Christ’s Suffering and Faith Give Us Hope - Midweek Service in Lent
Rev. Charles Westby, Pastor
Psalms 22:1-21
March 17, 2021

As we take a look at how the Psalms teach us about Jesus as the Christ, we see tonight how the first half of Psalm 22 shows us His suffering. Three things are making an impression on me about this: first the actual description of His suffering; second how Psalm 22 is so descriptive that Jesus could use it to tell the disciples what was going to happen to Him; and third, the action of human beings that the first half of Psalm 22 describes.

 And then there is Christ’s faith in the midst of it all, the faith that does not fail, and is ultimately answered in victory.

When it comes to the description of Christ’s suffering, we don’t need to dwell in morbid detail on the physical pain; what they did to Him. We can just point out enough to connect the Psalm to the actual events of Jesus’s death: “they have pierced my hands and feet:” “all my bones are out of joint;” “I can count all my bones” (Psalm 22: 16, 14, 17 ESV). These words speak of beating and hanging. And then when they actually do it to Him, we know what the piercing of hands and feet means, as they nail Him to a cross. Of course, this is horrifically awful.

But they do not stop there. They attempt to destroy the soul, the spirit, like the arrogant do. This comes in the mocking and ridicule, trying to get Him to despair of God: “He trusts in the Lord; let him deliver him” (Psalm 22:8). They said such things to Jesus on the cross: “If you are the Christ, come down from the cross and save yourself” (Mark 15:29-32). If they were so righteous, however, they ought to have repented and taken Him down from the cross themselves. They were called by God to do just that: love for the neighbor. But instead, they try to destroy His soul, making fun of His suffering; doing something derogatory with the mouth, like sticking out the tongue; wagging the head in a mocking gesture (Psalm 22:7; Mark 15:29).

And then there is the terror; being surround by bulls; being encircled by the physically strong and mighty; being encompassed by dogs, not nice dogs; being encircled by evil doers, by the wicked; there being no one to help (Psalm 22:12, 16, 11).

Just what has happened to human beings that they should invent such ways to inflict pain and death in such torture on other human beings? We see here the handiwork of evil people and the power of darkness (Luke 22:53).

And look how they excused torture by appealing to saving lives and national security. Caiaphas, the chief priest, used that very reason as the excuse for the treachery, the miscarriage of justice, the inhumanity to Jesus, and the murder of the Son of God. For when the Jewish ruling council was afraid that the Romans were going to destroy the Jewish people because of the following Jesus had, because of the good that He had done—Lazarus whom Jesus had brought back from the dead was right there among them as living proof, Caiaphas said to the council: “You know nothing at all, and you are not considering that it is better for you that one man should die on behalf of the people, than that the whole nation should be destroyed” (John 11:48-49). We see in the crucifixion of Christ just how far humanity has fallen into evil.

How did King David, the writer of this Psalm know such things were going to happen to the Christ? Indeed, scholars operating on modern assumptions think that David wrote this about himself, or someone else at his time. However, when David prays most of the time, he prays for deliverance from the violence and destruction he describes in Psalm 22. Take Psalm 17 for example. There David speaks of those who surround him like a lion, eager to kill its prey. They have mouths that speak proudly (Psalm 17:10-12). But then David prays: “Arise O Lord, confront him, cast him down; deliver my life from the wicked with Your sword” (Psalm 17:13 NKJV). But here in Psalm 22 David writes: “Many bulls surround Me; [mighty ones] of Bashan have encircled me; they gape at Me as a raging and roaring lion; dogs [, not nice dogs,] have surrounded Me, the assembly of the wicked has enclosed Me” (Psalm 22:12, 13, 16 NKJV). And then he says, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken Me?” (Psalm 22:11, 1).

Yes, Psalm 22 is unique. It is about the suffering of the Christ.

David is not speaking of himself here. The Apostle Peter writes about how the Spirit of Christ that was in David was testifying beforehand of the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow afterward (1 Peter 1:11). And so Jesus can talk about how the Psalms testified about the sufferings and resurrection of the Christ (Luke 24:44), and so told His disciples, as they were on the road to Jerusalem, what was going to happen when they got there (Mark 10:32-34).

God knows all things. Time and history mean something entirely different for God than they do for us humans. We are in time and history, subject to history’s unfolding, within its unfolding, but God is not so subject. He sees the big picture all at once. Yet, He stepped into history—He always has, to redeem us stuck in a history corrupted by sin. This redemption would involve a mortal conflict between God and His goodness, on the one hand, and the arrogance of mankind, on the other—it always has. But God would enter it now in His Son, in human flesh appearing, suffering, and conquering in His suffering. It never ceases to amaze that human beings think they have the big picture all figured out and judge what is possible for God, particularly in respect of redemption; and then they make such a colossal mess of things.

