Good morning fellow pilgrims! Today we continue our journey through the seven penitential Psalms. Our text this morning is Psalm 130. It is titled a Psalm of Ascent. Let me set the context for you. The Psalm was written to be sung by pilgrims as they climbed the steep ridge to Jerusalem to attend Passover.
Every Jew in the world was expected to attend Passover in Jerusalem at least once in their lifetime. For many people a pilgrimage like this required years of preparation, planning, and saving. For most people, the journey was never easy and no matter how prepared they tried to be, unforeseen difficulties, challenges, expenses always came up.
It was as if hostile spiritual forces were working against them which was true. Satan always opposes any God-ward move we make. He does everything in his power to throw sand in the gears, put obstacles in our way and frighten us into giving up. He still does.
I’ll never forget the woman who was attempting her first pilgrimage through the automated car wash. The attendant carefully guided her between the rails, instructed her to put the car in neutral, instructed her not to try and steer or put her foot on the brake.
But as soon as that first machine turned on, she couldn’t help herself. She stomped on the brake and would have attempted to back out except for the car behind her. She froze while the pusher bars thumped their way under tires and her car slid sideways in the rack.
Pilgrimages are scary because in most cases, God is leading into places we’ve never been before. Once you begin a pilgrimage, it’s nearly impossible to back up!
Imagine those pilgrims on their way to Jerusalem. Each stage along the way presented a new challenge. And then the doubts began to kick it. Those voices, you’ve heard them!
“What’s a sinner like you doing going on a pilgrimage? Who are you trying to fool? Do you think you’re holier than everybody else? This costs too much. You can’t afford to do this. You’re not strong enough. What if you get hurt or sick? You should turn around right now. What’s happening back home? Are you sure God wants you to do this? If this was God’s idea, it wouldn’t be so hard.”
Ever dealt with those questions? No matter how glorious the journey may have started, somewhere along the line, reality sets in and we realize, this is going to be harder than we thought. We are tempted to cut and run.That’s the nature of pilgrimages, that’s the nature of discipleship and ministry. It’s even the nature of building a new sanctuary! Why is that?
It’s because a pilgrimage and following the Lord always involves a battle not only against the devil, but against our own fear, our own sinful nature and our battle with the sinful world around us. If you are going to follow Jesus you are going to find yourself in a battle! With that in mind, let’s look at “Psalm 130 – a Song for Pilgrims who are on the Road.”
“Out of the depths I cry to you, O LORD; O Lord, hear my voice. Let your ears be attentive to my cry for mercy.” Psalm 130:1-2
Imagine yourself trudging up that ridge to Jerusalem. It was 60 miles from the docks at Caesarea up to Jerusalem. On the way you had to climb over 2500 feet. No matter what shape you were in, it wasn’t easy. Few of these pilgrims had the money to hire a ride.
Passover was a time to remember how the LORD places our sin on those innocent lambs and sheds their blood for the forgiveness of our sins. There was plenty of time on that trip up the mountain to think about the cost of our forgiveness. Lots of time to ponder Isaiah’s prophecy, “Come let us reason together, says the LORD, though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow, though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.” Isa 1:18
Some of those pilgrims trudging up that mountain must have been terrified of drawing near to the holy presence of the living God. But they believed that God alone had the power, mercy, grace to forgive, cleanse, deliver, and heal them so they labored up that hill.
I don’t think most of these pilgrims arrived in Jerusalem bragging about what they did to get there. Instead, most told stories of how God had miraculously helped them along the way.
Maybe that’s the reason God calls us to take these journeys. The rigors of a pilgrimage remind us how weak we are and how dependent we are on the Lord to help us. Let’s read the first two verses again. “Out of the depths I cry to you, O LORD; O Lord, hear my voice. Let your ears be attentive to my cry for mercy.” Psalm 130:1-2
Let’s move on… “If you, O LORD, kept a record of sins, O Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness; therefore you are feared.” Psalm 130:3-4
Wait a minute! I though God did keep a record of our sins. Listen to these words from Rev 20. “Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. The earth and the heavens fled from his presence, and there was no place for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books.” Rev 20:11-12
Jesus tells us that one day in heaven those books will be opened and every word, every thought, every deed we ever done will be revealed. Our most shameful moments will be exposed to the holiness of Heaven and before the judgment seat of God.
Sin and God cannot co-exist. In the same way light extinguishes darkness, God’s holiness will burn away all depravity. On that day God’s promise to Moses will be fulfilled. The soul that sins shall die. That means eternal separation from God and everything that makes life worthwhile - love, joy, peace, wholeness, meaning. Eternity with nothing but ourselves and our own shriveled ego, resentment and bitterness for company.
But John tells us there is a second book. It’s called the Book of Life. Everyone whose name is written in that book will bypass judgement, not because of anything they have done, but because of what God has done for them and their trust in his promise.
That first set of books records our debt before a just and holy God. It’s is a debt we cannot pay. The harder we try the behind-er we get. But God has made a way for that debt to be paid in full. He sent Jesus as the atoning sacrifice, he paid the debt. He was crucified as a criminal even though he was sinless and innocent. His death paid our debt before God. He made it possible for our names to be removed from the first book along with the memo – “Paid in full”. That’s what Jesus meant when he said from the cross “It is finished”.
That kind of forgiveness should cause us to tremble in fear before a God who loves us like that. So how shall we respond to a gift like that? Back to the Psalm. “I wait for the LORD, my soul waits, and in his Word, I put my hope. My soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen wait for the morning, more than watchmen wait for the morning.” Psalm 130:5-6
Imagine yourself climbing that mountain to Jerusalem. The pilgrimage has been much harder than you imagined. Your own strength has failed. You’ve run into so many obstacles you’ve stopped trying to plan ahead. But the Lord has delivered you through every one.
As a result of your experience, your faith is changing. Your trust in yourself and your ability is shrinking and your dependence on God and his power to deliver you is growing.
You stop to rest and look back down the hill. Crazy, God has brought you through impossible challenges. He’s protected you from dangers you didn’t even know were there.
Maybe that’s what pilgrimages are about? Maybe that’s what discipleship is about? Maybe that’s the hidden point behind raising kids, maintaining a healthy marriage, running a household, or a business, or whatever journey the Lord has called you to this morning.
Pilgrimages are about learning to expect Satan to throw obstacles in our way. But they are also about learning to trust the Lord to provide us with the strength we need, and to keep moving so that at the top of the hill, we’ll look back and be in awe of what God has done! We’re going to see these two realities play out as we build our new sanctuary! Bank on it!
This Song for the Road ends with a challenge. Let’s read it together. “O Israel; put your hope in the LORD, for with the LORD is unfailing love, and with him is full redemption. He himself will redeem Israel from all their sins!” Psalm 130:7-8
In other words, the Lord, not us, will get us to the end of the road. He will supply what we need when we need it. He’ll overcome every obstacle along the way.
In the end, the greatest blessing won’t be the completion of the project, whatever it may be, the greatest blessing will be the change that happens within us as we work our way through the obstacles and challenges that will come our way.
Life is a pilgrimage. The tasks and ministries the Lord gives us are a pilgrimage – each one filled with challenges, obstacles, and opportunities. Our job is to keep moving forward by faith, singing these Songs of the Road like Psalm 130, and laying claim to his promises to provide all we need from day to day as we follow him.