Praying the Psalms: Psalm 22

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” For most Christians that haunting question stirs our hearts with sorrow. That desperate question was uttered by none other than Jesus himself on the cross. Jesus references the first line of Psalm 22 as he hangs on the cross. The Gospel writers, particularly Mathew, uses Psalm 22 throughout the crucifixion narrative to emphasize the innocence of Jesus. Psalm 22 is a psalm of lament and like all psalms of lament, the conclusion ends in praise. As we read in this Psalm about the horrific suffering of an innocent man, it so clearly points us to Jesus, the innocent son of God. Jesus’ crucifixion would not be the end of his story, but ends in great victory through his resurrection. Psalm 22 may begin in great sorrow, but concludes in great praise and victory, following the patter of Jesus’ death and resurrection.

Praying the Psalms

Commentary

v. 1-5 - The psalm begins with a desperate and anxious question. Why does God seem so far away? Why does he seem so distant? Does God not hear the cries of the innocent? Can he not hear their groans in the dark of the night? The psalmist cries out day by day, night by night, but the Lord doesn’t answer. There is no rest.

We have all felt this way at some point in our Christian life. Where is God when it hurts? Just when we think we need him the most, he seems peculiarly absent in our lives. We may be in agony and anguish, but God doesn’t respond.

The psalmist has put his trust in the Lord continually. He knows that he is the holy one of God. His suffering casts no doubt on the goodness of God’s character. The psalmist knows that in the past, God answered the cries of the faithful of Israel. They trusted God, and were not point to shame.

Yet, the Psalmist is confused. He has grown up hearing about God’s faithfulness towards his people, but in his situation God seems to be absent? What seems to be the problem? So the psalmists is resolutely confident in God, but at the same time confused. Why is God absent for him, when God has intervened in the lives of so many others?

v. 6-18 - The psalmist then describes his condition. He is decimated and despised. He is rejected and scorned. He is mocked and taunted. To his enemies he is but a worm. His enemies scoff at his faith and taunt the Lord, “He trust sin the Lord; let him deliver him; let him rescue him, for he delights in him!” (v 8) This psalmist is a man who is hated, but for no good reason. He is completely innocent and without faulty, yet he is despised and rejected by men.

Though he is jaded and barbed with the verbal spears of malicious foes, the psalmist trusts the Lord. He reflects on his trust in the Lord from the beginning. He has trusted continually in the Lord, even in his infancy, while he was at his mother’s breast. He has been wholly devoted to the Lord and innocent of these dehumanizing accusations.

Yet, the psalmist continues to be poured out like water. His bones are out of joint. His heart is melting under the duress of the persecution. His strength has dried up as he comes to lay in the dust of death.

The blood thirsty canine scavengers encircle him. They devour the weak as their prey. The count his bones to divide among them as they cast lots to divide his clothing. They pierce his hands and feet. These wicked men seek to take anything of value from this man and leave him in dehumanizing shame. They will not cease until they have turned this righteous and godly man into a worm.

As we read what this innocent man of Psalm 22 is going through, the images bring to our mind the crucifixion of our Lord. From the mocking at the cross—“If you are the son of God come down for there”, or “He saved others, but he cannot save himself!”—to the casting lots of his clothing, and to the piercing of his hands and feet, in all of it we see in Jesus.

Anyone who would have walked by Golgotha’s hill on that good Friday would have come to the conclusion that God has abandon this man. There is no way that God delights in him, because God has not rescued him. This is the way many of us think today. If God lets us incur a terrible fate, than either the problem must be in us or with God. Yet, throughout the Bible we see that God allows suffering to come upon the righteous in order to deliver them for the glory of his name. God uses the malicious intent of wicked men and turns it on its head. God is so sovereign that he is able to use depraved acts of violence to bring about an ultimate good.

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v. 19-21 - The sufferer cries out to God for help. Those his circumstances seem to swallow him up, his trust in the Lord is unfading. He calls out to the Lord, “Do not be far off! O you my help, come quickly to my aid!” This final desperate cry is one of deliverance and salvation.

