On Wednesday I had the privilege of speaking at the Chapel service for Oxford Centre for Mission Studies. We have had a number of their students as part of the church over the years. That has been enriching for us particularly to hear from brothers and sisters serving in areas with a relatively small Christian population. With that in mind I wanted to encourage those present with some reflections from Psalm 22 in advance of Good Friday. It is not the tightest exposition I have ever done but I thought I would write it up in case it helped others.
“I want to encourage us this morning to persevere. To do that I want to tie together Easter and the cause of world mission. That is actually quite easy to do- you see it in Psalm 22.
God’s Plan: Suffering
I wonder whether you can imagine the figure. The man who is abandoned by God. Crying out in anguish but getting no response. He is confused- generations before had seen God’s answer, But it seems he is a worm and not a true man.
It is not just the spiritual confusion. He faces the mockery of the crowds. He is alone- no one can help. And then there is the physical pain. All his bones are on display. There is dryness in his mouth as death approaches. His hands and feet are pierced. He is stripped naked with others casting lots for his clothing. “My God, my God, why?”
It is still a remarkable thing. David wrote these words around 900BC and yet it is no stretch to imagine the Lord Jesus reciting them from the Cross. They are His song.
Of course the cross represents victory over sin and death. It is Good Friday. But you hear the cost of it in Psalm 22- physical agony, social shame and spiritual confusion.
O Sacred Head, sore wounded, With grief and pain bowed down,
How scornfully surrounded, With thorns Thy only crown.
How pale art Thou with anguish, With sore abuse and scorn.
How does Thy visage languish, Which once was bright as morn.
We know that Jesus was well versed in Scripture. Bruce Ware invites us to imagine the day when the young Lord Jesus read Psalm 22 and the Spirit opened his heart to the fact that one day this would be his song. It would be a day when “Abba Father” would be become “My God, my God, why?”. The day when he would bear the sin of the world and be cut off from God.
Yet knowing this he set his face towards Jerusalem. It is familiar stuff but I hope is still astonishes us. What sort of King does this?
What language shall I borrow, To thank thee, dearest Friend
For this Thy dying sorrow, Thy pity without end?
O make me Thine forever, And should I fainting be
Lord, let me never never outlive my love for Thee.
Psalm 22 is supremely Jesus’ song. And yet I want us to notice that it was originally authored by David. There seems to be exaggeration- not all of this seems to fit David’s life. And yet we know he suffered especially during the latter years of Saul’s reign. Being on the run, loneliness, mockery, hiding in caves, fearing for his life- all of that was David’s experience. You see whilst Jesus’ suffering is unique it does not come out of nowhere. God’s servants have always been allowed to suffer.
And they still are. One of the lines I have found most helpful whilst thinking about the Psalms is this- “David’s story becomes Jesus’ story becomes our story.” It is why Paul will talk about sharing in the sufferings of Christ and filling up in his own flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions. Just as the achievement of salvation came through suffering so also will the announcement of it. It is why the pioneer missionary Hudson Taylor said, “Is anything of value in Christ’s service that costs little?”
Some of you know that far more than I do- perhaps even at this very moment. I want you to know that Jesus is sympathetic. Perhaps some of us are perplexed over some providence. The one who cried out on the cross says to us, “I know…” Perhaps that’s a reality we need to press into more deeply- the sheer sympathy of Jesus. And we can use his words from v.19- “You, LORD, do not be far from me. You are my strength, come quickly to help me.”
God’s Plan: Mission
As far back as Genesis 12 we read of God’s plan to bless the nations. Psalm 22 tells us how that will take place.
The shift is very obvious in v.22 as the agony has gone and a triumphant note takes over. Why? Because God has heard the afflicted one’s cry for help. In Easter terms God raises the one who has been laid low back to life. The result is universal praise as all the ends of the earth turn to the Lord in v.27. This includes rich and poor in v.29. It stretches to future generations. There will be announcement of Christ’s finished work- He has done it!
Again I am struck by Psalm 22. You have suffering, vindication and world mission 900 years in advance. I am reminded again of the words of second century Christian Justin Martyr writing to the Emperor and explaining why he worshipped one who had been crucified- “We found testimonies concerning him published before he came and was born as a man.” This led to Justin following in his master’s footsteps.
The point for us is that we are still living in the v.22ff period. Through the first apostles and now through us Psalm 22 is still being fulfilled as all nations and future generations are told of Him. We are not simply spectators in Psalm 22, We are participants proclaiming His righteousness. In a sense God’s plan for our lives was written as far back as 900BC.
So as we hear again this week the cry of dereliction on the cross doesn’t that make us want to persevere in playing our part in the fulfilment of Part B of God’s plan- the second half of Psalm 22? To keep going even when that involves sharing the pain of our Master.
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Can I suggest three responses this week:
– Praise God. Christ was forsaken so that I need never be.
– Thank Jesus that he is my sympathetic priest. He knows.
– Remember that Psalm 22 is still being fulfilled and so I want to keep playing my part in all nations turning to the Lord.