Psalm 22 ~ "Forsaken/Forgiven"
Some time back, I was meeting with a young man in my office. We were discussing an incident in which he allowed his anger to get out of control. And naturally, the young man wasn’t particularly pleased that he had to be rehashing the incident with me. His focus started to wander, as is natural for energetic young men. He interrupted me as his eyes took notice of something on my shelf. “What’s that?” He said, not knowing what the item actually was. I have a small collection of little brain teaser puzzles. After pointing and asking about each puzzle, we finally figured out that what caught his attention was an Evangecube. I took it down and and allowed him to examine it. An Evangecube is similar to a Gospel track. It’s a little toy with pictures on it. The cube keeps unfolding and folding back together to reveal a different picture on every side. As you work through the various pictures, they serve as cue points to share the Gospel. As the agitated young man played with the cube, he calmed down a bit. I took the opportunity to share the gospel and relate it back to his anger and the situation he was in. This person had heard the Gospel many times before, and it produced no apparent surrender in Him this time either. I allowed him to take the cube home. However, for this young man, the story of who Jesus is and what He has done for us serves as nothing more than information that corresponds to pictures on his new toy.
We must be ever so careful, even if we’re already born again believers, to never trivialize the atoning work that Jesus Christ did for us on the cross. When it is trivial information, it has now more purpose or value in our life than any other random knick knack that collects dust on our shelf. But when we recognize the Gospel as the Good news, as part of God’s revealed spoken words to us, and adhere to it, it convicts our heart and soul. It changes the way our minds work. Indeed, God makes us a new creation. Tonight we will be looking at the atonement account given by Song writing King, King David. In Acts chapter 2, the apostle Peter references Psalm 16 and concludes that David was in fact a prophet who prophesied about the Messiah. Our text this evening will be Psalm 22. As we study it, we’ll see that this Psalm also prophesies with great detail about the work of Christ’s atonement.
Before we dive into our main text, we need to lay a bit of framework. So go ahead a turn in your Bibles to Psalm 22, but mark it and turn also with me to Isaiah 53:4-6, and Matthew 3:13-4:1. We are going to look briefly at Isaiah, read our Psalm, look briefly and Matthew, and then really get to work in Psalm 22. [READ Isaiah 53:4-6] In these verses we have a small excerpt of Isaiah’s prophecy concerning Jesus as the suffering servant. We have an explanation of propitiation; the act by which Christ interceded as our substitute and thereby satisfied God the Father’s holy demand for justice and turned away God’s wrath from those who unite with Christ through faith. We have here in Isaiah a very theological explanation. In the Gospels of the New Testament, we have more narrative accounts. In Psalm 22, we have something unique. We have a song. As songs often do, the psalm portrays the account of the cross in very emotional and relatable terms.
David gives here no lengthy didactic account about the cross. The Holy Spirit uses the gifts He has given to David to sing not about a far off distant God, but David’s own heir, God incarnate. Too easily can we read about the atonement and put up a mental block. We can picture a cool stoic Jesus standing before Pontius Pilate, Herod, and Caiaphas the high priest and remain unmoved. The struggle only becomes real when acknowledge that He was both fully God and fully man at the same time and actually stood in our place. As we read about the tortures of not only his body, but to his mind and his heart, we begin to understand more fully the depths of His perfect and immeasurable love for us.
Let’s read now together from Psalm 22, beginning in verse 1. [READ Psalm 22:1-31] Without really jumping into the text we notice right out of the gate the mournful words which Jesus cries out on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Throughout the psalm we see several remarks which do not seem to really fit into any known account of David’s life, but seem much more applicable to Jesus, most notable being verse 16, “”they have pierced my hands and feet”. A very accurate description of Roman crucifixion which had not yet been invented during David’s life one thousand years before Jesus. It is likely that the prophecy had a near fulfillment in David’s life, and of course a more complete fulfillment in the then distant event of the cross.
Keep your place in Psalm 22, but look with me now at Matthew 3 beginning in verse 13. [READ Matt. 3:13-4:1] In this passage, we see a small glimpse into the perfect and holy trinity which preceded the birth of Jesus in eternity. God the Father, God the Son, and God the Spirit existed and worked together in perfect love and unity in eternity past. In this passage, Jesus, though he was sinless, was baptized by John the Baptist. Being good Baptists, we know that baptism is the symbol of repentance and a symbol of identification. Jesus was perfect and had no need to repent but was baptized anyway in order … “To fulfill all righteousness.” He partook in the symbol of the sinner to identify himself (though being perfect) with sinful man. Immediately afterward we read of God the Father’s audible voice of approval. We also read of the visible empowerment of the Holy Spirit. Immediately after this in chapter 4 we read that Jesus was led by the Holy Spirit. In this we see Christ’s submission to the leading of the Spirit. This is similar to Christ’s submission to the Father’s ultimate will and plan for salvation. And yet, the Holy Spirit who inspired David and every other human writer of the Bible, gives us God the Father’s word which exalts not the Holy Spirit himself, but Jesus Christ. Upon our regeneration the Holy Spirit indwells us and leads us into conformity with the perfect Jesus Christ. So we see the submission of the Holy Spirit as well. Within the Godhead we have perfect love, submission, unity, and harmony.
