Our Hope: The Character of God (Psalm 130)
Background: This is the service I performed for an older church member, who died of emphysema as a believer. The message is based upon Psalm 130, this woman's favorite psalm. Note the graveside service, too. This woman's death was an ugly one, and I wanted to emphasize the reality of the Christian's passing as opposed to mere appearances.
About two years ago it was apparent that apart from a miracle Sara would not have a great deal of time left on this earth, and so she and her husband and I sat at their kitchen table, discussing the arrangements for her funeral. Sara expressed not only the hymns which she wanted to be a part of her funeral, but also the texts which have been read. She did not avoid the reality of her own death, and in the last days which I spent with her, I read to her from texts of Scripture speaking of the Christian's hope.
It was Sara's request that I conduct her funeral. In these last few moments, I would like to share with you the faith which Sara professed, which not only gave her comfort, but which can be of comfort to you as well. Sara's favorite text in Scripture was Psalm 130. I have chosen to use this text as the basis for the message today, because it not only expresses Sara's faith and hope in God, but also her desire that you experience the salvation in which she delighted and found both comfort and hope.
(A Song of Ascents) Out of the depths I have cried to Thee, O LORD. 2 Lord, hear my voice! Let Thine ears be attentive To the voice of my supplications. 3 If Thou, LORD, shouldst mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? 4 But there is forgiveness with Thee, That Thou mayest be feared. 5 I wait for the LORD, my soul does wait, And in His word do I hope. 6 My soul [waits] for the Lord More than the watchmen for the morning; Indeed, more than the watchmen for the morning. 7 O Israel, hope in the LORD; For with the LORD there is lovingkindness, And with Him is abundant redemption. 8 And He will redeem Israel From all his iniquities (Psalms 130:1-8).
This Psalm was Sara's favorite text, and no wonder. It draws upon the great doctrines of the faith. It expresses her hope and faith as a believer, as well as her desire for each of you.
Verses 1-2 "Out of the depths I have cried to Thee, O LORD. 2 Lord, hear my voice! Let Thine ears be attentive To the voice of my supplications."
(1) The believer comes to the Lord from the depths. He calls upon the Lord as his last and only hope. As the final days of Sara's earthly struggle drew to a close, this psalm must have been of greater and greater comfort.
Verse 3 "If Thou, LORD, shouldst mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?"
(2) While some of the psalmist's despair must have come from external trials and difficulties, the great despair is his awareness of his own sin. As the psalmist falls before God, he does so as an unworthy sinner, before a righteous and holy God, who is without sin, and whose character requires that sin be dealt with in holiness. There is no self-righteousness here. The psalmist knows that if dealt with according to his works, he could not stand before God.
Verse 4 "But there is forgiveness with Thee, That Thou mayest be feared."
The psalmist's hope is not in his good works of the past, or any future deeds he might do. His hope is in the character of God. He confesses to God that He is not only holy, He is forgiving. He grants forgiveness so that men might fear and worship Him.
Verses 5-6 "I wait for the LORD, my soul does wait, And in His word do I hope. 6 My soul [waits] for the Lord More than the watchmen for the morning; Indeed, more than the watchmen for the morning."
Verses 5 and 6 are the psalmist's personal testimony. The forgiveness which God grants is present. The full and final salvation for which the psalmist hopes is yet future. And so he describes God as the One for whom He waits. And until the time of His coming, the psalmist knows that his hope is rooted in His revealed Word. The Word of God is the source of his hope. Verse 6 expresses the yearning which the saint has for the coming of the Lord and the final salvation He will bring.
Verses 7-8 "O Israel, hope in the LORD; For with the LORD there is lovingkindness, And with Him is abundant redemption. 8 And He will redeem Israel From all his iniquities."
Verses 7 and 8 are the psalmist's appeal to his fellow-Israelites, to share in the salvation of the Lord. He does not assume that because they are Jews, they are necessarily saints. They, too, are sinners, in need of divine forgiveness. They, like the psalmist, must acknowledge their sin, and trust in God, and in the salvation He alone can give.
What a beautiful expression of Sara's faith. What a comfort to know that she has now entered into the blessings of eternity, that she has left behind earthly suffering and sorrows, and is in the presence of her Lord.
