December 19, 2007
Nine Lessons and Carols
“Great Prophecies of the Messiah in the Old Testament”
Dr. Derek W.H. Thomas
Now turn with me if you would to Psalm 22. And first of all, a word of explanation. On Wednesday evenings in December, to complement the “Nine Lessons” that occupy for Sunday morning and Sunday evening sermons in December, all of which of course speak to the incarnation of Jesus, on Wednesday evenings (and we only have I think a couple of them in the month of December) Ligon and I are looking at what we're calling “Great Prophecies of the Messiah in the Old Testament.” And tonight I want us to turn our thoughts to the twenty-second Psalm.
There's no way round this. This is not joy, joy, joy. This is a dark, somber Psalm, because it speaks of Christ and His crucifixion. These are words the opening lines of which Jesus took up, you remember, on the cross: “My God, my God, why have You forsaken Me?”
Now before we read the Psalm together, let's look to God in prayer. Let us pray.
Our Father in heaven we thank You again for the Scriptures that holy men of old wrote as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. We thank You that every jot and tittle, the least stroke of a pen, is given by inspiration of God. You breathed it out. We thank You for the gift of the Scriptures, of the Bible, this special revelation that gives us information and insight about things past and things present and things to come. As we read this particular Psalm, Lord, we pray that You would help us read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest, and all for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
This is God's holy and inerrant word:
“To the Choirmaster: According The Doe of the Dawn. A Psalm of David.
“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!
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.”
Amen. May God bless to us that reading of His holy and inerrant word.
Augustine — St. Augustine — said famously that if you want to understand the Bible, then you need to understand this principle: that “the New is in the Old concealed, and the Old is in the New revealed”–that what is latent in the Old is patent in the New; that what we see in type and shadow in the Old is seen in all of its splendor and magnificence in the New.
Peter tells us in one of his epistles that these Old Testament authors — prophets and poets — searched and inquired diligently as to the identity of the one giving to them revelation, and Jesus on the road to Emmaus (in Luke 24) with those two discouraged disciples, “in Moses and in all of the prophets, expounding in them the things concerning himself.”
And as we turn to Psalm 22, on one level David is, as the author of this Psalm, speaking about something in his own experience, and yet even as he writes and from the perspective of the New Testament looking back into the Old Testament, and shining now the light of the New Testament and the use of this Psalm by our blessed Lord, it is obvious that David is speaking of things beyond his own experience. And that what we have in this Psalm is David expanding as a poet and using hyperbole in a manner by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit that whilst initially speaks of something that David himself knew and discerned, yet ultimately can only be seen in all of its fulfillment and all of its glory in the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ. The sea of forsakenness in which David dipped his feet, our Lord Jesus Christ was wholly submerged. And immediately there arises as we read this Psalm, then, something of a pattern: that in order for us to experience the full weight of glory, we must first of all undergo the experience of trials and tribulations that as Paul, reflecting on passages just like this one, would write to the Corinthians and say to them of their own afflictions and trials that “this light affliction is working for us an eternal weight of glory that far outshines and exceeds them all.”
The Psalm divides more or less into two distinct sections. In verses 1-21, we have an individual lament of forsakenness. It's not unusual in the Psalms to find this genre of lament. The psalmist is pouring out his soul, mourning and even complaining about providence and the circumstances in which he finds himself. And then this particular section, verses 1-21, further divides into two sections, so that what we have is in verses 1-11 desertion, and in verses 12-21 we have opposition, and then in verses 22 to the end of the Psalm we have expectation - desertion and opposition and expectation in the first section, in verses 1-11.
I. A lament of forsakenness.
You’ll notice how the Psalm begins. Of course it begins with these famous words that our Lord uttered from the cross: “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?”–“My God! My God! Why have You forsaken Me? Why are You so far from saving me?” And then again in verse 11, “Be not far from me, for trouble is near, and there is none to help.” And again down in verse 19, “But you, O Lord, do not be far off!” And what the psalmist is experiencing here is the desertion that he feels in his own soul because God, the God in whom he has put his trust, is far away. God seems to have abandoned him. God seems to have forsaken him. The circumstances in which he finds himself seem to contradict the promises that God has made. One of the great promises that God makes to His people — we find it repeated particularly in the book of Deuteronomy as Moses, on the edge of the Jordan River in the land of Moab, before they cross over into the Promised Land, is reminding them of the covenant that God had made with their fathers. Over and over again Moses will tell the people of God that God promises to be their helper. God will be their helper. That's the cry in verse 11: “Be not far from me, for trouble is near and there is none to help.” He's in circumstances which seem on the face of it to belie the truthfulness of the promise that God made to His people that He would come to their aid and be the source of their help.
