Jesus, Suffering King
Preached by Jason Abbott, senior pastor
1 My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? / Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning? / 2 O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, / and by night, but I find no rest.
3 Yet you are holy, / enthroned on the praises of Israel. / 4 In you our fathers trusted; / they trusted, and you delivered them. / 5 To you they cried and were rescued; / in you they trusted and were not put to shame.
6 But I am a worm and not a man, / scorned by mankind and despised by the people. / 7 All who see me mock me; / they make mouths at me; they wag their heads; / 8 “He trusts in the Lord; let him deliver him; / let him rescue him, for he delights in him!”
9 Yet you are he who took me from the womb; / you made me trust you at my mother’s breasts. / 10 On you was I cast from my birth, / and from my mother’s womb you have been my God. / 11 Be not far from me, / for trouble is near, / and there is none to help.
12 Many bulls encompass me; / strong bulls of Bashan surround me; / 13 they open wide their mouths at me, / like a ravening and roaring lion.
14 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; / 15 my strength is dried up like a potsherd, / and my tongue sticks to my jaws; / you lay me in the dust of death.
16 For dogs encompass me; / a company of evildoers encircles me; / they have pierced my hands and feet— / 17 I can count all my bones— / they stare and gloat over me; / 18 they divide my garments among them, / and for my clothing they cast lots.
19 But you, O Lord, do not be far off! / O you my help, come quickly to my aid! / 20 Deliver my soul from the sword, / my precious life from the power of the dog! / 21 Save me from the mouth of the lion! / You have rescued me from the horns of the wild oxen!
22 I will tell of your name to my brothers; / in the midst of the congregation I will praise you: / 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! / 24 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.
25 From you comes my praise in the great congregation; / my vows I will perform before those who fear him. / 26 The afflicted shall eat and be satisfied; / those who seek him shall praise the Lord! / May your hearts live forever!
27 All the ends of the earth shall remember / and turn to the Lord, / and all the families of the nations / shall worship before you. / 28 For kingship belongs to the Lord, / and he rules over the nations.
29 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. / 30 Posterity shall serve him; / it shall be told of the Lord to the coming generation; / 31 they shall come and proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn, / that he has done it.
1. What is the psalmist’s story?
I love a good action movie! And, I’m convinced that the plotline for a good action movie is contained in the prayer of the psalmist here. Let me demonstrate:
a. It is a story about conflict and rising tension (vv. 1-18).
First of all, let’s consider the conflict. The psalmist has lots of dangerous enemies. These are some bad guys. What are they like?
- They are the kind of bad guys who mock and who add insults to injuries (vv. 7-8, 17).
These are the worst kind of villains aren’t they?! Think for a moment about the bad guys you love to hate in the movies you’ve seen. The ones who really get under your skin are the ones who mock those they victimize. One “family friendly version” is Johnny Lawerence in The Karate Kid. He’s rich, good looking, popular, and has a bunch of little toadies (i.e. “Put him in a body bag Johnny!”).
Johnny doesn’t simply want to beat-up Daniel Larusso; he wants to demoralize him. He wants to mock Daniel then beat-up Daniel then mock Daniel then beat-up Daniel again! Johnny represents the worst kind of villain to me. This is the kind of villain the psalmist is facing here:
- All who see me mock me; / they make mouths at me; / they wag their heads (v. 7).
- – …they stare and gloat over me (v. 17).
Just a little practical note—don’t be that guy! Don’t be the kind of Christian who goes about taking pleasure in defeating others and then rubbing their faces in it. It is possible to win and yet ultimately lose! And, many Christians have done so through pursuing evangelism or apologetics or church business with mocking arrogance. Rather the love and humility of Christ should characterize all those who follow him.
Another thing about the psalmist’s enemies is that:
- They are the kind of bad guys who are intimidating and whose power seems insurmountable (vv. 12-13, 16).
The psalmist describes them using the imagery of dangerous animals and ominous foes. So he explains that they are like:
- Many bulls [that] encompass me / strong bulls of Bashan [that] surround me (v. 12).
- …a ravening and roaring lion [that opens its mouth] at me (v. 13).
- …dogs [that] encompass me [or] a company of evildoers [who] encircle me (v. 16).
These enemies are not without bite or sting. They encircle the psalmist, and their power is great! They surround the psalmist, and their intentions are malicious. The psalmist faces dangerous enemies!
So, as with any great action movie, the psalmist’s story has antagonists who are creating conflict. And, as with any great action movie, the longer the conflict goes unresolved the more the tension rises, and the tension is most definitely on the rise throughout this psalm. Let’s consider the rising tension here.
