Ever have a bad day? Maybe there were relationship troubles. Maybe a conflict or difficult day at work. Maybe all the little things just added up to having a no fun day. I know I’ve had days like that. But, when I read Psalm 22, I realized maybe my days aren’t that bad.
I’ve never been poured out like water with all my bones out of joint. There have never been lions and bulls all around me. ALL the people that saw me didn’t mock me and hurl insults at me. I have never been encircled by a pack of villains that pieced my hands and feet. Now, granted, the lions and dogs and bulls are metaphors for the enemies, but I wouldn’t describe the boy in kindergarten who told me I couldn’t cut well, or the girl who pushed me on the playground, as bulls or lions.
According to the notes in my study Bible, this psalm is the most quoted psalm in the New Testament. And, it fits Jesus’ circumstances, hence Jesus quoting the first part of it while on the cross. He was tortured and tormented for things he didn’t deserve, and I’m sure it hurt more than rude kids on the playground.
This psalm goes on, with David mentioning many hardships, but he doesn’t just ask God to magically fix his circumstances instantly. Instead, the end of the psalm talks about praising the LORD. That’s pretty impressive, and I think it should be a goal of mine, to take hard situations and continue to praise God and tell others about Him.
I’m going to use this psalm as a reminder of the no pain, no hardships time of the Kingdom. And to go about my days, whether difficult or seemingly easy, praising God and knowing that it’ll just get better in the Kingdom, because of what Jesus did for us and the plan God has for us.
Looking at Psalm 22 what descriptions do you find of the pain and agony Jesus endured while carrying your sins to the cross? Why do you think God chose this way to draw you close to Him?
Why do you think Jesus quoted this Psalm on the cross?
How can you focus on praising God even on the hard days?
One huge benefit of living in our day and time is having an extensive body of God’s scriptures available to us. We can see scriptures that clearly confirm God’s plan has been actively unfolding throughout all ages and to each generation. Leviticus 16 explains the event that we refer to as the Day of Atonement.
The High Priest would follow the ordinances on one special day once a year to cleanse all the members of the community from their sins. The people would observe a Sabbath rest because on that day atonement would be made for them, to cleanse them. “Then, before the Lord, you will be clean from all your sins.” (Lev. 16:30)
Of course, as Christians we can see that these offerings were pointing to the ultimate sacrifice of Jesus Christ. We know that he is our great high priest (Heb. 4:14) who offers us the opportunity to be forgiven of sin. He sacrificed his own blood for our forgiveness. He wanted us to be cleansed from all of our sins and to be reconciled to God.
That was carried out through his sacrificial death on the cross and amazingly Psalm 22 reveals what this experience was like for Jesus Christ. David may be writing about personal experiences and yet he miraculously described the crucifixion. He wrote this event about 1,000 years before it occurred. This Psalm begins with the words spoken by Jesus on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Yet the Psalm ends in praise to God. It states that all future generations will serve Him and be told about the Lord. “They will proclaim his righteousness, declaring to a people yet unborn: He has done it! (Psalm 22:31)
We have the benefit of seeing the results and rewards that Christ accomplished for himself and for all his followers. Praise God that we have the scriptures that explain this to us. Scriptures that were written through many centuries and passed on to the next generations. We have a bird’s eye view of how beautifully God works through His faithful followers. Be faithful to share the scriptures with others because all that God has spoken through them will be accomplished.
As we move through the Gospel of Matthew one chapter per day it’s pretty amazing how quickly we move through the life of Jesus. Matthew brings us through the entire earthly life of Jesus so quickly. Think about it for a minute. Less than a month ago we were celebrating Christmas and the birth of Jesus. Just a week later we were celebrating the start of a new year, 2021 and we started the book of Matthew which summarized roughly 2000 years of Israel’s history from Abraham down to Jesus. We heard the angels announcement to Joseph that Mary was going to give birth to God’s son. We read of his birth, the visit from the magi and Herod’s attempt to have Jesus killed and his rescue to Egypt. We fast forwarded to his 12th year visiting the temple and being precocious in his questions of the learned doctors of Jewish Law. Just like that Jesus is 30 and being baptized by John in the Jordan River and going into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan. Then he’s calling disciples, performing miracles, preaching the Torah in a way that is more authoritative than the average rabbi. Before we know it 3 more years have passed and Jesus is in Jerusalem having his last supper with his disciples and preparing them for his approaching death.
Now, here we are reaching the climax of Matthew’s Gospel. Jesus is tried, condemned and crucified. This was not how any of his followers or any of the Jews for over 1000 years imagined how the story would go. They envisioned the son of David as a triumphant King leading an armed rebellion and defeating the powerful and oppressive Romans and being free to finally worship God under the rule of God’s anointed King, descended from the great King David of old. Instead, they get a meek and gentle man being falsely accused and refusing to defend himself, being rejected by his own people and, despite his complete innocence, meekly suffering and going to his death in the most shameful way imaginable: beaten, stripped naked and nailed to an execution pole for all to see and mock and serve as warning to any who might dare to defy Rome’s hegemony over the whole world.