Her desire was and is that you should share these blessings with her. The forgiveness of sins for which the psalmist looked forward has now been accomplished by the death, burial, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. The New Testament counterpart to Psalm 130 might be found in Romans chapter 5:
1 Therefore having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God. 3 And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; 4 and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; 5 and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us. 6 For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. 8 But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. 9 Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath [of God] through Him. 10 For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. 11 And not only this, but we also exult in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation (Romans 5:1-11).
Jesus Christ came into the world nearly 2,000 years ago to provide for man's salvation. He was sinless, but He came to die in the sinner's place. Those who trust in Him by faith have their sins forgiven by Jesus Christ, who bore the penalty they deserved. And those who trust in Him have His righteousness, so that they can stand before God justified, forgiven, and righteous, in Christ. This was Sara's hope. It is not the hope of all, but only of those who, like Sara, have trusted in Him. I pray that you make give thought to the words of Psalm 130 and that you might trust in the salvation which God provided through His Son, Jesus Christ. It is then that you will be able to share the hope of this psalm, and have confidence in the face of death.
1 And it came about when the LORD was about to take up Elijah by a whirlwind to heaven, that Elijah went with Elisha from Gilgal. 2 And Elijah said to Elisha, "Stay here please, for the LORD has sent me as far as Bethel." But Elisha said, "As the LORD lives and as you yourself live, I will not leave you." So they went down to Bethel. 3 Then the sons of the prophets who [were at] Bethel came out to Elisha and said to him, "Do you know that the LORD will take away your master from over you today?" And he said, "Yes, I know; be still." 4 And Elijah said to him, "Elisha, please stay here, for the LORD has sent me to Jericho." But he said, "As the LORD lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you." So they came to Jericho. 5 And the sons of the prophets who [were] at Jericho approached Elisha and said to him, "Do you know that the LORD will take away your master from over you today?" And he answered, "Yes, I know; be still." 6 Then Elijah said to him, "Please stay here, for the LORD has sent me to the Jordan." And he said, "As the LORD lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you." So the two of them went on. 7 Now fifty men of the sons of the prophets went and stood opposite[them] at a distance, while the two of them stood by the Jordan. 8 And Elijah took his mantle and folded it together and struck the waters, and they were divided here and there, so that the two of them crossed over on dry ground. 9 Now it came about when they had crossed over, that Elijah said to Elisha, "Ask what I shall do for you before I am taken from you." And Elisha said, "Please, let a double portion of your spirit be upon me." 10 And he said, "You have asked a hard thing. [Nevertheless,] if you see me when I am taken from you, it shall be so for you; but if not, it shall not be [so.]" 11 Then it came about as they were going along and talking, that behold, [there appeared] a chariot of fire and horses of fire which separated the two of them. And Elijah went up by a whirlwind to heaven. 12 And Elisha saw [it] and cried out, "My father, my father, the chariots of Israel and its horsemen!" And he saw him no more. Then he took hold of his own clothes and tore them in two pieces. 13 He also took up the mantle of Elijah that fell from him, and returned and stood by the bank of the Jordan. 14 And he took the mantle of Elijah that fell from him, and struck the waters and said, "Where is the LORD, the God of Elijah?" And when he also had struck the waters, they were divided here and there; and Elisha crossed over (2 Kings 2:1-14).
