January 30, 2005
We believe that in our text today that we are on holy ground. Psalm 22 is outstanding in a number of ways. One is that it is the first of the “passion” psalms. These are songs of some sufferer who faces such a calamity in his life that he cries out to God, and it is hard for him to grasp why God waits to answer. This Psalm is also noteworthy in that it is the one which is most quoted in the New Testament. All four of the writers of the gospel account refer to it. He Hebrew writer quotes it. The apostle Paul in his last letter makes reference to this great. But the most outstanding fact about Psalm 22 is that it is the Lord’s own song. Jesus forever sanctified it when in his last hours he cried out, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”
That tells us in itself that the message of Psalm 22 is important and faith-building. It helps us to recognize what Jesus has done for us and then to embrace it. This morning we are going to look at the psalm, and then we are going to consider Jesus, and then we are going to learn some things that it says to us.
Let’s begin by working our way through Psalm 22. Notice the song says, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest. Yet you are holy enthroned on the praises of Israel. In you our fathers trusted; they trusted, and you delivered them. To you they cried and were rescued; in you they trusted and were not put to shame. But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by mankind and despised by the people. All who see me mock me; they make mouths at me; they wag their heads. ‘He trusts in the Lord; let him deliver him; let him rescue him, for he delights in him!’ Yet you are he who took me from the womb; you made me trust you at my mother’s breasts. On you was I cast from my birth, and from my mother’s womb you have been my God. Be not far from me, for trouble is near, and there is none to help. Many bulls encompass me; strong bulls of Bashan surround me; they open wide their mouths at me, like a ravening and roaring lion. I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax; it is melted within my breast; my strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to my jaws; you lay me in the dust of death. For dogs encompass me; a company of evildoers encircles me; they have pierced my hands and feet – I can count all my bones – they stare and gloat over me; they divide my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots. But you, O Lord, do not be far off! O you my help, come quickly to my aid! Deliver my soul from the sword, my precious life from the power of the dog! Save me from the mouth of the lion!”
And then may I pause and ask you to notice that the mood suddenly changes. There in the middle of verse 21 when he has cried out, “Save me from the mouth of the lion,” suddenly he is going to say, “You have answered me, you have saved me.” And then the results of this suffering become more clear and the tone much more assuring.
He says, ”You have rescued me from the horns of the wild oxen! I will tell of your name to my brothers; in the midst of the congregation I will praise you. You who fear the Lord, praise him! All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him, and stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel! For he has not despised or abhorred the affliction of the afflicted, and he has not hidden his face from him, but has heard, when he cried to him; from you comes my praise in the great congregation; my vows I will perform before those who fear him. The afflicted shall eat and be satisfied; those who seek him shall praise the Lord! May your hearts live forever! All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord, and all the families of the nations shall worship before you. For kingship belongs to the Lord, and he rules over the nations. All the prosperous of the earth eat and worship; before him shall bow all who go down to the dust, even the one who could not keep himself alive. Posterity shall serve him; it shall be told of the Lord to the coming generation; they shall come and proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn, that he has done it.”
Now, let’s notice two or three things about the song before we consider what it says about Jesus. First, the obvious fact is that here is somebody who is going through the fire of terrible, terrible suffering. And if you evaluate what it says, you notice that his suffering is certainly physical. He is so thirsty at one point he says his mouth is like a potsherd or a piece of pot. How much water could a dry piece of clay pot hold? He feels like his heart is melting away, and his tongue sticks to the roof of his mouth, and he is ready to be laid in the dust of the death. Those who look at him are so in agreement that he is about to the end of everything that they are already dividing his garments and treating him like a dead man. If you look at the nature of his suffering, it is such that he compares it to being attacked by the strongest bulls or the wildest and most terrible pack of scavenger dogs or the ravaging mouth of a lion.
His suffering is physical, but his suffering is also emotional and even spiritual. And when you look at the way the psalm unfolds, you see what I am talking about in a couple of ways. For one thing, all through this psalm, what he is really praying for is for God to be with him, for God to be near, for God to answer him. Notice in verse 1 and 2 he calls out for God to answer him, for God to hear him, for God to be with him. In verse 11, he prays again, “Be not far from me for trouble is near and there is none to help.” And then again down in verses 19 and 20, he prays again, “But you, O Lord, do not be far off.” What he really needs is what we sung about awhile ago, “Be with me, Lord!.” That is the longing that he has in the midst of his suffering.
Notice that as we read through the psalm there is a wavering back and forth of his moods from hopefulness to despair, to believing, if you will, to struggling. The things that he considers in his mind, the truths that he gathers up in the midst of this suffering that are meant to reinforce his faith, in some ways raise more questions and make it more difficult for him. For example, when he cries out about why he feels that God has forsaken him, he says in verse 3, “yet you are holy.” He knows that God won’t do anything wrong and that God will do right by him. He knows that God can be trusted. That reinforces his faith, but that makes him wonder, “Why is God not doing something?”
