We concluded the On The Up And Up series with an old-fashioned yet new-fangled invitation to faith.
Psalm 130:3 asks plaintively:
If you, Lord, kept a record of sins, who could stand?
The answer to the question on the literal level is, of course, no one.
And yet simply by asking the question, and then reading what follows in verse four and following, you know the authentic answer is embedded within:
But He doesn’t!
He could count our sins, but he doesn’t. He has the power to do so, but he limits itself. He chooses soul saving over sin counting.
Here it is: Record Breakers.
Every time I do a wedding, I complete and mail in the marriage license, which looks something like this (AV). It is the least picturesque, least romantic piece of wedding ritual imaginable. And then I mail it off to the Register of Deeds in either Meck or York Counties, where I imagine it ends up in a place like this (Clip of closing scene of Raiders Lost Ark).
The vast bureaucracy of records that someone, somewhere is maintaining on all of us!
Think about it! Someone, somewhere keeps all those records on us – births, deaths, marriages, divorces . . . marriages, divorces. It’s so vast and so complex and then ever decade or so it amps up as census takers find out even more about us and mark it down according to ethnicity, gender, income, and habits. And then you KNOW the IRS is keeping some serious records on what we earn and pay and . . . don’t pay. And every conspiracy theorist in the room is convinced that Big Data is keeping careful record on your cell phone calls, your GPS movements, your, gulp, web searches. There are records upon records upon records and someone is keeping them on us!
And in the sports world, isn’t it interesting how you’ve got record keepers & record breakers? You know what sport has the most arcane traditions & records? Baseball! Like did you know in the Baseball HOF in Cooperstown, someone is keeping track of the fact that Tony Gwynn (AV) hit .302 with two strikes on him. Such detail! And someone’s keeping it. Records. Big Date & little trivia. Actually, I shouldn’t be too judgmental on record keeping, I know every year’s average attendance of this church on the top of my head; you call out a year & I’ll tell you our avg. (DO?)
Well, you may wonder why this focus on records. Because in this, the last of our psalms that were sung on the up and up drills down at exactly that spot. By way of reminder, Ps 121 is part of what is called The Songs of Ascent, a collection of 15 folk songs (120-134) that people would sing as they trekked from their farms, towns, and villages up to Jerusalem 3x a year for religious feasts: Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles. They went those three times because the Jerusalem temple was the central religious location for all faithful Jews then. And Jerusalem was (and is) physically at one of the highest georgraphic places in all of Israel. So the journey from those towns, villages, and farms more literally was a climb. A gradual climb but a relentless climb nonetheless. To go to Jerusalem with a crowd of fellow piligrims was, literally, to go on the up and up. They sang their way up w/ these folk songs.
And this one, 130, WHEW!, look at how it starts:
Out of the depths I cry to you, Lord;
Out of the depths. The irony there is why is this guy (or girl!) so low when he is on his way UP? Well, as we’re going to see, this singer is no pop singer, he’s a blues singer. Deep blues. Deep melancholy. But you know what is so great about this opening line of this song? He is open and honest with God about it. I suspect there are people here today who are as low as you can go. You know these depths. Like the mom I knew years ago who just when things couldn’t get worse – divorce, unemployment – discovered her 15 year old son . . . was gonna be a dad. She said to a friend, “When I thought I couldn’t get any lower, it’s like God handed me a shovel and said, ‘Dig!’” You know about that? Things you’ve done, things done to you, ripple effects of your actions . . . you know what these depths are all about. And yet . . . I bet many of you talk about your depths w/ everyone except God.
Well, apparently this singer-songwriter of Ps 130 has depths that are primarily self-inflicted. Because he places the focus squarely on his own misdeeds in 130:2:
Lord, hear my voice.
Let your ears be attentive
to my cry for mercy.
I mean, who asks for mercy except for ppl who have done wrong?!
But all that is the build up to the question of questions in Psalm 130:3:
If you, Lord, kept a record of sins,
Lord, who could stand?
I love that! Record keeping! Tallying up! Abacus, calculator, iPad, Roman numerals, however! As if he’s saying, “man, what would it look like if I had a sin Hall Of Fame, Lord, and you were the official record keeper?” Whew! A Sin Hall Of Fame! You have one. That weekend with that guy. That drunken rant. That 15 year old pregnancy I mentioned earlier . . . only yours ended in a terminated pregnancy. That uncanny way you have of hurting people you should love the most. That double cross against your good friend. That time you spilled the beans about a (now) former friend. That treasured grudge you hold – why do I call it treasured? Because if you ever gave it up, you couldn’t feel like a victim anymore. That affair you haven’t had – except in your mind. And you’ve had it there so often it’s eating away at you. Yeah, just like this guy in Psalm 130, you have a Sin Hall Of Fame, things done & undone, major & minor, and you realize that if God was like the guy in Cooperstown … OMG.
