Jesus called himself the Good Shepherd. The writer of Hebrews called him the great Shepherd who defeated death. Peter called Jesus the Chief Shepherd who oversees the church and its leaders. Psalm 22, 23, and 24 are three parts of the greatest trilogy of songs ever written and they follow the theme of Jesus’ life: Crucified and dead. Risen. Reigning as King.
Many of the Psalms were written about an historic event that had happened to the author. But this is not the case with Psalm 22. Psalm 22 seems to be purely prophetic about a man’s execution. It is about a man whose hands and feet were pinned down, a man whose enemies felt they had beaten him. This is a man who is humiliated and has lost everything.
This Psalm is solely about Jesus and his cross. Boice writes, “Most modern writers on the psalms try to find a setting for them either in the life of David, if they believe David was their author, or in the experience of some later writer or group of persons. But it is impossible to do this with this psalm. Some psalms are written out of illness. But Psalm 22 is not a description of an illness. It is a description of an execution, particularly a crucifixion. Crucifixion was not practiced in the time of David or for many long centuries afterward. So this is not an account of suffering endured by any ancient person but a prophetic picture of the suffering to be endured by Jesus when he died to pay the penalty for our sins. In other words, it is prophetic and entirely messianic."
Spurgeon suggests that perhaps Jesus actually quoted the entire Psalm while on the cross. Spurgeon’s suggestion is not entirely without possibility. He writes, “It may have been actually repeated word by word by our Lord when hanging on the tree; it would be too bold to say that it was so, but even a casual reader may see that it might have been. It begins with, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” and ends, according to some, in the original with “It is finished.”
But additionally, this song is about a man who would ultimately win the war. Even in the midst of death, this man on a cross is able to sing, “To you they cried and were rescued; in you they trusted and were not put to shame.”
The inspired artist knew something about suffering and wants to share in his song the ultimate goodness of God even in the midst of great suffering. Psalm 22 alternates consistently between a cry of anguish and a prayer offered to God. As the Psalm progresses, the spiritual pain becomes less and less even though the physical pain continues. The writer’s confidence in God the Father intensifies even as the physical pain continues to intensify.
In this Psalm we find both the darkness and the glory of the Cross. This Psalm does not end in unending grief. It ends with the words, “He has done it.” In other words, after all the grief, after all the horror, after all the pain, the writer submits that God has been there all along with His sovereign and gracious hand.
This is what Jesus meant when he was on the Cross and he declared, “It is finished.” Jesus had done it. God had done it. Redemption had been sealed. Perfection had been accomplished. The Law had been fulfilled. There was no more work to be done in order to pay for the sin of the world.
In this sermon, and throughout the week, we will visit the cross. We are going to spend a significant amount of time with the man on a cross. We will look at the way he died, why he died, and the meaning of his death.
Jesus died horribly. He was falsely accused by jealous religious fanatics. His enemies wanted him dead and they were willing to go to any length to make sure he was put to death. He died unjustly at the hands of both Jew and Gentile alike. In other words, the whole world is responsible for putting Jesus to death.
He suffered the worst kind of death anyone can suffer physically, mentally, and publicly. Crucifixion was slow, laborious, and prolonged. Usually, a man would die by asphyxiation. Jesus died because he had been beaten beyond recognition before ever getting to the cross. Jesus would have been stripped naked, strapped to a used cross beam that contained human remains and excrement, nailed to the beams with rusty used spikes through his hands and feet, and hoisted onto a used executioner’s pole.
His cross would have been high enough and public enough for everyone to see. Often crowds would gather to curse at the man on a cross. They would urinate on him and spit on him. Many would pick up rocks and trash and beat the criminals with them. Some criminals would stay on a cross for days until wild animals finished them off or their muscles could no longer hold them in place.
Jesus died alone. The crowds that had once followed Jesus had either abandoned him or joined the mob in crucifying him. The people he healed were nowhere to be found. The disciples had fled for their lives. His best buddies disowned him. Only his mother, a few women, and John went to the place of the Skull with their Savior. He was mentally, physically, and emotionally tested.
