God’s Glory in the Suffering of ChristPastor Lutzer | March 9, 2014
Selected highlights from this sermon
Through the eyes of David in Psalm 22 we see the crucifixion of Jesus. In this Messianic psalm we’ll linger at Calvary to see Christ’s rejection by men and by God the Father.
Pastor Lutzer will help us understand why Jesus cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Then he’ll lead us through the rest of the psalm, showing why and how the suffering of Jesus should be a celebration of God’s glory.
Above all, Christianity should always be a celebratory religion. By that I mean that we should celebrate all the time, celebrate when times are good, when times are bad and when evil comes our way because we celebrate the triumph of Jesus over the nations, over suffering and over injustice. And over all of the things that trouble us so much, He is Lord and He is God and we should celebrate Him.
Today we’re going to have the opportunity of looking at the crucifixion of Jesus through the eyes of David in Psalm 22. And as we look at the triumph of Jesus, even in the midst of suffering, I speak to those of you today who have fears in your life. Bring your fears to the foot of the cross. I speak today to those of you who are going through a time of trial and uncertainty and injustice. Bring that to the foot of the cross. I bring today a message to those of you who are going through physical suffering and relational suffering - the kind of suffering through which all of us must ultimately pass. Whatever your greatest need is today we’re going to look at it from the standpoint of the cross of Jesus Christ.
Psalm 22 is a Psalm of David but it can’t refer only to David. Some of the experiences in the Psalm might refer to David specifically, but very clearly it is a Messianic Psalm, quoted often in the New Testament as pertaining to Jesus, and that’s what we shall look at also as we look at the text. We’re going to just simply walk through the experience of Jesus, as seen here in Psalm 22. We’re going to linger at Calvary. We’re going to be at the foot of the cross and try to understand what went on there and how it relates to us. And at the end of the message I hope to nail down some specifics that will be transforming for all of us.
First of all, stage number one is rejection by God. It opens with “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.”
Both Matthew and Mark quote these words as the words of Jesus on the cross. “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” First of all, this cry is an emotional cry, and some commentators have said that it was only the way Jesus felt and that He was not forsaken by God. But I like the words of the theologian, John Calvin, who said that it was necessary that Jesus not only bear the pain and the judgment in His body, but also in His soul, and that there was a forsaking by the Father of Jesus on the cross when He became a sin offering.
It’s an emotional cry, but it’s a perplexing cry. Why would the Father forsake the Son, the Son whom He loves? You know, of course, that oftentimes when we preach the Gospel we give the impression that God, the Father, is very angry. He has inflexible holiness, which is true. But we give the impression that the Son is loving, and so the Son appeased the anger of God. May I remind you that the work on the cross was the work of the Trinity? As a matter of fact, what we find is that there was an agreement in eternity past the Bible says, an agreement between the Father and the Son, that the Son would become the sacrifice, yes, to take care of the justice of God and to release the love of God, but also that the Father would be in agreement.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that the will of the Father and the will of the Son were one and the same. They coincided, because you see, what happened at the cross required two attributes of God to be resolved.
Love wanted to redeem humanity. Justice said you can’t because they are sinners, so what happened on the cross is that when Jesus Christ said, “It is finished,” He paid the debt. The justice side has been taken care of and now love can be lavished upon us without measure and that which is even beyond our understanding. So we need to get that clear. The Father is also a redeeming God. God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself.
So it is, however, a perplexing cry. We should not for a moment believe that there was a break in the Trinity. That’s not even possible because of the essence of God, the ontological nature of God. I have so few opportunities to use that word. I like to throw it in when it fits. The ontological nature of God, His very essence, remained a Trinity without any break. What we’re talking about is a break in fellowship, not a break in relationship in terms of essence.
But it was also a hopeful cry when Jesus was there on the cross. You’ll notice it says in verses 3-5, “Yet You are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel. In You our fathers trusted; they trusted in You, and You delivered them. To You they cried and were rescued; in You they trusted and were not put to shame.”
So amid the cry there is also hope. There was, however, this rejection of God. The fellowship was broken. “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”
Now as the Psalm continues, what we discover is that there was the ridicule of men. I’m picking it up in verse 6. “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 trusted in the Lord. Let Him deliver Him. Let Him rescue Him for He delights in Him.’” Of course this was fulfilled at the cross. The Bible says that when Jesus was dying there on the cross, the people who walked by and saw Him ridiculed Him. And then all of us know that one of the thieves that was crucified with Him said, “If You are the Son of God save Yourself and us.” He had no idea what he was asking.
