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Suffering and Joy

July 31 2022

Book: Psalms

Audio Download

Scripture: Psalm 22

So we’re studying psalm 22 today, which is one of the darkest psalms in the bible. Not a
super light topic for my first time preaching here. But, it’s also one of the most joyful psalms in
the bible. You’ve got darkness, you’ve got joy, and you’ve got an inexperienced preacher. So It’s
going to be a roller coaster, but I love rollercoasters. Let’s go ahead and read Psalm 22.

You’ll notice that the psalm is divided into two main sections. Verses 1-21 are mainly a
song of lament, and verses 22-31 are mainly a song of praise. Starting with the lament section,
we see David cry out in anguish to God. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” David’s
cry may be one of anger, but it seems more like a cry of confusion. We can see this confusion in
the sentence itself. David says “My God,” twice: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
He’s emphasizing the intimate relationship he has with God. If we think back through David’s
life, we see how closely God has interacted with David. God protected him when he was a
shepherd defending his flock. God gave him victory over Goliath. When David was anointed as
King, 1 Samuel 16:13 says “The Spirit of the Lord rushed upon David from that day forward.”
Even after he commits adultery, David prays “take not your Holy Spirit from me,” indicating that
God was still with him. Here, however, David feels that God has left him, and he’s perplexed. He
is saying, “You’re my God, you have been with me through everything, why have you left? The
presence of God is David’s main concern. David doesn’t ask why he’s experiencing this pain or
torment, but why he can’t find God in the midst of it. He describes this feeling in terms of
distance and silence. He asks “Why are you so far from saving me” (distance) and “I cry by day,
but you do not answer” (silence) All the ways that he experiences the presence of God have
been removed. I’ll be honest, I’ve felt that way at certain points this summer. There have been
times when I’ve felt the presence of God. Felt his nearness, his comfort, and his love. Yet there
have been times when I’ve felt completely alone, I’ve felt that “trouble is near, and there is none
to help,” as verse 11 says. Maybe you have felt that way too. Maybe you feel that way right now.
Even if you’re constantly surrounded by people, you may feel alone in your struggle against sin,
alone in your anxiety, alone in your suffering. You may feel that God has left you to bear these
burdens alone. Often, during times like these, I begin to question the goodness of God. I
wonder, “Man, is God really good if he’s letting me go through this?” When we turn to psalm
22, however, David does the opposite. Instead of questioning the goodness of God, he affirms
it. He says, “Yet, you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel.” Despite all that I’m going
through, all of the pain, all of the fear, God you are holy, you are good. David even draws upon
God’s faithfulness to the fathers of Israel as evidence for his holiness. Fathers like Noah, Joseph,
and Moses. We look at Noah, who trusted in God by building the ark, and was delivered from
the flood. If you want to talk about suffering, look at Joseph. Sold into slavery by his brothers,
imprisoned in Egypt. Yet, he trusted in God and his whole family was delivered. If we look at
Moses, we see him trust in God and all of Israel was delivered from their slavery in Egypt. God
has proven himself as the covenant God of the people of Israel. They belong to him, and he belongs to them. But then we come to verse 6, and we’re back in the midst of suffering. David feels excluded from the covenant people that God has delivered in the past. His suffering shifts from the absence of God, to the presence of his enemies. The fathers of Israel trusted in God
and were delivered, but he trusts in God and is being mocked for his trust by those near him.
Notice even the animal he compares himself to in verse 6: “But I am a worm and not a man.”
Sometimes in youth group we’ll have ice breaker questions, one of them being “If you could be
any animal, what would you be?” And pretty much no one says worm. No one is like “yeah I
would love to be a worm.” And we understand why, right? Worms are repulsive, insignificant,
despised, and that’s how David feels. So we have a pretty dark situation right now. David feels
that God has left him and he’s surrounded by people that hate him and mock him for his trust.
Yet, In the midst of this suffering, David again affirms his trust in God. After being mocked for his
faith, he expresses his faith in verses 9-10. And when we zoom out, we see a pattern in the
psalm. David bounces back and forth between expressing his suffering and expressing his faith
in God. If you just read the first line of each section, you can see this pattern clearly. Verse 1:
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ Verse 3: “Yet, you are holy.” Verse 6: “But I am a
worm and not a man.” Verse 9 “Yet, you are he who took me from the womb.” Expression of
suffering, expression of trust. I think what we see here is a biblical model for suffering. God
wants us to come to him and express our pain and suffering. As our Father, he desires to hear
the needs of his children. Yet, we’re also called to express our faith in God, knowing that
regardless of our circumstances, he is faithful and holy. And I’ll be honest, I’m bad at this. Now,
I’m great at expressing my suffering. I’ll be stopped at a red light for over 30 seconds and be like
“God, where are you?” But, expressing faith on the other hand, is a lot harder. Especially if your
circumstances are a lot harder. Think about a parent who lost their child, or a marriage that
ended in divorce. How can you trust God in the midst of suffering like that?
And I think the answer is found in who this psalm is truly about. In its fullest sense, this
psalm isn’t about the suffering of David, or even our suffering, but the suffering of Jesus. Jesus
knows your suffering, he empathizes with your pain and weakness. Jesus is suffering throughout
this psalm. In Matthew 27, while hanging on the cross, Jesus cries out the first line of psalm 22:
“My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” Jesus experienced his father turning away from
him, distancing himself from Jesus. The word forsaken has a stronger meaning than simply
being left alone. There’s a sense of betrayal in the word. One of the Marine’s mottos is “until
they are home, no man left behind.” Forsakenness is when you leave your comrade behind to
die on the battlefield. There’s no one left to save you, and death is near. Jesus felt this
abandonment from his own father on the cross. Jesus was also mocked and despised by the
Jews who surrounded him at the cross. Mathew 27:41 says: “So also the chief priests, with the
scribes and elders, mocked him, saying, “He saved others; he cannot save himself. He is the King
of Israel; let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. He trusts in God;
let God deliver him now, if he desires him. For he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’” We see an almost word-for-word repeat of verse 8 “He trusts in the Lord, let the Lord deliver him now.” Jesus was
mocked and despised for his trust in God. In verses 9-11, David speaks of God’s presence since
his birth. For Jesus, he had been with God from eternity past. He came to earth and lived a life
of perfect obedience, and was then left alone in his pain. Jesus’ suffering is most gruesomely
depicted in verses 12-18. His heart is melting, his bones are out of place, his strength is dried
up, he’s stripped of his clothing, and his hands and feet are pierced to the cross. His God is far
from him, and death is approaching. Jesus knows suffering. He knows the pain of our suffering.
He knows every fear, every worry, and every sorrow. At the same time, his suffering is beyond
anything we’ll ever experience. He not only knows our suffering, he has experienced the worst
possible suffering for us.