It's the heart, isn't it, of Psalm 46? That the God of Jacob is a very present help in time of trouble. But the psalmist in these opening verses feels as though God is no longer his help. Where is the God of Psalm 46 now? Where is the covenant Lord now? How can I trust the promises of God when my experience is telling me God is far away?
“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me to lie down in green pastures…beside still waters.”
He leads me, He guides me, He's with me in trouble. It's the heart of what we confess to believe about our God — that He draws near to us, that He surrounds us, He helps us, He keeps us. But David is complaining of some form of spiritual desertion. God has deserted him. God has abandoned him.
It is one of the most troubling of all the experiences that we could possibly experience as God's people, that God is far away; that when we cry, He does not answer; that when we pray, it is as though He does not hear us. We’re confronted by the silence of God, and it's exacerbated because this is not how God had dealt with David's fathers. Verses 6-8:
“I am a worm and not a man, scorned by mankind and despised by the people.”
[And what are they saying? ‘Where is your God now, David?’]
“They wag their heads; ‘He trusts in the Lord; let him deliver him….”
It's a word of mockery, you understand. Are you familiar with Psalm 102:10?
“You lifted me up and cast me away…You lifted me up, and You cast me away.”
And those are some of the most dark words ever to come from the mouth of a believer in the Bible, in the Scriptures–“You lifted me up and cast me away.” On the face of it, it's the most dreadful statement. And the whole thing is exacerbated because God had helped David's fathers!
“In you [verse 4] our fathers trusted; they trusted, and you delivered them.”
But You have abandoned me. You have forsaken me.
Now I don't know what you make of this. I imagine that for some of you, Psalms like this are a bit of a mystery to you, because you never seem to fluctuate in your Christian experience of the presence of God. But I have to tell you that there are believers, and David is one of them, and there are several in this congregation this evening, I venture to say, who know all too well what David is talking about here — the spiritual melancholy, the spiritual darkness that can descend so as to conclude that God has forsaken us. Read the diary of David Brainerd, friend of Jonathan Edwards, missionary to the Native American community in the eighteenth century…dead by 29. And in his journal, over and over and over words and expressions and entries just like this one! On the face of it, what we have here is the experience of David, experiencing spiritual desertion. It says to us, do you see, that this too is part of the pilgrimage of certain believers, and the comforting thing — yes, comforting thing — is the reassurance that for those who similarly experience days and weeks and months like this that you are not alone; that even David, a man after God's own heart, knew what it was to be able to say, “My God! My God!”–and Calvin in his commentary especially points out the dichotomy here–He is my God, but He is far away. And it seems as though He has forsaken me.
But then there's a second section, and it's the opposition that he experiences, and that in particular in verses 12 through 21. Evil forces are too close for comfort, and what appears in the first section as human opposition now grows into animal opposition. This is the language of poetry, of course, and it speaks of bulls and of lions–beasts at their worst that you would not wish to be too close to. You would be in awe of their anger and of their strength. In his psyche, this opposition, this human opposition, has grown to become bestial opposition…humans portrayed as animals, behaving in a monstrous way. And where else do we find that? And the answer of course is in Genesis 3. Another beast, a beast of the ground, a snake behaving in a bestial fashion, in a monstrous fashion.
You notice the tactics that this spiritual opposition takes, and it takes two tactics. One is that of intimidation. In verses 12-13,
“Many bulls encompass me; strong bulls of Bashan surround me;
they open wide their mouths at me, like a ravening and roaring lion.”
They’re intimidating! That's what Satan always does, of course. He intimidates. And the psalmist's vision of God has been obliterated by the presence and malevolence of this intimidation. You remember how Bunyan portrays at Porter's Lodge at the top of Hill Difficulty There are two lions, you remember. They were chained, of course, but Christian and his friends didn't see the chains. All they saw were the roaring lions.
