Psalm 22

Forsaken for a Purpose

Laura Miguélez Quay

Linebrook Church

March 30, 2018

Good Friday

 

Where is God when we need him the most? Surely this is the question that begs for an answer in Psalm 22. Its author David, Israel’s most beloved King, provides no introduction, no transition, but simply dives right in as he states his despair, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from my cries of anguish?My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, but I find no rest.”

Have you ever felt this way? Have you ever been in such deep pain that you cried out to God, asking him not if he’s forsaken you, but why he’s forsaken you? Have you ever felt such hopelessness that it caused you to ask God why he was keeping his distance; why he was impassive to your cries of anguish? Have you ever felt the deafness of God who didn’t answer your calls by day or heed your restless pleas by night?

David’s opening words certainly express a sense of being abandoned by God. Indeed much of the psalm builds upon his opening lament, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” For his laments are interspersed throughout the psalm:

Starting in verse 6:

But I am a worm and not a man,
scorned by everyone, despised by the people.
All who see me mock me;
they hurl insults, shaking their heads.
“He trusts in the Lord,” they say,
“let the Lord rescue him.
Let him deliver him,
since he delights in him….”

Then beginning in verse 12:

12 Many bulls surround me;
strong bulls of Bashan encircle me.
13 Roaring lions that tear their prey
open their mouths wide against me.
14 I am poured out like water,
and all my bones are out of joint.
My heart has turned to wax;
it has melted within me.
15 My mouth is dried up like a potsherd,
and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth;
you lay me in the dust of death.

And again in verses 16–18:

16 Dogs surround me,
a pack of villains encircles me;
they pierce my hands and my feet.
17 All my bones are on display;
people stare and gloat over me.
18 They divide my clothes among them
and cast lots for my garment.

So again I ask, have you ever felt like this? Have you ever cut open an emotional vein to God, asking him where he is and then going on to list for him the many ways you are suffering? Have you ever felt abandoned not only by him but even abused by others? Have you ever lamented and listed for God your physical and emotional turmoil and fear?

On this Good Friday evening, we’re reminded that the opening words of this psalm are the very ones Jesus spoke as he hung crucified on the cross awaiting his death. As we consider these opening words, it’s important for us to note that oftentimes when someone in the New Testament quotes an Old Testament passage in Scripture, what the speaker has in mind isn’t simply the particular verse being quoted but the entire teaching or theology that the passage goes on to develop. So a quotation ends up serving as a kind of short-hand entryway to a larger instruction. This would be similar to me saying “The race doesn’t always go to the swift.” In hearing this you would know that I was referencing the story of The Tortoise and the Hare and all it entailed. So when Mark records for us Jesus’ words on the cross when, “34 …at three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, ‘Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?’ (which means ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’),”[1] we can be confident that Jesus, who was arguably the most well-versed teacher of the Hebrew Scriptures no doubt had in mind not simply the opening words of the psalm but the entire theology that lay behind it.

So what are we to make of these words, spoken so audibly by Jesus on the cross and recorded so accurately for all to hear? Did he, who was God in the flesh and was one with his heavenly Father stop believing in him at this, his moment of greatest anguish and pain? If we only had this opening verse of Psalm 22 to go by, we might answer, “Yes.” But in considering his quoting of David’s words it’s important to remember again how Jesus viewed the Old Testament. We get a sense of this when after he had died and risen from death, he appeared to disciples on the Road to Emmaus and “…beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.”[2] To begin with Moses indicates that Jesus understood that even the beginning of the Old Testament was about him for Jewish believers understood Moses to be the author of the first five books of the Old Testament, the Torah or Pentateuch. And to state that “all the Prophets” also spoke “concerning himself” points to the other end of the Old Testament which closes with the prophetical books. By referencing Moses and the Prophets Jesus is saying that from beginning to end, the Old Testament is about him. And this, of course, would include David’s Psalm.

Now further supporting this view—that by quoting the opening verses of Psalm 22, Jesus is also thinking about the entirety of its teaching—are the ways in which many of the things David proclaimed a thousand years before Christ’s Incarnation, were fulfilled in the life of Jesus. So let’s revisit a few of the passages I’ve already read for you. In verses 6–8 of the psalm we read:

But I am a worm and not a man,
scorned by everyone, despised by the people.
All who see me mock me;
they hurl insults, shaking their heads.
“He trusts in the Lord,” they say,
“let the Lord rescue him.
Let him deliver him,
since he delights in him….”