If Jesus had come down from the cross and saved His life, and then saved the life of that companion, that thief, what would He have accomplished? A few more years of earthly existence! When Jesus was dying there if He had come down from the cross you and I would have been left unredeemed, but he mocked Him because he was looking at only what his eyes could see, and only the moments of time, and so he mocked Jesus. “If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.”
When you and I become followers of Jesus we can expect some mocking too. We live in a world and in a Church that wants no mocking at all. Any kind of a stand that we take in our culture is dismissed as being, “Oh, you’re just a right-wing fanatic,” or “You are a religious fanatic,” or “Who are you to say that two people who love each other can’t be married?” And oftentimes we don’t have an answer. The fact is simply this, that Jesus also was mocked and He was ridiculed by those who walked by, and the Bible goes on to say that they pierced Him.
Now I learned a new word this week. It’s zoomorphism. Have you ever heard of zoomorphism? Zoomorphism is to take the characteristics of an animal and apply it to human beings. And that’s what happens in this Psalm. It says in verse 12, “Many bulls encompass me; strong bulls of Bashan surround me; they open wide their mouths at me like a ravening and roaring lion.” Get him! Kill him! And take care of Him! Put an end to His ideas and what He teaches, and put an end to Him. Good riddance!
So Jesus here is dying, and where are His friends? Well, you know the disciples basically forsook Him and fled, even John, but to his everlasting credit, he did come back to the cross, as indicated in the book of John. But Jesus basically is dying alone and saying as He did in the garden, “Can’t you watch with Me for an hour?” and they kept falling asleep.
What happens when you ask your friends to pray? You ask your friends to be there and they aren’t. Jesus is dying alone, forsaken by God, ridiculed by men. But now notice in the text that there is a marvelous prediction that could never have been written down by David if this were not an inspired Psalm, as all the Psalms are. You’ll notice that the text says in verse 16 (another zoomorphism), “For dogs encompass me; a company of evildoers encircles me; they have pierced my hands and feet.” Wow!
In Jewish literature and in the Jewish customs of the time nobody was crucified. As far as execution of the Jews in their time was concerned, it was always stoning. Here you have a prediction of the crucifixion of Jesus, which would be done by Romans many centuries after the time of David. “They pierced My hands, and they pierced My feet.” We’re talking about the nails that nailed Him to the cross, and in Zechariah 12:10 it says, “Someday the Jewish nation shall look on Him whom they have pierced and shall mourn for Him.”
And what does the Scripture say in Revelation 1:7? “Behold
He is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of Him.” What you have is Jesus, dying on the cross, being crucified. “They pierced My hands and My feet,” and they thought to themselves that they were getting rid of Jesus.
So far we’ve seen the rejection of God and the break in fellowship. We’ve seen the ridicule of people, but there’s also now a prayer for deliverance in verse 19. “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!” Wow! Did you know that verse 21, according to commentators that know Hebrew much better than I do, is really a past perfect tense, which indicates that Jesus was heard and He was delivered?
Have you ever asked yourself the question as to whether or not God answered the prayer of Jesus in Gethsemane? “Father, if it be Thy will let this cup pass from Me. Nevertheless, not as I will but as Thou wilt.” Was He answered or not? Well, He did have to go through the cross, but do you know what the Bible says in the book of Hebrews? It says that Jesus cried up with long suffering, long crying and tears unto Him that was able to deliver Him from death, and was heard in what He feared. The Greek indicates that He got an answer to His prayer, and the answer, of course, was the resurrection.
And so Jesus here in agony is praying, and He doesn’t see the answer immediately. He must go through the torture of the cross, but in the end, God answers and delivers Him. And He is raised from the dead, and days later He goes to heaven, completely triumphant, knowing that all of His prayers ultimately have been answered.
And also there’s a prayer here of hope for others. You know, it says in verse 22, “I will tell of Your name to My brothers; in the midst of the congregation I will praise You: and you who fear the Lord praise Him (and so forth), for He has not despised or abhorred the affliction of the afflicted.” That’s verse 24.
Did you notice that quote? “I will speak your name to the brothers?” In Hebrews 2:14 it’s quoted, and the Bible says there that because of the fact that God is the Father of Jesus, and God is our Father, since we have the same Father, we are brothers and we are sisters, and it says in the book of Hebrews that Jesus now proclaims the name of God to us and is not ashamed to be called our brother.
Are you ashamed of Jesus? When you go to work tomorrow do you witness to the person in that cubicle next to you? Do you share your faith with your neighbors, or do you not want to be considered weird and you’re a little bit ashamed of the Gospel? Well, I want you to know that Jesus isn’t ashamed of us. Why should we be ashamed of Him who redeemed us and loved us? May it never be said that we are ashamed of the only message that is able to transform hearts. Let us stand for Jesus wherever He has planted us, and do so with joy and no shame.
