Hope in the Lord! Back to all sermons
Date: August 2, 2013
Speaker: Pastor Cameron Arensen
Scripture: Psalm 130:1–130:8
Synopsis: In this series of messages on human emotions, we set out to explore the emotion of “hope” only to hit a snag. The Hebrew concept of hope is not an emotion at all, but an action verb. Find out the significance of this discovery in this message from Psalm 130 entitled Hope in the Lord!
In this series of messages, we are studying different human emotions, using the Book of Psalms as our source and text book. We have looked at discouragement, guilt, anger and fear so far. For a change, last week we looked at a positive emotion, the emotion of gratitude.
Today I wanted to look at another positive emotion and I chose the emotion of hope. As I arrange the different human emotions logically in my mind, I would place hope as a kind of emotional opposite to fear. When we looked at fear, we defined it as both the intellectual and emotional anticipation of pain or unfavorable circumstance. Hope, then, would be the intellectual and emotional anticipation of good things, good results, and favorable circumstances.
But I must admit I hit a snag when I turned my attention to the Scriptures. You see, what I found is that in Hebrew vocabulary and thought, hope is not really viewed as an emotion at all. It is an action, a verb, a choice of the intellect and will to put one’s confidence and trust in someone or something.
So I had a choice. Should I stay with my definition and concept of hope, or should I pursue the Biblical concept? I have decided to stay with the Biblical definition, even though it will take us down a somewhat different path than other messages in this series.
The Biblical concept of hope is clearly portrayed in Psalm 130 which we read in the Scripture reading a few moments ago. It is seen in the clear command in verse 7: “O Israel, hope in the Lord.” That is a verb in the imperative form. “Do it!” It is a choice, an action, something we can do. The Hebrew word that is used here is closely tied to the idea of waiting. “To wait or look for with eager expectation and anticipation.” So there is an emotion attached and it is a positive one, but the root idea involves not the emotion. The Hebrew idea of hope does not even focus on the anticipated and desired positive outcome. It focuses on the source or basis for the confidence that there will be a positive outcome. It is the action of attaching our hope to an object or source of confidence, and then waiting for the fulfillment or positive outcome. Hope, then, as it is used in the Bible, asks the question: what or whom are you relying on and trusting in for a favorable outcome?
Of course the focus and content of our discussion will vary considerably depending on what domain or sphere of life we are talking about and what we mean by a favorable outcome. In this message, I have chosen to focus on the biggest and most inclusive and fundamental questions of all; questions concerning life itself, life and death, life and eternity. On these questions, where is your confidence? What are you relying on for a favorable outcome? What is the ground for your hope?
As we turn to our text, Psalm 130, the first thing we find is where our hope and confidence is not or should not be. Psalm 130 is labeled as a “Song of Ascents.”Most scholars agree that these psalms were selected and used for singing and worship by Jewish pilgrims on their way to Jerusalem for one of the annual religious feasts of Israel. Jerusalem and the temple were located on a high hill. No matter which direction you approached it from, you had to “go up” to Jerusalem. These psalms were collected and used to prepare the worshippers for the journey, encourage them through the difficulties they might face on the way, as well as whet their appetites and prepare them for entering the very presence of God in worship.
As the pilgrims journeyed toward Jerusalem and the temple, their hearts were tuned toward their destination. Where were they going? To the temple, the dwelling place of God. And what did they know about their God? Of all the attributes of God, the one that stood out in the temple was God’s holiness. Over and over again God proclaimed to his people that he was a holy God! Jerusalem was holy. The hill on which Jerusalem stood was a holy hill. Think about the different rooms in the temple itself. There were the various courtyards, but as the priest approached God on behalf of the people, he came first to the Holy Place, and then to a mysterious room known as the Holy of Holies. Now, as the pilgrims approached Jerusalem, as they climbed the holy mountain toward the holy city, preparing to come into the holy temple where God himself dwelt, they faced a dilemma.
This dilemma is expressed in the opening verses of the psalm: Out of the depths I cry to you, O LORD: O Lord, hear my voice. Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my pleas for mercy. What is it that causes him to cry out in such desperation? What are the depths in which he finds himself, that lead him to such a cry for help and mercy? The answer is given in the next verse: If you, O LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?
