Sometimes a single line in a movie is so well crafted and so well delivered that to hear it is to experience the whole of that movie all over again. “Go ahead, make my day.” “You can’t handle the truth!” “You’re gonna need a bigger boat.” “Bond, James Bond.” And who could forget, “Life is like a box of chocolates.” Each of these quotes bring us back to those moments and like a door they usher us into the world of that particular plot. Psalm 22 is like this. It begins with one of the most famous lines of all Scripture. “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?” Upon hearing this one line we enter into the agony, the suffering, the humiliation of Christ on the cross. But upon hearing this one line we also what the cross led to and so we enter into the exaltation of Christ in the resurrection as well. Not surprisingly then, would you be surprised to know that Psalm 22 includes both of these? Both humiliation and exaltation come into view in its 31 verses. Because of this, Psalm 22 is the most quoted Psalm throughout the gospels, and that Jesus’ uttered Psalm 22:1 on the cross we may rightly conclude that Jesus had the whole of Psalm 22 in mind as He spoke those words.
So Church, we’ve been in Psalm 2, 8, and 16 so far throughout this Christmas season, and today we wrap it up with Psalm 22. It is, perhaps more so than any other Psalm, a Psalm of the cross. One might ask at this point: ‘what does the cross have to do with Christmas?’ Answer: after His perfect law keeping life, Jesus’ Christmas entrance culminated in His cross. Or we could say it like we just sang it: “To reveal the kingdom coming, and to reconcile the lost, to redeem the whole creation, He did not despise the cross. For even in His suffering He saw to the other side, knowing this was our salvation, Jesus for our sake He died.” To these things we now turn.
Psalm 22 begins in trouble and ends in triumph. It goes from one man in the dust of death to all nations praising the Lord in a global assembly. Psalm 22 is to put it simply, a masterpiece, that has much to do about David but is essentially well beyond David in its scope as all of our Christmas Psalms have been. Before v1 note the setting given. It’s a Psalm of David, written according to a specific tune, ‘The Doe of the Dawn.’ But more so, David didn’t write it just for anyone to sing, no. A Psalm as prominent as this one is kept for one person, the choirmaster. It’s easily divided into two sections: trouble (v1-21) and triumph (v22-31). Let’s dig in.
This first large section presents a back and forth pattern between David and God. This pattern will repeat three times, and each time it will get longer and more urgent in feel. What does it go back and forth about? On one hand we see David’s complaints and laments while on the other hand we see David’s confidence and prayerful pleading to God. There is much to cover in this beginning portion, so I’ll take it one back and forth portion at a time.
v1-5, “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me? Why are You so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but You do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest. Yet You are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel. In You our fathers trusted; they trusted, and You delivered them. To You they cried and were rescued; in You they trusted and were not put to shame.”
David’s not merely struggling, he’s feeling abandoned by God. And from feeling such abandonment and disorientation (things David isn’t used to at all) he asks God why He is remaining so aloof in this urgent and pressing need. Even after crying out day and night, David believes he has heard no answer from God, so David has no rest. In this despairing state there is much for us to be encouraged with. That David feels such things is itself something to be encouraged with. Too often when we suffer we feel we’re suffering alone and because of that we feel we shouldn’t give voice to how we truly feel. People may ask us, ‘How are you?’ and we’re tempted to believe that if we answered honestly people would be so appalled at the state of our souls that they’d stop asking us how we’re doing. What a lie this is! See David suffer yes, but see him bring his sorrow straight to God! And in doing this don’t miss that David isn’t turning to false gods, idols, or other things in the midst of his suffering. He turns to God, why? Because he knows God doesn’t move. If God feels far from him, deep down David knows God hasn’t changed, but that David has changed and in this sense he’s asking God to act and bring him back home.
