SF 09: A Battle-worn Faith | Psalm 22 part 2

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When we hit rock bottom, and God feels far away when our troubles are close, we always have something of God’s character to sustain us.

In this 2nd episode of our series on Psalm 22, the horrid nature of Jesus’ suffering is described for us, from his perspective. This is how he felt about himself. As hard as it is to imagine, the words here express the reality of his inward struggle. And though God seemed far from saving him, he still had hope — a tested hope that was rooted in the trust God had nurtured into his life. How he reasons his way to hope is instructive for us.

Transcript

As we saw in the last episode, the first 5 verses of Psalm 22 open with the psalmist feeling utterly forsaken of God. And because of this, in the midst of a horrid trial, he roars to God, crying out for him day and night, hoping for an answer that doesn’t come.

But in the midst of his horror, compounded by God’s abandonment, the psalmist reaches for a fundamental hope in the very nature of God himself. And that is his holiness. God is holy, and that gives the suffering psalmist hope; a hope that comes from the testimony of the fathers who have gone before. What is that testimony? It’s a testimony of praise; a praise of God’s people that enthrones God.

When we experience calamity or suffering, when injustice falls upon us, and tragedy turns our world upside down, the most fundamental hope we have for justice or rebirth is found in the holiness of God. God’s holiness was the prevailing source of comfort, encouragement and hope of the fathers of whom the psalmist refers to. When their child died, when their crops failed, when they were taken captive, they found hope in the holiness of God. This doesn’t give us as much comfort today as it gave to God’s people in the Old Testament era. But it should.

 A TURN FOR THE WORSE

For the psalmist, though he clings to the comfort he finds in God’s holiness, and clings to the testimony of God’s people who have enthroned this God on praises of deliverance, his trial continues, and it takes a turn for the worst. He is in grave danger, and we begin to see how deep the suffering is.

6 But I am a worm and not a man,
scorned by mankind and despised by the people.
7 All who see me mock me;
they make mouths at me; they wag their heads;
8 “He trusts in the Lord; let him deliver him;
let him rescue him, for he delights in him!”
9 Yet you are he who took me from the womb;
you made me trust you at my mother’s breasts.
10 On you was I cast from my birth,
and from my mother’s womb you have been my God.
11 Be not far from me,
for trouble is near,
and there is none to help.

In these 6 verses, the psalmist shares how he suffers at the hands of his enemies, and then reaches for a personal reason to hope in God, and with that hopeful foothold under his toe, he cries out to God for help.

Let’s look at how he suffers in this section.

6 But I am a worm and not a man,
scorned by mankind and despised by the people.
7 All who see me mock me;
they make mouths at me; they wag their heads;
8 “He trusts in the Lord; let him deliver him;
let him rescue him, for he delights in him!”

He is alone, in the midst of a people who despise him, and they are mocking him. And if we recall the trial of Jesus, this is exactly what happened to him.

6 But I am a worm and not a man,

What is a worm? A worm crawls on the ground and lives in the earth under the feet of everyone. To call a human a worm is degrading. In our culture, it’s the same as calling someone a cockroach. They are a pest. They are less than human.

scorned by mankind and despised by the people.

He was scorned. To scorn is to insult. It’s to cast sharp words/cutting remarks to hurt, even destroy, the person. He was despised. To despise is to cast someone down. To demean them, to consider them vile.

Jesus was in the custody of the Sanhedrin and then handed over to the custody of the Romans. It wasn’t just the Jewish leaders who were against him; it was all the people, all mankind. Everyone was in on it. No one had compassion for him. No one came to his defense.

I don’t know that many of us have experienced this kind of isolating hatred. Jesus wasn’t just cast off as refuse and ignored. The hatred for him ran so deep that all the people gathered around him to take part in mockery. These people despised Jesus so much he deserved their time and attention to express their hatred, and tear him down with words and ridicule. And he had nowhere to run. He could not get away from them. He was put on a pedestal for all to see and all to voice their hate.

This was prophesied by Isaiah.

Isaiah 53: 3
He was despised and rejected by men,
a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief;
and as one from whom men hide their faces,
he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

This is psalm 22. The psalm elaborates what it was like for Jesus during his trial and execution. He is called a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief. This situation wasn’t the only sorrow or grief that Jesus experienced, but it was certainly part of it.

And to add insult to injury, they knew he trusted in Yahweh. They knew he believed God to be one who delivers and rescues. They must have heard the stories about the voice from heaven declaring, “This is my son in whom I am well pleased” at Jesus’ baptism and his transfiguration. And they twist the knife to increase the cutting effect of their mockery, in verse 8:

8 “He trusts in the Lord; let him deliver him;
let him rescue him, for he delights in him!”

His trust in the Lord, and his knowledge that God delighted in him, is the only thing that gave him hope. This is the hope he was hanging onto by a thread. He already felt abandoned by God. He wondered if God heard his cries. He was isolated, given into the hands of his enemies, paraded before the whole world who turned against him. Everything about his situation challenges his trust in God. God is his only hope. And this last thing he has to cling to is targeted for ridicule. His enemies know where his hope is, and they try to destroy that shred of hope.

They use his hope against him. They give voice to his doubts. They challenge his God in the midst of his absence, and his silence. Where is this mighty God whom you trust? Let him come and deliver you. Let him rush to your rescue! If He delights in you so much, why are you in our hands?

This is just what the Chief Priests, Scribes and elders said to Jesus.

