“Why Have You Forsaken Me?”
March 24, 2016
God has not despised the affliction of the afflicted.
Part 1. Psalm 22:12-21
Part 2. Psalm 22:6-11
Part 3: Psalm 22:1-5
Part 4: Psalm 22:22-29
Explanation: Introduction and explanation of structure
How many times have you said or heard the phrase “Jesus died on the cross for your sins?” It’s very true, but repetition and lack of detail can trivialize the central event in human history. “Jesus was tortured to death by one of the cruelest murder instruments ever devised, for your appalling sins.” That’s more true.
Tonight we’re going to look at the crucifixion, remember Jesus’ body broken and his blood shed, and look forward to the resurrection. We’ll do that primarily through Psalm 22, the most graphic description of crucifixion in Scripture, written hundreds of years before crucifixion was even invented. It predicts with amazing accuracy the details of crucifixion, but it does not reveal them in the order they happened to Jesus. The Psalm itself is written as three sections, each of which is a cry to God, followed by words of confidence in God. The prophetic details of the crucifixion are found in the cry-to-God sections, but these don’t mirror the sequence of events revealed the Gospels.
I debated this, but finally decided to preach the chronological sequence of the Gospel of Matthew, shuffling the sections of the Psalm to match. So tonight people will come and read a section of Matthew, and then the corresponding section of Psalm 22. I’ll give a brief explanation, showing the relationship between what was prophesied and what came to pass, and then we will respond with one or two songs worship. At an appropriate point we will share the Lord’s Supper. We’ll begin with Psalm 22;12-21 and Matthew 27:32-38. If the people who have those readings, along with the supplemental readings in John can come forward, we’ll turn our hearts to God’s word.
12Many bulls encompass me; strong bulls of Bashan surround me;
13they open wide their mouths at me, like a ravening and roaring lion.
14I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint;
my heart is like wax; it is melted within my breast;
15my strength is dried up like a potsherd,
and my tongue sticks to my jaws; you lay me in the dust of death.
16For dogs encompass me; a company of evildoers encircles me;
they have pierced my hands and feet—
17I can count all my bones— they stare and gloat over me;
18they divide my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots.
19But you, O Lord, do not be far off!
O you my help, come quickly to my aid!
20Deliver my soul from the sword,
my precious life from the power of the dog!
21Save me from the mouth of the lion!
You have rescued me from the horns of the wild oxen!
Matthew 27:32-38 As they went out, they found a man of Cyrene, Simon by name. They compelled this man to carry his cross. 33And when they came to a place called Golgotha (which means Place of a Skull), 34they offered him wine to drink, mixed with gall, but when he tasted it, he would not drink it. 35And when they had crucified him, they divided his garments among them by casting lots. 36Then they sat down and kept watch over him there. 37And over his head they put the charge against him, which read, “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.” 38Then two robbers were crucified with him, one on the right and one on the left.
John 19:23-24 When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took his garments and divided them into four parts, one part for each soldier; also his tunic. But the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom, 24so they said to one another, “Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it to see whose it shall be.” This was to fulfill the Scripture which says, “They divided my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots.” So the soldiers did these things,
John 19:28-30 After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), “I thirst.” 29A jar full of sour wine stood there, so they put a sponge full of the sour wine on a hyssop branch and held it to his mouth. 30When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.
John 19:31-34 Since it was the day of Preparation, and so that the bodies would not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day), the Jews asked Pilate that their legs might be broken and that they might be taken away. 32So the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first, and of the other who had been crucified with him. 33But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. 34But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water. 35He who saw it has borne witness—his testimony is true, and he knows that he is telling the truth—that you also may believe. 36For these things took place that the Scripture might be fulfilled: “Not one of his bones will be broken.” 37And again another Scripture says, “They will look on him whom they have pierced.”
Explanation: The agonizing detail of the prophecy
This middle section of Psalm 22 depicts the physical torment of the crucifixion. In verse 12, the Psalmist, the Messiah, describes being surrounded by enemies. Jesus experienced this. Earlier in Matthew 27 the traitorous crowd cried for his crucifixion, and called down his blood on their heads. The Roman soldiers mocked him with thorns, with spitting and beating.