But then this brings us to the third thing Psalm 22 shows us. It shows us human beings at their worst, though they think they are at their best. It is the great irony of the fallenness of mankind that so often human beings do their worst when they are convinced they are doing their best. But in such times human beings are blind to their arrogance, the greatest sin of all.

And so the chief priest and the Jewish ruling council thought they were saving the people by putting Jesus to death. And they thought they had the greatest justification in the law: Jesus was guilty of blasphemy, they thought. Yet, they could not allow the facts to convince them otherwise, which the facts would have done, in spades, if they had really been seeking justice and the truth. They were blinded by their jealousy and hatred of Jesus.

But they were convinced that they knew the absolutely right way to save the people. The one who called them into question, who presented an entirely different set of facts, had to be silenced. The One who criticized their laws and pointed out their supreme hypocrisy had to be silenced. They did not see themselves as operating from base motives. On the contrary, they saw themselves as operating from the highest of the highest of all ideals: preserving God’s honor and saving the people. But though the facts and evidence were more than ample to show it and were stacked against them, they closed their eyes and shut their ears and hardened their hearts in their own self-determination and hatred, and they crucified the Lord of glory (1 Corinthians 2:8).

Can the crucifixion of Jesus say anything to us here in America in our time? How about this? Seeing what happened to Jesus can strengthen our realization of the great gift our system of government is here in America with the separation of powers, two houses in the legislative branch, the freedom to form political parties, the freedom of religion, the freedom of speech, procedural due process, and the other rights guaranteed by the Constitution. We can see what a great blessing these things are from God if we hope for a system of government that can slow down and marginalize the schemes of the arrogant. We see how great a blessing these things are when we consider that Jesus was denied them by the governing authorities; yes, God the Son was denied freedom of religion, freedom of speech, and due process by men holding the office of government.

These things of our system of government are designed to slow down and marginalize the schemes of the arrogant; to bring facts to light in free investigation and open debate; to slow down the making of laws that more and more and more squeeze the space of liberty from among us into near non-existence, that bring the darkness of tyranny. Seeing the crucifixion of Jesus, let us give thanks for the blessings of our system of government that God has given, and pray and work that these things are not taken away by the arrogant, if in the grace of God and by His rule over all things it is not too late.

At the beginning of all this, I mentioned that through it all Jesus did not lose faith. The agony of the facts confronting Him in His experience brought about the cry from the cross: “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me” (Psalm 22:1). This cry is rooted in the way it is supposed to be. The innocent One, the righteous One, should not be allowed to suffer like this at the hands of the arrogant and wicked. And yet, when He does suffer, the question “My God, My God” speaks itself out of the depths of faith and hope in God.

Yet, what does Christ say next to God: “You are holy. You are enthroned on the praises of Israel. You are He who took me from the womb. You made me trust in You from the time I was a little baby in my mother’s arms. From the womb You have been my God” (Psalm 22:3, 9-10).

And so Jesus prays: “Do not be far off! Come quickly to my aid! Deliver my soul from the sword, my precious life from the power of the dog! Save me from the mouth of the lion!” (Psalm 22:19-21a).

Even as He is alone, suffering as He does, given into the hands of such wicked human beings, He does not lose faith. He looks to His Father for salvation. He commends Himself into His Father’s hands, and He is answered. His suffering and death must accomplish something first for all mankind out of immense love. But then the prayers of faith He uttered in the midst of His suffering will be answered on the third day.

So the prayers we utter in faith in Him in the midst of our difficulties, trials, and suffering, and yes, unless the Lord of all nations spares us in this treacherous time, in the midst of our suffering at the hands of arrogant and evil human beings here and now, our prayers of faith in Christ will be answered, as He was answered. And the answer we will receive is life eternal, resurrection from the dead, and the fury of God’s wrath against all of the arrogance and wickedness of mankind at the end of the age.

But thanks be to God, all of us are blessed in God’s sight who take refuge in the Son (Psalm 2:12), who suffered for us, for our redemption, and was raised into indestructible life. In Him, in humble penitence and faith, God is at peace with you and you are at peace with God in the redemption Christ’s death accomplished. And He will raise you on the last day, as He was raised on the third. May this strengthen your faith and hope, and lift up your souls in the supreme encouragement of the Son of God, no matter what human beings may do. Amen.  



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