Jesus’s suffering meant taking the very wrath of God upon himself in our place. We
deserve the suffering laid out in psalm 22. We deserve to be forsaken by God, yet Jesus suffered
this abandonment so that we’ll forever be in his presence. Jesus’s forsakenness means our
acceptance. Think back to the fathers of Israel mentioned in verses 3-5. Think back to Israel as a
nation. They were constantly turning to idols and were known as “stiff-necked people.” Yet God
delivered them. Think about our own hearts and the sin we fall into. God has delivered us from
this sin, because his perfect son suffered the abandonment we deserve. Let’s go back to the
mocking of Jesus found in Matthew 27:41: The Jews mock, “He saved others; he cannot save
himself.” What they said was truer than they meant. Jesus saved us, because he didn’t save
himself. We may even see Jesus in the comparison of the worm found in verse 8 “I am a worm
and not a man.” It’s likely that the word “worm” here refers to a specific kind of worm called the
crimson worm. When a crimson worm was ready to give birth, it would crawl and attach itself to
a tree for the rest of its life. After giving birth, the worm would die, leaving a scarlett stain of
blood on the tree. People would then use this blood to dye their clothing. We can see some
parallels here. Jesus placed himself on the cross and shed his blood to give us life. Through his
blood, we are clothed in his righteousness. That may seem like an unpleasant comparison, but
Christ dying on the cross was unpleasant. Worms are some of the lowest forms on earth. Before
his incarnation, Jesus was in the form of God, as Phillipians 2 says. He then emptied himself into
the lowest form of man by dying on the cross for us. The significance of clothing shows up again
in verse 18. “They divide my garments among them, for my clothing they cast lots.” Jesus was
stripped of his clothing and publicly humiliated while dying on the cross because of the love
that he has for us. Tim Keller puts it this way “Jesus Christ was stripped naked, so that we could
be clothed in the righteousness of God.” The suffering in this psalm all points to the suffering of
Christ on our behalf.