Jesus is therefore the one who is going to proclaim the name of God to all of us. When we get to the end of the Psalm now we see the triumph of Jesus, don’t we? The Bible says, for example, in verse 27, “All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord.”
During this month we are emphasizing missions, outreach to the world, and we say to ourselves, “We seem to be failing so much because there are so many countries where the percentage of believers is so small.” Well that may be true. It may be a millennial passage but in the end the missionary enterprise will win because Jesus is still going to be proclaimed over all the earth. “And all the families of the nations (verse 27) shall worship before You.” Why? Verse 28 says, “The kingship belongs to the Lord, and He rules over the nations.”
He rules over the nations now but He does it through all of his agencies, through all of His leaders, and He’s letting the world do its own thing, waiting until His enemies become a footstool for His feet. No matter what you see when you look around today, and it can become very discouraging, will you remember that in the end, as I emphasized last week, Jesus always wins triumphant as Lord of lords and God of all gods?
Well, in these times since our anniversary celebration began, we are talking about legacy, aren’t we? You’ll notice that the Bible says in verse 30, “Posterity shall serve Him. It shall be told of the Lord to the coming generations. They shall come and proclaim His righteousness to a people not yet born and that He has done it.” I’m going to be speaking about the unborn when I speak about legacy in a different context.
Well, we’ve hurried through this marvelous Psalm and I promised you that we’d deal with the big issues of life, such as life and death and fears. How are we going to do that? Let me give you three transforming applications that I hope you’ll take the time to write down. One or two of them are a bit long, but I’ll give you plenty of time so that you can record them.
Number one, I’d say simply this. Cries of distress are not always cries of distrust. In his distress He says, “My God, My God, why has Thou forsaken me?” There are seven cries from the cross and that happens to be the middle one – it’s number four. There are three on each side.
This is the only time in prayer that Jesus ever referred to God as God. He always said, “My Father,” so when He prayed He always said, “My Father.” This time, because the fellowship is broken and He feels the despair of that broken fellowship, He cries out and says, “My God,” but notice He says “My God!” He still knows that God belongs to Him.
And then there are two more sayings from the cross, and when we get to the very last one, what does Jesus say just before He surrenders His Spirit? And He surrendered his Spirit because He was still King on the cross. He said, “Father, into Thy hands I commit My Spirit.” The Father-Son relationship is back. He was in the hands of men the first three hours on the cross, and then He was in the hands of God, becoming a sin offering, and there was all of that despair and darkness over the land so that no human eye could possibly know what was going on during that time because that was only between the Father and the Son. You and I can’t understand it, so the sky became black and dark while the sin offering was being offered in our place.
God does not promise us a smooth journey in life. What He does promise us is a safe landing. The journey for Jesus was difficult, excruciating and agonizing, but in the end He dies in the hands of His Father. He was committed to the hands of evil men, the Bible says, and evil men nailed Him to the cross. But there comes a time when evil hands can only do so much, and the divine hands take over. And Jesus dies and says, “Into Thy hands I commit my Spirit.”
A cry of distress does not necessarily mean a cry of distrust. I had a friend who died of cancer. I used to play tennis with him, and this week as I was reading these verses I thought of him because he said that he was in this room with his wife sleeping, and he was in such pain and such agony he left the bedroom because he didn’t want to wake his wife and he sat up on the couch. And he said, “All faith drained from my soul.” There was nothing left except to cry out to God, but that cry of distress was not a cry of distrust. He could say as Jesus on the cross, “I’m 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. My tongue cleaves to my jaws, and you lay me in the dust of death.” That’s verses 14 and 15 in the text.
Distress! But He’s still My God, and in the end, Father. And when you and I die we have to be able to look up and say, “Father, to Thy hands I commit my spirit for a safe landing.”
There’s a second lesson and that is simply that Jesus got what He didn’t deserve. And you’ve heard me say this before. Jesus got what he didn’t deserve so that you and I could get what we don’t deserve. He didn’t deserve to die. What is this holy Man doing on the cross - the faultless, holy, sinless Son of God? Tell me! What is He doing there, having to cry up, “My God, My God, why has Thou forsaken Me?” Well, the answer, of course, is that He was dying in our place, and the Bible says that the Lord laid on Him the iniquity of us all.
Many of you might know that one of the men I have had some acquaintance with as I’ve studied his writings is Martin Luther. And Luther agonized. He had what is known in German as infectungen. There is no good English translation. It means the existential despair of soul. It means distress. It means depression. Luther fought depression all of his life. But the question was, “How can I please God?” and he did everything (You know his story.) he possibly could. He fasted. He slept on a floor without blankets. And Rebecca and I have been to the monastery where he lived, and we’ve seen what he slept on – basically a stone floor. Why? He was trying to mortify the flesh, but what if God’s standard is still higher than all of that? He was led to despair.
