As we continue in our series of psalms that are directly quoted in the New Testament, we come to Psalm 22 which opens with a verse that we have no difficulty placing in the New Testament.
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
There are seven times Jesus spoke on the cross that are recorded in the Gospels. With the pain of breathing that is part of crucifixion, I would imagine there was not a lot being said. Here are the seven last words of Jesus on the cross.
1. Luke 23:34
“Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”
2. Luke 23:43
“I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.”
3. John 19:26-27
“Dear woman, here is your son,”
“Here is your mother.”
4. Matthew 27:46 (also Mark 15:34)
“Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” (“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”).
5. John 19:28
“I am thirsty.”
6. John 19:30
“It is finished!”
7. Luke 23:46
“Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”
We cannot read Psalm 22 without seeing details of the crucifixion of Jesus. Psalm 22 contains minute details of the crucifixion of Jesus that makes it seem that it had been written after the crucifixion of Jesus rather than a thousand years earlier. How could David have known what Jesus would experience?
Psalm 22 speaks of the humility of the one suffering. There is no plea for vengeance in this psalm. And it ends with a world-wide ingathering of the Gentiles. We read this and see Jesus. What was in David’s mind when he wrote this psalm?
Unlike other psalms attributed to David, there is no historical context in his life, that we know of, for this psalm. This psalm speaks of an execution, not just a life-threatening illness. In 1 Samuel 30 the Amalakites raided David’s camp when he and his warriors were away. All the women and children were carried away and David’s warriors were so upset they talked of stoning him. But this psalm is not talking about being stoned to death. Hands and feet are not pierced when you stone someone.
So this is viewed as a prophetic psalm. In Peter’s sermon at Pentecost, he said, (Acts 2:29–30)
“Fellow Israelites, I can tell you confidently that the patriarch David died and was buried, and his tomb is here to this day. 30 But he was a prophet and knew that God had promised him on oath that he would place one of his descendants on his throne.
It is difficult to say what David was thinking when he wrote this psalm, but in writing it, he wrote about something that would only be fulfilled one thousand years later when Jesus went to the cross and suffered the cruel death of crucifixion. David used his prophetic gift to write about an event that would be fulfilled long after he died.
1 My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from saving me,
so far from my cries of anguish?
2 My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer,
by night, but I find no rest.
The first sentence was quoted by Jesus on the cross, but the rest of these two verses are closer to David’s experience and closer to the sentiment in other psalms David wrote.
We can see this sentiment in Psalm 6, one of David’s penitential psalms. Another of his penitential psalms, Psalm 3, was written when his son Absalom rose up in rebellion against him. Whatever the occasion of Psalm 6, David expresses his sense of being distant from God. (Psalm 6:1–6)
Lord, do not rebuke me in your anger
or discipline me in your wrath.
2 Have mercy on me, Lord, for I am faint;
heal me, Lord, for my bones are in agony.
3 My soul is in deep anguish.
How long, Lord, how long?
4 Turn, Lord, and deliver me;
save me because of your unfailing love.
5 Among the dead no one proclaims your name.
Who praises you from the grave?
6 I am worn out from my groaning.
All night long I flood my bed with weeping
and drench my couch with tears.
David often felt distance from God and wrote about this experience in his psalms, but in Psalm 22 he cries out, “Why have you forsaken me?” In this psalm God is not just distant, God is not present.
As Jesus hung on the cross, the Father and Spirit were not just distanced from him, they abandoned Jesus. Jesus was forsaken, alone on the cross.
In verses 3-5 David seeks higher ground so he can be saved.
3 Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One;
you are the one Israel praises.
4 In you our ancestors put their trust;
they trusted and you delivered them.
5 To you they cried out and were saved;
in you they trusted and were not put to shame.
God is the Holy One in whom David’s ancestors put their trust and were saved. David wants to have that same experience now.
But this is not the experience of David as he writes this psalm. Verses 6-8
6 But I am a worm and not a man,
scorned by everyone, despised by the people.
7 All who see me mock me;
they hurl insults, shaking their heads.
8 “He trusts in the Lord,” they say,
“let the Lord rescue him.
Let him deliver him,
since he delights in him.”