Thankfully this psalm doesn’t end in unanswered suffering, just as the crucifixion wasn’t
the end for Jesus. In verse 22, we have a dramatic shift in the psalm. David ends the lament with
“you have rescued me from the horns of the wild oxen.” David shifts from crying out in lament,
to praising God to his brothers. Here, we find the joy of the resurrection. God answered the cries of his Jesus, delivering him from death. It’s interesting that the first action we see in this
section of praise is David sharing the Lord’s name with his brothers. Verse 22: “I will tell of your
name to my brothers; in the midst of the congregation I will praise you:” The author of Hebrews
quotes this exact verse in reference to Jesus. Again, we see the selflessness of Christ in this
psalm. The first thing Jesus does after being resurrected is announce the news to the disciples.
In John 20:17, Jesus says to Mary ““Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the
Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father,
to my God and your God.’ The language Jesus uses here makes it clear that his victory is shared
with the disciples. He now calls them brothers, and emphasizes their inclusion in the
relationship he has with God. He says “my Father and your father, my God and your God.”
Through Christ’s suffering, we are brought into the loving, intimate relationship he has with God
the Father. What does this mean for us, in our suffering? We find the answer in verse 24: “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.” This is a complete reversal of the complaints
found earlier in the psalm. Let’s go back to the complaints of verse 6: In his suffering, he is
scorned and despised by the people. In verse 24, God has not despised or abhorred the
affliction of the afflicted. Jesus was hated by others in his suffering, but now he experiences the
favor and love of the Lord. Let’s look at the complaints of verse 1: God is distant, and God is
silent. “You are far from saving me, and I cry by day, but you do not answer.” Now verse 24, “he
has not hidden his face from him, but has heard, when he cried to him.” God hasn’t hidden his
face from him, but is with him. God hasn’t blocked him out, but hears him now. God heard the
cry of Christ on the cross, and delivered him from death through raising him to life. Since Christ
suffered for us, God turns to us, in our suffering and he says, “I am not against you, I am for you.
I have not left you, I am with you. I am not silent, I hear you.” Jesus has suffered in our place.
He took the punishment that we deserve by dying on the cross. Jesus was separated from his
Father, so that we would have a Father who never leaves us. Now, we partake in the
communion that Jesus has with his Father. Verse 26 points to Jesus as the bread of life, and
Jesus himself says “If anyone eats this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give
for the life of the world is my flesh.” We’re fed by Christ himself. He is all that will satisfy us in
our suffering. And we know that this world is filled with suffering, but 1 Peter 4:13 tells us to
“rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his
glory is revealed.” This is what we see in verses 27-31, Christ’s glory revealed. All nations, all
peoples coming before the Lord and worshiping, because he has done it.” When you question if
God is with you in your suffering, look to the cross and see that Jesus has done it. Hear him say,
“it is finished.” Trust in God during your suffering, because Jesus is with you, and Jesus has
suffered for you. Let’s pray.