When Jesus finally died he was gutted with a Roman spear. The Bible gives us a physiological hint as to the cause of Jesus’ death. The Gospels tell us that water and blood both poured out of the spear wound. His heart had burst. Doctors will tell you that Jesus’ heart had literally burst from the intense physical punishment he endured.
Normally, his body would have been left on the Cross as an example and as food for wild animals. Only after a few days would a criminal’s body be removed and thrown into Gehenna. Gehenna was the same place that Jesus used as an example to explain hell. It was a garbage dump that had once been used for infanticide and human child sacrifices. In Jesus’ day, dead criminal’s crucified bodies were piled on top of the human waste and trash and ultimately burned. The fires never went out in Gehenna.
Instead, Jesus’ body was taken off the Cross and given to those who remained to the end.
Even with the pain that the Psalmist is feeling he refuses to end in darkness. Psalm 22 does not end in despair. Like many Psalms, Psalm 22 offers hope in the lyrics. The final verses of Psalm 22 hint at the victory Jesus will ultimately have. You see, Jesus was not just a man on a cross. He was the man who defeated the cross. He went to the cross so that he could bring us to himself. His mission was to gather those that the Father had given him before time began.
Ultimately, Jesus would win. The Psalmist tells of the victory Jesus will have after his death. Nations will speak about the man on a cross in every generation. People will serve Jesus around the globe. Jesus will be vindicated. He will rule in every nation. His name will go so far that even those not yet born will be told about his sacrifice and his love for them.
Jesus went to the depths to bring us out of the depths and into a perfect relationship with God. He was a man on a cross. Now he is the King on His throne.
The big question you must ask when reading Psalm 22 is simple – Did Jesus die for me? We can talk about his suffering and be moved by it. We can talk about his love and be encouraged by it. We can talk about his teaching, his healings, his sense of humor, and his wisdom and be wowed by it. But did Jesus die for you? That is a big question.
You see, our sin requires payment. In Romans 6:23 we are told that our payment is death. But we are also told in Romans 5 that Jesus’ act on the cross paid our debt in full if we would believe in faith that Jesus is Savior and that the man on a cross took our place. Jesus atoned for sins. The question is whether or not you believe he was the atonement for your sins. Did Jesus really pay it all for you?
Hopefully studying Psalm 22 has encouraged you and brought the sacrifice of Jesus to light. But that can’t be the place where we stop. James Boice writes, “It is a wonderful thing to know that Jesus died for sinners. It is amazing to study a prophetic picture of Christ’s suffering and death, as we have done. But that can happen, and yet the person who hears can still perish because he or she has not trusted in Jesus.”
Paul echoes this thought when he writes in Romans 10:8-11, “
The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.”
The word of God has been near to you. But you still must make the decision as to what the man on the cross has to do with you and your sin. So I’m calling the question. Did Jesus die for you? The great hymn written by Charles Wesley asks the same question,
And can it be that I should gain
an interest in the Savior’s blood?
Died he for me, who caused his pain?
For me, who him to death pursued?
Was Jesus forsaken in your place? Was he pierced and persecuted in your place? Did he finish God’s work where you could not finish? Did he meet the requirements of God’s Law that you could not meet? Did God make Jesus your sin? Only you can answer the question.
· Look up the word “atonement” and write down some thoughts in this book or a journal as you meditate on Psalm 22. What does atonement have to do with you?
· Read through Psalm 22 and identify the cries of anguish and the prayers that result from the cries. What are your cries of anguish? Can you pray the prayers of the Psalmist alongside of your anguish?
· Read through one of the accounts of Jesus’ trial and death on the Cross in the Gospel accounts (Matthew 27, Mark 14-15, Luke 23, John 19).
· Think about one of the worst times you've had in your life. Write a Psalm with alternating questions and prayers in response.