And all that was before he was crucified. Verse 14 shows his torment “I am poured out like water; all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax; it is melted within my breast.” On a cross most of your weight is supported by the nails in your hands and feet. Lifting yourself to breathe is agony. You’re being torn apart, your heart straining to pump, your lungs gasping, your strength gone. The verse also implies thirst, which John says fulfilled Scripture, partly Psalm 22 but more closely Psalm 69:21, “for my thirst they gave me sour wine.”
Verse 16 depicts the crowd of enemies and mockers around the foot of the cross, and then gives one of the most specific examples of the horror of crucifixion: “they have pierced my hand and feet.” The Gospels don’t provide this level of detail, but everyone in Roman culture would have a graphic knowledge of this. We know they pierced him with nails because after the resurrection he showed the scars. Somehow we can begin to imagine what it would be like to have a nail driven through our hand, and we recoil from the very beginning of his pain.
Verse 17, “I can count all my bones,” may refer simply to the agony that racked the Messiah’s body stretched by gravity on the cross. It may also be talking about the fact that when the Romans wanted a crucifixion victim to die quickly, they would break his legs. The victim could no longer raise himself to breathe, and would die of asphyxiation. But when they came to Jesus he was already dead, so they did not break his bones. Again, there is a detailed prophecy of this in Psalm 34:20 “he kept all his bones, not one of them is broken.”
Verse 18 is another amazing prophecy of this crucifixion: “they divide my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots.” That’s exactly what the Roman soldiers did, with no knowledge of Psalm 22. All these other prophetic fulfillments aside, what are the odds that someone would guess, hundreds of years in advance this detail of the Messiah’s suffering? Infinitesimally small.
Verse 19 begins one of the confidence sections. The messiah recounts all this that is happening to him, but then, with a mixture of petition and confidence, calls out to God. “Oh Lord, be my help, deliver my soul from the sword, my life from the dogs, save me from the lion.” Then, with confidence expressed in a change of tense, “you have rescued me from the horns of the wild oxen.
And so there are two things to take away from this first look at the Psalm. The first is the impossible, supernatural accuracy of this prophetic picture, the suffering of the Messiah. The second is the suffering itself, the agonizing torture that the sinless Christ bore and endured and chose on our behalf.
6But I am a worm and not a man,
scorned by mankind and despised by the people.
7All 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!”
9Yet you are he who took me from the womb;
you made me trust you at my mother’s breasts.
10On you was I cast from my birth,
and from my mother’s womb you have been my God.
11Be not far from me, for trouble is near, and there is none to help.
Matthew 27:39-44 And those who passed by derided him, wagging their heads 40and saying, “You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.” 41So also the chief priests, with the scribes and elders, mocked him, saying, 42“He saved others; he cannot save himself. He is the King of Israel; let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. 43He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he desires him. For he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’” 44And the robbers who were crucified with him also reviled him in the same way.
Explanation: the human betrayal of the cross
The previous section focused on the physical agony and torture of the cross. This shorter section focuses on the emotional betrayal represented by the cross, and again it is very prophetic. The Messiah, in Psalm 22:6 says that he is a worm and not a man. In other words, he is regarded as a worm, as less than human.
We’ve already seen that this is true in the way he was treated by the crowds before Pilate and by the Roman soldiers. It’s one thing to condemn a man to death, it’s another to mock and scorn him on his way to execution. But such cruelty was common in the Roman empire, as it was in the French Reign of Terror, and in the Nazi concentration camps, and in so many other places.
The Messiah is scorned by mankind, despised by the people. Verse 7, “All who see me mock me; they make mouths at me; they wag their heads.” The NIV says “they hurl insults, shaking their heads.” I’m sure by now many of you have thought of Isaiah 53, the other major Old Testament description of crucifixion: “He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. 4Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.” Psalm 22 and Isaiah 53 depict the Messiah’s physical and emotional suffering.
Verse 8 reveals the words of these mockers “He trusts in the Lord; let him deliver him; let him rescue him, for he delights in him!” This is, of course, exactly what we hear on the lips of the chief priests, scribes and elders. With ironic scorn, they say “He saved others; he cannot save himself.” The irony is that if he had saved himself, which he certainly could have, he would not have saved others. They say “He is the King of Israel; let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him.” Do you catch the mockery? They blame Jesus for their own disbelief. Finally, they quote the Psalm “He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he desires him. For he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’” It’s hard to tell what is more damning of these mockers. If they are so ignorant of Scriptures that they quote it unconsciously, then truly they are incompetent shepherds. But if they quote Psalm 22 in scorn, they are throwing God’s prophecy back in his face. “Here’s what the prophet said we would say, and you can’t do a thing about it because you’re not who you said.”