Then he thinks about the experiences of his fathers – that many of them have trusted God. They have cried out to God, and he has heard them and rescued them, according to verses 4 and 5. That reinforces his faith that God can be trusted and that God will answer in his time. But it also makes him wonder, “If my fathers could cry out to God and he would answer, then what about me? Why hasn’t he responded to my cries?”
Then he considers his own personal history – how that even from the womb he has belonged to God and God has been with him and God has been his God. He has always been loyal to God. That again calls for faith and challenges faith. If he has always walked with God, then where is God now that trouble is near?
Those things about the suffering of the writer of this song are so human that they have been a part of many of our lives in one way or another. Not to the extremity that is talked about here, but everyone present knows, in one way or another, what it is to deal with heartbreak and to pray to God and to wonder when or if the answer will come. We know what it is to waiver back and forth between moods of assurance and hopelessness, and because of that this psalm is one that has an emotion to it that most of us can identify with.
The thing about the faith of this man (the writer of this psalm) is that he keeps on referring to God as “my God.” Even if God has not answered him, even if he doesn’t understand what is happening, it is still “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” He still calls on the Lord to not be far off. Even when he feels like God is far off, he still wants God to be the one who delivers him from the mouth of the lion even when he feels like he can’t be delivered. The nature of faith shown by the writer of this psalm is that he remains committed to his God. He remains true to the God that he regards as holy, and he keeps on calling out to him even in the midst of his most terrible suffering.
Now let’s take a step from that psalm to Jesus. There is no way a Christian can read Psalm 22 and not immediately recognize Jesus here. There has been some struggle about how the psalm is to be taken. Some think it referred originally to some unknown experience from David’s life, and then that it has a kind of double meaning. I believe that human experience may cause us to be able to identify with what this psalm is talking about, but that it could not ever be truly fulfilled in anybody else’s experience like it is in Jesus. Remember that in Acts 2:29-31, Peter at Pentecost used the words of David. He said that David had spoken of the fact that God would not allow his Holy One to see corruption. Then Peter pointed out that that could not be spoken with reference to David because David had died and was buried and his tomb was still there at the time. Peter says, “Then David, who was a prophet, was looking forward and speaking of what God would do through his Christ.” I am convinced that Psalm 22 is that same sort of a prophecy – that it saw back in the days of David (centuries before Christ) the details of what Jesus would experience and what the Christ would suffer as the Father offered his Son up for us all.
There are a couple of reasons why I say that. One is that the consequences or the outcome of this suffering that is described in Psalm 22 could never be as universal and wide for something David went through as they are true with Jesus. The ending of this Psalm from the last part of verse 21 onward describe for us how the news of what God has done through this sufferer is one that causes everybody then to want to praise God for what he has done. It is one which causes everybody to recognize that God has not stood aloof from the suffering of this world and that he has not abhorred the affliction of the afflicted, as verse 24 says. He has not hidden his face but he has heard and acted. That could never be more true than it is with the fact that he allowed the evil one and his partners to put his Son to death, but then they went out on the first day of the week and he was not there. He had been raised up. What more profound way could there ever have been of showing the defeat of evil and of the Father endorsing the one who had suffered than to raise him up from the dead?
You also notice in verses 25 and following that the consequences of this suffering is such that people everywhere are going to be led to seek the Lord and to praise the Lord, as verse 26 says. You remember that the news of Jesus preached on the Day of Pentecost pierced the hearts of people and caused them to cry out, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” They were seeking the Lord. And from Jerusalem to the household of Cornelius at Caesarea to the great congregation that was established at Antioch later on in Acts 11, there is the progress of people seeking the Lord and turning to him because they remember what has been done by this sufferer. In verse 27 it says that all the families of the nations are going to be touched by this, and they would worship God because of it. And that this news would be told even to those who were not yet born, verse 31 says. And there would be because of that always descendants of this news. That couldn’t be true anywhere else like it is true in the preaching of the gospel of Christ.
The real subject of Psalm 22 is Jesus! This is Jesus’ psalm. Look at some of the ways that we can see this is true. Verse 1 is obvious. Remember that on the cross from the sixth hour until the ninth hour there was darkness over the land. And toward the end of that, Jesus cried out, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” He was quoting this verse, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
In some way, Jesus faced the feeling of forsakenness that a sufferer feels. God allowed his only Son to feel forsaken on the cross, to feel like he had been “relinquished” as the Hebrew literally says, or that he had been “left behind” as the Greek phrasing says. Bro. Wayne Jackson suggested that God allowed his Son to experience this darkness of suffering because he knew the necessity of his Son having to be able to feel with us in every way in which we are tempted. And since one of the ways in which we are tempted is to cry out “why?” when suffering or tragedy strikes our lives, God allowed his own Son to face that same feeling of alienation from God, from the Father, on the cross. Isn’t it interesting to what links the mercy of God will go to let us know that someone in heaven understands the pain that sometimes challenges us, and the questions that come to our mind because of it?