These words of David eerily anticipate what took place in Jesus’ life as he hung on the cross. As Matthew records, “39 Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads 40 and saying, ‘You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! Come down from the cross, if you are the Son of God!’” And, again, “41 In the same way the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders mocked him. 42 ‘He saved others,’ they said, ‘but he can’t save himself! He’s the king of Israel! Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. 43 He trusts in God. Let God rescue him now if he wants him, for he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’”[3]

Verses 16–18 of the psalm were also fulfilled in Jesus’ life in a similarly poignant manner:

16  …they pierce my hands and my feet.
17 All my bones are on display;
people stare and gloat over me.
18 They divide my clothes among them
and cast lots for my garment.

As John tells us, after Jesus had died crucified, hanging on the cross, “one of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water.”[4] And Matthew records, “35 When they had crucified him, they divided up his clothes by casting lots.”[5]

So we see how this psalm is fulfilled and actualized in Jesus’ life in a heart-rending manner. For Jesus, God’s promised and longed-for Messiah, was abused by the crowds, religious leaders, and even criminals; Christ, God’s Son who had come to earth in the flesh, was seemingly abandoned and forsaken by his Father in heaven: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

But to focus only on how Jesus’ life fulfills the foretold suffering from this psalm is to see through a mirror dimly for this is only half the story. For even in the psalm’s opening words, we’re provided a glimmer of light and hope. The repetition, “My God, my God” is an indication of the close relationship that exists between the speaker and the one being spoken to for in the ancient world repeating a person’s name was a way of indicating intimacy with them. Jesus isn’t crying out to an impassive, immoveable, impersonal force. No, he’s crying out to God, to his Father who knows him well—and whom he knows well. So Jesus is crying out to God who loves him; a Father who is incapable of forgetting him. Indeed this close relationship between Jesus and his Father is fulfilled in and framed by everything that follows. For though he begins by asking why his God, his Father in heaven, has forsaken him, as the psalm continues the trust and confidence he has in that very God comes through. As stated in verses 3–5:

Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One;
you are the one Israel praises.
In you our ancestors put their trust;
they trusted and you delivered them.
To you they cried out and were saved;
in you they trusted and were not put to shame

This God who has forsaken Jesus is also the Holy One who rules. He is also the One who rightly receives the praises of his people. He is also the one whom his ancestors rightly trusted. And their trust wasn’t misplaced for this Holy One delivered them. When they cried out, this Holy One saved them. The Holy One of Israel did not put them to shame—and neither will he put his Son to shame but will also reward his trust and praise and so deliver and save him.

And as was true for the psalmist, so it is for Jesus who in quoting the opening verses is also embracing the psalm’s teaching in verse 9–11:

Yet you brought me out of the womb;
you made me trust in you, even at my mother’s breast.
10 From birth I was cast on you;
from my mother’s womb you have been my God.

11 Do not be far from me,
for trouble is near
and there is no one to help.

Jesus, from the time of his miraculous birth by the virgin Mary, trusted in this very God whom he is now questioning. For Jesus, from Mary’s womb, from the time of his birth, was cast upon God. And so he beseeches God not to be far from him. Trouble is near and no one but God is able to help. The psalm underscores this theme, this plea, in verses 19–21:

19 But you, Lord, do not be far from me.
You are my strength; come quickly to help me.
20 Deliver me from the sword,
my precious life from the power of the dogs.
21 Rescue me from the mouth of the lions;
save me from the horns of the wild oxen.

So woven into the opening question, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” is an accompanying entreaty for God not to be far from him. For the LORD, Yahweh, is his strength. So there’s an implicit request for the LORD to come quickly to help—and deliver—and rescue—and save.

And in verses 22–24 the plea turns to praise with the confident proclamation,

22 I will declare your name to my people;
in the assembly I will praise you.
23 You who fear the Lord, praise him!
All you descendants of Jacob, honor him!
Revere him, all you descendants of Israel!
24 For he has not despised or scorned
the suffering of the afflicted one;
he has not hidden his face from him
but has listened to his cry for help.

So we’ve come full circle, haven’t we? A heart-wrenching question, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” has now been answered. This God who judging solely by the present circumstances has seemingly forsaken him, in actuality has not. For it is God’s nature to hear those who turn to him; it is God’s nature to save those who cry out to him; the Holy One who is enthroned and rules over the world time and time and time again proves worthy of our praise and trust in him. Again, notice the confident assertion made about God in verse 24, “For he has not despised or scorned the suffering of the afflicted one; he has not hidden his face from him but has listened to his cry for help.” As the voice ensemble sang earlier,[6] there is no doubt but that Jesus was afflicted.

For Jesus, the Man of Sorrows did indeed weep and mourn;

Jesus, the Man of Sorrows was indeed scorned, mocked, and unjustly condemned;

Jesus, the Man of Sorrows was poor;

Jesus, the Man of Sorrows did indeed know loss;

Jesus, the Man of Sorrows, does indeed share our loss.