When we are in similar situations, we too should pray and ask God for help. May our suffering never cause us to lose our confidence in God’s ability to rescue. Though he may seem far, he is near. Though he may seem incompetent, he is more than able. A crises of life should not become a crises of faith. Despite what this psalmist is going through, his trust in the Lord is resolute. So too should it be for all of God’s people.

v. 22-31 - As lament psalms do, this psalm concludes in praise. “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” (24). Those who trust in the Lord, place their trust rightly. God is reliable; he hears and responds to the desperate cries of his people. Though it might be delayed, rescue is coming. The result of that rescue leads to praise, satisfaction and joy. This rescue not only leads to the satisfaction and joy of the sufferer, but it leads to world wide praise to God!

All the peoples of the earth will worship before God. The Kingship belongs to the Lord, and he will reign forever. The result of this rescue is the worship of God’s name from generation to generation. Those yet to be born will one day hear of the righteousness that God has done.

As we think about Jesus’ cry on the cross, it is understood much deeper in light of the entire psalm. Yes, Jesus was in great suffering and agony as the innocent man who was pierced on that cross. At that moment of great suffering, God seemed distant and it appeared that God had abandon his son on the cross as Jesus bore the penalty of sin. Yet, God would not abandon his son, even in death. Though Jesus died, on the third day he would rise again to victory. Jesus’ death and resurrection is the center point of history. The entire earth must hear the good news of what Christ has done by dying in our place on the cross. The crucified son of God has been given the kingship that endures for ever. This good news has been told from generation to generation, to a people yet unborn.

The Gospel of Jesus has continued to be passed down from generation to generation. For two thousand years Christian moms and dads tell their children about the righteousness of God found in Jesus Christ. As Christians we must continue to proclaim to the next generation that the suffering son of God is the resurrected king and the savior of the world.

Prayer Guide

  • Have you ever felt abandon by God? Share your heartache honestly to the Lord.
  • Pray that God would give you the faith to trust him even when things go badly in your life.
  • Ask the Lord for deliverance from your enemies, particularly when you are suffering for righteousness sake.
  • Praise the Lord that God did not abandon Jesus, but raised him again on the third day.
  • Ask the Lord for opportunities to share the good news of Jesus with others.

The Reminder of the Cross

Today is the day in the Christian calendar when we remember and reflect on the death of Jesus Christ. There seems to be great confusion over exactly what happened on that cross and why it is such a pivotal event in human history. Many think that the cross is another tragedy of social injustice as an innocent man was executed unjustly. Others think it is a sad case of religious martyrdom, a good man who faced an unfortunate death. Yet the importance of Good Friday is monumental. The tragedy of that day was not that innocent Jesus was hung by violent, barbaric men, but that Jesus was crushed by the will of His Father. As we reflect on the great wonders of the cross – that horrific place of shame and judgement – we must remember why it is Jesus came into this world and why it was that he had to die. As a result there are a few things we must remember carefully as we mediate on the meaning of Good Friday.

The Cross Reminds Us of Our Condemnation

In the 21st Century most of us recoil at the doctrine of sin. We don't want to believe that there is anything fundamentally wrong with us or with humanity. We live in a culture in which we hate to be told we are wrong, let alone that we are deserving of judgement. Yet, the Bible teaches clearly that "all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God" (Rom 3:23) and that "the wages of sin is death" (Rom 6:23). Despite our modern presumption of naive optimism we have about our lives, the Scriptures speaks the truth that many of us do not want to hear. We are sinners who are condemned before God and deserving of His just and righteous wrath.

The cross is a reminder of our own condemnation. As we remember what Jesus went through on the cross we must remember he did so in our place. It is my sin that nailed him to that tree and it was my judgement that Jesus endured. As we look to the cross we are reminded of the wretchedness of our sin and how costly and deadly the punishment for our sins truly are. Our sin was so detestable and horrid that the only way it could be paid was through the death of His son.

The Cross Reminds Us of our Redemption

The cross not only stands as a reminder of our condemnation but as a reminder of our redemption. It was God's great plan before the foundation of the world to redeem a people for his own possession. It was God's zealous desire to spread his glory through a people that led him to send His son Jesus on the greatest rescue mission the world will ever see. Jesus entered into this world not to be just a moral teacher or a great example, but the savior of the world. The way the Messiah achieved our salvific victory was through his fatal defeat.