Whatever David was thinking about, whatever his experience, we read these verses and see so clearly the experience of Jesus as he was arrested, put on trial, and taken to the cross. Jesus was treated without respect, treated as a worm, not a man. He was scorned. The people rejected him. When given a choice, they choose Barabbas, a cruel murderer, and told Pilate to crucify Jesus.
He was mocked by the Temple guards. He was blindfolded and hit as they taunted him, “Prophecy! Who hit you?” They hurled insults at him on the cross. (Matthew 27:39–43)
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!” 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.’ ”
“If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself.”
These verses in Psalm 22 speak of the humiliation of Jesus as he went to the cross to die for those he loved, even for those who were mocking and beating him.
Verses 9-11 express David’s personal plea for help.
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.
In verses 12-18 the imagery is of the strong closing in on the weak. The many surrounding the one.
12 Many bulls surround me;
strong bulls of Bashan encircle me.
13 Roaring lions that tear their prey
open their mouths wide against me.
The Sanhedrin, the Temple guards, the Roman governor, the Roman appointed king, and the Roman soldiers surrounded Jesus, seeking his death. The world closed in on Jesus, seeking his destruction. The supernatural forces of evil closed in on Jesus, seeking to destroy him.
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.
Jesus was flogged, his back and chest were a bloody mess. He hung on the cross with his blood being poured out. As he suffered the agony of crucifixion, he cried out, “I thirst.” His mouth dried up like a potsherd and his tongue stuck to the roof of his mouth.
16 Dogs surround me,
a pack of villains encircles me;
they pierce my hands and my feet.
Those whose job it was to oversee the crucifixion of criminals surrounded Jesus. They laid him on the rough wood of the cross and drove nails through his wrists and ankles.
17 All my bones are on display;
people stare and gloat over me.
Part of the shame of Roman crucifixion was the public display of the criminal who hung naked on the cross, exposed to public view. There is debate about whether Jesus had an undergarment or not, but even with an undergarment, he hung on the cross, beaten and bloody, desperately trying to be able to breathe, exposed to people who gloated at this man who had presumed to be the Messiah.
18 They divide my clothes among them
and cast lots for my garment.
This is another direct quote from Psalm 22. The accounts of the crucifixion of Jesus speak about the soldiers casting lots to see who would get to take the clothes of Jesus which would be more valuable if they were not torn into pieces and evenly divided.
In verses 19-21 David writes of the helplessness of the one being executed. Only God can help and rescue him.
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.
We don’t know what was happening in the supernatural world when Jesus was crucified, but while Jesus cried out, “Why have you forsaken me?” the Father and the Spirit were not sleeping. They were not inactive. An incredibly powerful battle, full of intrigue and subterfuge was taking place in the supernatural world.
Verses 22-31 shift to an expression of joy.
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.
25 From you comes the theme of my praise in the great assembly;
before those who fear you I will fulfill my vows.
26 The poor will eat and be satisfied;
those who seek the Lord will praise him—
may your hearts live forever!
The Law of Moses encouraged those who vowed some service to God, if their prayer was granted, to fulfil the vow with a sacrifice, followed by a feast. They were not supposed to keep their happiness to themselves and their children. They were supposed to invite their servants and other needy people. And, they must tell the congregation what God had done for them. This is what David wrote in verse 22.
I will declare your name to my people;
in the assembly I will praise you.
The writer of Hebrews saw this psalm as a Messianic psalm and related verse 22 to the Messiah. (Hebrews 2:10–12)
In bringing many sons and daughters to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through what he suffered. 11 Both the one who makes people holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters. 12 He says, [Psalm 22:22]
“I will declare your name to my brothers and sisters;
in the assembly I will sing your praises.”
David comes to the end of his psalm and now in verses 27-31 goes far beyond any earthly king in his prophetic description of the Messiah who was to come.
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.
David was king of the Jewish nation, but this coming Messiah will be king of all the nations, reaching out from the Jews to the Gentiles.
29 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.
The proud rulers of the world, the wealthy and powerful, will be humbled and bow down before him. This is what was expressed in the hymn of the early church that Paul quoted in Philippians 2:9–11
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
David wrote verse 29 one thousand years before the death and resurrection of Jesus. This early hymn of the church was written two thousand years ago. We are still waiting for the fulfillment of this prophecy.
