Psalm 22: The Cross of Christ

Psalm 22 and the Cross of Christ from Stephen Sizer on Vimeo.

Last Saturday our daughter Rachel was married. It was one of the happiest days of my life, and one of the warmest, sunniest and driest days of the Summer. We held the reception with a hog roast in the garden. It was very relaxed and informal.

A beautiful day for a lovely couple. And I picked them up from Gatwick at 2:30 this morning so I have not had much sleep. But it was worth it. Next Saturday we are taking our Summer holiday in the South of France. The scenery is stunning, the climate warm, the food and wine will be memorable. We haven’t even gone yet but I am excited to share it with you.

Good news is infectious isn’t it? You can’t stop talking about it. It just comes out. You don’t have to think about it. You don’t need training in how to communicate good news. The more immediate, personal and life changing, the more likely we are to want to share it.  Its the same with Jesus. That is why this morning, in our series, Christ in all the Scriptures, I would like us to spend a few moments contemplating Psalm 22, contemplate the cross of Christ. If people know one passage of the Bible, it is most likely Psalm 23. And yet I believe Psalm 22 is the most precious of all the Psalms, for it reveals the passion of God which made possible the promises of God contained in Psalm 23. No one can read Psalm 22 without being vividly confronted with the Crucifixion.

It is not only the way the prophecy is so minutely fulfilled, but the humility of the One suffering that stands out. There is no plea for personal vindication against evil doers, only his vision of a worldwide ingathering of the Gentiles accomplished by this sacrifice. One translation entitles it, “The Suffering Servant wins the deliverance of the nations.”  It cannot be stated more profoundly or accurately. No incident in the life of David can begin to account for this Psalm. It is not a description of an illness but an execution. Indeed a means of execution unknown in the time of David. In the Old Testament capital punishment was implemented by stoning, or the sword. Hanging from a tree was forbidden, a sign of God’s curse, and polluted the land. Ironically that’s precisely why Christ died in this way. He did not pollute the land, mankind had. His death did not pollute, it cleanses all who stand under it.

The language of this Psalm defies naturalistic explanations. The best way to interpret it is in the way Peter does in Acts,

“David was a prophet and knew that God had promised on oath that He would place one of His descendants on his throne. Seeing what was ahead, he spoke of the Christ.”
(Acts 2:30)

The death of the Lord Jesus Christ had been planned before the beginning of time, and in this Psalm written by the greatest of Israel’s kings, 1000 years before the time of Christ, we can focus down on those last six hours of the most important day in history, the day that changed the world. 

A more exact expression of the Redeemer’s thoughts and feelings during the awful six hours on the cross of Calvary cannot be found in all the Scriptures.

1. The shout that speaks of the vicarious atonement of the cross (Psalm 22:1-5)
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning?” (Psalm 22:1)

It is no accident that the first verse records the first words of Jesus on the cross, and the last verse describes the last words of Jesus on the cross. His words in verse one surprise us:

We don’t expect Jesus to cry out.

He did not cry while being tortured or for six hours on the cross. In his pain, hanging from the arms, it would be very difficult to speak, let alone cry out in a loud voice.

The psalm reveals that the agony of separation was greater than the physical pain he was experiencing.

We don’t expect Jesus to cry out “My God”

The words seem wrong. We would expect Him to call out “Father” but He doesn’t. At that moment the relationship they had enjoyed from eternity past was clouded, as God the father poured out his wrath upon Jesus as the substitute, the ransom sacrifice for us all.

We don’t expect Jesus to cry out in desperation “Why….”

But He does, for he is not simply a man.

Jesus is a representative man, identifying with the entire human race, paying the ransom price for human sin. This was no lapse of faith. It is not a sign that their relationship was broken. It was the cry of disorientation as God’s familiar protective presence was withdrawn. The infinite one paying in finite time, the penalty of finite sin for all eternity. What is God saying to us in Jesus words? This is how Emil Brunner put it:

“In the cross of Christ God says to man. “That is where you ought to be. Jesus my Son hangs there in your stead. His tragedy is the tragedy of your life. You are the rebel who should be hanged on the gallows. But lo, I suffer instead of you and because of you, because I love you in spite of what you are. My love for you is so great that I meet you there on the cross. I cannot meet you anywhere else. You must meet me there by identifying yourself with the one on the cross. It is by this identification that I God, can meet you in Him, saying to you as I say to Him, My beloved Son.” (Emil Brunner)

The shout that speaks of the vicarious suffering of the cross.

2. The sob that speaks of the vicious suffering on the cross (Psalm 22:6-21)
“But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by men and despised by the people…  I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint. My heart has turned to wax; it has melted away within me.  My strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth; you lay me in the dust of death. Dogs have surrounded me; a band of evil men has encircled me, they have pierced my hands and my feet. I can count all my bones; people stare and gloat over me. (Psalm 22: 6, 14-17)

This passage dispels once and for all any notion that because Jesus was both God and Man, somehow he didn’t really suffer pain. If the Arian heresy perpetuated by JW’s teaches that Jesus was not Divine, the Docetists denied he was really human and only appeared to suffer. Moslems too do not believe Jesus suffered on the cross. They believe God substituted Barabbas because they cannot conceive that God would allow a prophet to suffer in this way. Their presuppositions have determined their theology. In rejecting the facts they are all wrong. No less than seven separate aspects of Jesus cruel death are prophesied in these verses.

