Guest speaker David Brickner illustrates how Psalm 22 points us toward Jesus.
Happy Labor Day. To you all who are live streaming, even around the world, it’s not Labor Day for you but thanks for joining with us today. It’s always a privilege for me to share with my home church, Cornerstone. I’m really excited about this Psalm series as well. It’s been a great time to engage with it. There’s something so authentic about the rawness of emotion that we see expressed in the Psalms. It’s a beautiful thing. I’m hoping that Pastor Terry might consider having another series like this next summer because there are 150 psalms. So in a sense, we’ve barely scratched the surface. The psalm today is very significant. Psalm 22, I’ve entitled When God Seems Far Away. I don’t know if that’s something that you can identify with, felt before, or feeling right now. This was a psalm of David. It’s a powerful lament but also concludes with a great celebration of praise. It takes us on a journey.
As part of the ministry of Jews for Jesus for 40 years, this psalm, like many others, is significant for its prophetic content. Did you know that there are over 300 passages in the Hebrew Bible that specifically predict something of the nature of the Messiah’s coming? This one, in particular, I use on a regular basis as do all of my colleagues because it is so explicit about one particular aspect of the life of Jesus. Namely the crucifixion and the scenes surrounding it. What I want to do today is take us through that predictive nature of the psalm. I want us to go where the experiences of David and Christ, both in lament and in celebration, take us so that we can engage with those very truths that helped both David and his greater son, Jesus.
The reason why I called it When God Seems Far Away is that there are three stanzas to this song or psalm. Each one begins with this sense that God Himself feels to the psalmist, David, and the Lord at that time, far away. The first stanza is this idea of faith amid doubt. Oftentimes, we see doubt as an enemy of faith, but we’ll see that’s not the case. David starts, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from helping me, and from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry in the daytime, but you do not hear, and in the night season, and I’m not silent. But you are holy, enthroned in the praises of Israel. Our fathers trusted in you, they trusted, and you delivered them. They cried to you and were delivered. They trusted in you, and were not ashamed.”
“But I am a worm, and no man; a reproach of men, and despised by the people. All those who see me ridicule me, they shoot out the lip, they shake their head, saying, ‘He trusted in the Lord, let Him rescue him; Let Him deliver him since he delights in Him.’ But you are He who took me out of the womb. You made me trust while on my mother’s breasts. I was cast upon you from birth, from my mother’s womb you have been my God.” There’s an experience that David is having here. We don’t exactly know what in the biography of his life this aligns up with. A couple of weeks ago, Lewis told us about a time when David was kidnapped by the Philistines and had to feign madness to get away. Or, perhaps it was during a time when his own son had betrayed him and he had to run, flee for his life. Or, maybe when younger King Saul was seeing him as a threat to the throne, attacked him, and had to run away.
Whatever the experience was, David has this raging sense of doubt. But in the midst of it, having written this psalm 1000 years ago, before Jesus ever came, I want you to see how he anticipated and pictured the crucifixion scene for us. The very first phrase must have jumped out at you. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” This is a quote, a direct quote from the gospel of Matthew, and tells us exactly what Jesus was feeling when He was on the cross. We can see this, for example, in Matthew 27:46. This is often called the Fourth Word on the cross. It says, “About the ninth hour, Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” Now, that’s Aramaic, which is a dialect of the Hebrew language spoken in Jesus’ day.
“Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” That is “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Jesus is uttering the same words that David wrote in the very first verse of Psalm 22 1000 years earlier. Look at verse eight. We can again see David painting a scene, an experience that he had with those who were in opposition to him. Likewise, this is in Matthew 27:39-43. The scene that Jesus experienced while He hung on the cross. It says, “And those who passed by blasphemed Him,” that is Jesus, “wagging their heads, saying, ‘He trusted in God; let Him deliver Him now if He will have Him.'” There are five of these kinds of direct reflections from David that were part of the crucifixion scene, demonstrating the supernatural prophetic nature of God’s Word.
I remember once meeting with a Jewish attorney, who had shown some interest in understanding who Jesus was. I recommended that he read the gospel of Matthew and we’d get together and talk about it. One day, he came in, we sat down for coffee and he said, “David, now I know that Jesus can’t be the Messiah.” I said, “Oh really? Why is that?” He said, “Because when He was hanging on the cross, He said, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ What kind of a messiah ever says something like that?” Well, you can imagine how excited I was to be able to turn the Bible to the pages of Psalm 22 and show him that this was predicted. I could see the wheels turning. It’s like Jesus was singing the first bars of a well-known hymn when He said that on the cross, drawing all of our attention to the whole song, that this was predicted.