30 Posterity will serve him;
future generations will be told about the Lord.
31 They will proclaim his righteousness,
declaring to a people yet unborn:
Unborn generations will hear about the Lord and his righteousness will be declared. If there are 25 years to a generation, there have been eighty generations born since the death of Jesus who have heard about his birth, life, death, and resurrection.
He has done it!
Psalm 22 ends in triumph. The Lord will not do it, he has done it. And this sense of completion is also part of the experience of Jesus on the cross who took on the sins of the world and at the end said in triumph, “It is finished!”
Psalm 22 began with
1 My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
And it ends with
He has done it!
It is finished!
Jesus said, “It is finished!” but this sermon is not yet finished. Let me conclude with three points: The mystery of the cross, the triumph of the cross, and respecting the cross.
The cross is one of the great mysteries in our Christian faith. If Jesus is God, then we should not be surprised by the spectacular, the miracles associated with his birth, life and death. Angels announced his birth to shepherds in the field. Magi came from the East to worship him. Mary was visited by Gabriel to tell her she would bear the Son of God. Joseph received dreams to lead him and guide him as the husband of Mary and father of Jesus.
Miracles surrounded the life of Jesus as the lame walked, the blind received their sight, lepers were cleansed, demons were cast out, and the dead were brought back to life.
Jesus was crucified and buried in the tomb, but then on the third day he rose from the dead, triumphant as the Risen Lord Jesus.
If Jesus is God, then none of this should surprise us. How could God in the flesh not do spectacular miracles? How could the creator of life be kept lifeless in the tomb?
This is not a mystery. What is a mystery is that God became flesh, was born as a baby in Bethlehem. Augustine wrote in the fourth century about this in his sermons.
Maker of the sun,
He is made under the sun.
In the Father he remains,
From his mother he goes forth.
Creator of heaven and earth,
He was born on earth under heaven.
He is wisely speechless.
Filling the world,
He lies in a manger.
Ruler of the stars,
He nurses at his mother’s bosom.
He is both great in the nature of God,
And small in the form of a servant.
How could God who is present everywhere be contained in an infant? How could God who is all powerful be born as a baby boy, weak and helpless? This is a great mystery.
A second great mystery is the cross. How is it possible that God could die? How is it possible that Jesus who existed for an eternity in relationship with the Father and the Spirit could be separated from that relationship? Jesus cried out from the cross, in the words of Psalm 22, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” How could this be possible?
We stand in awe at this incredible act of love, a mystery we cannot understand, but a loving act that offers us hope in this world of suffering.
There is the mystery of the cross and then the triumph of the cross.
I am reading a book by Brian Zahnd titled, “Water to Wine”. In the beginning of this book he talks about five key words in his understanding of God and what he has done in history. Cross, Mystery, Eclectic, Community, Revolution. As he writes about the Cross, he sees the cross as the Tree of Life in the Garden of Eden. Let me read from his book:
Seen in the light of the Easter dawn, the cross is revealed to be the lost Tree of Life.
In the middle of a world dominated by death, the Tree of Life is rediscovered in the form of a Roman cross. The cross is the act of radical forgiveness that gives sin, violence, and retribution a place to die in the body of Jesus. The world that was born when Adam and Eve in their shame began to blame, the world where violent Cain killed innocent Abel, the world of pride and power that tramples the meek and weak—at the cross that world sinned its sins into Jesus Christ.
And what happens? Jesus forgives. Why? Because God is like that. In the defining moment of the cross Jesus defines what God is really like. God is love—co-suffering, all-forgiving, sin-absorbing, never-ending love. God is not like Caiaphas sacrificing a scapegoat. God is not like Pilate enacting justice by violence. God is Jesus, absorbing and forgiving sin.
At the cross a world of sin is absorbed by the love of God and recycled into grace and mercy. This is what the cross is about! This is what Christianity reveals. Christianity is not about success-in-life sermons where we learn to be “winners” in the competitive game of life.
