Throughout the psalms God favors us with his mercy, for “he knows how we are formed, / he remembers that we are dust” (Psalm 103:14). This mercy is a companion to his grace.
The thief on the cross received mercy. Jesus said to him, “This day you will be with me in Paradise.” In response to the thief’s humble request he was mercifully spared eternal judgment for his sins and was graciously promised a place in heaven.
But not without cost to our Lord. At that very moment, hanging between heaven and earth next to that thief during his crucifixion, our Lord was sacrificially paying the man’s sin debt.
Psalm 130 is also the cry of one who feels the need for God’s mercy: “Out of the depths I cry to you, Lord” (verse 1). In this case, the psalmist begs for God’s mercy — his goodness and love for those who are guilty or miserable — in a cry that is deeply private: “Let your ears be attentive / to my cry for mercy” (verse 2).
Was this cry the result of a psalmist’s review of his entire life’s failures and disappointments? Or was there some particular sin over which he cried out for the assurance of God’s mercy? It could be either.
And it can be so for us, too. With the psalmist we can also say: “If you O Lord kept a record of sins, / O Lord, who could stand?” (verse 4). But because of Christ’s cross, our confessed sins are not kept on record. They are vicariously paid for, forgiven, and their record is erased.
The psalmist goes further to show the result of forgiveness. When God forgives us in mercy we experience a great surge of “the fear of the Lord” (verse 4). But this fear is not a sense of terror or a dread that paralyzes and creates distance but instead, a profound reverence for God. This makes us fear to displease him, and to desire deeply to do his bidding.
When, we follow the psalmist’s lead, what a sense of composure it awakens in us! “I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, / and in his word I put my hope” (verse 5). Now worry is held at bay. We feel childlike trust. Moreover, as with the psalmist, whatever the cause of our darkness, we can be assured that the morning will come.
This psalm is in the Bible because today one ancient worshiper’s experience is also ours. Only refusal to recognize and repent of our sins will shut us out from God’s mercy.
But thanks be to God that he meets our cry for forgiveness and mercy with a great sense that he cares deeply for us in our distress and offers us a sweeping forgiveness.