8 Now the king of Aram was warring against Israel; and he counseled with his servants saying, "In such and such a place shall be my camp." 9 And the man of God sent [word] to the king of Israel saying, "Beware that you do not pass this place, for the Arameans are coming down there." 10 And the king of Israel sent to the place about which the man of God had told him; thus he warned him, so that he guarded himself there, more than once or twice. 11 Now the heart of the king of Aram was enraged over this thing; and he called his servants and said to them, "Will you tell me which of us is for the king of Israel?" 12 And one of his servants said, "No, my lord, O king; but Elisha, the prophet who is in Israel, tells the king of Israel the words that you speak in your bedroom." 13 So he said, "Go and see where he is, that I may send and take him." And it was told him, saying," Behold, he is in Dothan." 14 And he sent horses and chariots and a great army there, and they came by night and surrounded the city. 15 Now when the attendant of the man of God had risen early and gone out, behold, an army with horses and chariots was circling the city. And his servant said to him, "Alas, my master! What shall we do?" 16 So he answered, "Do not fear, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them." 17 Then Elisha prayed and said, "O LORD, I pray, open his eyes that he may see." And the LORD opened the servant's eyes, and he saw; and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha. 18 And when they came down to him, Elisha prayed to the LORD and said, "Strike this people with blindness, I pray." So He struck them with blindness according to the word of Elisha. 19 Then Elisha said to them, "This is not the way, nor is this the city; follow me and I will bring you to the man whom you seek." And he brought them to Samaria. 20 And it came about when they had come into Samaria, that Elisha said, "O LORD, open the eyes of these [men,] that they may see." So the LORD opened their eyes, and they saw; and behold, they were in the midst of Samaria. 21 Then the king of Israel when he saw them, said to Elisha, "My father, shall I kill them? Shall I kill them?" 22 And he answered, "You shall not kill [them.] Would you kill those you have taken captive with your sword and with your bow? Set bread and water before them, that they may eat and drink and go to their master." 23 So he prepared a great feast for them; and when they had eaten and drunk he sent them away, and they went to their master. And the marauding bands of Arameans did not come again into the land of Israel (2 Kings 6:8-23).
When we think of Sara Smith, we will unfortunately tend to think of her as she was in the last months and days of her life. We will remember her with her oxygen hose trailing behind her, wherever she went. We will think of her as she lay in her bed, struggling for each breath. We will think of her in terms of her last moments of life. And if we do so, we fail to grasp the full reality of the glory of her exodus, and of ours, if we trust in Jesus Christ for salvation.
These two stories, recorded in the Book of 2 Kings, challenge us to look on Sara's passing of the believer from here to eternity as the Bible describes it. Elijah's time of departure had come, and Elisha was appointed to replace him. Elisha determined that he would not leave Elijah until the Lord took him away. Elisha alone watched as the horses and chariot of fire transported him into heaven. Some time later, Elisha was surrounded by horses and chariots, sent by the king of Aram, to capture and perhaps to kill Elisha, because this prophet was making his plans known to the king of Israel. It looked as though his situation was hopeless. His servant certainly thought so. But Elisha knew that the spiritual life has to do with the unseen as well as the seen. He prayed that his servant's eyes would be opened, and that he would be able to see things as they really were. And when his eyes were opened, he saw the horses and chariots of fire surrounding them. Nothing could harm them when God's angelic army was assembled for their defense.
The very angels which are assembled about us for our protection in this world seem to be those angels which transport us into heaven when it is time for us to depart from this life. God promised never to leave us nor forsake us. His angels guard us now, so that we are not taken from life one second sooner than God has purposed. And when that time of departure does come, His angels are there to escort us into heaven.
You may think that such treatment is only for those special, spiritual people like Elijah and Elisha. I do not think so. I simply remind you of our Lord's own words, in which he tells of the angelic escort of a poor beggar named Lazarus:
19 "Now there was a certain rich man, and he habitually dressed in purple and fine linen, gaily living in splendor every day. 20 "And a certain poor man named Lazarus was laid at his gate, covered with sores, 21 and longing to be fed with the crumbs which were falling from the rich man's table; besides, even the dogs were coming and licking his sores. 22 "Now it came about that the poor man died and he was carried away by the angels to Abraham's bosom; and the rich man also died and was buried. 23 "And in Hades he lifted up his eyes, being in torment, and saw Abraham far away, and Lazarus in his bosom" (Luke 16:19-23).
I believe that when Sara's spirit departed from her body, she was escorted into the presence of the Lord in the same way. While appearances would indicate otherwise, her departure was a glorious one. As we leave her body in this grave, to be resurrected and transformed at the return of our Lord, let us rejoice in the fact that her suffering is over, and her departure was triumphant. May we look forward to our day of triumph as well, as those who trust in Him who not only gave His life for us, but Who was raised from the dead and ascended to the right hand of the Father.