The lawyer sat there and finally he said, “Well, you know, the more I think about it, as you say that, I think the disciples probably just wrote this and put it in his mouth, and that Jesus never even said it.” I said, “Wait a minute, dude. On the one hand, you’re saying that by saying it, He disqualified himself as the Messiah. Within a moment, you’re telling me that He never even said it. So, which is it?” The capacity for the human heart to disbelieve is amazing, and yet it’s here. I think that God has given us His Word so that we can see, identify with, and take comfort in the reality of what God has for us. Let’s read on to the second stanza, which similarly begins with this idea of God feeling far away.
Verse 11, “Be not far from me, for trouble is near, for there is none to help. Many bulls have surrounded me, strong bulls of Bashan have encircled me. They gape at me with their mouths, like a raging and roaring lion. I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint, my heart is like wax, it is melted within me. My strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue clings to my jaws, you have brought me to the dust of death. For dogs have surrounded me, the congregation of the wicked has enclosed me, they pierced my hands and my feet. I can count all my bones, they look and stare at me. They divide my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots.”
David here is accessing a time in his life where he was suffering great physical pain as well. In order for him to explain it to us, he resorts to this poetic language, this menagerie of animals, lions and tigers, and bears. Oh my. Have you ever watched on the Discovery Channel or National Geographic, where there’s this film of an innocent defenseless animal being attacked either by a pack of wolves or a lion? There’s this sense of tension as the animal is being stalked. When it attacks, it’s horrifying to watch it being literally ripped apart. David is saying that’s how he’s feeling here. The whole stanza is a powerful description of a crucifixion scene in very specific terms that occurred and was written first. Before Roman execution, crucifixion was never even invented, imagined, or thought of. There’s predictive power in this that we can see. For example, quoting verse 18 of this.
It says, about Jesus, in Matthew 27:35, “Then they crucified Him, and divided His garments, casting lots, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, ‘They divided my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots.'” The prophet is none other than David who wrote Psalm 22, and that’s what we’re seeing here. As you read the whole characterization of this scene, the suffering, and the physical pain, “My bones are out of joint. My heart melts like wax in me,” you can sense, can’t you, the crucifixion scene itself. The most powerful, obvious correlation is in verse 16. “They pierced my hands and my feet.” This is such a startling image of what happens in the crucifixion, that it has become quite controversial among the rabbis who have felt necessary to try and figure out a way to describe this away. They do so using a Hebrew text. Some have heard of this. It’s called the Masoretic text. In the Masoretic Text, the Hebrew reads not “they pierced,” but “like a lion.”
I want to show you those Hebrew words. This may be a few cookies on the top shelf but bear with me. By the way, we read Hebrew from right to left, rather than from left to right. You would ask, “But, isn’t that backward?” I would say, “We were doing that long before you were reading the other way.” The top word is pronounced “Kari,” and it means “like a lion.” Not “pierced.” The bottom word is “Karu,” which means “pierced.” Now, what’s the difference? Do you see those two letters in red? That’s the difference. The top one is called a yod, and when a scribe makes that letter, it’s like a backward apostrophe. But if he was going to make the bottom letter, “Karu,” that’s called a vav. If he made a mistake or just didn’t continue the stem of the backward apostrophe all the way down, it changes the very meaning of the word.
The Masoretic Text is the only one that says “like a lion.” In the 20th century, we discovered something called the Dead Sea Scrolls. Have you heard of the Dead Sea Scrolls? They predate the Masoretic text, and guess which word it is in Psalm 22? It’s “Karu.” It’s “they pierced.” Not only that but in 400 BC in Alexandria, Egypt, there was a group of 400 rabbis that got together to translate the Bible from Hebrew into Greek, which was the common language of the day. This is called the Septuagint. What word do you think those 400 rabbis chose to use to translate this word into Greek? They chose the Greek word “pierced.” We can see that despite the controversy, the evidence portrays that this is actually what David wrote. “They pierced my hands and my feet.”
I remember once I was meeting regularly with an Israeli named Asaf. We became very good friends and would meet once a week to go step by step through all of the prophecies from the Hebrew Bible that predicted the coming of Jesus. You can imagine as we got to Psalm 22, I wanted to bone up on all the Hebrew arguments here because Asaf spoke Hebrew as his first language. I did and I was all ready with what I just shared with you, maybe a little bit more. As we started to read the Psalms, he in Hebrew and I in English, Asaf in his thick Israeli accent was saying, “Wow, David. Wow.” We’re finally getting to verse 16. I started to explain the difference between the Hebrew words. He had the “like a lion” and I was showing him how it could be “pierced.” He says, “David, it doesn’t matter.” It doesn’t matter? “Pierced” or “like a lion?” This is a picture of Yeshua. Yeshua is the Hebrew way to say, Jesus.