Matthew 27:43
He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he desires him. For he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’

Isn’t this an incredible irony? These religious leaders knew Psalm 22.

A CONFIDENT HOPE

At the very end of his rope, when it seems like all hope is lost, the psalmist reaches for the most basic, foundational hope. He’s already taken assurance from the testimony of God’s people, but now he finds a reason for hope from his own life.

9 Yet you are he who took me from the womb;
you made me trust you at my mother’s breasts.
10 On you was I cast from my birth,
and from my mother’s womb you have been my God.

The simplicity of this is lost on us in the modern age. It’s so basic, so primitive, I think, for must of us, this is the kind of verse we walk on by with just a passing thought. It seems desperate, and not very profound. And it is desperate, but it is profound.

The psalmist reminds himself that it was God who birthed him. What do doctors tell women to do in childbirth? “Push!” This is basically what the psalmist is saying. God was his mother’s mid-wife. God “took me from the womb.” Literally, “You pushed me out.”

God also took him and laid him at his mother’s breast. God nourished him, supplied for his needs, and comforted him. This is how God began to build trust in his life.

This is the sense of what he’s saying. From the day of my birth, I was cast upon you. I was placed into your arms. From the day of my birth, you have been my God. You have been the God I have trusted. You have shown yourself to me in my life.

Before this great trial he finds himself in, he had a life of trusting in God, even when he didn’t know God by name. His faith in God is not blind trust. It is a tested faith. It is an exercised faith. It is an informed faith that saw God sovereignly in control of his life from the moment he took his first breath. This is the basis of his trust, the hope he clings to. This is what sustains him in his trial.

And so, he cries out to God

11 Be not far from me,
for trouble is near,
and there is none to help.

The situation is dire. His trouble is closing in around him. His enemies are about to have a complete victory over him. And he’s all alone. There is no one nearby to help him.

At the beginning, he said to God, “Why are you so far from saving me?” And now, “Do not be far from me!” Why? Because the trouble is closer than God seems to be. God is far. Trouble is near. And there is no one else he can turn to.

It seems all is lost. God is his only hope. If God doesn’t come through for him, defeat is imminent. It will all be over. He will be destroyed.

This is where Christ was during his trial. His enemies had him. Mocking him. Beating him. All of his most trusted friends left him. He was alone. His only hope was in God. There was nowhere else to turn.

And this is the cliffhanger where we have to leave the psalmist until the next episode.

Have you ever been in a similar situation? Where some trial you faced felt like it was the end of the world. No one could help you. You were alone, and only God was the one you could cry out to — yet he seemed so far away, so far from saving you? Perhaps God abandoned you?

Christ teaches us how to face suffering. He is an example of how to persevere in those hours of great darkness. He doesn’t put forward a stiff upper lip. He doesn’t put on the face of a stoic. He cries out to God in terror. He freely voiced the fears of his human frailty. We was free to roar at God when God was silent. Christ gives us permission to be broken, to express our confusion, our disillusionment. Suffering is suffering. Even though God uses suffering in our lives to shape us, to teach us, suffering is still a horror, not just to us, but to God, just as it was to the Son of God.
God is not a stoic when it comes to suffering. He’s not indifferent. He is far from not caring. He cares so deeply about suffering that he put his Son through horrid suffering so that he could defeat sin and save us from the clutches of sin, death and suffering for all time. He is not a fatalist, and nor should we be.

Pastor David Strain has some very helpful words with regard to our response to severe suffering.

There is a kind of misplaced Calvinism, you know, a fatalism really, that thinks that the only appropriate response to suffering is passive surrender to pain – a theology that almost collapses into the idea that suffering is a good thing intrinsically, that it would be ungodly to protest beneath it. But suffering isn’t good and even our Lord asks to be rescued from it. It is possible to humbly submit to the sovereignty of God while asking, at the same time, to be delivered from the trials that He has ordained. And if you struggle with that, then you may need to spend more time in the Garden of Gethsemane. Remember the prayer of our Savior. “If it is possible, let this cup pass from Me, yet not what I will but Your will be done.” Crying for deliverance; submitting to the sovereign ordination of God. A faith that sustains us in our trials is also a faith that doesn’t hold back from asking to be delivered from our trials. (David Strain)

We too often think that faith in God in the midst of suffering is only exercised by surrendering to the pain, without complaint. Since God is in control, and since God uses suffering to shape us, we think the spiritual response is to deaden our outrage, our terror and our sorrow. But Jesus, and the psalmist, show us that both can, and should, be true at the same time! These two responses are not incompatible. Outrage and crying out for God’s help is a right, spiritual, and godly response.

It is wrapped up in the nature of God’s holiness. God’s holiness, as we saw in the last episode, is set against pain and suffering. His holiness reveals his hatred of such things, and his work to bring justice, and to deliver, and to save sinners.

And one day God will completely eradicate sin, death, suffering, pain and sorrow. Why? Because God is holy.

Episodes in the Psalm 22 series

There are 6 messages in this series on Psalm 22. This is a rich psalm filled with marvelous insight to encourage and comfort the suffering Christian. It provides some of the grandest truths in all of Scripture, Job-like in it’s intensity and Revelation-like in it’s hope. It starts in the deepest, darkest of pits, and rockets to stellar heights, all this in 31 verses of poetry. It’s my prayer that this psalm blesses your battered soul and causes you to rejoice in God in the midst of your afflictions.