Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Sermon: Psalm 22 Scripture Fulfilled - The Suffering Saviour

God, where are you? Can you hear me? Will you answer me? Don’t you see? Don’t you care? I wonder if you’ve ever said words like these - or ever felt them in your heart. They’re the cries of the heartbroken. The sorrows of suffering. And as you go through the experience of suffering, it feels as if God has forsaken you. He doesn’t answer. He doesn’t act. You feel all alone.

Tonight, we hear the same words on the lips of Jesus. We see this forsakenness in the experience of the Son. And as we glimpse, through the darkness at the desolation, so we find our comfort and our hope through the forsaken one.

In Matthew 27:45-46, we read these words: ‘From the sixth hour until the ninth hour darkness came over al the land. About the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”’ That cry of Jesus is the first line of our Psalm this evening.

And as you scan the Psalm quickly, it’s clear that so many of the details match up with the events of the crucifixion. The mockery of verses 7&8. Bones out of joint, and on display of verses 14 and 17. The thirst of verse 15. The dividing and casting of lots for the clothing in verse 18.

If you had never read this Psalm before, you would probably think it was an eyewitness testimony written down on the day of the crucifixion; or a record of what the crucified one said - written down afterwards. But this isn’t a newspaper report from the Jerusalem Times the next day. This is a Psalm, part of the Old Testament, written down a thousand years before the crucifixion, written down (as the title reminds us) by David, the great-great-great-... grandfather of Jesus.

That’s why we’re looking at this Psalm tonight, in this week of weeks. You see, this week we’re recalling the words of Jesus on the first Easter evening: ‘Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.’ (Luke 24:44). Jesus says that the whole Old Testament is about him, and points forward to his crucifixion and resurrection. So far, we’ve been in the Law of Moses - hearing the promise of the serpent crusher, who would defeat the power of the devil though wounded by him; and hearing how the redemption of the Israelite slaves from Egypt in the Passover points to Christ our Passover Lamb, where there is safety and redemption under his shed blood.

Tonight we turn to the Psalms, and Psalm 22 as it predicts (in the words of the apostle Peter) the ‘sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow.’ (1 Pet 1:11). The sufferings are plain to see, front and centre, from the opening verse which is quoted by Jesus on the cross. By mentioning the first verse here, it seems as if Jesus is linking the whole Psalm to his experience of the cross. So what do we find in the Psalm? How do David’s words tell of his experience? And what does it tell us of Jesus’ sufferings?

You’ll notice that the Psalm switches from David speaking of himself, to addressing God - particularly with the ‘yet’ (3, 9), and the but (6, 19). There are three sets of this pattern, with an increasing desperation each time.

Set one: The forsaken one (1-5). David asks that haunting question - ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ There’s no answer to the question, which is the big problem. David cries out to God, by day, by night, but there’s no answer, he finds no rest.

He just can’t understand his experience - as he turns to address God directly in verse 3. ‘Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One...’ He reminds God of how God has always answered his peoples’ cries before - throughout their history, they trusted you delivered; they cried and were saved. They trusted and were not put to shame.

That word shame provokes the second set of the pattern. It begins in verse 6. ‘But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by everyone, despised by the people.’ They don’t just despise him, they also mock him. ‘He trusts in the Lord, let the Lord rescue him. Let him deliver him, since he delights in him.’

There’s a special suffering in being identified with the Lord. And the crowds at the foot of the cross used these very words as verbal blows on the crucified Jesus: ‘He trusts in God. Let God rescue him now if he wants him, for he said, “I am the Son of God.”’ (Matt 27:43).

These taunts are especially terrible because of the closeness of his relationship with God. We see this as he turns again to talk directly to God in verse 9: ‘Yet you brought me out of the womb; you made me trust in you, even at my mother’s breast... from my mother’s womb you have been my God.’ So because of this close relationship, this nearness we’ve always had, then verse 10: ‘Do not be far from me, for trouble is near and there is no one to help.’ You’ve always been near, God, but now you’re far and trouble is near. Help me!

As the pattern repeats again from verse 12, we see why there is no one to help. As David describes his suffering - whatever it was he was going through - he perfectly describes his greater son’s suffering on the cross. No one to help, because ‘Many bulls surround me; strong bulls of Bashan encircle me.’

It’s like the walker who had climbed over a gate when the farmer shouts at him, asking if he thinks he can run across the field in 9 seconds. Why, he replies, well, because the bull can do it in 10 seconds. One bull would be bad enough, but the people surrounding David are described as strong bulls encircling. Being surrounded by hostile people. As well as bulls, they are also described as roaring lions, mouths open wide against him.

