I want to take you on a journey this morning to an island somewhere in the middle of the Pacific Ocean during World War II. The island is a strategic location for the United States Navy as they fight their way toward Japan, and as a part of that effort the navy is off-loading bombs and ammunition to be stored there for future use. You may not know this, because very few movies made in Hollywood would tell you this part of the story, but much of the handling of live ammunition was done by African American soldiers. They would load the weapons onto ships somewhere along the California coastline, and then other black soldiers would unload the weapons onto one of these Pacific islands. My friend belonged to one such unit.
After working all day and well into the night the ship was unloaded and a virtual mountain of bombs, rockets and other forms of ammunition was now sitting on the beach. There was one problem of great concern to the officers in charge, and that was the possibility that there might be a few Japanese soldiers remaining on that island who might attempt an act of sabotage and try to blow up all of those weapons before they could be used. After all, it was the middle of the night and the only light available was the light of the moon. How could they ensure the safety and security of that mountain of munitions?
It was discussed and decided that the best place to put a lookout was on the very top of that mountain of weapons. From that position a person could look across much of the island in every direction, and could even see by the moonlight if someone was approaching out of the jungle just 30-40 yards away. The person who would be selected would have to sit on the very top of that pile of explosives until morning came, and then the weapons could be moved to a secure location. The question was who could you assign to such hazardous duty? Nobody volunteered for the job, so somebody had to be selected.
It was my friend who was given that assignment, and he told me over 30 years later that it was the longest and loneliest night of his life. Suppose some Japanese soldier did fire a rocket into that mountain of weapons; he would have been blown to pieces. Suppose one of the rockets became unstable and exploded, setting off the whole mountain of ammunition; he would have died instantly. With all of those thoughts racing through his mind there was only one thing he was watching for even more intently than he was watching for enemy snipers and saboteurs; he was watching and waiting for the sunrise. He kept one eye on the jungle in front of him and another eye on the horizon stretched out before him. It was his prayer that the sun would emerge on the horizon before a soldier emerged out of the jungle. Finally, from high up on his perch on the island in the Pacific my friend made this announcement; “Here comes the sun.”
I mention this story about a man who was anxiously waiting for the sun to appear, because that anticipation of sunrise is a metaphor used here in Psalms 130 for a person who knows they have done some great sin, who have already asked God for mercy and forgiveness, and who are now waiting to find out whether or not God will answer that prayer. That is what is meant by the phrase, “My soul waits for the Lord more than those that watch for the morning.” Psalms 130 is a psalm of penitence, a psalm spoken by a person who knows they are guilty and who is deeply sorry for what they have done. They do not want to plead “not guilty” and challenge the charges against them. Instead, they want to say, “Guilty as charged” and throw themselves on the mercy of the court.
That is where King David is when he writes Psalms 130. Our text today takes us inside the soul of King David and allows us to over hear a prayer that he is speaking to God. It is difficult to know how many years it has been, but David is still troubled by the sins he committed when he was overwhelmed with lust and desire for a woman named Bathsheba. David was the King of Israel, and as such he had extraordinary power and authority. There were very few things a king could not have or take if he really wanted them, and that apparently included another man’s wife.
One evening as he walked upon the balcony of his palace in Jerusalem, David looks out over the city and happens to see this woman named Bathsheba taking a bath. The king is filled with desire and he orders that the woman be brought to him. It could not have taken long for David to discover that Bathsheba was married to a man named Uriah who was a soldier in David’s army. That does not stop David; he takes Bathsheba into his bed and has an adulterous affair with a married woman.
In a few months Bathsheba announces to David that she is pregnant and that he is the father of the baby. At first David tries to arrange a scenario where Uriah could be considered the father. He orders that Uriah return from the battlefield on the pretense of giving David an update on how the war is proceeding. Then he directs Uriah to go home and be with his wife. All of this is done quite publicly so that everybody in the royal court could know that Uriah had come home and was spending the night with Bathsheba.