So it’s not only physical torture that we see at the cross. Jesus is fully human. To be deserted by his disciples, betrayed by the Sanhedrin and those considered to be godly among his people, condemned by the crowd who only days before had acclaimed him, taunted by the soldiers of the seemingly invincible Roman empire, despised by passers-by and even by the guilty thieves crucified with him, and then to be cruelly mocked by those who had rejected and convicted him, this had to be almost as much emotional torment as physical torture.
Yet even at this point the Messiah trusts God. “Yet you are he who took me from the womb; you made me trust you at my mother’s breasts. 10On you was I cast from my birth, and from my mother’s womb you have been my God.”
These words are more true of Jesus than any other man. Jesus is the only one ever born of a woman but conceived by the Holy Spirit. He fully participates in humanity, but never gives in to the sin that all others willingly embrace. At age twelve he knows he has to be about his Father’s business in His Father’s house. From the womb God the Father had been both God and Father to him.
So he says “Be not far from me, for trouble is near, and there is none to help.” There is no one so helpless as the crucified. Physically tortured and nailed to the wood, he can do nothing. Condemned by those who should have received him, there is no one to help. He is as alone as any man, ever, and the emotional desolation is as real as the physical. Yet he refuses to help himself, to summon the power that created the universe, to reject his torment and his tormentors. It is a love stronger than their hate or their nails that holds him to the wood.
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?
2O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest.
3Yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel.
4In you our fathers trusted; they trusted, and you delivered them.
5To you they cried and were rescued;
in you they trusted and were not put to shame.
Matthew 27:45-46 Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour. 46And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
Explanation: The spiritual impact of the cross,
The beginning of the Psalm is spoken by Jesus near the end of the crucifixion, as the physical, emotional and spiritual agony of the cross reaches its peak. We’ve explored the physical agony and its emotional component, but the spiritual agony was the most significant that dark day. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?” Some theologians have recently denied that Jesus could really be forsaken. They point to the confidence sections of the Psalm, especially the end, and say this cry looked forward to victory, even to resurrection.
There is some truth in that. Jesus knew that this death would lead to life not only for him but for others. He knew even on the cross that having taken on himself wrath and punishment, he could still trust the Father. “It is finished,” he said, and “into your hands I commit my spirit.” But some take this too far and deny the plain meaning of the quote, saying that the Son was not in any sense abandoned by the Father, did not bear the wrath we deserved. He spoke these words only to assure us that the Father cares for us as he cared for him, even in death. Nice thought, maybe, for those who think God needs to be defended if he violates the political correctness of our culture, but this thought is not the Gospel. It denies the heart of the agony Jesus willingly embraced for us.
The simple truth, not trivial at all, is that Jesus died on the cross for our sins. He bore our sin, as Peter says, in his body on the tree that we might die to sins and live to righteousness. He did this willingly and knowingly. When Jesus prayed in the Garden, he asked that ‘this cup’ might be removed. The Old Testament shows that this is the cup of God’s wrath, poured out on sinners. When Jesus said, ‘not as I will, but as you will,’ he was accepting that he himself would have to take the cup of God’s wrath poured out full strength. Galatians teaches that he became cursed for us and 2nd Corinthians teaches that ‘God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that we might become righteous.’
This was the spiritual agony of the cross. He not only bore our sin, he became sinful with our sin, became a curse, bore our wrath. In those moments Jesus was in hell, not as a physical place of torment, but in being forsaken by the Father. Isaiah teaches that our sins separate us from God. In that moment Jesus was separated and suffered the ultimate penalty of sin, for us. No one, I believe, can comprehend that spiritual agony, the separation of a Father and a Son who had forever been one in the Godhead, whose very essence was one. That was the unimaginable price God chose to pay because of the length and width, the height and depth of his love for us. And that foresakeness, though only a moment of our time was I believe in some sense, eternal. God, I think, forever experiences that moment of separation. Just as the scars are still on Jesus’s hands from the physical crucifixion, so that scar of love is ever on his heart.
Invitation to communion
When Paul gives the words of the Lord’s Supper, he ends by saying that whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup you proclaim the Lord’s death, until he comes. The resurrection is implied in the little phrase ‘until he comes,’ but the sacrifice, the suffering, and the death are the focus. And so tonight we’ve seen in Psalm 22 and in the Gospels ‘his body, broken’ and ‘his blood, shed.’