The cross became the symbol of Christianity for good reason; it is the a constant reminder of the great love of God towards us in the crushing of his son. It is a vivid reminder of the great cost of redemption.

The Cross Reminds us of the Love of God

There is no greater indicator of the love of God towards us than the cross. The cross is the objective reality of God's love. It cannot be doubted or thwarted. We do not have to guess if God loves us; he demonstrated his love for us at the cross. As His suffocating body hung gargling blood in horrific torture he endured the suffering as joy for us. As Jesus tells us "Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends" (Jn 15:13) or as John reminds us "By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us" (1 Jn 3:16).

The Sorrowful Joy of Good Friday

The response to the cross should be a sorrowful joy and a mourning worship. At the cross we see our spiritual poverty and we weep over the deadly price of our own sin. Yet we rejoice in worship that God in his unshakeable love for us sent Jesus to die in our place.

As John Stott wrote in his classing book The Cross of Christ, "As we face the cross, then, we can say to ourselves both ‘I did it, my sins sent him there’ and ‘he did it, his love took him there'". Yes, the cross was something done by us and for us. It was our sin that placed him there but it was the love of Jesus that took him to the cross.

As you reflect over these humbling truths this day, remember the treachery of your sin, the lavish expense of your redemption, and the objective proof of God's love for you – the cross of Christ.

Yet also remember that "weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning" (Ps 30:5), and that as his body lay in the grave, resurrection is coming.

Stop Punishing Yourself For Your Sins

The cross is a glorious, God-ordained, tragedy. The young Jewish Rabai would be arrested in the dead of night, trialed by a lynch mob, and given up to be crucified to pacify a blood thirsty crowd. Jesus would be beat. He would be whiped. His skin would be swollen from pain and his muscles exposed as he is flogged. A crown of thorns would be shoved on his head, cutting into his skull. He was forced to carry a rugged cross on his bloodly exposed back to a hill called Golgotha, which means place of the skull. On that hill Jesus wouldld hang, nailed to a tree among other criminals. The perfect son of God hung naked as he suffocated, chocking on his own blood. All the while the crowd of people stand jerring, mocking, hurling insult after insult. That was the day humanity killed God. God himself hung on that cross. The horrific suffering of the cross is enough even to make the most hardned heart tremble.

When we think about the cross we must remember one thing. Jesus paid it all. On the cross, Jesus was enduring the wrath of God that you and I deserved. Jesus did this in our place. He was flogged instead of you. He was nailed instead of you. He was suffocating instead of you.

In the 13th and 14th century there were a group of radical Catholics who began to whip themselves in order to make pennace for their sin. This self-flagelation was done in order to purify the body for sins. They were doing it to punish themselves because of their sins. In fact, there are some who even attempt to do this today.

Although must of us don't particpate in self-flagelation, often times we do try to punish ourselves for our sin. We try to make ourselves pay for our short comings, punishing ourselves for our disobedience. We want to experience what Christ experienced. We want to suffer like Christ has suffered.

I suggest to you that this is a very dangerous practice. There is some truth to these desires. Our sins do deserve punishment. However, the beauty of the Gospel is that Jesus has bore our punishment for us! We do not have to make penance for our sins, Jesus has. We don't have to suffer for our sins, Jesus has done it for us! We must be so very carefeul lest we add our own piety to the Gospel. Our sins do deserve punishment, but God has provided a scape goat - Jesus Christ the righteous one.

As you dwell on the events of Good Friday, remembering the death of Christ, praise God that Christ has endured the sufferings of the cross for you. For those who have faith in Christ, your sin has been paid for. Jesus has paid it all. There is no punishment for your sins, because Jesus was punished instead of you. This is why the tragedy of the cross is glorious! Because in the tragedy of Jesus God-ordained death, we have been washed clean by His blood. We are forgiven once and for all. There is no more work to be done and no more price to be paid. As Jesus cried out with his dying words, "It is finished!"

Was Jesus Forsaken by God on the Cross?

