People of God, we will be journeying this Lenten Season through the Psalter. And this morning we come to Psalm 22. This is a psalm generally associated with the crucifixion of our Lord. The words of David in verse one are echoed by Jesus at the cross when he cried: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” This is something we must not overlook: that in the time of most turmoil, our Lord could think of nothing else, but to utter the expression of the psalmist. Of the thirteen Old Testament references made by our Lord in the Passion Week, nine of them came from the psalms. And of these nine, five of them come from our passage in Psalm 22. Psalm 22 is a Lenten Psalm. It points us to the death of our Lord. We have made this point before, and it is well worth saying it again: when the New Testament points us to an Old Covenant verse, they are not isolating that verse, rather they are pointing to the entire passage. So, by uttering “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me,” Jesus is saying that all of Psalm 22 speaks of his suffering; all of it manifests his agony and his triumph. The Psalm and the Passion story come together. Psalm 22 “invites us also to undertake to understand Jesus in terms of the psalm, that is, to view him through the form and language of this prayer.”
When we read Psalm 22 we are reading the expressions and sentiments of our Lord as he approached death, and as he endured death. But Psalm 22 is not all about death.
Let me offer one final comment before we delve into our passage. The Psalms are shaped to give us a full picture. So, even though Psalm 22 begins in despair, it ends in glory. This is how Psalm 22 ends: “They shall come and proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn, that he has done it.” As we consider the cross of Christ, we need to realize that the larger purpose of the cross is the proclamation of Jesus’ righteousness to the nations. It is true that there is despair and uncertainty in the beginning, but God is actually taking that despair and uncertainty and molding it to your ultimate joy. If Christians are not able to grasp this reality, they are going to be in utter agony when times of difficulty arrive. But beyond that, if our theology is afraid to put God as the One who is control of our suffering, then we are in double trouble. God’s sovereignty is good for us. The majority of evangelicals will quickly say that God is sovereign; but when you push them in these most existential questions like: “Is God in control of suffering? Does he ordain suffering?” then evangelicals are as just as quick to throw the ball back to Satan’s courts. But this is not good theology, and it’s not good comfort when we are suffering. The Psalms begin in the night, but end in the morning where God’s mercies are new. This is the genesis of how we are to understand suffering in light of God’s sovereignty.
Psalm 22:23-31 is divided into three sections.
Beginning in verses 23-24, we read:
“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
God will not despise the afflicted. The trials of the cross, the suffering of our own lives, serve as a prelude to our praising of God. At the end of suffering, at the end of our lives, at the end of turmoil, the psalmist calls us to look at what has transpired, and admire the handiwork of God. We are God’s vessels for his honor.All of Israel’s race, the entire church of Jesus Christ is in awe of the marvel of God’s works. They are enthralled and gripped by the crucifixion. The cross, which was the greatest symbol of human tragedy, now becomes the greatest symbol of human joy. In verse 24, we see that Yahweh has not hidden his face from him. The Father heard the cries of the Son and the Father hears your cry in affliction. The Father, who is full of grace, and all glorious above, is incessantly, continually hearing your cries. He does not tire to hear from you; He does not turn His face for even a second from your deepest distress. This is the God we worship! In verses 23 & 24, we have the Father’s loving attention to our needs. In verses 25 & 26, we have the Father’s nurture of his children. The Psalmist says:
25 From you comes my praise in the great congregation;
my vows I will perform before those who fear him.
26 The afflictedshall eat and be satisfied;
those who seek him shall praise the Lord!
May your hearts live forever!~
“From you comes my praise,” or as one translation puts it, “from you comes the theme of my praise.” The exalted Christ who gave his body as a sacrifice for the world has become by his exaltation the theme, the refrain, the music and melody of our worship. In Hebrews 2, the Bible declares Christ to be the author and finisher of our faith, and then quotes from Psalm 22: “I will tell of your name to my brothers; in the midst of the congregation I will sing your praise.” Notice that verse 25 does not say: “From you comes my praise in my individual prayer time; or even, in my family worship—though these are important—but the Psalmist stresses rather, the “great assembly.” This is corporate worship language. The Psalter already presented for us a case for why public worship takes a central role in our lives. It is the core of biblical discipleship. A people who do not worship, cannot be properly discipled. Bible Studies, Book Studies, Fellowship are all worthless without being grounded in corporate worship.