Now as we come to the first verse of Psalm 22, we see the words which Jesus cried out on the cross, “Eli Eli, Lema sabacthani?” Meaning of course,“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?”Legally, we know what was happening. The man Jesus, took on the full weight of the guilt of the sins of the world. He was seen as the guilty one so that his perfect blood could be received as acceptable payment for them all. Emotionally, we see here the price Christ paid. This past October, Kyla and I celebrated our fifth wedding anniversary. I am honoured to be in the same room with couples who have lived more than 50 years with their spouse. I know we have a long way to go, but even so, it breaks my heart to be away from her. Even when I’m away for just one night, my heart longs to be back with my love, the person with whom I share one unified life. My grandfather was the most active 92 year old I had ever seen. He spent long hours on farms and plowing fields for my uncles. He was married almost 70 years. In 2003 my grandmother passed away. Within one year, my grandfather became a different person. He was no longer active. He sat in a bed and waited for death. My grandmother was such an essential part of his life that he really didn’t know how to live without her.
Our marriage finds its meaning and strength in that it reflects our union with Christ. One can only imagine the perfect and infinite love and fellowship that is experienced within the Holy Trinity. And then imagine to be separated from it. Forsaken by God. The shame that we feel when we let down our spouse can not begin to portray the depth of this wound to Jesus. And even though Jesus, being fully God knows exactly how the next few hours would play out, being fully man, the agony of those hours are unbearable and he sees no end in sight. His groanings have no apparent hope of relief. A few hours seemed an eternity away. In these first two verses, we see Jesus bearing the weight of God’s Holy and righteous separation from sin.
Next, oddly enough, in true psalmist fashion, we see a switch to an underlying hope in verses 3. “Yet, you are holy,” The psalmist recounts the sure promises and deliverance of the Father. Christ's own hope and faith remained unwavering. The temptations and the mocking voices called to Him. You don’t have to endure this. Prove that you’re the Son of God by removing yourself from this. But yet, Jesus obeyed the perfect will of the father. Jesus spoke of his life in John 10:18 “No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord”. Even in the agony of the cross, Christ was able to look past his own affliction and find peace in the perfect promises of the Father.
Starting in verse 6 we see the shame that Christ endured on the cross. “… 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!” An interesting not about the word “worm” here. The original word used can either mean worm or Crimson. The worm that is spoken of here is more specifically the Scarlet worm. The ancients used this worm. When it was crushed, and its life was taken from it, it released a crimson or scarlet fluid. The colour was so strong that it was this fluid which was used to make scarlet dye. This lowly creature was trampled on and only considered of value to pour out its blood. How interesting and yet strikingly accurate of our Lord. He was despised. Even his beloved disciples fled from his side in his hour of trial. Their mocking looks, their taunting calls. The ridiculed him as worst of the worst and deepened the wounds which he was suffering for them. He was stripped of his clothes, suspended in the air is miserable shame. This was our shame, the shame of sin which he bore, and instead of acknowledging it in humility and gratefulness, we only spit on him.
Verses 9-11 are another shift back to hope. A reminder of God’s sovereignty and Christ’s reliance on the Father throughout every day of his human life. Even in His shame, Christ does not stop calling on the Father for His provision. “Be not far from me, for trouble is near, and there is none to help.”
Verses 12-18 draw out Christ’s suffering.[READ Psalm 22:12-18] The land of Bashan was known to be cattle country. It had the great pastures, but the Bulls ran loose and wild. I grew up around cattle and spent a lot time around dairies. Cows aren’t as dumb as sheep I’m told, but that does not necessarily make them smart. For the most part, they’re pretty docile creatures. On dairy, you could have lots of females with only a few Bulls. You had to move every cow in and out of the barn two or even three times a day. You normally just jump right into the corral and start herding the cattle, but you needed to pay close attention when you got in with the bull. You stayed far away. Instead of going up to the bull and slapping his back, you would move all the other cows in hopes that he would move right along. If you antagonized or got him riled up, you were in trouble. That’s when you make a b-line for the fence. But in Bashan, they didn’t have fences. So imagine you’re standing in the middle of a herd of Bulls. They’re riled up, and their focus is solely on you. That is the ferocity that Jesus faced at the hands of his executioners.