- The psalmist feels that God has forsaken him (vv. 1-2), yet he knows that God is powerful enough to save him and has saved his followers in the past (vv. 3-5).So, the tension rises!
- The psalmist recognizes that God has established a relationship of trust with him even from infancy (vv. 9-10), yet his enemies have the upper hand and the psalmist is perishing without God’s help (vv. 11, 14-15). Again, the tension rises!
- Then the darkest moment comes. The psalmist is on the verge of destruction, he explains:
…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 (vv. 16c-18). The tension reaches its peak!
I have been watching a lot of action movies while Natalie and the kids have been in Missouri and, without exception in such movies, things get worse and worse and worse for the protagonist until at the darkest possible moment—where the tension has reached almost unbearable levels—the hero swoops in and saves the day.
The same is true of this psalm:
b. It is a story about God’s faithful salvation (vv. 19-31).
Right when you think the psalmist has had it, God intervenes to save the day. The psalmist might as well be strapped with explosives and tied to a train track as a locomotive fast approaches. Yet, nonetheless, he cries out to God:
…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 (vv. 19-21a)!
Then suddenly there is a change of verb tense. Suddenly God has rescued him! So the psalmist exclaims:
You have rescued me from the horns of the wild oxen (v. 21b)!
Somehow, someway, God has worked salvation for the psalmist. So the psalmist devotes the remainder of the song to praising God’s saving work!
Now doesn’t that sound like the script for a Hollywood blockbuster? There is a needy and overmatched protagonist surrounded by mocking and powerful enemies then just when you think all is lost the hero swoops in to save the day and everyone lives happily-ever-after!
Doesn’t everyone in this psalm live happily-ever-after?
- – The afflicted shall eat and be satisfied; / those who seek him shall praise the Lord! / May your hearts live forever (v. 26)!
- – 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 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 (vv. 27-28).
The psalmist, I believe, stretches his imagination to encompass the great coming day of the Lord, the perfect happily-ever-after day! Yet, there is more to that story than he could know from his vantage point.
So, we must ask:
2. How is the psalmist’s story about Jesus?
Well, the key, I think, to answering this question is to understand the plotline we just outlined above and then to return to the opening line of this psalm. How does the psalmist begin? He begins with this question:
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me (v. 1)?
This is a familiar question for Bible readers. However, this utterance, in Psalm 22, is by far the less notable of the two times it is asked in the Scriptures. The more notable occurrence comes in the first gospel account. There Jesus, from the cross, as he is dying, cries out with a loud voice these words:
“Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46)
Now, please don’t misunderstand me. Jesus quoting the psalmist’s question and using it here does not prove that this psalm is about him. Consider the many times we quote novels or poems or movies to indicate something that is true of a particular situation. Simply quoting them does not make them about us!
However, Jesus’ quoting of Psalm 22 is a clue that helps us recognize how this psalm is really fulfilled in Jesus’ person and in Jesus’ work. You see, Jesus uses this Psalm to direct our attention to the narrative of the psalm (the psalm’s story) in order that we might recognize why the narrative can turn out the way that it does!
Think back with me on the psalmist’s story. He begins by asking God why he has forsaken him. He is being crushed. He is facing horrible enemies. He sees no hope before him. He is at the point of death. In short, the psalmist feels abandoned to the torture and ridicule of the ungodly!
Yet, the worst part for him is that God (Who can save!) will apparently do nothing to help him. Things get worse and worse, but there is no divine intervention. There is no visible rescue. There is no hero to save the day. God, apparently, is not going to lift a finger to help him! “Why Lord?” the psalmist wants to know. “Why have you left me here to die?”
But then, God mysteriously intervenes! Suddenly the psalmist proclaims God’s hand of salvation! We don’t know how. We don’t see the means that God uses to save, but, nonetheless, God rescues the psalmist from destruction! Suddenly, it is clear that God has not in the least forsaken this man who was in dire need! God has not abandoned him!
Why? Why has God not abandoned him?
And with this question, you see, we have arrived at the place from which we can view Christ Jesus in the psalmist’s story! Now we can answer the question: How is this psalmist’s story about Jesus Christ?
The only reason for the psalmist’s life’s happy ending is Jesus’s life’s unhappy ending on the cross. God had not and would not forsake his child, the psalmist, or you or me because he would forsake his Son in our place. God would not hand us over to the enemy because he would instead hand over Jesus Christ!
Sometimes we feel like the psalmist that God has abandoned us. He has not! Jesus’ cross tells us this. You may not know why God seems absent but you can know what such a feeling of separation cannot mean. It cannot mean that God doesn’t love you. For he loves you so much that he gave his Son (John 3:16)!