We have been in the book of Luke for the past few months, studying the life of Jesus, but starting today, we’re going to step out of Luke for a few weeks for the Advent season.
So, as we head toward Christmas, there are a couple of words that keep popping up in marketing pieces you get in the mail, advertisements on store windows or on TV, they pop up in songs we sing, they are in nearly every single Christmas card you get – these four words:
PEACE – HOPE – LOVE – JOY
Joy to the world, peace on earth, hope for all mankind, love.
We’ll cover those three in the coming weeks, but today we’re talking about the fourth word – HOPE. And the question: What do you suppose people with no regard for Jesus, no concern for the local church, no passion for the glory of God – what do you suppose they think about or imagine when they read the word “HOPE”?
The way we use the word HOPE today, it actually leans more toward a wish. I’m dreaming of hoping for a white Christmas. I hope I get a good grade on this test. I hope we win the game. I hope I made a good decision there. I hope my car doesn’t break down.
That sort of hope is wishful thinking, right? Weather is unpredictable no matter where you live, so your hope of a white Christmas is 100% out of your control, and since we live in Iowa – you could wish for an 80 degree Christmas and have just as good a chance. Sports are unpredictable (see the Iowa Hawkeyes). Money is unpredictable. Jobs are unpredictable. The economy is unpredictable. So if we attach the word “hope” to those kinds of things, it really means something more like a wish, right?
But that’s not how the Bible talks about hope. PRAY and Let’s dive into this a verse at a time.
 Out of the depths I call to you, LORD!
What comes to mind when you read or hear the word “depths”? We talk about the really great things in life as the highlights, the mountain tops, the stuff of legend. But the depths are the inversion, the opposite of the mountain tops. It’s the low stuff of life. The depths. Suffering.
I know that the word “suffering” is one we talk about here from time to time, but it’s good to put a definition on it.
The late author Eugene Peterson describes suffering as “physical or emotional pain plus the awareness that our own worth as people is threatened, that our value as creatures made in the dignity of God is called into question…” and the questions that sit deep inside of us, probably never spoken out loud, is: “Are we going to end up withering away into nothing? Are we going to be pushed aside while the world moves on without us? Are we nothing more than our disintegrating bodies or malfunctioning emotions or confused minds?” (Peterson 137)
And maybe you know that feeling. Maybe you’ve experienced that feeling of, wow, is this who I am now?
I would suggest that we’ve all been there and experienced the depths, but in this age of social media and smartphones and subscription TV and easy access to entertainment, I think we’ve become professional “depth avoiders.” We try like crazy to avoid the depths.
We hate being confronted with the thought that we might not be the heroes we imagine ourselves to be. We like the notion that we are strong, that we are enough, that we are capable and intelligent and worthy of attention and respect, so when the awareness of weakness, inadequacy, loneliness, failure, unworthiness all try to weasel their way into our thoughts, we reach for the phone or the remote or a beer –something, anything – to not let our minds go there, scrolling so we stay numb to the depths.
But there are some things you just can’t scroll past. You can’t scroll past cancer. You can’t scroll past the death of someone you love. You can’t scroll past losing your job. You can’t scroll past your divorce or one of your children who is rejecting Jesus. So those things tend to wreck us because we are forced to face them.
The reality is that everyone who walks through these doors is suffering in one way or another. Not all on the same scale, of course. But everyone knows those feelings to some extent, even if we’ve tried for years to avoid them.
The question isn’t WILL you experience the depths. The answer is YES, you will. The question here is HOW will you respond when you do? What will you reach out to for help in the depths? How does hope play a role?
 Lord, listen to my voice; let your ears be attentive to my cry for help.  LORD, if you kept an account of iniquities, Lord, who could stand?
Raise your hand if you have a ledger or journal at home where you keep an account of every sin you’ve committed. If you do, we have a counseling team standing by. No way – who would want to see that? Be reminded of that? Who would ever want to pick up that book and read it? Who would want to open that spreadsheet?
I think it’s interesting here that the author doesn’t start off with some sort of pep talk to himself about how he doesn’t deserve to be in the depths, or who he can blame for the situation he is in. He doesn’t quote fake scriptures like, “God doesn’t give you more than you can handle, so I must be really strong!”