Verse 14 paints a vivid picture of the position of the crucified - poured out like water; bones out of joint; heart turned to wax, melted within me. Add to that the dryness of mouth in verse 15 - remember that Jesus says in John 19:28 ‘I thirst.’ The dryness and dust of death is an apt picture of this longing.

The sufferings of the crucified one continue, though. Surrounded by dogs (not the well groomed Crufts type or your friendly pampered pooch at home, but more the wild pack dogs - another picture of the mob), the villains encircle - ‘they pierce my hands and my feet.’ Whatever David had experienced, he again gets the details of the crucifixion of Jesus spot on. (Crucifixion hadn’t even been invented when David wrote this Psalm).

Hands and feet pierced, stretched out on the cross, all his bones are on display, people staring and gloating. And then the ultimate humiliation. ‘They divide my clothes among them and cast lots for my garment.’ John 19:23-24 describes how this happened - the four soldiers in the group each getting a share, and his seamless tunic going to the winner of the cast lots.

In his death, Jesus had nothing. On Monday evening, we didn’t pick up on it, but as God sent Adam and Eve out of the garden, he replaced their fig leaf coverings with clothes of animal skins. An animal died to provide them with covering. We will one day be clothed in the white robes of righteousness - provided for us by the Christ who hung on the cross naked. He was stripped so that we could be clothed and covered.

The sufferings of Christ, foretold in great detail, and fulfilled in every detail. In verse 19, he turns again to speak directly to God: ‘But you, Lord, do not be far from me. You are my strength; come quickly to help me.’

Even in the depths of despair, and the sorrow of suffering, still there is trust. Still there is the cry for help. Do you see it there in verse 20? ‘Deliver me from the sword, my precious life from the power of the dogs. Rescue me from the mouth of the lions.’

Now the next line of the pew Bibles continues that pleading - ‘save me from the horns of the wild oxen.’ Another ask. But you might see that there’s also a footnote, an alternative wording - and all the commentators agree, the proper wording. Let me give you verse 21 in the Hebrew word order: ‘Rescue me from the mouth of the lions; from the horns of the wild oxen you have heard me.’

It’s such a sudden change that the NIV translators almost couldn’t believe it. But this is what David wrote - that suddenly, from the horns of the wild oxen, God had indeed heard, and answered (as verse 2 had asked). The sufferings are complete, and the glories are ushered in. That’s what the rest of the Psalm shows us. And it’s what Jesus was pointing to as he quoted Psalm 22:1 - not just his sufferings, but also his glories.

Verses 22-25 continue the pattern, because we’re back to ‘I’ again - but this time, it is the Christ’s experience of celebration: ‘I will declare your name to my people; in the assembly I will praise you.’

His suffering has finished, he declares God’s name and praise, along with his people - the people he has brought near through his suffering.

Why is there such praise? ‘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.’ The suffering complete, Jesus returns to the Father, raised by his mighty power on that first Easter morning.

The glories spread even further, to the ends of the earth in verse 27. Jesus sends his disciples - sends us, to all nations, and to all generations, bringing the good news of the Jesus who suffered and was raised, who now reigns over all. Look at verse 31. Even though he couldn’t even have imagined that there would be an island called Ireland, and on it a place called Brookeborough, and that three thousand years after he wrote these words, here we would be reading them, and rejoicing in the suffering Son they pointed forward to, yet David writes about us: ‘They will proclaim his righteousness, declaring to a people yet unborn.’

David couldn’t have imagined that we would be the fulfilling of that last verse; but neither could he have realised just how this Psalm of his could so accurately describe the sufferings of Christ and the glories that followed. So how did he do it? It was only by the Spirit of God - as Peter says, ‘men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit’ (2 Pet 1:21).

The Spirit guided David to write what he wrote, to show that God is in control, in every detail. The death of Jesus was no accident, it wasn’t a big disaster that happened outside of God’s control. No, as Jesus says, ‘everything written about me must be fulfilled.’ He knew what was coming in advance. It’s why he sweat drops of blood, why he agonised in the garden, and why he finally prayed ‘not my will, but yours be done.’

As the writer to the Hebrews urges us: ‘Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.’ (Heb 12:2)

Jesus endured the cross, and scorned its shame. Jesus was stripped so that we could be clothed in his righteousness. Jesus died alone so that we could be welcomed into the great assembly of all his people. Jesus was forsaken so that we never would be forsaken. As Hebrews assures us: ‘God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”’ (Heb 13:5)

This sermon was preached in Brookeborough Methodist Church on Wednesday 12th April 2017 at the Scripture Fulfilled series in Holy Week.

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