blood of Christ that flowed at Calvary. The only righteousness that I have is the righteousness of God in Christ Jesus that was imputed to me by believing in Jesus. They trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and what happens when we think that we're righteous? We treat others with contempt, and that's what Luke tells us. Let me set this up. I'll never be able to give it to you in the way that it would've been shocking to the first century, but I will do my best.

Jesus says, “Two men went up to pray.”

Like, “Okay, great.”

“One of them was a Pharisee.”

We expect that. That would be right.

“And one of them was a tax collector.”

“What? Those people are not going to heaven. They wouldn't be praying. These people the tax.”

You have to understand that tax collectors, in Scripture, when the tax collectors come to Jesus, it says, “The tax collectors and the sinners came to Jesus.”

“Sinner” wasn't a good enough term. They had to have their own term: “Tax collector.”

They would've been like, "What? Who? This person? Why would they pray? There's no way they could be right with God. They're a tax collector. Why would you even mention this? Why would you even mention that this person prayed? This is crazy.”

“The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed, ‘God, I thank you that I'm not like other men.’”

“That's right, brother. That's exactly right. That's exactly the Pharisee. They're not like other people. They live godly. They're good people. They're the people of God. They spend time in church. That's right, Jesus. I'm not like these extortionists, the unjust, the adulterers, or even like this tax collector. Finally, Jesus is saying something right. We knew the tax collector shouldn't have been in the prayer meeting, and now the Pharisee has exposed him for his sin. Praise God. Now we know what's going on. Jesus is getting it right. It's a good thing here. Everything's great. We like it.”

“In fact, I fast twice a week, and I give all that I get.”

“That's right. If we could just be like those people, we would be godly. That's the godly people. But the tax collector? Why are we bringing up the tax collector? Why would we talk about the tax collector? He shouldn't be in church. You can't be a tax collector and be a follower of God. It's impossible.”

“The tax collector, standing far off…”

He sees his posture. He's far away.

“…wouldn't even lift up his eyes to heaven, but he beat his breast. He said, ‘God, I'm in the deep, and what I need from You is mercy. Be merciful to me, a sinner.’”

“Why is Jesus saying this? You think some prayer will — this guy's actions are terrible. He's still a tax collector. There's no way he could be a Christian. There's no way, God. This would be repugnant if God would give this person mercy because he just cried out to God. The other one's doing it. The other one's living it. You're telling me that the tax collector just prays some little prayer, ‘Oh, be merciful to me?’”

Jesus says, “I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other.”

People would've just filed away, mad.

“For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

When we don't remember the deep, we act just like the Pharisees. And, by God, does the church in America need a revival to be more like the tax collector, remember the deep, and remember the mercy of God rather than standing there and pointing fingers at all these people who need Jesus.

Second:  By not recognizing and/or forgetting the deep — this is a scary thing — it worms its way in. God starts to be seen more as a helper — there’s nothing wrong with God being a helper. He's a present help in the time of need, but that is not the primary role of Jesus in our lives. He's our Savior. He's our Lord. He's our master. And what happens is if we're not paying attention and we forget the deep, if we forget where we were and we start thinking, “I'm a child of God now. I'm good. I'm right. I'm good. All these other people are bad. I’ve got it going on. I know how to do it.”

What happens is God very slightly starts to become the one who meets our needs because we’re good, so now it's like, "God, You’ve got to give me this. God, You’ve got to give me this.”

This is where all this bad American theology comes from, that God wants everybody rich, God wants everybody this, and God wants everybody that. It’s like, “Whoa, hold on. That's not even close to being biblical.”

But what happens is, when we lose sight of the deep, things change. And what happens is Jesus becomes more of a self-help coach rather than the master, Savior, and Lord. And you can see it. It's wormed its way into the American Church because we have forgotten the deep. We don't want to talk about the deep. We don't want to talk about the fact that we could never bridge that gap, but that is the central point of theology. Jesus didn't come just to give us an example. Jesus came — do you want to know how holy God was? Do you want to know how bad we were in the deep? Look at what happened to Jesus' body and look at what happened to Him when He was crucified. Do you want to know how holy God is? Do you want to know how righteous God is? Look at what had to happen so that you and I could be rescued from the deep.

The last thing I'll say is that by not recognizing or forgetting the deep, we may also start to put the priority of our own salvation on what we do. It's slight. We forget the deep. We don't acknowledge the deep.

“I'm in. I'm a Christian. All these other people aren't living right.”

Then you start cataloging who's in and who's out based on behavior. And then behavior becomes — it's like, “Whoa, hold on for a second. There wasn't anything you or I could do to get ourselves out of the deep. How in the world do we think now, all of a sudden, we're going to do something so good that gets God's attention?”

The only way we're made right with God is what Jesus did for you and I. Christianity is based on what Christ has done, not on what we do. See, people go, “You’re saying we shouldn't act it?”

No, I didn't say we shouldn't act ethically and morally. I'm just telling you that if you think your ethics and your morals are going to scale the deep, you don't understand how far away we are from God. Here’s the deal: Spiritual schizophrenia is a result of performance-based Christianity. We become all these things that we shouldn't be, but here's the situation that I want you to hear. This is what I want you to hear because this is where the freedom happens. When we understand where things were, when we understand God's holiness, and we fully understand that, we're really ready then to hear the good news. Because our condition outside of Jesus is the deep. God’s holiness is so far from you and I. There’s no way we could scale that or bridge that. The only way that we can be made right with God is exactly what Scripture says. It's the thief on the cross. You go, “There’s just no way. There's just no way.”

Alistair Begg has the greatest teaching on that ever. It's a short, little thing. He just says, "Can you imagine the thief on the cross? Can you imagine when he's standing there in heaven, in paradise that day, and they're there, like, ‘How did you get in? Did you ever go to church?’


“‘Did you ever sing a hymn?’


“‘What were you, a thief? What do you know about the inspiration of Scripture?’

“‘Never heard of it.’

“‘What do you know about the Trinity?’

“‘I have no idea.’

“‘Well, what do you know about the doctrine of justification by faith?’


“‘On what basis, then, are you here?’

“He says, ‘I'm here because the man on the middle cross told me I could be here.’”

It's the Gospel. Fifty-some people tonight are going to say, “I gave my life to Jesus,” and they're going to go into the water of the baptism and come back up. Maybe somebody else wants to get in on that. But I'm telling you, and I want you to hear me, that if we don't remember what God has done for you and I, we will become some things that are very ugly. What the world doesn't need is a misrepresentation of who Jesus is. We need to remember where we came from. We need to remember where we were. We need to remember what God has done for us because, in doing that, we'll understand that our salvation is not based on what we do. We'll understand that unwarranted criticism of other people is just not worth it. And if you feel dry, if you'll take a moment and realize where God rescued you from, you surely can't remain dry for very long. I've never seen anybody who got rescued after being at sea for days and days and days, and they were still alive, who wasn't excited when they got rescued. We were dead in the deep when Jesus came to you and I. We should walk into church with our hands in the air, just saying, "God, thank You,” every time we meet because we remember where He took us from. And if you wonder, “Where’s God? Is He close?”

He's as close as can be because He's the one that came and rescued you and I from the deep.

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