A Heart for God in the Place of Affliction
Psalm 22 – A Heart for God: Sermon Series from the Psalms – May 8, 2022
A reading of Psalm 22:1–18.
“Lament” and “praise” “are the two poles of our lives.” The two poles of motherhood. Lament and motherhood go together. E.g., in Julie Rowe’s book on mothering, Child Proof, the last chapter is called, “When Your Child Breaks Your Heart.” She walks readers from heartbreak to hope. Ps 22 does that, too! Lament to praise.
“Lament” can be uncomfortable for us—especially someone else’s. Ps 22 helps.
Psalm is a lament Psalm. Certain characteristics common.
Wasn’t like David had a formula. Simply had ways he often expressed lament.
No surprise there. Poets and songwriters and authors have familiar patterns.
We don’t know when in David’s life he wrote this, but it would seem to fit the time his son Absalom betrayed him. A bitter and personal agony.
Something else about this Psalm is the way it gets fulfilled in the crucifixion of Christ. Only Isaiah 53 is more vivid in depicting the suffering of the Son of God.
Series: A Heart for God. This Psalm helps us understand a heart for God in the place of affliction.
Sermon: (1) Lament, (2) Petition, (3) Praise.
First part of the Psalm is given to lament. Bitter and personal lament.
One is the bitterness of his suffering:
Second is the faith displayed.
Look at this just in v. 1 and the opening question. The first part of the sentence is the context for the second part of the sentence. John Calvin expresses this well:
In calling God twice his own God, and depositing his groanings into his bosom, he makes a very distinct confession of his faith…. We see that he has given the first place to faith. Before he allows himself to utter his complaint, in order to give faith the chief place, he first declares that he still claimed God as his own God, and betook himself to him for refuge.
John Calvin, Commentary on Psalms
Third is the dialogue, the conversation, the internal debate: “I…Yet you…I…Yet you” (vv. 1, 3, 6, 9). In our most bitter suffering, that’s how it is. Especially when we are suffering in faith.
This is how true lament is, an internal conversation, an internal debate.
The bitter personal suffering described by David was experienced by Jesus. The difference with Jesus is that it was all to accomplish our salvation. Jesus’ suffering had the dimensions David describes. But so you and I could be saved.
We see this most clearly at the cross. When the four gospels describe the actual crucifixion of Jesus this Psalm looms large for them.
The whole Psalm speaks to the crucifixion but three verses in particular get cited by the gospel writers. I’ll take them in the order that they occur at Jesus’ crucifixion.
Psalm 22:18 = John 19:24.
The Roman soldiers at the crucifixion did what they always do at a crucifixion. But doing what they always do they fulfilled the words of Psalm 22:
23 When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took his garments and divided them into four parts, one part for each soldier; also his tunic. But the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom, 24 so they said to one another, “Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it to see whose it shall be.” This was to fulfill the Scripture which says, “They divided my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots.” So the soldiers did these things. (John 19:23–24)
Psalm 22:8 = Matthew 27:43.
When Jesus is dying on the cross, many of those present added to the suffering by openly mocking him. The Jewish mockers used the words of Psalm 22:
“He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he desires him. For he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’” (Matt 27:43)
Psalm 22:1 = Matthew 27:46.
After three hours of darkness from noon till 3pm, Jesus releases his cry of abandonment using the words of Psalm 22:
And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matt 27:46)
As Jesus was bearing our sins and receiving God’s wrath in those 3 hours of darkness, he experienced in his human nature a true abandonment by the Father, what theologians call a true “God-forsakenness.”
Where David felt forsaken by his God, Christ in his human nature was actually forsaken by his God.
But for Christ, that God-forsakenness wasn’t the last word. For Christ, Bearing God’s wrath wasn’t an unending punishment. It was for a specific amount of time to accomplish our redemption.
That’s why in John’s gospel we hear him say right before his death: “It is finished” (John 19:30). “It is finished!” And then he dies. Bearing God’s wrath and bearing our sins is finished. There’s no more wrath for us to receive. Christ took it all! “It is finished!”
We see our own agony in light of the greater redemptive agony of Christ.
Then we can know that we might FEEL forsaken, but Christ WAS forsaken.
And because Christ WAS forsaken, we never will be.
9 Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. 10 For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. (Rom 5:9–10)
In the Psalms of Lament, the agony being experienced finds vivid expression. But they also model for us what it is to ask for specific things from God. Usually DELIVERANCE.
First petition is in v. 11. This answers the agony of v. 1.