Wouldn’t you know that not long after that, Asaf prayed with me to receive Jesus as his Messiah? I had the privilege of baptizing him in the Mediterranean sea. Hallelujah. Great is the mystery of unbelief, but great is the mystery of faith, which is a gift from God. Now, we move on to the third stanza in this psalm where we begin to make the shift from the lament to the praise. You’ll see it happen here, but again anticipating not only Jesus in His suffering but Jesus in His triumph. “But you, O Lord, do not be far from me.” There’s that refrain. “O my strength, hasten to help me. Deliver me from the sword, my precious life from the power of the dog. Save me from the lion’s mouth, and from the horns of the wild oxen, you have answered me. I will declare your name to my brethren, in the midst of the assembly I will praise you.”
“You who fear the Lord, praise Him; all you descendants of Jacob, glorify Him; and fear Him, all you offspring of Israel. For He has not despised nor abhorred the affliction of the afflicted; nor has He hidden His face from Him; but when he cried to Him, He heard. My praise shall be of you in the great assembly: I will pay my vows before those who fear Him. The poor shall eat and be satisfied: those who seek Him will praise the Lord. Let your heart live forever. All the ends of the world shall remember and turn to the Lord, and all the families of the nations shall worship before you. For the kingdom is the Lord’s: and He rules over the nations. All the prosperous of the earth shall eat and worship; All those who go down to the dust shall bow before Him, even he who cannot keep himself alive. Posterity shall serve him; it will be recounted of the Lord to the next generation. They will come, and declare His righteousness to a people who will be born, that He has done it.”
What started out as this lament, even in this phrase, a mournful “Be not far from me,” somehow turns to end with this exaltation or hymn of victory, for that’s what it is. Faith leads us to this kind of victorious exaltation. It’s not just for the psalmist or David. It’s for a whole group of people, from every tribe, tongue, and nation. This is the vision of the future. This is the intent of God. It concludes with the basis upon which this hopefulness was established. When David says, “He has done it,” does that sound like something that Jesus said in the crucifixion scene? Is it not just like His last words when He said, “It is finished,” and He’d offered up His spirit? A triumphal declaration that God has it all under control.
The invitation to each and every one of us is to join with Him and the chorus. I want to reflect a little bit on how these truths apply to us. Let’s join this chorus. From the beginning of time when God said let us make man in our image and after our likeness, God has been seeking worshipers. Jesus said that to the woman at the well. God is seeking those who worship Him in spirit and truth. Jesus, when He declared on the cross, “It is finished,” what He was saying is, “I have accomplished through my death, forgiveness for all who would be able to see me and say, ‘Jesus is Lord.'” I hope that if you haven’t yet said that, today will be the day. Because when we do, we get to see something that our world around us so desperately needs to see.
We are living in a time of tremendous divisiveness. People are, whether it’s on social media, in Berkeley, or all across our country, there’s this division and racism that allows no place for Him. You cannot claim that these attitudes that are being expressed reflect anything of the purpose of God in Jesus. He died on the cross to heal those things. All around the world, we see things that make us upset and fearful. What’s going on in North Korea, and where will it lead? The vision of God is that in the end, people from every tribe, tongue, and nation will be together now but most importantly around the throne. In Revelations, we see this amazing picture of people, young, old, rich, poor, and there’s no economic divide that makes a difference. They are all colors and nations, Israelis, Palestinians, Arabs, and Jews, shoulder to shoulder singing this song to Him who sits on the throne. Unto the lamb, be blessing, honor, glory, and power forever and ever. Amen. Wow, what a vision.
This will bring hope even in the midst of the times like we are in today because we know God declares the end from the beginning. He will do it, even as He did with Jesus on the cross, He will do this as well. We look for and long for that day. AWe speak into that day and engage in every opportunity to demonstrate God’s heart in a world that needs to be seen. Join the chorus, join the chorus. Secondly, as David and Jesus learned to say, we need to be able to say, “But you, O Lord.” You see it in the text of the Psalm, especially in the first stanza, where David says, “I am just a wreck. I feel awful. I feel abandoned. Why have you forsaken me? People are wagging their heads. They’re saying, ‘How’s that God thing working out for you, huh?'” Or, for us today, “How’s that Jesus thing working out for you? Look at you, look at what’s going on in your life? Where is your God now? Huh?” We can feel that.
We can feel trampled underfoot, like with the second stanza, all the menagerie of animals. We can feel torn up. Feelings of abandonment? Oh man, I know something about that, and maybe you do too. It could be a parent, spouse, child, or best friend. When that happens, where do you go? You feel crushed. First, we need to say, “But you, O Lord.” David says, “I am a worm and not a man, but you, O Lord, are Holy. I feel lousy like I’ve been abandoned by God, but you didn’t abandon my forefathers. They trusted in you and weren’t ashamed. I know I can trust in you just the same way.” We have our eyes on our problems. The antidote that inspires faith to get through is to engage with who God is.