Notice next in verse 7 “that all who see me mock me and make mouth at me and wag their head.” In Matthew 27:39 says, “And those who passed by derided him wagging their heads.” Here is the fulfillment of this prophecy by people who neither knew it nor wanted it to be fulfilled, and yet they fulfilled it in exact detail by the way they acted around the cross of Jesus.
Notice next that in their mocking him, they said in verse 8, “He trusts in the Lord. Let him deliver him. Let him rescue him for he delights in him.” Matthew says in 27:43 that those who passed by wagging their heads said, “He trusts in God. Let God deliver him now if he desires him for he said ‘I am the Son of God.’” That is exactly what the psalm said.
Look at the description of the suffering in verses 12-18. He was feeling that he was surrounded and that they were opening up their mouths against him and that all his strength was gone. Remember the piercing of his hands and feet and all his bones standing out, and his saying “I thirst.”
At the end of verse 17 it says, “They stare and gloat at me.” Luke 23:35 said, “The people stood beholding” which meant “starring, watching.”
Verse 18 says, “they divide my garments among them and for my clothing they cast lots.” “He is already dead,” they thought. “He won’t need these; let’s take them.” John says in John 19:23-24, “When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took his garments and divided them into four parts, one part for each soldier and also his cloak. But the cloak was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom, so they said one to another, ‘Let us not tear it but cast lots for it to see whose it shall be.’ This was to fulfill the scripture which says, ‘They divided my garments among them and for my clothing they cast lots.’” You see that Psalm 22 is scripture, and it was fulfilled in what happened that day when Jesus offered himself up for us all.
Not just the fulfillment at the cross but the fulfillment at the resurrection! In the middle of verse 21, the mood changes drastically. We are reminded that after Jesus had cried out like this on the cross the tone changes. At the end you can see this when Jesus simply says, “It is finished,” and then, “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit.” God blessed him with the strength that he needed there. But then, in his resurrection and in the preaching of the gospel and the going forth of the law from Jerusalem, the great fruitfulness of this wonderful and awesome suffering becomes obvious. He has people who believe in him, belong to him, and serve him because of what he went through for us!
Let me mention two or three lessons we need to take from this psalm. One is a deeper gratitude for redemption. What this psalm is describing is what happened when God “laid on him the iniquity of us all.” What happens when a holy God is separated from sin? When Jesus “bore in our sins his body” on the cross, this is what happened. This is the result of sin which alienates and separates from God! The physical and emotional and spiritual anguish that Jesus went through here is what belonged to us, but he bore for us.
The second lesson that we want to learn from this great psalm is to see something of the nature of faith. If you want to see what Jesus meant when he said, “Take up your cross and follow me,” look at what happened here. The commitment to him that causes us to endure even when we don’t understand and when we don’t see the answers we cried out for to still remain committed to the Father like this sufferer did: that is faith!
And then we notice in the third place the meaning of victory in Christ that we find in this passage. Victory is not absence of strife or difficulty or struggle. It is survival which overcomes those things. When the psalmist says in verse 21, “Save me from the mouth of the lion,” he says something that the apostle Paul brings up from prison in his very last letter. In II Timothy 4, Paul makes the point that “at my first defense no one came to stand by me but all deserted me. May it not be charged against them. But the Lord stood by me and strengthened me so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. So I was rescued from the lion’s mouth.” Did you hear that? “The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed and bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom. To him be the glory forever and ever.” But Paul, you just said you were about to be offered up and now you are saying that the Lord will rescue you. Rescue is often through the trouble, not around it or away from it.
Now come back to one of the statements of this psalm that is quoted expressly in the New Testament – verse 22. In verse 22 where it says, “in the midst of the congregation, I will praise you,” the Hebrew writer quotes that in Hebrews 2:12, to weary Christians who needed to be strengthened and encouraged. The Hebrew writer was saying, “There is a victory on the other side, and Jesus’ confessing the name of God in the flesh in our midst is the means to that victory.” I wonder if that is not one of the reasons that the Father’s way of salvation involves a person who believes and repents making that good confession, confessing the name of the Lord, confessing Christ in the midst of the great congregation and then being baptized into Him. He promises to raise us up to walk in newness of life.
Maybe you are here today and you would like to commit your way to this one who offered himself up for us all. If that is the case and if we can help you to do that, it would be our joy to do so today.