However, there was a rule among soldiers in the army of Israel that so long as their unit was on the battlefield no soldier, even if he was on leave and sent back home should enjoy the comforts of his home while his comrades were standing in harm’s way. Therefore, in just as public a manner, Uriah never leaves the palace. He spends the night sleeping on the floor by one of the doors. Uriah had dozens of witnesses that he had not gone home to be with this wife. David’s first plan had failed. Bathsheba was pregnant, Uriah could not be the father since he had not been with his wife, and the finger would eventually point back to David and that night when he had ordered that she be brought to him.
The only solution remaining was a very desperate and dreadful scheme. David gives the order that Uriah should return to the battlefield, and he carries orders with him from King David to the general who was commanding the soldiers in the field. Those orders are that Uriah should be placed at the front of the next attack. More specifically, David ordered that Uriah should be put in a place where he was certain to be killed. That is exactly what happened during the next battle; an archer sends an arrow into Uriah’s heart and he dies of his wounds. Bathsheba becomes a widow, David offers to marry her and bring her into his palace, and it appears that the scandal of adultery and the birth of a child has now been covered over.
The problem is that David still has a conscience, and he knows what he has done. Not only has he committed adultery, but also he has schemed and connived and eventually caused another man to be killed just to protect himself. Now here is David crying out to God about the awful sins he has committed. Here is David still troubled in spirit and deeply ashamed of what he has done. Here is David who cannot live with the memory of all he has done. Like a man who is already residing in hell as punishment for his sins David cries out to God, “Lord, hear my cry for mercy.” Here is David who now understands that nobody, not even a king, can escape the judgment of God. So King David – who was feared by his enemies and loved by his nation – is on his knees crying out to God for mercy.
Have you ever known a moment like this in your life, a moment when you were keenly aware of your sins and keenly aware of the judgment that God might be holding in store for you? Have you ever stood before God and cried out, “Lord, have mercy.” I am not sure that our Christian faith is complete until we, too, come to that moment when we see the ugliness of our sinful lives and the holiness of a righteous God and then cry out, Lord, have mercy. It is only when we acknowledge and confess our sins and cast ourselves on the mercy of God that we can fully appreciate that “there is forgiveness with God.”
I believe our whole society ought to stand before God and cry out, “Lord, have mercy!” When we can find nearly $200 million to expand the art museum at the same time we are talking about closing 14 to 15 schools and laying off teachers because we cannot properly fund our public schools, we all need to cry out, “Lord, have mercy!” When our nation has the best medical facilities anywhere in the world, but 44 million Americans have no medical insurance that gives them access to that health care we all need to cry out, “Lord, have mercy!” When judges can be killed while sitting in their courtrooms, when rape and incest go on all around us, when jobs are being exported while drugs are being imported and when poverty and starvation are allowed to continue even when we have the national resources to end both of those plagues, it is time for our whole nation to fall down before God and cry out, “Lord, have mercy!”
It was Aristotle who said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” Let’s examine our lives both as individuals. There is much there of which we cannot be very proud. But Psalm 130 is true; when we confess our sins and turn to God for mercy, God is inclined to hear us and to answer our prayer. That is also the promise of 1 John 1:9 that says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
This is the point and the purpose of this season of Lent through which we are now passing as believers in Jesus Christ. Lent is a period of forty days – not counting the weekends from Ash Wednesday and leading up to Holy Week – that is supposed to be a time of self-examination. The centerpiece of Lent is giving something up as a sign of sacrifice. Unfortunately, most of us have turned Lent into a 40-day diet, giving up cake or candy or something else with excess calories. Of course, we usually go right back to those things as soon as the season of Lent is over. In the mean time we have missed the whole point of the season. Do not give up cake for Lent; give up pride and anger. Do not give up candy for Lent; give up adultery and addictions to drugs and alcohol. Do not give up some food for Lent, give up some behavior that haunts your conscience and leaves you hoping that nobody will find out. Go before God and cry out, “Lord, have mercy!”
Just as soon as you do, you just might hear someone crying out from the balconies of heaven, Look, here comes the Son! You may not know it by listening to the words I just spoke, but I have just changed the spelling of one word from sun to Son, and that spelling makes all the difference in the world. Are you a sinner who is lost in misery and wondering if God will ever forgive you? Here comes the Son! Is there something in the closet of your life that you hope never tumbles out and comes into public view? Don’t worry about it any more; here comes the Son! Are you singing, “I was sinking deep in sin, far from the peaceful shore; very deeply stained within, sinking to rise no more?” I’ve got Good News for you today; here comes the Son!