In about 1514 he began to lecture on the Psalms in Wittenberg, and he got to this passage. “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” It’s a reference to Jesus on the cross. Why is He also overtaken by infectungen, this sense of despair and alienation and separation from God? A little bit of light came to his soul, and he began to realize that “Jesus wasn’t doing this because of Himself. He was doing this for me. He was being rejected so that I would never have to be rejected. He was purchasing my salvation and taking my place on the cross.” And then when Luther got to the book of Romans, it is then that he saw with clarity what this was all about, and he realized that there are two kinds of righteousness. There’s a righteousness that belongs to God as an attribute, but there’s also righteousness given to sinners as a gift. And Jesus became sin for us and got what He didn’t deserve so that we could get what we don’t deserve, namely the gift of His awesome perfect righteousness that is given to sinners just like you and me.
And that’s why there is therefore now no condemnation to them, which are in Christ Jesus. The condemnation was taken by Jesus. It is true that we sometimes are out of fellowship with God and we have to confess our sins to get back into fellowship, but for those who believe, there is no condemnation because we receive God’s approval and His blessing as if we were Jesus. And when you die you’ll be welcomed into heaven as if you are Jesus, because after all, you are His brother or His sister, and you’ll be welcomed in, wholly and totally accepted by a holy God whose inflexible holiness is so high that you and I cannot comprehend it, much less as sinners even attempt to attain to it. That is the Gospel, and the Gospel is found here in Psalm 22.
There is something else and it’s the bottom line here that I’m sharing with you today, and that is that the mission of Jesus was successful. Jesus was successful in what He undertook. He died for sinners, the just for the unjust, and God accepted that sacrifice as indicated in the resurrection - that God was totally pleased with what Jesus did. And when Jesus said tetelestai (paid in full), He purchased that redemption and we can list our sins on one side and the grace of God and the death of Jesus on the other, and we can say, “paid in full.” Immorality paid in full! Wow! Dishonesty paid in full! And abortion paid in full! All paid in full!
The issue is not the greatness of your sin. I speak to those of you who are criminals, who have done horrendous things that I would never even mention from this pulpit. You, too, come to a Savior, and when you trust Him, that sin, too, is paid in full. That is redemption. (applause)
And in the end, the triumph of Jesus! All nations shall eventually worship, everybody confessing that He is Lord to the glory of God, the Father, totally triumphant. And when you see Him there on the cross, that was the gateway for Him to redeem us, to retain his deity and kingship, and yet at the same time that God might be a redeeming God.
Yesterday my afternoon was cut a little bit short because there was someone who was to be speaking here in the area whose plane was delayed. And as a result of that I left this message without a closing illustration. I got up this morning and wondered what illustration I should use. And then I was coming in today and I heard this on a radio station here by the name of WMBI. Have any of you heard of WMBI? You ought to listen once in a while. By the way, there are some good teaching programs on WMBI.
And there was this story about two missionaries who were in a jungle and one of them was bitten by a snake. And they went to the compound because at the compound there was a kit for snakebites. There are various medicines and things that you have to do if you have a snake bite. So they went there, and they found the kit and they opened it and it was empty. Now thankfully they were able to take the person who had a need to the hospital and she lived, but here’s the point. You and I have all been bitten by a snake. We are all sinners who cannot attain to the righteousness of God. And you know, you’re looking for an answer like Luther was, and you go to other religions and you open up the kits and they are empty. I want to tell you that they are empty because all that they can do is tell you to do better. Sin a little more or a little less, but do better. That’s about all they can do.
And you go in and you empty it and you look at it and you saymoney is the answer or sexuality or whatever. Pleasure is the answer. What you will find is that kit is empty, but when you come to Jesus, you discover that the kit has a remedy for sin, and the only one who has a remedy for sin is the one who died for sinners, that you and I might be redeemed.
Trust Him today. Believe Him today. You who are skeptical, you come to Him with your doubts. You who are fearful, know that He has taken care of our most important fears because He took a path that you and I will someday take, and it will end with “Father, into Thy hands I commit my spirit.”
I love Jesus. Do you love Him? (applause) Let’s pray in His name.
Father, we ask that these words shall fall upon ears that have been listening. And for those, Father, going through that existential despair, not knowing what to do with their sin or their predicament, we pray today that they might see at the cross the answer to their need. Thank You for thinking of us. Thank You for including us in the death of Jesus that we might be redeemed. And thank You, Father, that we can give this message to the world. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.