After the plea of v1-2 David remembers in v3-5 that many of God’s people before him have felt this way too. In their own suffering they trusted in God and experienced the deliverance and rescue of God. For this David is reminded of a few things: that God is holy and that from being rescued out of great suffering God’s people have praised God robustly and joyfully. And so, when peace flows like a river or when sorrows like sea billows role, God isn’t distant, He sits evermore enthroned on the praises of His people. Yet, when David remembers how God dealt with His people in the past he doesn’t feel that his miserable experience matches their experience. All he can see and feel is contrast between he and them. That what God did for them God isn’t doing for him. They were lifted out of their shame while David seems to be sinking deeper into shame.
So David keeps on in v6-11 with language that returns to sorrow and increases in its intensity and urgency, “But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by mankind and despised by the people. All who see me mock me; they make mouths at me; they wag their heads; ‘He trusts in the LORD; let him deliver him; let him rescue him, for he delights in him!’ Yet You are He who took me from the womb; You made me trust You at my mother’s breasts. On You was I cast from my birth, and from my mother’s womb You have been my God. Be not far from me, for trouble is near, and there is none to help.”
Similar to the pattern we saw in v1-5, here in v6-11 David begins in lament and ends pleading to God for help. He has sunken low in v6. Due to his despair David views himself, not as a man made in God’s image and therefore deserving of dignity and honor and respect, but as a worm who’s scorned and despised by God and others. Now, I’m all for a low view of self. The Bible clearly states our sinful fallen condition is not one that leads us to a high view of self. We are dead in sin and to lessen this reality or to soften it is to reject plain truth. Also, I think many of our problems come from having a far too high view of self. But here though, David’s gone beyond healthy biblical bounds by seeing himself not just as dead in sin and under the just wrath of God, he sees himself as something less than human. A worm which is easily stepped on or thrown aside. And to add more onto this, David isn’t just attacked inwardly in v6 by his own thoughts he’s attacked outwardly in v7-8 by those around him. They mock him by cutting him down with their words and wagging or shaking their heads at him. Why? Because even here in his suffering David trusts the Lord and to these onlooking mockers nothing could be more foolish. In a sense David is experiencing a Job like sorrow where the attacks come from deep inside him and from others outside of him. Even so, in v9-11 David doesn’t bury his head in shame, he squares up to and faces his mockers head on not by attacking them with his own words in return but by turning to confident prayer pleading with God to not be far from him, because when God is near David need not fear. And no surprise then that David now recalls how he has ever been near God and with God and upheld by God even in infancy when he wasn’t aware of God. I think the gist is this: just as God was David’s help and strength then, David yearns for God to be his strength still. So his plea remains firm and fixed in v11 because something else is also near him, trouble. Trouble so great that only God can help him, that’s what the end of v11 implies “Be not far from me, for trouble is near, and there is none to help.”
He keeps on. As in v1-5, and as in v6-11, we see the same pattern of lament and sorrow giving way and breaking through to prayer as David continues in the longest section of this first portion. v12-21a, “Many bulls encompass me; strong bulls of Bashan surround me; they open wide their mouths at me, like a ravening 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 my breast; my strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to my jaws; You lay me in the dust of death. For dogs encompass me; a company of evildoers encircles me; they have pierced my hands and feet—I can count all my bones—they stare and gloat over me; they divide my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots. But You, O LORD, do not be far off! O You my help, come quickly to my aid! Deliver my soul from the sword, my precious life from the power of the dog! Save me from the mouth of the lion! You have rescued me from the horns of the wild oxen!”