Can you see him this morning as he comes from the right hand of God? He has mercy in one hand and healing in the other. Here comes the Son! He has paid the penalty for our sins on the cross at Calvary. Here comes the Son! He was wounded for our transgressions and He was bruised for our iniquities. The chastisement of our peace was upon him, and by His stripes we are healed. I tell you, here comes the Son! God has looked beyond our faults and seen our needs. The love that God has for us is greater than the anger God has over what we have done and how we have lived; here comes the Son!
This is the great truth of the Christian faith; there are no saints in any church. All you will find in church are sinners saved by grace. We are a community of the redeemed who were bought back from Satan by the precious blood of the Lamb of Calvary. We did the sinning, but Jesus did the dying. We broke the laws of God, but Jesus absorbed the wrath of God. We, like David, are keenly aware of what we have done in thought, word and deed. On the other hand, we are also keenly aware that rather than keeping track of our sins God has decided to wipe them all away. Here comes the Son!
By the way, I might as well tell you that Jesus is God at other things than just forgiving sins. If you are sick and you can’t get well, here comes the Son! If you are lonely and need a friend who will stick closer than any brother, here comes the Son! If you always seem to have more month than you have money and you need somebody who can make a way out of no way, here comes the Son! If your life is rushing to the end of its year and you can see a grave in your future, don’t worry about it. There is somebody who has already conquered sin, hell and the grave. He has the keys to death tied around his waist, and as soon as one of his children checks out of this world, Jesus is waiting to check you in to a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. Here comes the Son!
I recently heard a story about a little girl named Jennifer. She was shopping with her mother in a discount store when her eyes fell upon a bag that held a string of plastic pearls. They could not have cost more than $1 or $2, and the girl asked her mother if she could have that string of plastic pearls. In an attempt to teach her a lesson about life, her mother told here that if she did some chores around the house she could earn the money to buy those plastic pearls. That is what the little girl did, and in no time at all she was walking out of the store and putting those plastic pearls around her neck.
She loved those pearls and she never took them off. She slept in them, wore them to school and stood in front of a mirror admiring how beautiful that string of plastic pearls appeared to be to her. However, a strange thing happened one night at bedtime. Her father read her a story and gave her a goodnight kiss. Just before he turned off the light and left the room he said to his daughter, “Jennifer, do you love me?” She told him just how much she loved him, and then he said to her “then give me your string of plastic pearls.” She offered him something else to prove that she loved him. She offered her favorite doll. She offered her dessert the next evening after dinner. She offered anything that could prove her love for him without having to give up that plastic pearl necklace. Every night for a week that same thing occurred; he would ask her if she loved him, she would tell him that she did, he asked her for those plastic pearls and she refused to give them up.
One morning when the father came down for breakfast he found his daughter in tears, and he noticed that the string of plastic pearls that had always been around her neck was now in her hands. She held out her hand and handed the plastic pearls to her father. She told him that she loved him even more than she loved her plastic pearls, and she placed them into his hand. It was only then that the father went back upstairs and returned with a small blue velvet bag that contained a string of real pearls that he had purchased for his daughter the week before. He placed them into her hand and said, “I was just waiting for you to give up these fake plastic balls so I could replace them with the real thing.”
Today, I hear our father in heaven asking us if we love him. If so, he is saying, give something up, something that you think you love; something you think you cannot do without. Just as soon as we do he will replace it with something far more priceless and precious. He will give us love and joy; he will give us peace and happiness; he will give us forgiveness and mercy; he will give us abundant life here and now and eternal life when our time on earth is over.
Here comes the Son! He wants to bless your life. Here comes the Son! He wants to lift your burdens and dry every tear from your eye. Here comes the Son! “Earth has no sorrow that heaven cannot heal.” Here comes the Son!
David said, “My soul waits for the Lord more than they that watch for the morning.” I have Good News for every sinner, every sorrowing soul and every sagging heart’ your wait is over. Here comes the Son!
Marvin McMickle is Senior Pastor of Antioch Baptist Church in Cleveland, OH.