Then the petitions of vv. 19–21a—a response to the enemies surrounding and oppressing him. He had lamented about “bulls,” “lion,” “dogs,” “evildoers” (vv. 12, 13, 16). And now he prays for God’s specific and timely help.
Real opposition. Real enemies. Real hardships caused by other people. Not just accidentally but maliciously.
And so…he prays, “Come quickly!” “Deliver me!” “Save me!”
Even in our most bitter places, the Bible invites us to pray boldly—and honestly.
Another way to say it, let yourself pray with exclamation points. See them in vv. 19–21a. “Come quickly!” “Deliver me!” “Save me!”
God invites us to do this—Hebrews 4:16:
Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Heb 4:16)
But then something happens suddenly in this Psalm. Right there at the very end of in v. 21. There’s a turn. Right in the middle of asking for “aid,” deliverance, salvation, his asking turns to a statement of fact: “You answered me.”
You can see how the Hebrew works in the Christian Standard Bible:
Save me from the lion’s mouth, from the horns of wild oxen. You answered me! (Ps 22:21, CSB)
One commentator speculated that this is David recording in real-time what happened to him. He was crying out for help, and then all of a sudden he got news that his help had come. He had been saved. The “sword,” “dog,” “lion,” and “wild oxen” would not prevail! God answered him!
And that deliverance inspires a lengthy word of praise—vv. 22–31. Uninterrupted praise—without any mention of his trials, without any petitions.
Read Psalm 22:21–31.
Now we see the real movement in this Psalm. David begins in v. 1 in private agony. He ends “in the great congregation” (v. 25) with “all the families of the nations” (v. 27) “proclaiming his righteousness to a people yet unborn that he has done it” (v. 31).
I don’t think there’s another Psalm of lament that leads to such an outburst of praise.
First, hear the vocabulary of “praise.” He gets out the whole “Praise Dictionary”!
Second, see the people of praise.
Third, understand the logic of praise.
Yet another specific prophecy in this Psalm. This time it has to do with Christ’s praise:
Psalm 22:22 = Hebrews 2:12
For he who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one source. That is why he is not ashamed to call them brothers, 12 saying, “I will tell of your name to my brothers; in the midst of the congregation I will sing your praise.” (Heb 2:11–12)
That’s wonderful and fascinating. Wonderful that Christ says, “my brothers.”
And it’s fascinating that in our praises, Christ himself is praising the Father. To belong to Christ is to be in Christ. And to be in Christ is to be in him as he praises the Father.
Psalm 22 presents a great agony and great praise. In some ways the praise doesn’t quite fit the deliverance. David being delivered from his enemies is a great thing, but the praise here is so huge. It doesn’t quite fit.
But when we read Psalm 22 in light of the cross of Christ, then we see the greater deliverance. The greater praise is right when we see that greater deliverance.
The reality of salvation in Jesus Christ is why God’s people must and will be a praising people.
Two groups of people when it comes to Psalm 22, probably two groups in this room.
The journey from lament to praise is not a straight path. It’s not a straight line.
If you’re in the place of lament now, let Psalm 22 help you:
Prayer and closing song
 C. Hassell Bullock, Psalms, Vol 1:163.
 John Calvin, Commentary on Psalms, Vol 1, 352, 353.
 E.g., Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics; Berkhof, Systematic Theology. See also Calvin’s commentary on the gospels. For reference, here is Bavinck: “The suffering and death of Christ bear an exceptional character…. This comes out with special acuteness in Jesus’ cry of dereliction on the cross (Matt 27:46). Some have interpreted this word from the cross as a cry of despair that his cause was lost and God had abandoned him or have understood it merely subjectively of his purely human sense of being momentarily overcome by the deepest pain in the extremity of death or compared it, be it from a remote distance, with the cry of a mother whose heart breaks over the shame of her child but in her great love still takes the child’s disgrace on herself and bows her head under the judgment of God. But none of these interpretations does justice to the words, and all are at variance with the consistent description of Jesus’ death in Scripture. In the cry of Jesus we are dealing not with a subjective but with an objective God-forsakenness: He did not feel alone but had in fact been forsaken by God. His feeling was not an illusion, not based on a false view of his situation, but corresponds with reality. On the other hand, this must not be understood in the sense that the Father was personally angry with Christ…. ‘This is what we are saying: he bore the weight of divine severity, since he was ‘stricken and afflicted’ by God’s hand, and experienced all the signs of a wrathful and avenging God’ (Calvin)” (Bavinck, RD, III:389).
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