In v12-13 David begins to lament once again, this time in an extralong manner with language more extreme than we’ve seen so far in this Psalm. He likens those seeking his life to be dangerous like wild animals: ravenous bulls, lions, and dogs. Against the power of these foes David feels powerless, as if he is shut in with no hope of escape. It’s mentioned the bulls and lions are from Bashan, which is worth noting because the city of Bashan was known in the Ancient Near Eastern world to be a place of plenty abounding in animals of many kinds that were thick and healthy. The meaning then is that these foes coming against David are not weaklings, they’re a force to be reckoned with. In v14-15 David transitions away from his outward fear to his inward frailty. Because of these foes David isn’t only worn out, he says he’s poured out, like wax, out of joint, melted, dried up so much so his tongue sticks in his mouth to the point that he feels as if he’s been laid in the dust of death. The image we see here is David feeling like a clay pot that’s drying and cracking more and more with each use, and he expects he’ll be broken to pieces any minute. And yet, even in this condition his lot gets worse! In v16-18 his enemies are portrayed as dogs surrounding him. Not cute little Instagram puppies, or adorable little dogs in the pound being sung into your hearts by Sarah McLachlan’s ‘in the arms of an angel’ song, no. These dogs are vicious, untamed, wild packs intending to divide and pull his flesh apart, consuming him once he dies. After such intensity, in v19-21a we find David returning to the theme of his prayer he began in v11. There he begged God to be near because trouble was near, now he begs again more fiercely asking God to come quickly to his aid and save his soul…from what? The very enemies he’s just described but this time in reverse order: the sword, the power of the dog, and the mouth of the lion.
The sense in David’s lengthy lament and pleading with God is potent and familiar: the strong is now closing in on the weak, the many now surround the one. And just like that……for David, it’s over. In the middle of v21 something happens that changes everything! What happens? In a mysterious, unexpected, inexplicable way, God shows up and brings rescue long sought after and desired! One could say Christmas has happened, or a light has shone in the darkness. “Save me from the mouth of the lion! You have rescued me from the horns of the wild oxen!” v1-21a are full of danger, full of despair and distress, and such darkness that you don’t want to keep reading to see the end of the Psalm because how could it be happy? But as v21b happens, we learn – this darkness has passed, a new dawn has come, and for it being so dark the light now shines out the clearer. We’ve seen David in trouble, let’s see now him in triumph, listen to all of v22-31.
“I will tell of Your name to my brothers; in the midst of the congregation I will praise You: You who fear the LORD, praise Him! All you offspring of Jacob, glorify Him, and stand in awe of Him, all you offspring of Israel! For He has not despised or abhorred the affliction of the afflicted, and He has not hidden His face from him, but has heard, when he cried to Him. From you comes my praise in the great congregation; my vows I will perform before those who fear Him. The afflicted shall eat and be satisfied; those who seek Him shall praise the LORD! May your hearts live forever! All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the LORD, and all the families of the nations shall worship before You. For kingship belongs to the LORD, and He rules over the nations. All the prosperous of the earth eat and worship; before Him shall bow all who go down to the dust, even the one who could not keep himself alive. Posterity shall serve Him; it shall be told of the Lord to the coming generation; they shall come and proclaim His righteousness to a people yet unborn, that he has done it.”
Simply put: David was wrong. In his suffering he was not forsaken, God was not far off, God’s face was not hidden, God’s ear was not shut. The lies suffering brings are seen to be what they are, lies! God was near, God did know, God had heard, and God powerfully saved. David thought he was in the dust of death, he now knows himself to be to among all the nations praising the Lord in a global assembly. Because of God’s work, trouble has given way to triumph! Do not miss that David’s redemption brings so much more than David into view. In v22-26 David includes all of God’s covenant people in this praise, all the offspring of Jacob, all true Israel. And more, in 27-31 nothing less than the nations are included in this praise! Once all the Israelites were outsiders and foreigners in Egypt, and when God redeemed them out of slavery He commanded them to show kindness to outsiders. This was to be a reminder to them, of what they once were in Egypt. But do you see this kindness to foreigners more than a reminder? It was also a preview of what David speaks of here. A global ingathering, a worldwide assembly of saints from all nations praising God! And more so, this worshipful gathering David speaks of is so expansive it includes: the fat, the lean, the poor, the rich, the Israelite, the foreigner, the living, the dead, and it even extends to those not yet born! And at the center of this gathering singing praise to God stands the very one who first sang a lament in despair. With him then we have gone from trouble to triumph.
