Theme: The Mercy of God in the Word of God
In this section of Psalm 119, we learn of the wonder of God’s Word, and of the obedience that is a proper response to it.
Scripture: Psalm 119:129-144
As we noted in yesterday’s study, Luther made a strong point of indicating that the Word gives understanding “to the simple.” How this works is illustrated by the way Jesus dealt with the Emmaus disciples in the story recorded in Luke 24. These two people, probably Cleopas and his wife, Mary, were returning home after the crucifixion when Jesus drew near them on the road. They did not recognize him. When he asked why they were downcast they replied by telling him what had happened in Jerusalem at the time of the Passover.
They told him about Jesus: “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people.” They told him how the chief priests and rulers “handed him over to be sentenced to death, and…crucified him.” As they related their experience it came out that they had been in Jerusalem that very morning and had heard tales from the women who had been to the tomb, reporting that the body was no longer there and that angels had appeared proclaiming that Jesus was alive.
This had not interested them. They did not believe in resurrections. They had not even bothered to go to the tomb to see it for themselves, although they were within a short walk of the burial garden. They had no understanding about what had been going on in respect to Jesus’ death and resurrection.
Jesus began to teach them from the Scriptures: “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” Then beginning with Moses and going through all the prophets “he explained to them what was said in the Scriptures concerning himself” (see Luke 24:13-27).
This story (and its sequel) contains three great revelations called “openings,” just like the word “entrance” in our psalm. The first is the opening of the Scriptures. After Jesus had disappeared from their sight, these two disciples said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?” (v. 32). Second, “their eyes were opened and they recognized him” (v. 31). The third of these openings is mentioned in verse 45: “Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures.”
That is how it works. First, there is the opening of God’s Word, then the opening of the eyes to see Jesus, and finally the opening of the mind or understanding.
But notice that the end result is not understanding alone, but obedience to what is understood. That is why verse 131 follows verse 130. Because the entrance of God’s words gives light, the psalmist says that he opens his mouth, panting after those words, longing for God’s commands. The verse reminds us of Psalm 81:10 where God makes the promise: “Open wide your mouth and I will fill it.”
The second reason why God’s words are wonderful is that we find the mercy of God in them, and mercy is what we need. Not justice, not pity, not recognition of tarnished “good” deeds, but a mercy that reaches out to save those who are truly wretched and helpless because of sin. The psalmist expresses this idea as a prayer: “Turn to me and have mercy on me, as you always do to those who love your name” (v. 132).
This is the last of the verses in Psalm 119 that do not mention the Word of God specifically, though it is possible that “your name” refers to the words of God indirectly. Whatever the case, it is in the Bible that the psalmist finds mercy, and the mercy of God to sinners is the most wonderful of all wonders. Charles Wesley captured it a bit in his greatest hymn, “And Can It Be,” particularly in the third verse:
He left his Father’s throne above,
So free, so infinite his grace,
Emptied himself of all but love,
And bled for Adam’s helpless race.
‘Tis mercy all, immense and free; For, O my God, it found out me.
Have you found the mercy of God in the Word of God? Until you have, you will never think of the Bible as being wonderful. What you need is to pray the prayer of the publican, the tax collector who stood at the edge of the crowd and cried, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner” (Luke 18:13). He found mercy through the shed blood of Jesus Christ and went home justified, according to Jesus. You will too if you allow the Bible to point you to Christ, the Savior of sinners, and put your faith in him.
How does the example of the Emmaus disciples demonstrate Martin Luther’s point?
What three “openings” are contained in Jesus’ teaching (Luke 24:13-27)?
What is the second reason we find God’s words wonderful? To whom is this expressed?
Why do we need mercy and not justice?
When have you been like the Emmaus disciples?
To what extent have you experienced the three openings in your spiritual walk?
Have you prayed the prayer of the tax collector? Or, like the religious ruler in the parable, how do you at times try to justify yourself before God rather than come to him for mercy?
For Further Study: Download and listen for free to Donald Barnhouse’s message, “God’s Righteousness.” (Discount will be applied at checkout.)