Theme: An Expanding Congregation
In this week’s lessons we learn how the sufferings of the Lord Jesus Christ described in the first part of Psalm 22 turn into a statement of great victory.
Scripture: Psalm 22:22-31
The second half of Psalm 22 is a throbbing, soaring anticipation of the expanding proclamation of the gospel and of the growing church. It is represented in three phases.
1. My brothers (vv. 22-24). The first phase concerns the Jewish people. In themselves the words “my brothers” could be understood of all who should come to believe in Jesus Christ, both Jew and Gentile. But the parallel phrases in verse 23 (“you descendants of Jacob” and “you descendants of Israel”) make clear that in this stanza they have a more restricted meaning. They refer to Jews. If that is so, then “the congregation” of verse 22 must also be the assembly of the Jewish people. It is appropriate that Jesus’ words should focus on this body of people first, since the gospel was proclaimed to them first. The principle is: “first for the Jew, then for the Gentile” (Rom. 1:16). Similarly, in Acts 1 the missionary plan for the geographic expansion of the church was unfolded in these stages: “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (v. 8).
Jesus wanted his Jewish brothers to know that, although he was despised by them, he was not despised or ultimately forsaken by God but was heard by him. It follows from this that he was not the blasphemer he was accused of being but rather he was who he said he was, namely, the unique Son of God and the Messiah. Moreover, he accomplished what he said he had come into the world to achieve, which was an atonement for sins.
2. The great assembly (vv. 25-29). In verse 22 the psalmist speaks of the “congregation.” In verse 25 he speaks of the “great assembly.” Actually the words “congregation” and “assembly” are the same Hebrew word (qahal). So there is an expansion of the idea of the assembly from the earlier reference to the second. It is an expansion from Jews alone, who were to be the first target of the missionary task, to the Gentiles, who were the second. The parallel phrases in verse 27, “the ends of the earth” and “the families of the nations,” make this clear.
This was a strong element in the thinking of Jesus Christ. During the days of his itinerant teaching he often spoke of a great banquet to which the close friends of a king were invited but who, when the day of the feast came, made excuses and refused to come. As a result, the king sent servants to call in other people, some of whom were despised as outcasts (cf. Matt. 22:1-14; Luke 14:15-23). It was a prophecy of the salvation of the Gentiles after an initial period of Jewish rejection. The story of the workers in the vineyard also has the salvation of Gentiles in mind (Matt. 20:1-16). They are the ones hired last, paid equally and therefore resented by those who had labored throughout the day as the Jews had. Most striking perhaps is Christ’s great prayer of John 17, in which he prays for his disciples and for all “who will believe in me through their message” (v. 20). It is clear from the rest of the prayer that these new believers would be drawn from the entire world and would be witnesses to it.
3. Future generations (v. 30). In the final phase of this prophesied expansion of the number of those who would come to praise God because of what Jesus accomplished on the cross, there is a reference to “future generations” and to “a people yet unborn.” In these last verses the psalmist bursts all bounds, so intent is he on stressing the universal value and world-embracing proclamation of the gospel. He has spoken of Jew and Gentile, those who are near and those who are far off. He has embraced the poor (v. 26) and the rich (v. 29). Now he is thinking of unfolding generations of people down to the very end of time.
You and I are included in that number, if we have really trusted in Jesus and his death for us. Since this is what Jesus seems to have been thinking of while he hung on the cross during the three hours of darkness, this means that he was thinking of you and me just before he committed his spirit to the Father. Isn’t that wonderful? You and I were in his thoughts at that moment. It was for you and me that he was dying.
List and explain the first phase of the expanding proclamation of the gospel.
What is the second phase of expansion, seen in verses 25-29? How do we know it includes Gentiles?
What is the third phase, and who does it include?
Application: Since every Christian is a member of this great assembly that Christ has gathered because of his death and resurrection, how ought we to treat one another? Consider ways in which you can put into practice the unity for which the Lord Jesus Christ prayed, and the love for fellow believers that he commands.