Theme: The Most Poignant Verse
In this week’s lessons we look at how this psalm, written hundreds of years before Christ, describes the details of Jesus’ suffering and death by crucifixion.
Scripture: Psalm 22:1-21
There is a turning point in this psalm at the end of verse 21. Charles Haddon Spurgeon tells of a book by a man named J. Stevenson, called Christ on the Cross. It was a study of this psalm and had a sermon for every verse, thirty-one in all. Because of the turning point at the end of verse 21, I will be content with only two studies, one on each of the psalm’s two parts.
The most important (and most noticeable) feature of verses 1-21 is the alternating pattern of thought in its six stanzas. The first, third and fifth stanzas describe the author’s suffering. The second, fourth and sixth are prayers to God. But here is the interesting thing. As the pattern progresses, the intensity of the anguish decreases (at least, it becomes only physical rather than spiritual and psychological) and the author’s confidence in God moves upward or intensifies. Notice how it works out.
1. Christ’s cry of dereliction (vv. 1, 2). The most poignant verse in the entire psalm is the first, and this is also the most disturbing section. For here the suffering one cries out to God, believing that he has been forsaken by him, asking why he has been forsaken and asserting that God is silent. He receives no answer.
The idea that Jesus could be forsaken by God has been so disturbing to so many people that various theories have been invented to explain it. Some have supposed that Jesus was only referring to the psalm to call attention to it, as if to say that what he was suffering was what the psalm describes. Others have argued that Jesus only felt forsaken, when in fact he was not. They go on to say that in the final outcome, of course, Jesus was not forsaken, since we know that the crucifixion was followed by the resurrection. This is what the psalm as a whole shows, they argue. However, I do not hesitate to say that, according to the teaching of the New Testament, Jesus was indeed forsaken by God while he bore the sin of his people on the cross. This is the very essence of the atonement, Jesus bearing our hell in order that we might share his heaven. To be forsaken means to have the light of God’s countenance and the sense of his presence eclipsed, which is what happened to Jesus as he bore the wrath of God against sin for us.
How could this happen? How could one member of the eternal Trinity turn his back on another member of the Trinity? I do not know. I cannot explain it. But I believe that this is what the Bible teaches, so great was the love of God for us and so great was the price Jesus willingly paid to save us from our sins.
2. Memory of the past: part 1 (vv. 3-5). There are two ways of looking at the second section. Since it calls attention to God’s deliverance of the fathers, who trusted him in past days, it could be viewed as a bitter irony, that is, “You delivered them, but you have not delivered me; I am forsaken.” However, the verses can also be seen as a desperate grasping for encouragement by a recollection of God’s true character. God is utterly holy or righteous, says the psalmist. He is “the Holy one” (v. 3). Because of this quality God has always shown himself faithful to those in the past who trusted him. “Will he not therefore also be faithful to me and deliver me, even though I am forsaken now?” the psalmist seems to be asking. In my judgment, the flow of the psalm suggests the second of these two possibilities is the right one.
Describe the alternating pattern of the six stanzas of verses 1-21.
How have people tried to explain the biblical teaching that Jesus was forsaken by the Father?
Why was it necessary that Jesus be forsaken by God when he hung on the cross? In Jesus’ case, what does it mean to be forsaken?
Reflection: Have you ever felt forsaken by God? How did you recover the sense of the Lord’s favor and presence?