Seeing Jesus in Psalm 22

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In my message this past weekend, “The Suffering Messiah,” I mentioned how Psalm 22 is one of the most, if not the most, quoted and alluded to psalms in the New Testament. This is both  Psalm 22 is brought into close connection with Jesus’ work upon the Cross, particularly His exclamation of the first words of the psalm, quoted in both Mark and Matthew:

About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, ‘Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?’ (which means ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’). (Matthew 27:46)

When Jesus’ quotes that first phrase of the psalm from the Cross, He is telling His hearers something about His mission not just from that first verse, but in connection with the entire content of Psalm 22. As Bible scholar James Luther Mays says, “Citing the first words of a text was, in the tradition of the time, a way of identifying the entire passage.”[1] Jesus is helping us see that Psalm 22 is a description of His life mission and ministry work.

When we look at Psalm 22 Christologically, we see echoes again and again of Jesus’ life mission and the gospel.

At the Cross, Jesus faced humanity’s distance from God, something we have already heard in Jesus’ cry of dereliction, quoting Psalm 22:1, as recorded in both Mark 15:34; Matthew 27:46.

At the Cross, Jesus faced opponents, both human & demonic. [2] When Psalm 22:7 says, “All who see me mock me; they hurl insults, shaking their heads,” Matthew writes of Jesus on the Cross, “Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads” (Matt 27:39; cf. Mark 15:29).

When Psalm 22:15 says, “My mouth is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth,” John writes of Jesus on the cross, “so that Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, ‘I am thirsty’” (John 19:28).

When Psalm 22:18 tells us, “They divide my clothes among them and cast lots for my garment,” Luke writes, “And they divided up his clothes by casting lots” (Luke 23:34; cf. Mark 15:24; Matt 27:35; John 19:23-24).

It is not just the crucifixion that is referenced in Psalm 22, but also the resurrection, where God delivered Jesus from death and won praise from the nations.

When Psalm 22:24 says, “[God] has not hidden his face from the afflicted one but has listened to his cry for help,” the writer to the Hebrews describes Jesus’ resurrection in this way, “[Jesus] offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard” (Hebrews 5:7).

When Psalm 22:27 speaks of the Messiah winning praise from the nations, “all the nations…will turn to the Lord,” Jesus tells His disciples, “you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8; cf. Matthew 28:18-20).

And when Psalm 22:31 concludes with “He [God] has done it!”, Jesus speaks at the end of His ordeal upon the Cross, “It is finished!” (John 19:30).

When we read Psalm 22 with the eyes of Advent, we find a psalm that spoke of the Israelite king being delivered now gains deeper meaning for us about Jesus as the Messiah.

Now, we can praise God for His deliverance of Jesus, the true Messiah, from death. Because of God’s faithful deliverance of Jesus, we know He will also be faithful to us, His people.

 


[1] James Luther Mays, Psalms (Louisville, KY: John Knox Press, 1994), 105.

[2] See other parallels: Ps 22:6 and Matt 27:29; Ps 22:16 and Mark 15:25; John 20:25.

The Suffering Servant: Advent Devotional, Week 2

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Read Psalm 22

One of the most memorable events of my life was seeing my grandfather, a person I respected greatly, enter into a battle with cancer at the end of his life. While he retained great dignity to the end, his body became worn out and drawn thin. When we see people of strength in our lives go through times of suffering, it is a difficult thing to watch.

Of all the psalms connected with Jesus, perhaps the most penetrating is Psalm 22. This psalm of anguish and suffering serves as a backdrop for Jesus’ crucifixion, the first phrases leaping from His lips while He hangs affixed to that tortuous wood. There is a wonder here because the chosen one, anointed by God and by His Spirit, now enters into the suffering of humanity. He endures both the suffering humanity deserves and the suffering humanity inflicts. The intensity of the cup of suffering that Jesus drinks at the Cross finds expression in the strong words of this psalm.

It is ironic that the political and religious leaders who gather around to watch Jesus’ crucifixion mock Him as He suffers. “They said, ‘He saved others; let him save himself if he is God’s Messiah, the Chosen One’” (Luke 23:35). They seem to delight in the suffering of this supposed Messiah, even as Jesus’ followers hide away in fear or lurk nearby in anguish. This is ironic because even as they mock, the Jewish belief structure of Jesus’ time earnestly anticipated a messiah figure to relieve their suffering under the oppression of the Roman regime. As happens to all of us, they failed to see that what they most need is right in front of them.

Advent may seem like an odd time to focus on Psalm 22. The theme and words seem more like a Good Friday portion of Scripture. Yet the anticipation of Advent calls us to a watchful attention of the way that God works. Even before the foundations of the earth, God had a plan to reveal His glory in Christ and to bring us back to Him through the suffering of Jesus. “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us” (Ephesians 1:7-8a).

As we continue our Advent journey, may the suffering of Jesus the Messiah, described in Psalm 22, give us hope that God has come to rescue us. And may we meet that hope with faith as we live for God and wait for Christ’s return. R

REFLECTION QUESTIONS FOR THE SECOND SUNDAY OF ADVENT:

  1. “The Lord works in mysterious ways” is a phrase we often hear. In what way was the arrival and suffering of Jesus a mysterious path of God? And in what way would you say it all made sense?
  2. As you reflect on the birth stories of Jesus from the Gospels, where do you see His purpose and suffering anticipated? What is your reaction to God’s long-planned and perfectly-executed plan for our salvation?

