The Easter Psalm

Sermon by David Strain on Apr 20, 2014

Psalm 22:1-31

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Please turn with me in your copies of God’s Word to Psalm 22, the twenty-second Psalm, page 457 in the church Bibles.  Once you have your copies of the Scriptures open would you bow your heads with me as we pray together?

Our Father, we want to see more of Christ today.  He lives and reigns, having bled and died for sinners like us.  Would You send us the Spirit of Christ that as Your Word is read and preached we might hear His voice, we might see like the disciples in the Upper Room the nail marks in His hands and feet, and like Thomas, fall down and confess, ‘My Lord and my God!’ anew or perhaps for the first time.  So we cry to You to come and wield Your Word with power in our hearts for the glory of the name of the risen Christ, in whose name we pray.  Amen.

Psalm 22, reading from verse 1:

“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, and we praise God that He has spoken to us in His holy and inerrant Word.  May He write its eternal truth on all our hearts.

A Psalm of David, A Psalm of Christ

Given that today is Easter Sunday morning we are taking a break from our on-going studies in Matthew 13 to think together about Psalm 22.  Written by King David, the contents of this psalm far surpass and exceed any experience in David’s life.  It is of course the psalm quoted by our Savior from the cross and really a careful reading of Psalm 22 will make clear that it is not safe to read its details in any other light.  This is a psalm that gives us a remarkable prophetic glimpse of the sufferings of Jesus and the glories that were to follow from Christ’s own perspective.  It is extraordinary to me that here we see in Psalm 22 the cross in detail, from the vantage point not of the apostles nor of someone in the crowds looking on from the foot of the cross. Here we see the cross and the empty tomb, as it were, from the vantage point of the one who hung there and stepped from the grave in resurrection victory.  If you look at Psalm 22 carefully you will see that it has two major divisions bringing together in this one psalm both Good Friday and Easter Sunday.  The depths of God forsakenness are here; that’s verses 1 to 21.  And the heights of resurrection victory are here; that’s 21 to 31.  And so for that reason I think a good title for this psalm would be “The Easter Psalm.”  It is the Easter psalm.  It brings us to the foot of the cross and shows us in vivid color the horror of our Savior’s dying love for us and then it takes us with Mary very early on the first day of the week to the empty tomb and we are freshly confronted by the wonder of Christ’s resurrection glory. 

I. The Crucified Sufferings of Christ

Let’s think first of all about verses 1 to 21.  Here are the crucified sufferings of Christ.  And notice, I want you to see carefully the structure, the pattern, of this part of the psalm.  There are three blocks of verses that deal with the nature of Christ’s suffering, each of them followed by a block of text that show us the unwavering, unassailable faith of Christ in the midst of His sufferings.  They alternate back and forth.  Each of those blocks of texts that deal with Christ’s confidence and faith begin with the line, “Yet you are holy,” or “Yet you, O Lord,” “But you, O Lord,” where our Savior faces the crashing title wave of agony bearing down upon Him.  And then as it rolls back we see the unshakable rock of His trust casting itself upon the goodness of God. 

A Cry of Faith amidst Unmitigated Horror

I want to think about the first couplet of suffering and confidence in these opening five verses first of all.  Notice how the psalm, here in the opening two verses, does not build towards a climactic expression of suffering.  It begins with the climactic expression of suffering.  It starts at the apex and pinnacle of the sufferings of our Savior.  Verse 1 - we could say a great deal about the physical pain of the crucifixion, the horrors of Roman torture here, but as terrible as the physical sufferings of Jesus undoubtedly were, here is the true horror of the cross.  Here is what makes the cross hell.  Not the nails in His hands and feet but the cry of spiritual dereliction that escaped His lips - recorded in verse 1, “Eloi, Eloi lama sabachthani?”  “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?  Why have You forsaken Me?”  No one has ever lived in the darkness into which our Savior was plunged in this moment. The full fury of the divine curse fell on the soul of the God-Man here as the Father for the first time in the consciousness of Christ withdrew all awareness of His fellowship and love from Jesus and in its place, you know, Jesus was not simply given over to emptiness; He was abandoned by the Father to condemnation, given up to judgment.  He was handed over to the wrath of the Father that our sin has incurred.  Somehow in the incomprehensible mystery of the Trinity, the Father and the Holy Spirit are able, never ceasing to love the Son nor to be one with the Son, while at the same time at Calvary pouring out white-hot implacable, unmitigated, un-tempered, unrestrained fury on our sin upon the Son.  Here is Jesus bearing the condemnation we deserved. 

