Summary: How do you go from deep despair to the heights of joy? Psalm 22 holds the key.
“ … when they came to a place called Golgotha (which means Place of a Skull), they offered [Jesus] wine to drink, mixed with gall; but when He tasted it, He would not drink it. And when they had crucified Him, they divided His clothes among themselves by casting lots; then they sat down there and kept watch over Him. Over His head they put the charge against Him, which read: ‘This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.’
“Then two bandits were crucified with Him, one on His right and one on His left. Those who passed by derided Him, shaking their heads and saying, ‘You who would destroy the Temple and build it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.’ In the same way the chief priests also, along with the scribes and elders, were mocking Him, saying, ‘He saved others; He cannot save Himself. He is the King of Israel; let Him come down from the cross now, and we will believe in Him. He trusts in God; let God deliver Him now, if he wants to; for He said, ‘I am God’s Son.’
“From noon on, darkness came over the whole land, until three in the afternoon. And about three o’clock Jesus cried with a loud voice, ‘Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?’ that is, ‘My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?’” (Matthew 27:32-46).
“My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?” (Psalm 22:1). Jesus had only to quote the opening line of Psalm 22 because Psalm 22 was a well-known psalm … and for good reason as we’re about to find out.
It is often tempting to read Psalm 22 and try to interpret it as a prediction of Jesus’ life and trials … and maybe it was but that was not what David was thinking about when he wrote it. When David wrote this psalm, he knew nothing about Jesus. He knew nothing about the things that Jesus would have to go through. He was thinking about his own life, his own trials and struggles, his own doubts and fears. What makes this psalm so powerful is its honesty and its humanity … something that Jesus could relate to hanging there on the cross. In relating to the sentiment in David’s song of suffering and hope, Jesus could relate to our song of suffering and of hope.
Psalm 22 is a powerful lament that takes us down into the deepest pain of human suffering and then lifts us up to the highest joy that is found in the universal recognition of God’s kingdom. Dying on the cross, Jesus not only felt physical pain but felt the deepest pain and suffering of humanity as the result of taking on our sin and brokenness upon Himself. After His death He ascended to the heights of Heaven, where He is “enthroned” by our praises and the praises of His Father and all of Heaven. His pain, His suffering on the cross … His death and resurrection … should cause us to overflow with so much joy that our praises fill the heavens, amen?
Psalm 22 is a prayer that begins with fear and doubt but ends with the hope and expectation that the psalmist’s prayer will be heard and answered … even before the prayer is answered. It starts out, as all our prayers should … by acknowledging the Presence and reality of the Living God and acknowledging the personal relationship that we have with God … “MY” God. Two little words … “my God” … words that we say all the time … yet it is a powerful way for David to start what I call his “lament of hope.”
It is an interesting way for David to start his prayer. By calling God “his” God, he is not only reminding himself of the relationship that he has with God but the relationship that God has with him … and yet … David cries out that his God has forsaken him. “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?” God is silent. “O my God, I cry by day, but You do not answer, and by night, but find no rest” (Psalm 22:2). David asks God why He is so far away from his groaning. The Hebrew suggests that God is physically far away from David … so far away that He can’t hear David’s groaning … and the word that David uses for “groaning” literally means “to growl and roar like a lion.” This is not a man whimpering and groveling … this is a man who is roaring like a lion from the depths of his anger and despair. His anguish and his despair not only come from his suffering and intolerable circumstance but from his anguish and despair over the fact that God is so far from him … that God does not answer him when he growls and roars from his anguish and despair day and night.