But no surprise, Psalm 22 isn’t about David. Think about it. David suffered in his life sure, but he never died from any of his suffering, he thought he was going to die a few times. No, David died of old age. These words then fit someone else. David was the sweet singer of Israel yes, but look beyond David and see a greater and truer Singer in view, with a higher and more nobler song to sing. If you look beyond David we see none other than the One who quoted Psalm 22 in His death, Jesus Christ. On the cross Jesus cried out Psalm 22:1, “My God, my God, why have You forsaken Me?” teaching us that God the Father had turned away from Him. But when He quotes Psalm 22:1 does Jesus only have v1 in view? No sir. Remember where we began? Sometimes a single line is so well crafted and so well delivered that to hear it is to experience the whole of the plot all over again? Lesson? All of Psalm 22 comes into view as Jesus quotes its first lyric. This means the language, the agony, the suffering, the despair, the lament, the prayerful pleading, and the death in view was the experience of Jesus on the cross. v1-21 was His trouble! More than any other passage of Scripture, Psalm 22 penetrates into the actual suffering of Christ on the cross. “The pierced hands and feet, the body agonizingly pulled apart, the racking thirst, the mocking onlookers…” and we look on with awe and joy. 1,000 years beforehand David spoke of what the Lord would experience on the cross as He was purchasing a people for the praise of God!
But don’t stop there, keep on! Since the trouble of v1-21 truly belong to Jesus, so does the triumph of v22-31. God the Father did not abandon Christ the Son to the grave, for after Christmas comes Calvary, and after Calvary comes Easter. So if we can say v1-21 describe the cross of Christ, we can also say v22-31 describe the resurrection and ascension of Christ. And as we saw the quick redemptive shift in v21 with David, we can see the same with Christ. So in a mysterious, unexpected, inexplicable way, God’s own Son hasn’t only become one of us, but He bore our sin, in our place, as our substitute in His death. And joy upon joy three days after dying the dead Savior began breathing again and in Himself He brings the rescue long sought after and desired to all who believe! This is why Hebrews 2:12 quotes Psalm 22:22 saying it is Jesus’s great joy to praise His Father among the assembly of His brothers and sisters He died to save!
So Church…yes, this Christmas look at the Jesus’ entrance into this world in His birth. But also this Christmas look beyond it to Jesus’ exit from this world in His death. And see glory and joy as our dead Savior rose to life and crushed the Devil’s grasp on us. Yes, there was a heavenly choir over the shepherds singing praise to God for the birth of Christ. Now after the death and resurrection of Christ there is a global gathering of all nations singing praise to God and in its center stands the Christ who first sang a lament in despair. And because He went through the humiliation and exaltation of Psalm 22, He now, sitting at God’s right hand, is able to lead His people in Psalm 23 type fashion, as a Shepherd leads His sheep.
 Reggie M. Kidd, With One Voice: Discovering Christ’s Song in Our Worship (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 2005) 73.
 Charles Spurgeon, Treasury of David – Vol. 1 (McLean, Virginia: MacDonald Publishing, reprint) 324.
 King of Kings, Hillsong Worship.
 Bruce K. Waltke and James M. Houston, The Psalms as Christian Worship: A Historical Commentary (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 2010) 396-397.
 James A. Johnston, The Psalms: Rejoice the LORD IS KING – Preaching the Word Commentary (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2015) 234.
 Roger E. Van Harn and Brent A. Strawn, Psalms for Preaching and Worship: A Lectionary Commentary (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 2009) 96.
 Waltke and Houston, 404.
 Kidd, 76.
 Derek Kidner, Tyndale Commentary (accessed via Accordance Bible software, 12.21.19).
 Van Harn and Strawn, 98.
 Kidd, 83.
 Van Harn and Strawn, 99.
 Alec Motyer, Psalms By the Day: A New Devotional Translation (Ross-shire, Scotland: Christian Focus, 2016) 61.
 Johnston, 234.