Because look at the question in 130:3 again: READ. The answer, obviously is NO ONE. You’d collapse under the weight of sin. It would be like trying to hold this (anvil?) on your shoulders. You’d stagger, you’d sway, you’d collapse, you’d be crushed. If. If. If. the God on the hill was a record keeper.
But the reason Ps. 130:3 is just the greatest question is because the answer is implied: But He DOESN’T! If he did, we’d stay in the depths. We’d have an estrangement with God that would never end. If we served a God who specialized in record keeping we’d find ourselves soul losing. We’d be consumed with the kind of guilt that renders many of you immoveable, we’d live lives of quiet desperation, and then we’d end up in hell. If God was a Register of Deeds, if he was the CEO of Divine Big Data, if he was a baseball nerd in Cooperstown, we’d be sunk. But He DOESN’T!
He COULD, but he doesn’t. He has the ABILITY to count em all up, but he chooses not to. He has the RIGHT to, but he refrains from. He has the POWER to but he restrains his own might. It’s really like what Corrie Ten Boom said that time: “When I bring my sins to the Lord Jesus, he casts them into the depths of the sea – forgiven and forgotten. He also puts up a sign that says, ‘No Fishing Allowed.’” And he follows his own sign & won’t fish! If he kept a record of your sin & mine, we’d collapse. But he DOESN’T! Your suffering, your depth, your guilt will never have the final word; his redemption does.
You know who and what DOES keep a record? Karma. Yep. Equal ratio – what you put out comes back in precise and equal measure. We joke about karma getting other people; we rarely consider in our flippancy what would happen if we got ours. Every religion in some form embraces karma – you get what you deserve, your reward stems from your record, you’re measured on your performance. Every religion . . . except the one the bible. Except grace. He could give you what. He could give you what you deserve – body collapsing, soul quenching, record keeping – but he gives you better: that’s grace. He’s too busy loving you to keep counting. Apparently, God is not all that great at statistics. But He DOESN’T!
But wait wait wait. I can’t let you think Ps 130 means that all ppl get this kind of sin erasure regardless of their response. Because I think this is great by RC Sproul:
God’s grace is not infinite. God is infinite and God is gracious. We experience the grace of an infinite God, but grace is not infinite. God sets limits to his patience and forbearance. He warns us over and over again that someday the ax will fall and his judgment will be poured out.
As a rabbi once said, there is coming a time when people will wish they had either been born again or not born at all. Yikes. With the whole of biblical revelation, I very much believe that outside of a change in location, many, many people are now and will in the future live into the awful reality of collapsing under the weight of their counted up sin. To ask Psalm 130:3’s question without the assurance of a grace-filled answer is just a foreshadow of the awful, eternal, Christless eternity called hell.
So: how. How do we move from despair to celebration? From OMG if he keeps records I’m sunk to the euphoria of But He DOESN’T! so I’m saved!
Look at 130:4:
But with you there is forgiveness,
so that we can, with reverence, serve you.
Ah, with you there is forgiveness. and then 130:7-8:
Israel, put your hope in the Lord,
for with the Lord is unfailing love
and with him is full redemption.
8 He himself will redeem Israel
from all their sins.
The journey from the despair of v. 1 to the calm assurance of v. 8 is a journey from ME to WE. Note: all Israel, all sins, full redemption. He goes from self-absorbed to self-aware to self-emptying. He’s changed location . . . moved from the depths to the top of the mountain. A different location. And for you? You will have that euphoria of But He DOESN’T! not by improving your performance but by changing your location. By moving to a place the NT calls “in Christ.” What I’m talking about is less “Christ in you” – which the NT talks about sometimes and more you moving “in Christ” – which it talks about all the time. Moving from that place where the self is the king to the place where, as a friend of mine said once, you acknowledge that “I stink but he saves.” You move your soul, your life, your breath out of the heat and under the protective canopy of his grace. His kingdom, his Lordship, his ownership of your life. You do that and you’ll experience the eternal grace of an eternal king. Every time guilt gets you, you can shout it out: But He DOESN’T!
Maybe what I’m talking about is like the young woman who came to a healing service awhile back. She was worried about herself and some trauma she’d caused her family. Like most people at healing services, she wanted her symptoms healed. But for some reason, our little prayer circle asked her about the core: Have you ever given Jesus your life? Have you received the ultimate healing from which all subsequent healings flow? “Not yet.” Would you like to? “Yes.” So we did.
And she changed location that night. Weight lifted because no. records. kept. Slate clean. Start fresh.
But He DOESN’T!
And since he doesn’t, we CAN STAND. We couldn’t if he did, but we can since he doesn’t. So I’m wondering who’d like to change locations by standing today . . .
Come to Jesus, STAND UP, invitation to close.