He starts off with recognizing his own sin. Lord if you kept a spreadsheet of all of our sin, not a single one of us would have a leg to stand on. There is not a snowball’s chance in hell for any one of us. I don’t deserve to have you listen to me. I don’t deserve you to answer me. If this situation IS because of my sin, you would be justified to let me suffer.
Step one in the depths: Right view of ourselves: We don’t have a leg to stand on. If that’s where things ended, that’s pretty depressing.
 But (there’s a contrast here) with you [God] there is forgiveness… So yes, maybe my sin does deserve punishment, and I would deserve to be in the depths if that were the whole story, but it’s not the whole story. With God, sin doesn’t get the final say. Sin doesn’t have the last word. God does! And he offers forgiveness!
Because we hold the NT in our hands, we know that Jesus is the sacrifice.
And that it’s in the suffering of Jesus where forgiveness for sin happens. If you are in Christ today, God has torn out those pages of your “sin ledger.” That spreadsheet of your sins was nailed to the cross and drenched with the blood of Jesus. When Satan comes to accuse you, or tries to point out just how many pages it took to record all of your sins, you can say “ha, may be, but the cross and the empty tomb say your argument won’t hold up in court anymore.” That case has not been dismissed – it has been closed. The penalty for our sins has been paid. The time has been served. Not by us suffering in the depths, but by Jesus going to the cross! Psalm 103 says he has not dealt with us as our sins deserve. Isaiah 53 says God has put our sins on Jesus.
Sin doesn’t have the last word. There is forgiveness. Why? Look at the last part of verse 4. Why is forgiveness offered to sinners? ...So that God may be revered, or as we learned in the Proverbs series this summer, that God may be feared, honored, worshiped. (18min)
See for some of you, all God has ever been to you is a free ticket out of the depths, a jump to the front of the line, express checkout lane, get out of suffering free card. I want to make sure my eternity is covered, there is the Jesus on the cross thing, don’t know how it works, don’t really care, heaven doesn’t even sound all that interesting – apparently there is no beer in heaven, not really into harp music – but it sounds better than being burned alive forever, so I’ll take it and hope they have good ice cream or a good fishing spot. And in the meantime, since I’ve prayed the prayer and signed my commitment papers to go to heaven some day, God should
- protect me from any harm, sickness, poverty or trouble while I’m here, and
- if he allows something bad to happen to me before I get to heaven, since I’m on his team, he should rescue me, make the pain go away, and everything will be rainbows and unicorns until one day I pass away peacefully in my sleep at the age of 164 having seen and done all the things I want to do and see.
But what if God’s goal for our lives is more than just getting us to heaven? Here in verse 4, the author of Psalm 130 recalls Deuteronomy 10:12 CSB
 "And now, Israel, what does the LORD your God ask of you except to fear the LORD your God by [here’s what it looks like to fear him, this is what you do:] walking in all his ways, to love him, and to worship the LORD your God with all your heart and all your soul?
Step 2 from the depths: Right view of God: revering him – fearing him – honoring him, Treating him as if He’s God as we’re not.
And with that in mind, the author continues in verse 5…
 I wait for the LORD; I wait and put my hope in his word.
This is step 3: If He’s God and I’m not, then I have to trust him. I have to take him at his word. That’s what that phrase “put my hope in your word” means. “I’m going to take you at your word.” What do we mean when we say that?
It means: I’ve heard what you’ve said – I’ve listened to your words, but I’m going to trust the “YOU” behind your words. I’m going to trust that you have the character to back up your words, the capital, the means, the power, the authority, to carry out what you have said. I’m trusting the “YOU” behind your words. Your words mean nothing if I can’t trust YOU.
And right here is where we find the biblical definition of the word HOPE. When the author of Psalm 130 says “I put my hope in his word”, where is his hope anchored?
Is it in something wishy-washy? Is it in something fluid that changes all the time? No it’s in the word of God. Reading God’s word is not just so we have some intellectual view of religion or a new list of facts or that we have the stories memorized – it’s so that we would know God! It’s so that we can say, I’m going to trust that behind your words you have the character, the capital, the authority, the means, the power to make what you have promised come to pass. And if you are who you say you are, I can put my trust in what you’ve said.