Here, brothers and sisters, is what I owe and what you owe, paid for in the wounds of our Savior.  Here’s what our sin cost, which begs the question, “How can anyone toy with sin in sight of Calvary?”  Here’s what our sin cost - the dereliction and abandonment of Jesus Christ to the fury of the wrath of God.  See the wretched figure hanging on the cross and you have a perfect antidote to a casual view of sin.  It is no small thing to rebel against the rule of Almighty God.  It cost the lifeblood of His Son and the terrible experience of God-forsakenness to pay our debt.  And the question that is recorded in verse 1 that Jesus hurls to the sky, doesn’t it express and articulate the utter perplexity that consumed the Lord Jesus in that moment?  “Why?  Why am I God-forsaken?”  It’s important, I think, for us to recognize as we listen to Him hurl those words to the heavens, that that question on the lips of Jesus Christ is not a cry of unbelief; it’s not an ungodly cry.  Notice that though He cries out in anguish it is still none the less a cry to “My God, my God.”  This is a cry of faith amidst pain. 

And it may be important for some of us today, perhaps especially today, this weekend, to understand that when Jesus asked it He sanctified the same “Why?” question for all of us who find ourselves wrestling with the inexpressible reality of tragedy breaking in, all unlooked for into our lives.  God may have forsaken His Son to the hell of the cross, but the Son has not forsaken the Father in the hell of the cross.  He clings to a God who, in these moments, He can’t see and He can’t feel and He does not find. And as He does so, He is a perfect repository of grace for us when we find ourselves likewise looking for and crying to a God who does not seem near. 

Sustaining Faith Amidst Anguish: Rehearsing God’s Past Faithfulness

And notice how our Savior sustained that extraordinary faith amidst these trials - verses 3 to 5.  The first thing He does is recites the faithfulness of God to the fathers.  Do you see that in the text?  “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 you delivered them.  They trusted in you and were not put to shame.”  He rehearses God’s past grace upon His people in order to sustain His faith amidst present trials as He looks for new grace for Himself.  He sustains faith in future grace by remembering the unfailing faithfulness of God in the past.  Isn’t that a helpful and practical tool to keep in our toolboxes when our own trials overwhelm us?  Remember the grace of God - He has been faithful to you again and again and to your fathers and to His people throughout the generations.  It was Christ’s method, sustaining His faith in the extremity of Calvary, and nothing could commend it better to us as a suitable method for our own trials that will never ascend to the heights of His pain.  This was His method.  This is how He did it.  This is how He sustained faith.  He remembered and preached to His own soul the past unfailing faithfulness of God. 

A Savior Familiar with Suffering

And then in verses 6 to 8 the psalm alternates back again to focus once more on the sufferings of the cross.  The waves of suffering come crashing back down on the soul of our Savior and this time our attention is fixed not on their spiritual character but on their dehumanizing effects.  Look at the text.  “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!’”  Did you hear that?  A worm and not a man.  Despised by the people.  He’s treated by them like an animal - subhuman, beneath compassion, beneath mercy, worthy of ridicule.  For everyone who has suffered the stripping away of their dignity there is one who has plumbed the depths ahead of you.  No one else may comprehend your sadness or your sorrow but there are no depths into which you may descend that Christ has not already reached the bottom of.  He has traveled to the furthest horizon of human loss and pain and brokenness so that He can say to you, “I know.  I know.  I know.”  Look at the cross.  He was alone, despised, mocked.  The Pharisees standing around the cross, remember what they hurled at Him as He died?  “He saved others; let Him save Himself.  He trusted in the Lord; let Him rescue Him, let Him deliver Him since He delights in Him.”  He even describes Himself as a worm and not a man.  He knows, doesn’t He?  You may not feel that you can go to anyone.  You don’t know where to turn.  Nobody gets it; nobody understands.  It’s not true.  You can go to Him.  You can bring your griefs and your cries to Him.  He knows.

Sustaining Faith Amidst Anguish: Recalling Covenant Faithfulness

And then in verses 9 to 11 the waves of suffering once again draw back don’t they, and again we see the solid rock of trust and dependence on God.  This time it is bolstered and supported not by a rehearsal of God’s past faithfulness to the fathers but by a rehearsal of God’s past faithfulness in Christ’s own life. “But 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.”  Here is Jesus remembering Himself as the covenant child.  He can trace the ways that from His earliest recollections God has been His God.  He has been fleeing sin and repenting and believing and, not Jesus repenting, but we who are covenant children are to repent and believe that our Savior has no sin to repent of, but He’s always known that God was His God from the very first. 

