Sunday April 26, 2020

Psalm 22

There are three psalms composed by David that are grouped together and present a wonderful disclosure of the work of God through the promised Messiah. Whether or not Ezra was aware of the theme disclosed by these three psalms when he put the book of Psalms together in the format we have in the Old Testament is a matter for debate. Regardless, it certainly appears the Holy Spirit was at work even in the collection of the psalms into their present format. These three psalms are generally known as the Shepherd’s Trilogy and depict three important aspects of the work of Christ as the Shepherd for His people. In Psalm 22 we see what Christ has accomplished in His sacrificial death and resurrection. In Psalm 23 we learn about the present work of Christ in the lives of His people. Then in Psalm 24 we have the declaration of the work of Christ in the future when He returns to the earth to establish the promised kingdom.

Jesus said of Himself: “I am the good Shepherd; the good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.” (John 10:11) He also stated that His death on the cross on behalf of others was not something forced upon Him; but rather, it was the offering of Himself that He freely gave. “No one has taken it away from Me, but I lay it down on My own initiative. I have the authority to lay it down and I have the authority to take it up again.” (John 10:18) The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ as the Good Shepherd was not coerced but rather it was truly a gift of divine grace on behalf of others.

In Psalm 22 we learn more about the cost of this gift of divine grace and the sacrifice made by Jesus Christ as the Good Shepherd. Psalm 22 is characterized as a lament psalm written by David. While David was referring to a circumstance in his own life, possibly when he was running from Saul, the imagery of this psalm graphically depicts the death and resurrection that would happen some 1000 years later to the promised Son of David. This psalm is one of the most quoted psalms in the New Testament and was quoted, at least in part, by the Savior when He was suffering upon the Cross.

Psalm 22 divides into two major sections. In Psalm 22:1-21 there is the Petition of the Messiah and in Psalm 22:22-31, there is the Praise of the Messiah. Typical of all Lament Psalms, this psalm ends on a note of confident hope and praise to the Lord. It is a reminder to each one of us that no matter how overwhelming or impossible our situation may be, nothing is too hard for the Lord!

There is a record of seven statements made by Christ while He was on the cross. The fourth statement made by Him as recorded in the Gospel records is the opening line of Psalm 22. “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me? Far from My deliverance are the words of My groaning.” God the Father had forsaken, that is, removed any comfort or compassion from the Messiah as He cried out upon the cross. Jesus Christ was abandoned by God the Father since He, as the Good Shepherd, was bearing the punishment due to the sheep. He is the substitute, dying in the place of others. In this statement He does not address the divine being as Father because our sin had made a breach in that relationship.

 Yet, God is our Creator and we are still accountable to Him. Christ was abandoned or forsaken because God was pouring out the punishment others deserved on the Good Shepherd. He was experiencing the torment deserved by others. “But the LORD was pleased to crush Him, putting Him to grief; If He would render Himself as a guilt offering…” (Isaiah 53:10)

In verses 2-10 of Psalm 22, the good Shepherd expresses His confident trust in God even though He is being mocked by others because of His repeated affirmation that God is the One who took delight in Him.

“O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer;

And by night, but I have no rest.

Yet You are holy,

O You who are enthroned upon the praises of Israel.

In You our fathers trusted;

They trusted and You did deliver them.

To You they cried out and were delivered;

In You they trusted and were not disappointed.

But I am a worm and not a man,

A reproach of men and despised by the people.

All who see me, sneer at me;

They mock me with the lip, they wag the head saying:

‘Commit Yourself to the LORD; let Him deliver him;

Let Him rescue him, because He delights in him.’

Yet You are He who did bring me forth from the womb;

You did make me trust when upon my mother’s breasts.

Upon You I was cast from birth;

You have been my God from my mother’s womb.”

The gospel record makes it very clear that the religious leaders, the Roman soldiers, the Jewish people and even the two criminals that were crucified with Him, all mock the Lord Jesus Christ for His claims and His trust in God. He was mocked, ridiculed and despised by those who were around Him. He seemed to be forsaken or abandoned by God. Yet, He was being punished for the sins of others rather than any wrong doing on His part.

While suffering on the cross, there was no help or relief rendered to the Savior. His enemies were like powerful devouring beast, who sought to destroy Him. His physical strength was depleted even as they pierced His hands and feet while dividing up His garments among themselves. His only hope for deliverance was from the LORD. In Psalm 22:11-18 we read:

“Be not far from me, for trouble is near;

For there is none to help.

Many bulls have surrounded me;

Strong bulls of Bashan have encircled me.

They open wide their mouth at me,

As a ravening and a roaring lion.

I am poured out like water,

And all my bones are out of joint;

My heart is like wax;

It melts within me.

My strength is dried up like a potsherd,

And my tongue cleaves to my jaws;

And You did lay me in the dust of death.