So I wait for you. I anchor my hope, not in something wishy washy or unpredictable.
 I wait for the Lord more than watchmen for the morning- more than watchmen for the morning.
Morning is never in question. You are never uncertain if morning is coming. Weather is unpredictable. Morning isn’t. The Hawkeyes are unpredictable, morning isn’t. People are unpredictable, morning isn’t. It might be storming, it might be raining, it might be windy, it might be warm, cold, hot – but morning is never in question.
I’ve never been an actual watchman. Maybe some of you who served in the military know what that is like, or others of you have worked the night shift somewhere and you know the feeling. The closest I can get to this is driving through the night when we travel back to Pennsylvania to visit my parents, where around 3-4am you are half hypnotized by the dotted lines on the highway, not many cars out, it’s just blackness. You just want morning to come.
I imagine the watchman here in verse 6 standing on a wall, staring out at the blackness just waiting for the sun to come up. His shift will be over. He can be refreshed with a hot shower, renewed with some food and some rest.
But for now it’s blackness. And maybe some fear is present. You don’t know if an opposing army has crept into your camp under the cover of darkness, or if those sounds you heard were good or bad – you don’t know what you’re going to see when the sun comes up, but you know that when the sun comes up you will see clearly what was there all along.
No watchman is sitting there going, boy I sure hope there is a morning today! There was yesterday and the day before that, but I sure hope there is one today. The biblical definition of hope is unshakeable confidence. God will come through as certain as the sun comes up. In fact, the reason God designed the sun to be as predictable as it is to show us what he is like!
But no good watchman stops watching just because he can’t see the morning yet. He or she keeps watching patiently, faithfully, steadfast, immoveable.
So here’s the blueprint: Step 1 - right view of ourselves; step 2 - right view of God; step 3 - trust God’s timing and wisdom is perfect; step 4 - practice faithfulness, patience, steadfastness. Don’t quit. Put in the work.
So, dear believer: If you are in the depths right now – if you are in a dark night of the soul, and your hope is anchored in the God of the Bible who forgives, the God who speaks, the God who pushed back the darkness when he spoke in Genesis 1 “let there be light”, if your hope is anchored in the life, death, resurrection of his Son Jesus, whose blood covers your sin, if you have put your hope in his eternal word that does not change, then no matter how dark the night is for you MORNING IS COMING! It’s never in question.
And what will you see when the sun comes up in your life?
 Israel, put your hope in the LORD. For there is faithful love with the LORD, and with him is redemption in abundance.  And he will redeem Israel from all its iniquities.
When the darkness is finally cleared and morning comes, we will more clearly see God’s faithful love. Forgiveness. Abundant redemption. Sin removed. A newfound reverence for God. When morning comes, we find that God was working through the night. Psalm 121 describes God this way: “Your Protector will not slumber. Indeed the Protector of Israel does not slumber or sleep.” When we find ourselves in the depths, it’s not because God fell asleep.
The Bible views the depths, the dark nights of the soul, as teachers. Those dark nights are meant to teach us patience and endurance and faithfulness in the waiting, trusting, watching, with our hope firmly anchored in the unshakeable character and means and power and wisdom of God, taking him at his word that morning is coming.
Now, we’re not masochists who think we’re holy when we’re hurting, or think personal misery is a sign of righteousness (Peterson 140). There is some suffering that is avoidable, and the wisdom of Proverbs that we studied all summer shows us how we can live in such a way that we don’t have to suffer needlessly. Sometimes people do end up in the depths because of choices they’ve made that could have been avoided, or could be quickly fixed by confession or repentance.
But what we see in Psalm 130 is that even in the darkest of nights, in the deepest of depths, God’s forgiveness for sin, the certainty of his word, his love for you, and his power to redeem the darkness and use it for good is deeper than the deepest of dark places you could imagine going, and as unshakeable as the morning.
I think a great way to close this is as one author writes, “we ought to think more of the depths of God than the depths of our cry. The worst thing that can happen to a man is to have no god to cry to out of the depth.” (Peterson 139)
Peterson, Eugene H, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1980/2000, 137-145