FAMILY TALK WEEK 2

INTENDED FOR FAMILIES WITH YOUNG CHILDREN

When park rangers rescue someone from a mountaintop or deep in a canyon, they have to do a short-haul rescue operation. This means that they y a helicopter as close as possible to the rescue site, then one ranger straps on a harness and is let out of the helicopter on a cable. The ranger dangles over the rescue site and eventually lands near the person to be rescued. The ranger links his harness to the stranded person, and together they are pulled back toward the helicopter where they can be safe.

Short-haul rescues are really dangerous! Park rangers who do them know that they are risking their own lives to save someone else’s.

This is exactly what Jesus did—but so much more! Jesus did lay down His life in order to save us. This is the whole point of the Savior Song in Psalm 22. Even though it was written hundreds of years before Jesus came to earth, this psalm gives clues about Jesus’ suffering and death on the cross. It tells us that Jesus would feel all alone (verse 1-2), that He would be made fun of (verses 6-8), that His body would be weak and broken (verses 14-17) and it even tells us that soldiers would play games for His cloak (verse 18). It’s a sad picture!

But, it’s also a hopeful picture. Jesus loved us enough to rescue us—to take the punishment for our sins! Like the short-haul rescuer, he links Himself to us and brings us to safety! We know that Jesus rose again, and those of us who trust Him, will rise to live forever with Him!

[This is part of the Eastbrook Church 2019 Advent devotional, “Songs of the Savior.”]

C. S. Lewis on God’s Gift-Love

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I preached this past weekend at Eastbrook about “Prayer as Living within the Power and Love of God” from Ephesians 3:14-20. Thinking about the love of God is something I never tire of. Although it didn’t make it into the sermon, I was reminded of this quotation from from C. S. Lewis in The Four Loves:

God is love….[and] This…love is Gift-love. In God there is no hunger that needs to be filled, only plenteousness that desires to give….God, who needs nothing, loves into existence wholly superfluous creatures in order that He may love and perfect them. He creates the universe, already foreseeing…the buzzing cloud of flies about the cross, the flayed back pressed against the uneven stake, the nails driven through the mesial nerves, the repeated incipient suffocation as the body droops, the repeated torture of back and arms as it is time after time, for breath’s sake, hitched up. If I may dare the biological image, God is a ‘host’ who deliberately creates His own parasites; causes us to be that we may exploit and ‘take advantage of’ Him. Herein is love. This is the diagram of Love Himself, the inventor of all loves.[1]


[1] C. S. Lewis, The Four Loves (New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1960), 175-6.

Retelling Scripture: Pär Lagerkvist’s Barabbas

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In the gospel telling of Jesus’ journey to the cross, one small character catches our attention for an instant and then disappears from the rest of the biblical account. We read about him in Matthew 27:15-26:

15 Now it was the governor’s custom at the festival to release a prisoner chosen by the crowd. 16 At that time they had a well-known prisoner whose name was Jesus Barabbas. 17 So when the crowd had gathered, Pilate asked them, “Which one do you want me to release to you: Jesus Barabbas, or Jesus who is called the Messiah?” 18 For he knew it was out of self-interest that they had handed Jesus over to him….

21 “Which of the two do you want me to release to you?” asked the governor.

“Barabbas,” they answered.

22 “What shall I do, then, with Jesus who is called the Messiah?” Pilate asked.

They all answered, “Crucify him!”

In his novel, Barabbas (1950), Swedish novelist and Nobel Prize Laureate, Pär Lagerqvist grabs ahold of that brief mention of an infamous character and builds it into a powerful retelling of Barabbas’ life. Tracing Barabbas’ story from the moment of the exchange, and then working both backward to his earlier life and forward through his unfolding years, Lagerkvist offers a compelling picture of how Barabbas’ life was affected by his literal replacement by Jesus in crucifixion. Characters, some biblical and some not, weave in and out of Barabbas’ life as he lives in Jerusalem and beyond as a man haunted by the life he has received back as a gift, yet which at times feels like a curse.

In one particularly poignant scene, Lagerqvist opens wide Barabbas’ grappling with the story of Jesus, in a heated exchange with one of the early Christ-followers. Barabbas begins the exchange:

—The Son of Man?
—Yes. That’s what he called himself.
—The Son of Man . . . ?
—Yes. So he said. But some believe . . . No, I can’t say it.
Barabbas moved closer to him.
—What do they believe?
—They believe . . . that he is God’s own son.
—God’s son!
—Yes . . . But surely that can’t be true, it’s almost enough to make on afraid. I would really much rather he came back as he was.
Barabbas was quite worked up.
—How can they talk like that! he burst out. The son of God! The son of God crucified! Don’t you see that’s impossible!
—I said that it can’t be true. And I’ll gladly say it again if you like.
—What sort of lunatics are they who believe that? Barabbas went on, and the scar under his eye turned dark red, as it always did when there was anything the matter. The son of God Of course he wasn’t! Do you imagine the son of God comes down into the earth? And starts going around preaching in your native countryside!
—Oh . . . why not? It’s possible. As likely there as anywhere else. Its’ a humble part of the world, to be sure, but he had to begin somewhere.

Some retellings of biblical stories fall dramatically flat, turning the characters we know well into two-dimensional plaster saints. However, Lagerqvist’s rendering of Barabbas’ life opens the biblical story in a way that breathes life into hidden passageways of the Bible. He leads us into deeper reflection on the significance of Jesus’ journey to the cross and what it might have been like within the earliest Christian community, as they wrestled with who Jesus was and what He accomplished. All the while, Lagerkvist forces us as the readers to grapple with the nature of God and what God might mean for us as human beings journeying through life upon this earth.