For dogs have surrounded me;

A band of evildoers has encompassed me;

They pierce my hands and my feet.

I can count all my bones.

They look, they stare at me;

They divide my garments among them,

And for my clothing they cast lots.”

David related his own desperate situation when he was being pursued by his enemies and had no one to help him in his plight. His physical strength was gone and he had little inner fortitude to hang on. Yet he knew that the Lord was the One who brought this upon him. “And You did lay me in the dust of death.” (Psalm 22:15) His circumstance was one in which he was being chastened by the Lord. And in the poetic description that David gave of his own situation, he provided a prophetic picture of the suffering of his descendent, the promised Messiah. The Good Shepherd was surrounded by His enemies. He was poured out like water. His physical strength was gone. It was the Lord who laid Him in the dust of death. There was no one who gave Him any help or deliverance from His suffering.

Now in verses 19 through 21, the tone of the psalm begins to change. These verses are a summary of David’s prayer to the Lord for His help and also serve as a transition from the Petition of the Messiah to the Praise of the Messiah.

“But You, O LORD, be not far off;

O You my Help, hasten to my assistance.

Deliver my soul from the sword,

My only life from the power of the dog.

Save me from the lion’s mouth;

And from the horns of the wild oxen You do answer me.”

David indicated that the prayer he had offered to the Lord was heard and answered. God would not let him be consumed by his enemies. David was delivered by the Lord. He was not forsaken by the God in whom he trusted. Therefore, David offered his praise to the Lord in verses 22-31 of Psalm 22 for the mercy shown to him:

“I will tell of Your name to my brethren;

In the midst of the assembly I will praise You.

You who fear the LORD, praise Him;

All you descendants of Jacob, glorify Him,

And stand in awe of Him, all you descendants of Israel.

For He has not despised nor abhorred the affliction of the afflicted;

Neither has He hid His face from Him;

But when he cried to Him for help, He heard.

From You comes my praise in the great assembly;

I shall pay my vows before those who fear Him.

The afflicted shall eat and be satisfied;

Those who seek Him will praise the LORD.

Let your heart live forever!

All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the LORD,

And all the families of the nations will worship before You.

For the kingdom is the LORD’s

And He rules over the nations.

All the prosperous of the earth will eat and worship,

All those who go down to the dust will bow before Him,

Even he who cannot keep his soul alive.

Posterity will serve Him;

It will be told of the Lord to the coming generation.

They will come and will declare His righteousness

To a people who will be born, that He has performed it.”

Commonly we think of praise as a personal matter. While it is true that our praise is to be a genuine expression of what fills our heart, biblical praise is a corporate expression. When we go to a concert or a sporting event, there are times we are moved by the music or astonished by the performance of an athlete or the team. There is something that grips us. It fills us with such enthusiasm, that we must express it. We turn to those around us and say: “Did you see that?” or “Did you hear that?” “It was amazing!” In reality, those around us did see “that” or hear “that”.  They are also experiencing what we are experiencing. But we want to be sure they join us in our excitement. When we do this, we are expressing biblical praise. We want others to acknowledge and appreciate what is so meaningful to us. So for David, his praise will be offered “in the midst of the assembly” as he causes others to recognize the unique greatness of the Lord who has done such wonderful things for him. (Psalm 22:22) David composed this very psalm as a means for him to recount the mercy and salvation that the Lord had shown to him.

Yet in this praise that David offered to the Lord for his mercy to him; David depicted the unique work of the Lord through the Messiah. By the resurrection, the Good Shepherd is the One who will “tell of Your name to My brethren; and in the midst of the assembly I will praise You.” (Psalm 22:22). So great is the work that the Lord has accomplished through the Good Shepherd, that “All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the LORD, and all the families of the nations will worship before You.” (Psalm 22:27) The Good Shepherd has accomplished what no one can perform for himself. When the disciples asked Jesus who could be saved, He responded: “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” (Matthew 19:26) We are in a hopeless situation in our sin. We do not become acceptable to God because of the good things we try to do or some merit within ourselves. As Paul stated: “If righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died needlessly.” (Galatians 2:21). The death of Christ is a confirmation that no one is good, no one is acceptable to God no matter how much merit one thinks he may have. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the testimony that the work of Christ has accomplished eternal redemption for all who trust in Him. The Good Shepherd has laid down His life for His sheep. As Jesus stated: “My sheep hear My voice and I know them and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them; and they shall never perish, and no one shall snatch them out of My hand.” (John 10:27-28)

The Good Shepherd has accomplished a Righteous Salvation! He is alive forevermore and bestows His blessings upon His people. Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!

“For nothing good have I whereby Your grace to claim

I’ll wash my garments white in the blood of Calvary’s Lamb

Jesus paid it all, all to Him I owe;

Sin had left a crimson stain – He washed it white as snow.”

Soli Deo Gloria!