The Psalmist knows the source of his praise, and he worships with the people of God. And the Father nurtures these people who long to worship together. The Psalmist also says that the place for the afflicted; the place for the brokenhearted; the place for those who cannot come to grips with the reality they are in is right here! So, when the afflicted and the hurt come to that conclusion, the Father will nurture them with food, and satisfy their hearts. What kind of food is the psalmist referring to? In context, this is food left from the sacrificial meal (the peace offering). As it was customary, the people would feast on the food. David is not going to simply satisfy their stomachs, he wants the people to also satisfy their souls. Because partaking of the feast was also a picture of the goodness of God in comforting his people’s afflictions. The sacrifices represented God’s satisfaction with us. By extension, we too have a feast, called the Lord’s Supper. It is here where God reminds us of his faithfulness and comfort.
David concludes this section with the expression: “May your hearts live forever.” In other words, may your comfort endure for the rest of your life; may God nurture you beyond this meal, and may you feast in his goodness forever. The Father is attentive, the Father nurtures, and finally, the Father seeks worshipers in verses 27-31:
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.
Death precedes life. Jesus dies, so that he may bring life to the world; that he may be the conqueror of the world; that he may be the ruler over all. Kings and nations belong to him (vs. 28); the earth belongs to him. The end result of suffering is that all things work together for good of those who love God and keep his commandments. How do we know this? We know this because God is in absolute control. His beloved Son is now exalted above earth and heaven.
What types of people will enjoy God’s goodness? Verse 29 says that the rich will enjoy God’s goodness; those who are prosperous. He loves the poor, but he also feeds the rich with his kingdom. There is a progression in verse 29. The Psalmist says that God will feed the physically prosperous; then he says: “before him shall bow all who go down to the dust.” That is, all those who are poor and needy; who have to beg for food; the servants and the slaves, God will feed. He rules over their poverty. But verse 29 takes it a step further: “…even the one who could not keep himself alive.”
Calvin has it right when he says: “…the meaning undoubtedly is that those who seem already to be reduced to dust, and whose restoration from death to life is, as it were, despaired of, shall be partakers of the same grace with him.” Who are these people in our churches? Those who are weak, the hospitalized, the Alzheimer’s patients that we minister to on Sunday afternoons, the ones dying with cancer, those who have lived long lives and are within a step from death; all those are invited into Christ’s holy feast. All those are nurtured by God; all those are receivers of God’s mercy and joy.
This is why the psalter is generational and covenantal:
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.~
This is not just a promise to that generation of Israelites, this is our promise. We were the Gentile nations not yet born. The promises of God are for us, because they find their ultimate fulfillment in Jesus Christ.
How Now Shall We Then Live?
We are to sing of his praises in this congregation. We are to look forward to this gathering. David refers to us as the great assembly. Great, in that we have been called to proclaim the righteous works of a majestic God.
Further, we have a model of operation for many of our relationships. As parents, we are to give attention to the needs of our children; we are to nurture them in food and in the gospel of Jesus Christ; and finally, we are to teach them to mature in their worship of God, because that is the best way to reflect our Triune God.
As husbands and wives, we share this mutual respect for one another. We are to give attention to one another; not despising each other’s needs, but carefully listening to one another. We are also to nurture one another by comforting words, by wisdom, and love. And finally, we are to care for one another in the home by esteeming others better than ourselves.
At this stage, we are a small congregation. We have small ministries outside the church to the homeless and to the elderly, but we are growing in these labors. Your responsibility is to seek to involve yourselves in these works; perhaps to seek out what the needs are in this congregation; to inform yourselves of those who are in need in order that you may offer your comfort to those who are suffering.
Psalm 22 is a psalm about Jesus Christ; about his death and his glorious victory over death; about how he invites us to participate in his triumph by participating in the lives of one another. May our hearts live for ever more!