Expository Sermon on Psalm 22
by Maylan Schurch
Bellevue Seventh-day Adventist Church 12/7/2019
©2019 by Maylan Schurch
(To hear the YouTube recording of this entire worship service, click the little triangular “play” button at the left of the link just below. The sermon starts at the 57:28 mark.)
Please open your Bibles to Psalm 22.
For the last few months I’ve been preaching a sermon series called “Jesus’ Bible Footprints.” We’ve been looking at various Old Testament stories and other writings to see the footprints of Jesus. Because they are there. On a 10 mile walk to the town of Emmaus the evening of the day Jesus was resurrected, He took His friends on a verbal tour through the Old Testament – which was the only Bible anybody had at that time – and showed them how He appears in every part of it.
And if there’s any Bible passage that has Jesus’ footprints all over it, it is Psalm 22. This has been called a “Messianic Psalm.” In fact, several of its verses are quoted in the New Testament, talking about Jesus.
For example, when He was on the cross, Jesus Himself gasped out this Psalm’s very first lines, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”
Down in verse eight, where it says, ““He trusted in the LORD, let Him rescue Him; Let Him deliver Him, since He delights in Him!”, these very words were quoted contemptuously at Jesus’ crucifixion by the chief priests, in Matthew 27 and Luke 23.
And the prophecy of verse 16, which says, “They pierced My hands and My feet” was of course fulfilled at the crucifixion. And the prophecy of verse 18, which says, “They divide My garments among them, And for My clothing they cast lots” was fulfilled and mentioned in all four Gospels. The Roman soldiers gambled away Jesus’ possessions right there at the foot of the cross.
So there is no doubt about it – this is a Bible chapter which is covered with Jesus’ footprints. But what should you and I do with this Psalm? Should we just carefully store it in a museum of Jesus’ mementos, and visit it reverently from time to time?
Or is it a practical psalm for our daily life? Well, if, as Paul says, “all Scripture is profitable,” I believe we can apply Psalm 22 to our lives. After all, David was the author of this Psalm, and he probably wrote it during a time when he himself was feeling desperately low. We don’t know whether he realized that some of his sentences would apply directly to Jesus, but this Psalm most likely arose originally from David’s own personal crisis.
Anyway, as I studied through the Psalm in several different Bible versions this week, I discovered that there is a repeating pattern to it. First of all, David cries out in great agony, then pauses to reflect on who God is and what he is done in the past. Then comes another spasm of verbal agony, followed by another pause for reflection. And so on down through the Psalm. It happens three times.
I think this Psalm shows very clearly that you don’t need to “put on a good face” with God. As long as we are willing to reach out to God, and find ways to get to know and respect Him better, God is absolutely satisfied with our honesty.
I have studied the Bible with quite a number of people who were not sure that they could share their questions and doubts with me, let alone with God. But He created us with curious minds, and He encourages us to be direct and honest with Him.
And the first syllables of this psalm, spoken by David and later by Jesus, are an example of absolute honesty.
Psalm 22:1 – 2 [NKJV]: 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 am not silent.
So here we learn from David – and later, from Jesus – that if we feel that God is distant from us, it’s okay to tell Him so. Notice that David could have simply just stayed silent and depressed, and not written this Psalm at all. But he writes it down. He even makes a song out of it. This song was number 22 in the Israelite worship hymnbook.
So here is someone who is in deep distress, and prays to God all through the day and through the night. And God seems very far away.
In fact, a good summary of these verses could go something like this:
“God, it seems like You’ve forsaken me.”
Again, it’s important to watch carefully what David does here. He writes down these very discouraged comments, but he doesn’t stop there. He could have done the way a lot of modern authors seem to do – just write down their bitterness, go on and on with negativity, and get it all off their chest.
But that’s not the kind of literature David is writing. It’s very clear that he is extremely discouraged here – and he’s going to get even more discouraged as the Psalm goes along. But watch what happens next.
Verses 3 – 5: 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.
Do you see what David is doing? He allows himself to feel – and to express – his honest emotions. But he doesn’t stop there. He pauses for breath, and his next words are words of faith, drawn from the history of God. In this moment of discouragement, David does not see God at work. He doesn’t even feel as though God is listening to him.
But still David looks back to the past, and forces himself to think about how God did respond to other people in crisis.
So how do we do this? Because I believe we need to. David is mentoring us in how to respond here. Well, we need to look back at Bible stories which tell how powerfully God can work. We need to read the mission stories that are at the end of every week’s segment of our Sabbath school lessons. We need to watch the Mission Spotlight programs which are sometimes shown for our Sabbath school feature time at 9;30. We need to listen to the people in our worship service’s Celebrations and Concerns segment who tell about answered prayers.