Put this in the context of the pilgrims going up to Jerusalem. They are going up to worship God. What kind of God is he? He is a holy God. His temple is a holy temple. And who is qualified to stand before such a holy God? Turn with me to Psalm 15:
1 O Lord, who shall sojourn in your tent?
Who shall dwell on your holy hill?
2 He who walks blamelessly and does what is right
and speaks truth in his heart;
3 who does not slander with his tongue
and does no evil to his neighbor
nor takes up a reproach against his friend;
4 in whose eyes a vile person is despised,
but who honors those who fear the Lord;
who swears to his own hurt and does not change;
5 who does not put out his money at interest
and does not take a bribe against the innocent.
He who does these things shall never be moved.
It is clear. Only holy people are qualified to stand before such a holy God. Now we can imagine the pilgrim on his way up to Jerusalem. He casts his mind back over the past year, and all that has transpired since he last went up to the temple to worship. He is overwhelmed with the awareness of his own unworthiness.
He finds himself where Isaiah did in Isaiah 6. Isaiah saw a vision of the Lord, seated on a throne, high and exalted and the train of his robe filled the temple. There were angels around him, crying out “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.” What was Isaiah’s response to this incredible vision? He cried out: “Woe is me. I am lost. For I am a man of unclean lips and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.”
I believe this is what the psalmist is expressing in the opening verses of this psalm. “Only holy people are entitled to stand in the presence of a holy God. And I am not holy. I am not righteous. And what’s more, none of the people around me are either.” If you, O LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? The answer is, “No one!”
In his great prayer in Daniel 9, Daniel makes this clear in verse 18 where he says, “For we do not present our pleas before you because of our righteousness.” Our hope, our source of confidence cannot lie in our own merits or our own righteousness, because we are not righteous.
So why go up to the temple in Jerusalem at all? What is the point? If we are not qualified to stand in God’s presence, why go to worship at all? This is where the psalmist turns now. An alternative and very different source of confidence and hope is expressed in verse 5: I wait for the LORD, my soul waits, and in his word I hope. As I said earlier, these two words, “wait” and “hope” are really synonyms. Together, they express an attitude of waiting, but waiting with confidence and full assurance of a positive outcome.
But how does this work? How can sinners who have no right to stand in the presence of a holy, righteous God put their confidence and hope in him? It is because they have come to know and understand the very nature and character of God. This psalm expounds on three truths about God that are the foundation of our hope. Each one is introduced in a similar fashion. In verse 4, it is “with you”, in verse 7, it is “with the Lord” and “with him.”
Look at verse 4: With you there is forgiveness. This is crucial, because this is the opposite of “marking” or “keeping a record of sins.” If you trace the concept of forgiveness in the Old Testament, you will find that when God remembers sins and keeps a record of sins, he does so to punish them. He remembers our sins against us. But when he forgives sins, he cancels the debt and purges the record. He no longer remembers our sins against us! He will not punish. This was the hope and confidence that the pilgrims needed as they climbed up toward the holy temple. Not that they were righteous, but that “with you, O Lord, there is forgiveness.”
The next attribute or character of God is mentioned in verse 7: For with the LORD there is steadfast love. The phrase “steadfast love” is used to translate a single Hebrew word. It is a word that is difficult to translate precisely into English. KJV translates it “mercy”. The NIV translates it “unfailing love.” The New American Standard Version translates it “lovingkindness.” My Hebrew professor in seminary used to translate it with the phrase “loyal love.” It combines God’s commitment to his covenant people, with the mercy and compassion of a Father’s love. It is an attribute cited almost constantly in the Old Testament. The word is used 127 times in the book of Psalms. For one such occurrence, let’s look at Psalm 25:6-7.
Remember your mercy, O Lord, and your steadfast love,
for they have been from of old.
7 Remember not the sins of my youth or my transgressions;
according to your steadfast love remember me,
for the sake of your goodness, O Lord!
This aspect of God’s character is one that allows us as sinners to dare to approach God, in spite of our failures.
The third source of the sinner’s hope is found not so much in a character or attribute of God, but in an activity of God. It is found in the second half of verse 7: and with him is plentiful redemption., and then in verse 8: And he will redeem Israel from all his iniquities. This concept of redemption is worth some further attention in its Old Testament context. The root idea of the word expresses the idea of setting someone free from bondage or obligation, usually through paying some kind of price or ransom.