For the Apostle Paul and most every Christian since that day, this is foundational to the entire Christian message and the central event in the history of the world.
Paul wrote in I Corinthians 15:
15 Now, brothers, I must remind you of the Good News which I proclaimed to you, and which you received, and on which you have taken your stand, 2 and by which you are being saved — provided you keep holding fast to the message I proclaimed to you. For if you don’t, your trust will have been in vain. 3 For among the first things I passed on to you was what I also received, namely this: the Messiah died for our sins, in accordance with what the Tanakh says; 4 and he was buried; and he was raised on the third day, in accordance with what the Tanakh says; 5 and he was seen by Kefa, then by the Twelve;
(Complete Jewish Bible Translation)
Paul reminds his readers that one of the first things he passed on to his students was the death of the Messiah, Jesus, for their sins as a fulfillment of the teaching of the Hebrew Bible (Tanakh or Old Testament). Matthew tells the story more or less chronologically and it builds up to this. But for Paul, this was among the first things he taught. Whether it’s shared first as in Paul or toward the end as in Matthew, either way the death of Jesus and with it his resurrection, is the most important thing for Christianity.
There is much for you to think about in this chapter but I will simply pause to name two and they both have to do with despair and death. Matthew places side by side two men who have reached a crisis in their life, Judas and Jesus. For both their crisis has brought them into great anguish and to the brink of death.
Judas is in despair because he has betrayed his teacher and friend. He sold Jesus out for 30 pieces of silver. One might try to get Judas off of the hook by suggesting that he didn’t really have a choice in the matter. It was God’s plan. I’ve even heard it suggested and even wondered myself if Judas wasn’t simply trying to force Jesus to go to war against Rome. Judas was a Zealot and growing impatient with Jesus. Maybe he assumed that when Jesus was arrested he and the other disciples would defend him and bring him into his Kingdom. When Judas realized that his plan backfired and Jesus was going to die without bringing in the Kingdom he was overcome with guilt and despair. Or maybe he was just greedy and sold out his friend for the money. Or maybe some combination of things. Sometimes we humans beings do things and we don’t even understand why we did it, but afterwards we are filled with shame and regret and despair of life.
Judas responded to his despair by taking his own life. Suicide is the final act of despair. The suicide rate in the US has been going up each year. I imagine when the deaths related to Covid are finally tallied we will see a significant number of deaths were not from Covid but because of people’s despair over Covid and the Covid related isolation, economic losses, disenfranchised grief, increased substance abuse and loss of connection with faith communities and other sources of hope and meaning. Judas’ story ends in a tragic death of despair.
Jesus is also facing his own existential despair. He’s been betrayed, denied, abandoned and rejected by his friends and followers and all his fellow Jews. Jesus was beaten nearly to death and is alone on the cross and has all of the guilt and shame of the world heaped upon him. In his agony and isolation he cries out to God in despair ,“My God, my God why have you forsaken me?” Jesus is having the worst day of his life, just as Judas did and Jesus is in extreme pain, just as Judas was and Jesus was about to die, just as Judas did. And yet, their deaths couldn’t be more different. Jesus never lost his connection to and faith in his father, even at this point of greatest pain. Even as Jesus cries out, he is praying and maintaining his connection to his faith tradition. “My God, My God why have you forsaken me” is the opening prayer of Psalm 22. This was a Lament Psalm. The Hebrews were very familiar with suffering. They had been slaves for over 400 years in Egypt. They spent 40 years traveling in the wilderness. They spent 70 years in exile in Babylon. The Hebrews knew suffering and it was in suffering that God continued to sustain them and draw them back unto himself. Every Psalm of lament, no matter how much hurt or pain they processed, no matter how angry or betrayed by God they felt, there was always a remembering of the ways God had been with them and helped them in the past, and there was the hope and trust that God would sustain them through the suffering and restore them to wholeness and joy.
Jesus never lost his connection to the father, even in the depths of pain and despair. He surrendered his life to God, but he did not take his own life as Judas did. Judas’ tragic death ends with no hope for him. Jesus’ tragic death ends with hope for him and for everyone.
We all go through periods of hurt, pain, disillusionment, brokenness, anger, shame, guilt and pain. When we go through those time we are in a moment of decision. Do we give in completely to the despair and give up on God, or do we cling to faith, remembering God’s faithfulness in the past and hope in the future. That will make all the difference in how our story ends. It doesn’t have to end like Judas. Jesus offers the path to hope and life.