GETTING THE MESSAGE/Our great need for forgiveness
Psalm 130 teaches us how great our need for forgiveness is. The wages of sin is death. That truth alone is a constant reminder of how terrible sin is. This psalm shows us someone who comes under deep conviction of his sin. What are you to do? The psalm is given to answer that question.
The psalm begins, “Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord. O Lord, hear my voice!” “The depths” conveys the despair and misery the psalmist is in. It is analogous to a drowning man floundering in turbulent waters.
Many things can be the cause of a soul in despair. Verse 3 makes it clear that the psalmist is in the depths because of his sin. He has seen and is convicted of the evil of it. Sin causes all the groans and miseries in the world. If you feel its guilt, it will put you into the depths.
There is a sense where the psalmist is a blessed man in this condition. Jesus said the Holy Spirit will convict the world concerning sin, righteousness, and judgment. That is what has happened to the psalmist here. The Lord has convicted him of these truths. The psalmist is heading to the presence of the Lord. That reality has given him anguish over his sin. It should do the same for us.
Imagine a man walking with people singing to the Lord. All are worshipping, but his heart lacks the joy and assurance of the song. This is the state of the man in the psalm. His thoughts are pre-occupied by his guilt. So, he cries out to the Lord, beseeching the Lord to hear his pleas for mercy (verse 2). We are all on our way to the presence of the Lord. No one can go for us. We must all appear before Him. The psalmist tells you how he prepared for that day.
In verse 3, the psalmist considers being in the presence of God: “If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?” The word for “mark” in his statement refers to someone keeping a meticulous accounting of something or a careful observance. Who can stand if God does a careful searching of all our sin, not overlooking any of it?
This is exactly what we see happening in Revelation 20:12 where men are judged according to what they had done. “What they had done” refers to their sin since they are cast into the judgment of hell immediately afterwards. It’s a terrible thing for your sins to be numbered by God in judgment.
The psalmist has an if/but conclusion: “If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities … But with you is forgiveness, that you may be feared” (verse 4). These are powerful, blessed words to our souls: “with you is forgiveness.” This doesn’t mean that God acts like sin never happened. Forgiveness comes at a great cost. It requires the shedding of blood, the penalty of death for sin.
God provides Christ out of pity and love. The psalmist, faced with the dilemma of approaching God, does the only thing a sinner can do: he asks for mercy. He knows from Exodus 34 that God delights in mercy and is full of steadfast love, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin.
God is disposed this way toward sinners because He has provided a sacrifice that is pleasing to Him, the righteous Son of God offering Himself up for the guilt of their sin. God is pleased with all who come to Christ for salvation. The Lord encourages us in every way that we will be welcomed if we come.
Those who have received forgiveness know how great a thing salvation is. The psalmist says to God, “With you is forgiveness, that you may be feared.” Feared, not in a servile, cringing way, but such that God is regarded as God: the object of all devotion and praise.
Through the prophet Jeremiah, God gives promises that will accompany the new covenant (Chapters 31-32) in Christ Jesus for men. “I will put my fear in them, and they will not depart from me.” Why will they not depart? Because “They will all know me, I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.”
The fear of the Lord is a gift we are in need of. It is sorely lacking in our day. The fear of the Lord gives us wisdom for our soul. It teaches us to cry out to the Lord for forgiveness of sins, knowing that the Lord is merciful and kind. Verse 7 tells us to “Hope in the Lord! For with the Lord there is steadfast love, and with him is plentiful redemption.”
The Rev. Chris Shelton is pastor of Union’s First Presbyterian Church.