And not just intimidation, but humiliation. They divide his garments, and they cast lots, and they expose his nakedness. Yes, we want to run down to Jesus, of course, but before we get there, let's pause for a minute, because David is using the language of poetry to describe what it is that Satan does. It's a reminder of the guilt that is associated with the nakedness of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. That's what sin has brought about, and what Satan is doing here is exacerbating the sense of guilt that David feels. And there's a cry from the heart, a crie du coeur, in verse 21: “You have rescued me from the horns of the wild oxen!” But before that, “Save me from the mouth of the lion!” There's desertion, but there's also opposition, and this too is part of the experience of every believer: that there is not just opposition, but spiritual opposition, a malevolent opposition that seeks to intimidate and seeks to humiliate. Turn on the TV for ten minutes this evening and you will hear it, where the simple faith and trust of a believer in the promises of God will be mocked and smeared.
But then there's expectation. It is in the second half of the Psalm. All of a sudden there is a change. In verse 22,
“I will tell of your name to my brothers;
in the midst of the congregation I will praise you….”
And all of a sudden the desertion and opposition has given way to a picture of David standing in the presence of his brothers and proclaiming the praises of God. Desertion and opposition have given way to expectation:
“I will tell of your name to my brothers…you who fear the Lord, praise him!
All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him….”
And what is it at the end of the Psalm? What is it that accounts for this? And you see that ringing peroration in the closing words of Psalm 22 that begins in the darkness of God's forsakenness:
“…They shall come and proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn,
that he has done it.”
He has done it…God has vindicated His people. God has come to the aid and rescue of His people.
You know, this Psalm…whilst I say it has three parts, it really has four parts. Because not only does it have desertion and opposition and expectation, but it also has consummation.
And it's not written here in Psalm 22, it's written in the pages of the New Testament, because what David barely glimpsed of desertion and opposition and expectation, great David's greater Son, King Jesus, experienced in a way that goes beyond our comprehension. For it was of Jesus that this Psalm ultimately spoke as He endured the wrath of God…the wrath of God for our sins…as He became the expiation of sin; as God forsook Him, He turned His gaze away from Him so that the light of His countenance no longer shone upon Him. That's the weight and burden of that sin. Not His sin, but yours and mine; the sins of His people, and the judgment of God in forsaking Him…not being able now to come close to Him. And He experiences this utter abandonment.
“My God! My God! Why have you forsaken me?”
And the answer that you did not hear, of course, was that God had abandoned Him for our sakes…for our forgiveness, for our cleansing, for our salvation. As His nakedness was exposed on that cross, as they divided His garments and cast lots over them,
“He became sin for us who knew no sin, that we might be reckoned
the righteousness of God in Him.”
Oh, my friends! There are depths here. As we approach Christmas and we think of Jesus as a little infant in a manger, we can never ever forget that He came to die. He came to shed His blood for us.
“O sacred head, sore wounded, with grief and shame weighed down;
Now scornfully surrounded, with thorns Thine only crown.
O sacred head, what glory, what bliss till now was thine!
Yet though despised and gory, I joy to call Thee mine.”
Mine…for me…for my sake…for my salvation, He endured that darkness.
Let's pray together.
Father, we barely scratched the surface of this immense Psalm of pain and grief and sorrow that rises to a peroration of praise, and glimpses Jesus standing in the midst of the congregation with us as His brothers and sister. As the book of Hebrews quotes from this very Psalm of the triumph of Jesus, that we remember now the cost, we pray tonight, and as we prepare for Christmas Day, O help us again to see that He who thought it not robbery to be equal with God, made himself of no reputation and humbled himself, even to the death of the cross. For us. Receive our thanks. Receive our praise. And write it upon our hearts, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
Please stand and receive the Lord's benediction.
Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.
© First Presbyterian Church.
This transcribed message has been lightly edited and formatted for the Web site. No attempt has been made, however, to alter the basic extemporaneous delivery style, or to produce a grammatically accurate, publication-ready manuscript conforming to an established style template.
Should there be questions regarding grammar or theological content, the reader should presume any website error to be with the webmaster/transcriber/editor rather than with the original speaker. For full copyright, reproduction and permission information, please visit the First Presbyterian Church Copyright, Reproduction & Permission statement.