In the Old Testament, there were two especially common usages. First was the act of redeeming a first born son, or a slave or a piece of land. The price was paid to free the son, or the slave or the plot of land from penalty or obligation or debt. The focus of this particular usage of the word was on the price that was paid to cancel the debt or obligation. The second, very common usage in the Old Testament was to refer to God as “redeeming Israel out of Egypt.” God’s act of delivering the Israelites from their bondage in Egypt was repeatedly referred to as an act of redemption. In this usage, the focus was not so much on the payment of a price, but more on the outcome of deliverance and release from bondage.
In New Testament usage, the two emphases of the word are blended together in a metaphor to describe our deliverance from the bondage and debt of sin through the payment of a ransom price.
Look at how Peter describes it in I Peter 1:18-19:
knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.
This verse focuses on the price of our redemption; the precious blood of Christ. In Revelation 1:5, we see the deliverance that we have experienced: To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood. Jesus paid the ransom price so that we can be set free.
In this psalm in front of us, the psalmist foreshadows the New Testament emphasis. With him is plentiful redemption. And he will redeem Israel from all his iniquities. The faithful, believing pilgrims ascended toward God’s holy hill, toward the very presence of God himself. They did so, aware of their own sinfulness, aware that, on their own merit, they had no right to appear before God. Yet they went in confidence, putting their hope and confidence in the character of God – that with God there was forgiveness; that with God there was loyal love, that God himself would redeem them from all their sins, and pay the ransom price that would free them from the penalty and bondage of their sins.
So, today as we consider this subject of hope, I am not going to ask you if you feel hopeful. That is an emotion that may come and go. I am going to ask you where you are placing your hope and confidence for a positive outcome to all the big and eternal questions of life and death and eternity. What is the basis of your hope for eternity? Because this is a question that none of us can afford to get wrong.
Are you aware of the fundamental dilemma of the human race? Are you aware that God demands holiness to stand in his presence and that you are not holy? The Bible tells us clearly that “all have sinned and fall short of the righteous standards of God,” and the penalty or “wages of sin is death” (eternal separation from God)? That is our dilemma, the dilemma of the entire human race.
In awareness of that dilemma, have you transferred the basis and ground of your own hope? A hope that is not to be found in your own merit or your own righteousness, but in the forgiveness and mercy and redemption that God himself offers for those who will put their hope in him. It is in the redemption that we now know, from our New Testament perspective, was paid by the blood of Jesus, the Messiah, on the cross. With him there is forgiveness and full redemption from our sins.
As I conclude this sermon and this psalm on hope, I can’t help but think of a simple little story that Jesus told in Luke 18 that captures the contrast beautifully. Jesus described two different men coming to the temple to pray – just like the pilgrims going up to Jerusalem. The first was a Pharisee. The second was a tax collector – an outcast, religiously and socially. The Pharisee stood in the presence of God and the source of his hope and confidence was clear as he prayed: God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.
Where was his hope? In his own righteousness, his own religious performance.
What about the other man? Jesus describes the tax collector this way: standing far off, he did not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!”
Where was his hope? Where did he stake his claim? On the mercy and forgiveness of God.
And how did Jesus conclude the story? Indicating the tax collector, Jesus said, “I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other.”
And so I ask you again this morning. Where have you placed your hope?
QUESTIONS FOR THOUGHT AND DISCUSSION
- Discuss your own definition of “hope” and how the word is used in normal, everyday speech.
- Read Psalm 130 together.
- How does the use of the word “hope” in this Psalm differ from your from your answers in #1? How does changing the word from a noun to a verb affect our understanding?
- How does understanding the character of God help us to obey the command to “Hope in the Lord”? What particular attributes of God does the psalm call to mind? (Clue: look for the phrase “with the Lord” or “with you”.)
- As a “Song of Ascents” this psalm was used by Jewish worshippers as they went up to the temple to worship. In the worship service Pastor Cam used the message to lead us to the Lord’s Table (Communion). Discuss the similarities in the two experiences. How was the Old Testament believer’s hope different from ours? How was it the same?
- Read Luke 18:9-14 (the story of the Pharisee and the tax collector). How does it illustrate the Biblical concept of “hope”? How is the Christian believer’s hope different from that of the other world religions?