And some of us do have a testimony like this, don’t we?  We’ll say, “I am a covenant child.  I never remember a day when I was away from the Lord.  I don’t remember living in wild rebellion.  I grew up believing and trusting Him, fleeing sin and clinging to Christ.” And maybe we think that an inferior testimony; it’s a glorious testimony.  It’s Jesus’ testimony.  From His mother’s breast, from His mother’s womb He said, “I trusted in You.  I never knew a time when I did not trust in You.”  It’s the ways it’s meant to be in covenant homes.  And here is Jesus using it to sustain His faith in the crucible of His most acute sufferings.  Maybe we need to reread our life stories with the covenant keeping God as the central character.  When you do, you will find abundant fuel to fire the engine of faith even in the very worst of times.  Reread your life story with the covenant keeping God as the central character; not yourself but the God of faithful love. 

A Depiction of the Lingering Death of the Cross

And so bolstered by the memory of God’s faithfulness, the Savior faces the next wave of suffering - 12 to 18.  Look at it please.  Don’t miss the incredibly accurate account of the physiological effects of crucifixion - the details regarding the soldiers at the foot of the cross casting lots for His garments.  Here’s a reason to trust the Bible - it is the inspired, inerrant Word of God.  Almost the millennium before Christ came, what an accurate account we have of all that took place at Calvary.  Look at the text.  Look how this all went down.  Jesus, he says - “I am surrounded by many bulls of Bashan,” verse 12.  They are like roaring lions gaping wide as if to consume our Savior.  Verse 13, “There are dogs snapping at him all around.”  Verse 16, they pierce his hands and his feet nailed to a cross.  “They divide his garments and cast lots for his clothing,” verse 18.  “He is,” 14 to 15, “poured out like water.  All his bones are out of joint; his heart is melted like wax.  His strength is dried up.  His tongue sticks to his jaws.”  God has brought Him to the dust of death.  It is an extraordinary depiction of the lingering death of the cross. 

Sustaining Faith Amidst Anguish: A Cry for Future Grace

But then the final note of faith sounds in 19 to 21.  Notice how the waves of persistent pain and suffering break on a faith, this time, that does not look back to past faithfulness; this time it cries out to God in prayer for future grace.  Nineteen to 21 - it’s a prayer that God would intervene and rescue Him.  “But you, O LORD, do not be far off!  Come and deliver me.”  There is a kind of misplaced Calvinism, you know, a fatalism really, that thinks that the only appropriate response to suffering is passive surrender to pain - a theology that almost collapses into the idea that suffering is a good thing intrinsically, that it would be ungodly to protest beneath it.  But suffering isn’t good and even our Lord asks to be rescued from it.  It is possible to humbly submit to the sovereignty of God while asking, at the same time, to be delivered from the trials that He has ordained.  And if you struggle with that then you may need to spend more time in the Garden of Gethsemane.  Remember the prayer of our Savior.  “If it is possible let this cup pass from Me, yet not what I will but Your will be done.”  Crying for deliverance; submitting to the sovereign ordination of God.  A faith that sustains us in our trials is also a faith that doesn’t hold back from asking to be delivered from our trials. 

The Pivot of Psalm 22: Answered Prayer

But look especially at verse 21.  This is really the pivot on which the whole psalm turns.  Our version here isn’t great.  A very wooden translation might read something like this.  Verse 21 - “Save me from the mouth of the lion, from the horns of the wild oxen,” and then instead of another request for rescue, suddenly actually quite abruptly, David declares instead not, “You have rescued me” as it is in our version but literally, “You have answered me.”  It’s as though the request for salvation that should have followed the first half of this verse has been interrupted by the answer itself.  Before the prayer is even finished the answer comes.  “You’ve answered me,” he says.

II. The Heights of Resurrection Victory

And notice that from this point on, the whole psalm, the tone of the psalm is radically different.  Suffering ceases from here on.  Here in this one clause in the second half of verse 21, here is death giving way to resurrection.  Here in the second half of verse 21 the stone is rolled away and our Savior stands for alive.