We’ve see that agony in the physical and emotional and spiritual suffering of the Lord. By his death he paid the price of our sins, became our substitute, bore the wrath, the punishment and the separation due us because of our sin. Now he offers us forgiveness and new life, the presence and fruit of his Holy Spirit, his own presence with us, and eternity. But these things are not ours until we take hold of his salvation by faith. The Greek word is pistis, the noun faith, or pisteuo, the verb believe, or trust. I took a moment to ask my Bible program how often these words are used. Together? Over 500 times.
Faith is incredibly important. Yet it is child-simple. The Philippian jailer asks Paul, “What must I do to be saved?” Paul says “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.” That’s it. Jesus says “this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” All the New Testament writers agree: you take hold of the salvation Jesus purchased on the cross by faith. Turn from sin, turn from self, and believe. No works, no merit, no goodness. Just a recognition of your guilt and trust that he died to pay the penalty of it. I encourage you today, young or old, whether this is the first time you’ve heard it, or the hundredth, believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.
And just as believing is the only door to forgiveness, so too it is the only requirement for communion. We’re going to worship a little bit more, and then we’ll pass the bread. We hold it and then take it together. We’ll pass the cup and take it together. And anyone, whether a regular attender or a first time visitor, can participate, if you have believed on Jesus. But if you haven’t yet believed, we ask you to let the bread and cup pass. But all of us can use this time to contemplate the physical, emotional and spiritual sacrifice of Jesus the Christ.
22I will tell of your name to my brothers;
in the midst of the congregation I will praise you:
23You who fear the Lord, praise him! All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him,
and stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel!
24For 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.
25From you comes my praise in the great congregation;
my vows I will perform before those who fear him.
26The afflicted shall eat and be satisfied;
those who seek him shall praise the Lord! May your hearts live forever!
27All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord,
and all the families of the nations shall worship before you.
28For kingship belongs to the Lord, and he rules over the nations.
29All 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.
30Posterity shall serve him; it shall be told of the Lord to the coming generation;
31they shall come and proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn,
that he has done it.
Explanation: this is the victory
Proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn, that he has done it! The last part of the Psalm is, formally, the third confidence in God section. But this one is longer and more celebratory. And since the Psalmist’s voice is the Messiah’s voice, it celebrates the rest of the story, the resurrection and reign of Jesus. Verse 22, for example, says “I will tell of your name to my brothers; in the midst of the congregation I will praise you.” This is quoted in Hebrews, in the New Testament, where the author celebrates the sacrifice, resurrection and exaltation of Jesus. He shows that Jesus who saved and sanctified us, now so identifies with us that he calls us his brothers, and by extension, sisters.
So this last section is really about the ways the resurrected Messiah is honored and is at work. Verse 23 praises the Lord, probably God the Father, and verse 24 tells us it is because “he has not despised or abhorred the affliction of the afflicted,” This is the affliction of his Son, the Messiah who went through this agony for his brothers. God did not, in the end, hide his face from Jesus, but has heard his cry and, we know, vindicated him through the resurrection.
In verse 25 the Messiah, in turn, praises God in the midst of the congregation, his brothers and sisters who believe, and he promises that in faithfulness he will perform his vows, keep his promises. He says “The afflicted will eat and be satisfied.” I think we are the afflict at this point. Jesus is the bread of life, and he sustains us. We eat and are satisfied. He offers living water to quench our deepest thirst. And thus our hearts will live forever, a promise of eternal life.
And it goes on. Only through the resurrection of Jesus is it possible, verse 27 for “all the ends of the earth to remember and turn to the Lord, and all the families of the nations to worship before him.”
Jesus has been given power and dominion, kingship over all the nations. He himself said that the gospel of the Kingdom would be preached to all nations before the end. In Revelation we see the redeemed from every tribe and tongue and people and nation. Verse 29 tells that this worship includes both the rich and the poor, the prosperous and the one who could not even keep himself alive. And, verses 30 and 31 the spread of the good news will not just be through the geography of the whole world but to coming generations, to people yet unborn. Why? Because he has done it. God has himself, in Jesus, paid the price and taken the wrath that our sin deserved. Yet it doesn’t end there. His unfathomable sacrifice leads to his unfathomable victory over sin and death, his resurrection and his reign. It’s Friday, but Sundays coming.