And we need to keep track of how God has helped us in our own lives, and in the lives of our family and relatives. Each of us has had dramatic answers to prayer, and we need to remember and repeat those stories. That’s what David was doing in these verses we just read.
This past Tuesday as I was coming away from a visit to Marian Forschler in the Seward Park area. I was inching out, getting ready to turn at a traffic light, when a hasty young lady raced around in front of me and dinged my car. We pulled over and talked things over, and called the police, but they said that since neither of us had been injured, just let the insurance handle it.
So for the past few days I’ve been trying to get in touch with the very busy insurance person who is handling our case. I called her, and she’d call me back, we never got connected to each other “live” until early yesterday afternoon. She took down the details, and she gave me information about body shops I could go to. My insurance also works with Enterprise Rentals to provide a vehicle for the person whose car is in the shop.
My insurance person was entering all this info into her computer, and she told me that the Enterprise Rentals people would be, in her words, “reaching out to me.” But I didn’t know how quickly that outreach would happen. Because even before the insurance person and I were saying our goodbyes, I suddenly got a phone call coming in. And when I took the call, it was Enterprise Rentals! Just that quick, somebody had seen the information about me come up on their screen, and quickly called me.
If you’ve had any experience with God it all, you know that this is sometimes the way He does work. As we face a seemingly impossible dilemma, and pray about it, God will most often go ahead of us, long before we get to the crisis point, and vastly improve things. And we look around in happy bewilderment and say, “That turned out a whole lot better than I thought it would.”
So let’s remember the times that He does respond in a tangible way, because it will remind us that even when He seems not to be working, or maybe not even to be listening, that He still cares, and is working behind the scenes.
Well, what we’ve just gone through is the first cycle in this repeating pattern in Psalm 22. David expresses his sense of crisis, but then he pauses and remembers that God is holy, and that God responded to his ancestors and their needs.
But now, buckle your seatbelt, because David is going to repeat this pattern. And the crisis is going to get worse.
Verses 6 – 8: 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 the head, saying, “He trusted in the LORD, let Him rescue Him; Let Him deliver Him, since He delights in Him!”
So if you copied down the little summary statement I gave a minute or two about the first cycle, here’s another one about this second one.
“God, not only does it seem like You’ve forsaken me, but it’s clear that people despise me.”
As I look back over my life, I don’t think I can remember ever being in the situation where everybody seemed to despise me. I had fourth grade teacher once who called me developmentally disabled, mentally slow, right in front of all the other kids. But even though I blushed with shame, I didn’t believe her. My parents didn’t believe her. It turns out that she herself was going through a mental crisis, and had to leave our school and be replaced by another teacher.
So I’ve not faced that terrible challenge myself. But I helped Susi Hasel Mundy write the story of her German Seventh-day Adventist family during World War II. This family honored the Sabbath, and refused to work on that day – exactly like the Jewish families whom Hitler’s secret police were persecuting. The Hasels didn’t send their kids to school on Sabbath, just like the observing Jewish families.
And since the Hasel family’s father was drafted into Hitler’s army, where he faced his own challenges and persecutions, mom and the kids were left back home. The local Nazi leader would threaten her on the sidewalk as she was walking toward her apartment door. Representatives of the Nazi women’s organization would visit her and try to pressure her into sending her children to what they claimed was a delightful summer camp put on by the Nazi party, but which was actually a re-education camp designed to brainwash the kids into accepting the party’s ideas. Many times, all Mrs. Hasel could do was cry out desperately to the Lord.
And of course it’s very clear that when Jesus cried out “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” He was feeling incredibly lonely as well. Who on earth could help Him? And why was God silent in the darkness?
Well, just as surely as Jesus had memorized this Psalm’s words of despair, He had memorized its encouragement too. Once again, David has expressed his discouragement – an even deeper discouragement than the first verse. God seems to have forsaken him, and now everyone else despises him.
But watch how David responds.
Verses 9 – 10: 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.
Do you see what David is doing here? A few verses back, when he first expressed his discouragement when God didn’t seem to be listening, David looked back to the past, and forced himself to think about how God did respond to other people in crisis.
But this time, once he has expressed how discouraged he is that everybody despises him, David remembers who he is. He remembers that God is his Creator. God brought him into being. God brought him safely through his birth.