3647674018_d1aa8dac84_bOne of Jesus's last words on the cross is a mysterious phrase. As darkness sets over Jesus he cries out, "My God, my God, why have your forsaken me?" It is interesting to note that even the most liberal and critical New Testament scholars believed that Jesus said "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" Why? Because it seems like Jesus has finally cracked. His whole arrest, trial, flogging, and crucifixion Jesus says absolutely nothing in Mark's Gospel. "Like the sheep before its shearers, he is silent and does not open his mouth." But here in v. 34 Jesus finally breaks, crying out that he has been forsaken by God, believing that God had abandoned him, right? Well there is more going on here then meets the eye.

What Jesus cries out is the first line of Psalm 22. Jesus is quoting a Bible verse. You see, there were no chapters and verses in the bible originally. Those were added much latter. In Jesus' day, the way you referred to a passage was often by quoting the first line. This is what Jesus is doing here. So to understand what Jesus means by this cry we must turn to look at Psalm 22. Read through these few selected verses from Psalm 22:

“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.” (Psalm 22:1–2, ESV)

“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!”” (Psalm 22:6–8, ESV)

“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.” (Psalm 22:16–18, ESV)

The Psalm seems so clearly to point to Jesus that it is astonishing. On the cross Jesus was experiencing incredible physical suffering but also spiritual suffering as he was bearing God's righteous wrath for the sins of God's people.

Although Jesus quotes Psalm 22 in reference to his horrific, unjust death, I believe that Jesus is also quoting this Psalm in hope of his deliverance. Jesus was forsaken by God, but he had confidence that he would be delivered. When we look at Psalm 22 as a whole it makes much more since. Jesus quoting this Psalm indicates the extreme pain he was enduring, but he was also proclaiming his own deliverance.

In Psalm 22:19 the tone of the psalm changes from lament to hopeful deliverance:

"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!"

Jesus was forsaken by God, but he had confidence that he would be delivered. When we look at Psalm 22 as a whole it makes much more since. Jesus quoting this Psalm indicates the extreme pain he was enduring, but he was also proclaiming his own deliverance.

Jesus quoting this Psalm causes the crowd to believe that Jesus is calling for the prophet Elijah to deliver him, so the crowd gives Jesus some sour wine to quench his thirst to see if he will hold on for a bit longer. This is not an act of compassion, but an act of hate. I think the crowd is wanting Jesus to hold on because I think they want Jesus to break. He had been being mocked and ridiculed and they want Jesus to feel the isolation of being abandoned by God.

What the crowd didn't know, is that Jesus would actually be delivered, not by Elijah, but by God himself. His deliverance would not be immediate, but delayed by 3 days when Jesus rises from the grave!

When we look at Jesus' words on the cross as Jesus quoting Psalm 22 we get much greater insight into what Jesus was thinking in the final hours of his life. Jesus did not believe he was abandoned by God, but knew that God would deliver him on the third day as he would rise again!

Jesus Willingly Laid Down His Life

2236819819_d6981c59e7_o Was Jesus' life taken from him? Is Jesus some tragic figure in history who lost his life unexpectedly? I suggest to you that the answer is no. The Bible makes it crystal clear that Jesus did not lose his life. Jesus laid down his life.

Jesus says in John 10:17ff:

"For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again."

You see, no one took Jesus' life. Jesus laid his life down willingly. Just like a sheep being lead to the slaughter Jesus was silent before his shearers. He did not open his mouth (see Isaiah 53). You see, the cross is the very reason why Jesus came. The cross was the center of God's will for Jesus. The cross wasn't an unexpected tragedy, but God's plan before the foundations of the earth.

As we enter into the week in which we remember Jesus' death, burial, and resurrection, we must remember that the cross is the glorious epicenter of the mission of God. Jesus is not some tragic, pacifist, martyr that historians make him out to be. Jesus is the son of God, the suffering servant, and the passover lamb. Jesus willingly went to the cross. He laid down his life absorbing the wrath due your sin and my sin so that we might be forgiven and given new life.

This week and this easter, reflect on the wonders of God's love for you in the crucifixion of his son, Jesus Christ.