We don’t take the moment of our suffering to renegotiate our faith. Have you seen that happen? It’s easy to follow God when everything’s going well. The difficult thing is to be faithful to Him, to believe and trust Him when everything’s falling apart. Have you been there? Are you there now? Learn to say, “But You, O Lord.” Think about who He is, whom you know Him to be. Don’t start renegotiating in times of trouble. Reflect on God as you know Him to be, as His Word tells us He is. As the hopeful of the future portends for everyone who joined this chorus. “But You, Lord.” Maybe right now we need to say that. “But you, Lord.” There are times when I’ve come to Cornerstone and I’ve felt knocked down. I hear Pastor Terry or Pastor Lewis saying, “You did good. You came to church even if you didn’t feel like it. You’re here.” I appreciate that. That’s the moment where I’m led to that point where, yeah, I don’t feel that good about being here, “But You, O Lord, but You.”
That helps us in the end to make our suffering count. There’s so much suffering in the world. Every country and community has suffered. You listen to some of these stories of people, maybe down in south Texas or in areas where human trafficking is rife. It’s heartbreaking. Whatever we are going through is overwhelming to us. We have people around us who don’t exactly help us think about God, but we’re suffering. In the midst of it, we don’t want it. You say people say, “Well, you’re a martyr.” Well, I’d rather not be a martyr. If I’m out on the streets and because I’m a Jew for Jesus somebody slaps at me or says some abusive phrase, I don’t take any pleasure in that. Whatever experience of suffering at one level or another can make a difference. It can count for God, even if we don’t want it, but that’s okay. David didn’t want it.
Remember Jesus in the garden? He was suffering. He knew what He was about to experience. Not just the psychic suffering that caused Him to sweat drops of blood the stress was so great, but the suffering that was going to come through the beatings and the crucifixion. What did He say? Honestly, from the depths of His soul, He said, “Father, if it’s possible, let this cup pass from me. I don’t want to drink it. I don’t want to have to go through it. Please, God.” That’s the very son of God who said that. That’s okay. If you’re right there and you’re saying, “Hey, look, I don’t want this,” you’re in good company. But, look at what Paul said when he reflected on the sufferings of Jesus and how we can participate with them in a way that causes them to have even far greater meaning because of that.
In 2 Corinthians 1:5, Paul says, “For as the sufferings of Christ,” whether it be the feelings of abandonment or the physical struggle. I had a friend who told me that she’s gone through cancer two times. It was the second time and experience of having to go through chemo that she hit rock bottom. This verse jumped out at her in the midst of her physical suffering. Jesus suffered. “As the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation.” That is comfort. That in circling and developing a sense of God’s presence, His love, mercy, and grace abounds. Whatever you’re going through right now, abandonment, pain, loss, feelings of failure, or inadequacy, Jesus experienced everything and yet without sin. We’re not going to experience it without sin, but we can make this suffering count when we identify our suffering with the sufferings of Christ.
Ground that suffering, pain, and feeling at the foot of the cross of Jesus who lived a life that we could not live. He died a death that we deserve so that we could through our sorrows identify with Him and experience consolation, comfort, love, and grace. God wants to do that for each and every one of us if we access that and make it count. We have this capacity and we need to access it. I know that the dark times that I’ve been through have done work in me that I don’t think could have occurred apart from those things. Even though I didn’t want them and preferred another path. “God, why don’t you just make this an elective rather than a required course in your curriculum?” But, when we do that, what does he do? Empathy. You might not be able to be freed initially from whatever you’re enduring, but the empathy that comes for others who are suffering.
There’s an old phrase that was used by an organization that does a lot of caring for people who are going through pain. It was, “Let my heart break with the things that break the heart of God.” That happens when you endure and ground your suffering at the foot of the cross. He gives a large space. He enlarges our capacity to care for those who are suffering as well. In a powerful way, He also allows us to join in this witness of the chorus for others who are suffering. There are lots of people who are suffering without the consolation of Christ, and they watch. How are you able to do this? I would just completely fall apart. You say, “Jesus suffered too and He helped me.” While that person hasn’t seen the face of Jesus, they look at you and see His face in yours. Make it count. God wants to help us. He will help us. Praise His name. We may feel that He’s far away, but He is just as close as a word uttered in prayer.
Let’s pray. Lord, we are struck by how supernatural your Word is, that a thousand years before Jesus, His crucifixion was predicted in such a visual and amazing way. More than that, Lord, as you endured that which was predicted. You opened a pathway for us who have our own struggles to find a community of worshipers, to share in the hopeful future, keeping our eyes off of our problems and saying, “But you, Lord.” Then, giving us a way through the suffering that none of us signs up for. Nevertheless, an opportunity to grow and experience your grace in ways that we never would have otherwise. To be part of this great testimony to others who can see in our face the face of Jesus. Oh Lord, let it be. In His name, Amen.