3 March • Friday of the First Week in Lent
1. Out of the depths I cry to you, O LORD!
2. O Lord, hear my voice!
Let your ears be attentive
to the voice of my pleas for mercy!
3. If you, O LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?
4. But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared.
5. I wait for the LORD, my soul waits, and in his word I hope;
6. my soul waits for the Lord
more than watchmen for the morning, more than watchmen for the morning.
7. O Israel, hope in the LORD!
For with the LORD there is steadfast love, and with him is plentiful redemption.
8. And he will redeem Israel from all his iniquities.
Many years ago, I heard a speaker ask his audience this question: “If you suddenly found yourself at the gates of heaven, standing before God Himself, what would you say to Him?” How would you answer? My immediate thought was the desperate cry of the tax collector at the temple, who stood far off, faced the floor, beat his breast and said: “God, be merciful to me, a sinner” (Luke 18:13). Having read Martin Luther’s Small Catechism, I know that any honest meditation on the 10 Commandments will tell me in no uncertain terms that I am a terrible sinner. I sin everyday, no power within myself, nor in anyone else in all of sinful humanity, can save me from drowning in the mire of my own shameful thoughts, words and deeds. All I can manage is a cry for mercy, or a terrified silence in the hope that God can hear that same cry in my thoughts.
Reading Psalm 130 made me wonder if Jesus had this Psalm in mind in His wonderful parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector in Luke 18. The Psalmist, in this penitential Psalm, expressed basically the same cry for mercy, but fleshed out in Hebrew poetry. In verses 1-2 he confesses that he is mired in the depths of sin, drowning, sinking, and gasping his pleas to God for mercy, desperately hoping that God will hear his cries. Verses 3-4 are the heart of the Psalm. In verse 3 he speaks a word of law: that if God were to keep a record of our sin, absolutely all would fall condemned. The Psalmist, who has confessed that he is indeed soaked in sin, realises that he, and all sinners, deserve God’s wrath, and will have nowhere to run or hide if God were to keep a record of sins. But in verse 4 he speaks a word of gospel: that in the Lord our God there is forgiveness of sins, therefore all His faithful will be comforted! This comforting word of the Psalmist is affirmed by Paul in 1 Corinthians 13 where he states that love “does not count up wrongdoing” (ESV), that is, it “keeps no record of wrong” (NIV). Indeed, our God is the God who promises to forgive our sins in His boundless mercy and to remember our sins no more (Hebrews 8:12).
However, in verse 4, the response to God’s loving and merciful forgiveness is, strangely, fear. Forgiveness is the reason for fear! That’s not what we are used to hearing. We would think that our response should be thanksgiving, joy, praise and celebration, but not fear. The fear the Psalmist speaks of here is a fear born of love and gratitude for God’s great forgiveness, not a fear born of dread and terror over God’s wrath. It is a fear that wells up into awe, honour and reverence for God. It bears the fruit of love and good works, where we will forgive as we have been forgiven, and keep no record of the wrongs of our neighbours.
The Psalmist then expresses his faith by saying that he will wait for the word of the Lord’s grace in confident hope (vv.5-6), and concludes the Psalm by inviting his entire nation to the same confident hope in the Lord’s promise of redemption (vv.7-8). This gracious promise will ultimately be fulfilled in the person of the great and merciful Redeemer, Jesus Christ our Lord, in whom we will be comforted by His gifts of the forgiveness of sins, life and salvation.
Heavenly Father, in Your divine righteousness, produce in me a heart of repentance; and in Your divine and gracious mercy in Christ, forgive me of my sins and remember them no more. Grant, O Lord, that Your forgiveness will produce in me a fear of God born of Your love, and bear the fruit of love and good works for my neighbours. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
Spend some time to prayerfully reflect on the 10 Commandments as a mirror to your thoughts, words and deeds.
If you can, make a list of your sins in the light of your time of reflection.
Listen to the worship song “Only By Grace Can You Enter” by Graham Kendrick, which quotes from this Psalm. Give thanks for the comfort and assurance of forgiveness in Christ.
In the next worship service you attend, listen and give thanks for every word of forgiveness from the Pastor, Bible readings or service order.
Rev Soh Guan Kheng
Yishun Christian Church (Lutheran)