Life is not a game, life is a gift. Life is not about competition, life is about love. Life is not about winning the game, getting to the top, coming in first—that’s the old world of Cain and Pharaoh and Caesar. The world of cold-blooded competition is the world that kills Christ. In his defining moment Jesus shames the way of Cain, Pharaoh, and Caesar. At the cross Jesus reveals that life is about learning to love, even if you have to die to do it, because you know that beyond death is the love of the Father and resurrection of the dead. This is the cross. This is Christianity.
I recommend this book to you.
We bring our sin to the cross and we receive grace and mercy. We lay down our pride at the cross and we receive life. The cross is like a spiritual ATM. We put in our sin, our mistakes, our failures, our weaknesses – we punch in our account: J E S U S, and we have access to an unlimited supply of grace and mercy. Our account will never be overdrawn. We will never receive a message that we have used up our assets and there is no more to be given. There is no sin that cannot be forgiven. We come to Jesus in repentance and humility and we receive grace and mercy.
This leads to the third point, respecting the cross.
I was once at a communion service where the leader asked everyone to talk to God about a financial problem they were having. We held the bread in our hand and people prayed with great fervor and then the leader said,, “As you eat this bread, in Jesus’ name, you have it!” As we took the communion juice, he told us God would break stagnation in our jobs, help women to have babies, and on and on.
In this service, Jesus hung on the cross, suffering the physical pain of crucifixion, suffering the emotional pain of having been deserted by his disciples, suffering the spiritual pain of the sins of the world, suffering the pain of being separated from the Father and Spirit – Jesus suffered this pain so people could have more money, a child, a promotion at work, more of what the world has to offer.
This is insulting to Jesus. It is disrespectful of the suffering of Jesus on the cross. Picture yourself standing in front of Jesus on the cross. Look at Jesus as he suffers, and then say that he is suffering so you can get a promotion at work. Or you can get a new car. Or you can have a more comfortable, material life.
Jesus did not suffer and die on the cross so you could have a new car, a beautiful home, and a luxurious vacation. Jesus suffered and died on the cross so you could have life.
Paul said he had learned to be content in all circumstances. This did not keep him from praying for healing of what he called “a thorn in my flesh,” but Paul did not claim that Jesus died so he could be healed.
The cross dispenses grace and mercy, not health and wealth.
We are supposed to pray for what we need. It is good to pray for what we think we need – which is often what we want, rather than need. But when we pray about whatever is on our mind and heart, then God can work with us and we can grow from childish faith where we ask, “Daddy can I have this? Mommy, can I have that?” We can grow to adult faith where the Holy Spirit helps us to pray for things that God wants us to have. We begin to pray according to God’s will, not our wants. God gives good gifts to his children. It is good to let God know what you need. God wants us to be blest. But be careful you don’t define “good” by what the world calls good. In the analogy of Jesus being a spiritual ATM, he does not dispense cash, he dispenses grace and mercy.
When we stand and claim the power of the cross to give us this or give us that, we demean Christ, we disrespect Jesus, we trivialize the suffering of Jesus on the cross.
The cross is holy ground. It is a place for the Roman centurion to say, (Mark 15:39) “Surely this man was the Son of God!” It is a place for us to come with our pain and forgive those who have hurt us. It is a place for us to come to lay down all we have and all we are as an offering to God. It is not the place for us to present a shopping list of all the things we want. Children ask Santa Claus for the gifts they want at Christmas; followers of Jesus come to the cross to be rescued by Jesus.
John wrote in his letter, (1 John 2:15–17)
Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. 16 For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world. 17 The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever.
Paul wrote in (Philippians 3:7–9)
But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. 8 What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him,
If you set your heart on the things of the world and use Jesus to try to get them, you will find your heart moving away from Jesus. You may give lip service to Jesus, you may lift your hands in praise when you worship Jesus, you may get the respect of the church as you support the church financially, but your heart will be divided. Your relationship with Jesus will become more institutional and less personal.
The death of Jesus on the cross is a wonderful mystery. It is the scene of triumph. Sin has been absorbed; grace and mercy have been given. Respect Jesus on the cross by living for him. Picture yourself standing on the holy ground in front of Jesus on the cross and then surrender to him all you are, all you have, all you will be. Receive from him grace and mercy and you will be blessed.