And yet Jesus, the Man of Sorrows, the afflicted one, is not despised or scorned by his Father to whom he cries out. For the Father who initially seemingly hid his face, which hiding caused the Son to cry out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”—this very Father went on to reveal his face and listened to his Son’s cry for help.

And so I want to return to Jesus’ encounter with the disciples on the Road to Emmaus. For in addition to teaching these lucky disciples how all of the Old Testament Scriptures, from Moses on through to the Prophets point to him, Jesus who at this time had conquered and risen from death also said to these disciples, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?[7] Jesus knew why he had to be forsaken—but not forgotten—by God. For Jesus was forsaken for a purpose. And that purpose was to save the world he had created. That purpose was to return the world to the good state in which it had been made by destroying Satan and all evil. That purpose was to atone for the sins, to cover with his own death on the cross, all of the evil that occurred when we first turned away from him. That purpose was that we might once again come to know the God for whom we were created.

This psalm—and Jesus’ life—both end triumphantly. As we read in verses 27–28, “27 All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the Lord, and all the families of the nations will bow down before him, 28 for dominion belongs to the Lord and he rules over the nations.” Notice that these verses don’t state that he is LORD only over the Jewish nation, but rather “all the families of the nations”—plural—“will bow down before him” who “rules over the nations.” So Christ Jesus’ death on the cross wasn’t the end; it was a means to an end. The cross was the means to the end for which he came. And that end is that all who believe that Christ is God’s Son who came to earth in the flesh to suffer and die for our sins; and then rose from death and thereby conquered death, the result of our sins; and destroyed Satan, the author of all evil; might thereby be reconciled to our Father in heaven and know and experience his love now and forever.

Though this side of heaven not even followers of Jesus will be spared the effects of the Fall; though this side of heaven we will continue to experience suffering—and a sense of forsakenness—and may wonder at times where God is when we need him most,

we can rest assured that God does hear our cries;

we can rest assured that the Holy One yet rules;

we can rest assured that the Lord who made heaven and earth desires to save us—from sin, from all evil, from all suffering, and even from even death;

So should we ask, “Where is God when we need him the most?” The answer is, “He is hanging on the cross.”

Brothers and sisters, we are the purpose for which he came. We are the purpose for which he was forsaken. Reconciling us to our heavenly Father—and with each other—and with all of nature is the reason he came. But before this reconciliation could happen Jesus first had to hang on the cross that first Good Friday. As Mark records, “It was nine in the morning when they crucified him.”[8] And “33 At noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon.”[9] If it was nine in the morning when Jesus was first hung on the cross, this means that after Jesus had been hanging on the cross for three hours, at noon when the sun was at its highest point in the sky, darkness fell upon the earth and even creation acknowledged and mourned the slow and anguishing death of its Maker, of the One who had brought that very creation into being.[10] So it was after Jesus had hung on the cross for six hours that he cried out the opening words of the psalm. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

But in stating the opening words of Psalm 22, Jesus had his sight fixed upon its closing verses, “future generations will be told about the Lord. 31 They will proclaim his righteousness, declaring to a people yet unborn: He has done it!” Or, as recorded by John, “When [Jesus] had received the drink, [he] said, ‘It is finished.’ With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.”[11]

Let us pray.

 

[1] Mark 15:33–34. So, too, is recorded in the parallel passage in Matthew 27:45–46: 45 From noon until three in the afternoon darkness came over all the land. 46 About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”).

[2] Luke 24:17. Emphasis added.

[3] Matthew 27:39–43. See parallel in Mark 15:19–32: 29 Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads and saying, “So! You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, 30 come down from the cross and save yourself!” 31 In the same way the chief priests and the teachers of the law mocked him among themselves. “He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself! 32 Let this Messiah, this king of Israel, come down now from the cross, that we may see and believe.” Those crucified with him also heaped insults on him.

[4] John 19:34.

[5] Matthew 27:35–36. See also Mark 15:24: And they crucified him. Dividing up his clothes, they cast lots to see what each would get.; Luke 23:34: Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” And they divided up his clothes by casting lots. John 19:23–4: 23 When the soldiers crucified Jesus, they took his clothes, dividing them into four shares, one for each of them, with the undergarment remaining. This garment was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom. 24 “Let’s not tear it,” they said to one another. “Let’s decide by lot who will get it.” This happened that the scripture might be fulfilled that said, “They divided my clothes among them and cast lots for my garment.” So this is what the soldiers did.

[6] Man of Sorrows, arr. by Chris Anderson; Words & Music by Richard A. Nichols.

[7] Luke 24:25–26.

[8] Mark 15:25.

[9] Mark 15:33.

[10] Colossians 1:15–17: 15 The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.

[11] John 19:30.

Leave a Reply