And when David remembers this, he seems to be saying to himself, “I matter after all.” In verse six, David has allowed his despisers to convince him that he is no more valuable than a worm. But then he reflects back on who created him, and he realizes that he does matter after all.
Across the intersection from our church is the Sammamish High School. About a year ago, a gymnastics student who attended there became so discouraged – and I don’t know any of the details – that she committed suicide.
Her friends took over one of the parking lot spaces, and created a little shrine to this girl. And other people – and I’m not sure whether they were connected with the school or not – printed up several large signs to post on the sidewalk. Some of them were placed close to where the students waited for the Metro buses to come by. One of the signs said simply, “You Matter.”
And to David, once he had paused to reflect, this was not simply a hopeful slogan. When David remembered that an extremely creative Creator had brought him into this world, he realized that this made him worth a great deal.
So what should I do if I’m feeling the way David felt? I need to do just what David did. I need to remember that God is my Creator. He’s not only the creator of everybody who might seem to despise me at the moment. He is my creator as well. He’s the one who gives me life, and who sustains me. I need to keep calling out to him, knowing that His love is more important than anyone else’s love.
Well, we’ve just been through the first two cycles of David’s discouragement. There’s just one more – but it’s a lot longer, and a lot more traumatic. But it, too, has a positive ending.
And we can’t forget, or we shouldn’t forget, that Jesus experienced these same emotions. This was the psalm which was sounding in His head as he dangled from the cross. He was living this Psalm. He saw the soldiers gambling his garments away. He heard the chief priests quoting from this psalm.
Now let’s let David put this into words.
Verses 11 – 18: 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 has 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.
As I say, I’m sure these very words were playing in Jesus’ mind. “They pierced my hands and feet,” He was thinking as He felt bite of the nails. “I can count my bones,” He was probably thinking as He gazed down through bleary eyes at His distended ribs. And He hears the rattle of Roman dice below Him. “They divide my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots.”
And at this point, David – and Jesus Himself – have nothing left but faith. And David– and probably Jesus Himself – knew that there was only one thing they could do. They could call out into the darkness to the God whom they believed.
Now, watch what happens here. As David continues to call out, word after word after word, it’s as though God gives him a greater and greater vision of how this will all conclude. David starts with a simple call for help, but as he speaks, his faith seems to grow. It’s as though God gives faith to David handful after handful, faith that finally takes his mind off the current crisis and lifts him above, so he can see the happy future.
Verses 19 – 31: But You, O LORD, do not be far from Me; 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. A 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 this.
As this psalm began, David cried, “God, you have forsaken me! And the people despise me.” And finally, David says, “God, I’m in real danger, and I’m helpless.”
But even though David’s crisis became worse and worse—all the way from God’s apparent inattention to universal public scorn and eventually to being desperately near death—David never stops reaching out, calling out, claiming God’s attention.
And Jesus never stopped reaching out to His Father either. In His last few seconds of life, He shouted in Luke 23:46, “Into Your hands I commit my spirit.” That’s another quote from another Psalm of David, Psalm 31:5. It’s as though He were saying, “Father, even though I am more separated from You than any human being has ever been, I give Myself back to You.”
Right beside our driveway in Renton, in the little space of soil between the driveway and a hedge, something amazing happens every spring. Somewhere under the dirt is an iris plant awaits, and in spring we see its straight green shoots coming up, until the stems grow tall, and burst into a glorious white and a vivid yellow at the top.
From a bit of quick looking online, I have discovered that there’s a lot you can do to cultivate and improve an iris, but someone simply said, “Anyone can grow an iris.” But Shelley doesn’t remember planting this iris, and I sure didn’t. It must be left over from the previous owners, 14 years ago.
Shelley and I don’t nurture that iris, or cultivate it, at all. Yet every spring it grows out of the ground, calm and confident and beautiful, and gives us its beauty during its season.
Knowing that the Creator of the iris is also the Creator of me, and knowing how faithfully the iris arrives each year to dazzle us with its beauty, and knowing how familiar David was with the power that pulses through flowers, and little lambs, and children, I can turn my face confidently toward a God I cannot see, and call out to Him even though He doesn’t appear to be responding.
And the same Savior who hung on that cross, despised and rejected, rose to life once He had accomplished our salvation and rested from His work on the Sabbath—that same Savior has told us that He wants to be near us, within us through His Holy Spirit, and wants us to be within Him.
“Behold,” He told us in Revelation 3:20, “I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me.”
Would you like to accept this invitation from the One who endured this Psalm 22 separation from God so that you could be happily united with Him forever?