He was paying their price and they missed it. If we had been there, I think we would not have fared any better. He was suffering in order to save them, but instead of thankfulness, he received disdain. I get upset when I make my kids a peanut butter sandwich and they don’t say thank you. We really can’t imagine the intensity of Christ’s suffering.
Notice now in verse 14; “poured out like water… All my bones are out of joint… My heart is like wax… My strength is dried up like a potsherd.” The language here is overflowing with pain. Christ has been spent. His life clings to him by a thread. Just think about elements of his suffering for a moment. Even before he was nailed to the cross, he sweat blood in anticipation of it. This is a real medical condition in which the body is under such distress that the capillaries of the blood vessels burst. This is incredibly painful. Also, after Christ dies, he is pierced with a spear and blood and water gushed out. Again, when the body is put to the ultimate degree of suffering, the body will produce water in the pericardium sac. This fluid is produced to provide relief to the heart in it’s utmost suffering. When Christ was pierced, the spear pierced this sac and revealed this evidence.
Verse 17, I can count all my bones. I have been very blessed not to have had any real serious injuries in my life. I did have appendicitis when I was younger and that was incredibly painful. However, a few years ago, I had a mishap with a kitchen knife and sliced my finger open. I’m sitting in the waiting room at the ER and there are people who are puking their guts out, and there’s a guy who was in some type of dirt biking accident, he’s got road rash and bruises and cuts all over. And there I was with a little cut on my index finger. I finally got back to get stitched up. It was all pretty routine to me, a little shot for numbing the area and then they get to work. What the nurse didn’t warn me of was the fact that your finger tips are the most sensitive area of your body and are densely packed with thousands of nerve endings. Just the numbing shot make me feel like my finger was going to explode. My back arched up off of the table. My point is that when you are in pain, you have more sensation and awareness of areas in your body that you normally don’t notice. Christ is in such agony, that he can feel every area, because every part of him is in agonizing pain. All this He did for us while they stood gloating over him and casting lots for his clothing.
Yet, in every moment, he fell at the feet of the Father in trust. Then in the last ten verses of this Psalm we see an even greater shift. We see not just hope, but praise and victory! Of course the cause for this praise is not the fact that Jesus died and His suffering ended, but that He died and God raised Him from the grave. The cheque cleared! Christ beat the grave! Verse 23 “All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him,” we looked at this in Psalm 20. Jacob was an unworthy man whom God blessed and rescued not because of Jacob’s strength but because of God’s goodness and His promises. No one is worthy to be spared from this suffering and eternal death, but God paid the price to afford our salvation because of His goodness. He doesn’t need us, but He wants us. And in our pride and ignorance, we don’t want God, but we need Him. How wonderful it is to read verse 25. “From you comes my praise in the the great congregation;” Our praise is for God, but we are not even strong enough to do what we ought, so the fact that our praise for God comes from God speaks to His sovereignty and power to carry us. He alone is the author of our salvation.
Finally, in verses 30-31 we read “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.” The work of Christ is offered to all, from Jerusalem, to Judea, to Samaria, to the ends of the world, including us 2000 years later. We proclaim the amazing news of what Jesus did. The final five words here parallel beautifully to Christ’s last words… “It is finished.” We proclaim “That HE has done it”! Hallelujah! Because no one else could. Christ didn’t have to, but He did it. He did the work of atonement. We work out our salvation to be sanctified and our faith produces fruits of repentance, but ultimately, there is nothing that we can add to our salvation. Jesus does the work. We accept the gift. What peace! What freedom! What a God!
Most of us here tonight have heard the gospel many times. We understand it and have been walking with Christ for many years. The account of the the cross that we have here in Psalm 22 is very emotional. It appeals to our hearts. So now I also appeal to our hearts from Mark 12:30 “… love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” Let us never be deceived into thinking our love for the Lord is lived out by our mere attendance or resume of church activities. Let us not be mindless drones. Living out our salvation is difficult. I’m not saying we should be jumping up and down in our pews or rolling in the aisles. Such activity can promote a hyper spirituality and even a salvation of works. However, emotion is good! As we see all throughout the Psalms, emotions have highs and lows. When we avoid emotion in our conversations with one another, we often avoid the difficult bog that we need help to wade through as well as simplest of joys and gifts that are meant to be shared. Brothers and sisters, be faithful in knowing that narrative of Scripture. Know the depths of its details and teachings. Know the depth and the significance of its theology. And know the emotions, the new heart that God gives us to serve Him with. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.