1. Words of Jesus (22:1)

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Psalm 22:1)

2. Mocking crowd (22:7, 13)

“All who see me mock me; they hurl insults, shaking their heads… Roaring lions tearing their prey open their mouths wide against me.” (Psalm 22:7, 13)

3. Nails of the Cross (22:16)

“Dogs have surrounded me; a band of evil men has encircled me, they have pierced my hands and my feet.” (Psalm 22:16)

4. Distorted Body (22:14)

“I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint. My heart has turned to wax; it has melted away within me.” (Psalm 22:14)

5. Nakedness (22:17)

“I can count all my bones; people stare and gloat over me.” (Psalm 22:17)

6. Thirst (22:15)

“My strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth; you lay me in the dust of death.” (Psalm 22:15)

7. Gambling for Clothes (22:18)

“They divide my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing.” (Psalm 22:18)

In some ways the description of the crucifixion here is even more graphic and vivid than even in the historical record of the Gospels. We know from archaeological finds that the crosses used by the Romans were simple affairs unlike those stylised in religious paintings many centuries later.

It is most unlikely that the cross was very high off the ground. Ian Barclay says the feet of the one executed were normally only twelve inches off the ground, and never more than 20. There was no point in wasting wood. This makes verses 7 & 13 even more cruel.

“All who see me mock me; they hurl insults, shaking their heads… Roaring lions tearing their prey open their mouths wide against me.” (Psalm 22:7, 13)

The crowd of accusers were almost certainly face to face with Jesus when they mocked Him, and insulted Him.

It is interesting that for all this detail, there is one significant part of the Crucifixion story missing. Can you spot it?

David leaves out any mention of the soldiers piercing the side of Jesus. Why?  Because the words of this prophecy are seen through the eyes of the living Lord Jesus himself. Jesus was already dead when the spear pierced his side. Perhaps that is why there is no mention here.

The shout that speaks of the vicarious atonement of the cross. The sob that speaks of the vicious suffering on the cross.

3. The sigh that speaks of the victorious triumph through the cross (Psalm 22:22-31)

“You who fear the Lord, praise him! All you descendants of Jacob, honour him! Revere him, all you descendants of Israel! For he has not despised or disdained the suffering of the afflicted one; he has not hidden his face from him but has listened to his cry for help… 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… Posterity will serve him; future generations will be told about the Lord. They will proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn— for he has done it.” (Psalm 22: 23-24, 27, 30-31)

Suddenly the scene changes, and we see the Messiah in the midst of His people praising God, and witnessing to others, bringing justice and deliverance to the needy.

The last words of the Psalm: “He has done it”

The last words of Jesus: “It is finished” = “I have paid it”

Jesus quotes the first and last line of this psalm from the cross because God inspired David to write of the sufferings of His Son our Saviour. “It is finished”.

The heart of the Good news of the Gospel is that Christ’s death was sufficient. The difference between Christianity and all the religions in the world can be summed up by the difference between two words and their tense. “Do” and “Done”.

Present and past tense. The rich man who came to Jesus represents all the other religions when he asked Jesus “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Mark 10:17-22). Jesus told him to believe in the One God had sent. Christianity is not about what we must do, its about what Jesus has done.

“For he has not despised or disdained the suffering of the afflicted one; he has not hidden his face from him but has listened to his cry for help.” (Psalm 22:24)

The Anglo Saxon word for “bleed” is very similar to the word “bless” (blod and blot) That is what Jesus was doing. Bleeding to bless. This blessing would be universal, forever universal in two senses.

A Blessing for all People 22:27-29

“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, for dominion belongs to the Lord and he rules over the nations. All the rich of the earth will feast and worship; all who go down to the dust will kneel before him— those who cannot keep themselves alive. (Psalm 22:27-29)

Jesus was not only the Saviour of Israel but the world – rich and poor – all need a saviour. “God so loved the world that he gave…” A blessing for all people.

A Blessing for all Time  22:30-31

“Posterity will serve him; future generations will be told about the Lord. They will proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn— for he has done it. (Psalm 22:30-31)

Jesus is the saviour not only of all people but also for all time. Not only the living, but also the dead, and as yet unborn generations. Jesus Christ is indeed a man for all seasons.

The Psalm which began with the cry of dereliction, ends with a word “he has done it”, an announcement of joy and certainty.

 Lets summarise.

As we prepare to participate in Passion for Life and to celebrate Easter, we have seen from this Psalm how the crucifixion of the Lord Jesus Christ was no accident, but part of God’s amazing plan to save the world.

1. The shout that speaks of the vicarious atonement of the cross. Jesus Forsaken by the Father that we might be reconciled.

2. The sob that speaks of the vicious suffering on the cross. Jesus Punished by the Father that we might be forgiven.

3. The sigh that speaks of the victorious triumph through the cross. Jesus Delivered by the Father that we might live forever.

Now let us share his passion for life with others.

Lets pray.

 

 

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