A Risen Christ, Response in Praise, and a Reason  for Worship

What’s especially wonderful about Psalm 22 is that it tells us not just what it was like for Jesus on the cross but also how our Savior responds to the fact of the resurrection.  It tells us how He responds even before it tells us how we ought to respond.  Look at the text.  “I will tell of your name to my brothers; in the midst of the congregation I will praise you,” verse 22.  “From you comes my praise in the great congregation,” verse 25.  Jesus responds to the deliverance of God from the dust of death as worship and praise in the midst of the great congregation.  The Septuagint, the Greek translation there, actually reads, “in the midst of the great church, in the midst of the people of God.”  He’s saying, “I’ll be their song leader.  I’ll be their song director and my voice will sound louder and clearer and brighter above the swelling voices of the great assembly drawn from every language and people and nation redeemed by my blood.”  And as the song leader of the church, notice how Jesus invites us to join Him in responding to the resurrection.  Verse 23, “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,” here’s why we should worship, “For he has not despised or abhorred the affliction of the afflicted, he has not hidden his face from him but has heard when he cried to him.” 

The reason for our worship is that Jesus Christ has risen.  Jesus Christ is alive.  The Father heard His cries and delivered Him.  We are summoned to worship because the tomb is empty and the throne is occupied and Jesus lives.  That’s why even as the shadow of death is cast over, actually over several of our families this weekend, and they’re mourning, that’s why there remains hope and there’s still grounds for praise.  “Where, O death, is your victory?  Where, O death, is your sting?”  Jesus has risen.  He has shattered the bonds of death for all who believe so that through our tears and through our mourning we can say, “The Lord has given; the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.”  And one day soon, death that has already been defeated, will be utterly undone when the Savior who rose returns to take us home.  And so a great congregation will gather in the wake of these great facts.  The poor and the afflicted are there, verse 26.  The rich and the prosperous are there, verse 29.  And verse 27, it extends even to “all the ends of the world who shall remember and turn to the Lord and all the families of the nations shall worship before you” - rich and poor, Jew and Gentile, all people from every class and every background brought into this great congregation through faith in Jesus to praise Him because the tomb is empty and Jesus lives.

The Triumphant Message of the Nations: “It is Finished”

And in verses 30 and 31 we learn how it is that that great congregation will be assembled.  “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,” in other words a missionary movement will be launched from the cross and the empty tomb that will span the globe and span the years until people from every tribe and language and nation will assemble around the throne to say, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain to receive honor and power and glory and might.”  And what is it exactly that will draw them into worship, will make them forsake their idols and bend the knee to the risen Christ?  What is the content of the message that gathers in the nations and causes them to swell and triumph?  Verse 31, “He has done it,” or as Jesus Himself understood those words as He hung upon the cross, “It is finished.”  It is finished.  The work is done.  Our debt has been paid for.  Our sin has been paid for.  Our guilt atoned for.  There’s nothing else to do but bow in repentance and faith and rise in adoration and praise.  Because Jesus died, there’s pardon and mercy and cleansing for you.  And because Jesus lives, not even death can ultimately destroy our hope or quell our praise.

Directing our Eyes to the Risen, Reigning Savior

For many of us, this Easter Sunday is a day to celebrate with family and friends.  You have family from out of town with you - it’s a joyful day.  Sadly for some in our congregation this Easter Sunday is actually a time of grief and loss.  But Psalm 22 lifts our eyes and focuses them elsewhere entirely, neither on our earthly blessings nor even on our deepest losses.  Psalm 22 directs our gaze to Jesus who died and rose and reigns.  Brothers and sisters, because He died, our tears find perfect understanding in Him and because He lives our joy has its deepest roots in Him, untouchable by our circumstances.  There’s forgiveness of sin for you in Him because He lives.  There’s comfort for sorrow for you in Him because He lives.  And there’s hope for tomorrow in Him because the tomb is empty and He lives.  He has done it.  Praise the Lord!  It is finished!  Our Savior has made full payment, full atonement, and now He lives and reigns and is coming back to take us that we may be with Him where He is.  May the Lord fill our vision this Easter Sunday with a fresh sight of Jesus for the comfort of our hearts and the joy of our souls.  Will you pray with me?

Our Father, we praise You that Jesus lives, that He lives, that the same body into which the nails were pounded sits on heaven’s throne in glory.  And because He lives, death is no barrier to us, sin is washed away, and His promises will be fulfilled.  The ends of the earth will come and worship.  Ignite our hearts anew in praise because He lives, for Jesus’ sake.  Amen.

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