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“Suffering and Glory” on Psalm 22 by Joe Ellis — June 30, 2024

Let me begin with this quote about Psalm 22 from Dan Allender and Tremper Longman’s book, The Cry of the Soul.  We are going to circle back to this quote at the end of the sermon, but Michelle told me to give you a preview of it up front because it's so good. Talking about Psalm 22 they say, “Jesus’ cry of despair also transforms all human suffering as a promise. It is a down payment on hope. Jesus suffered, and so will we. But He has been there before us; He waits for us at the end of our sorrow. He has been perfected and resurrected through suffering; and so will we.”

As we’ve been journeying through the Psalms this Summer, we’ve been looking at the Psalms as a mirror for our soul. There is nothing that we can experience in our life, in our heart, that is not mirrored back to us in the Psalms. The Psalms are a tapestry of emotions — the Psalms not only speak to our difficult experiences and their accompanying  emotions — but the Psalms show us how to pray in light of these difficult experiences and through the difficult emotions that come with those experiences. In this way, the Psalms are indeed a mirror for our Soul. In reading the Psalms, we are helped to see ourselves more clearly.

Yet, Psalm 22 helps us to see that this mirror is far deeper and mysterious. For those of us who have spent much time reflecting on the life of Christ — when we read Psalm 22 we may not at first be inclined to see ourselves in this Psalm. Rather, when we hear those opening words found in Psalm 22, we see Jesus. We see Jesus at a very particular time in His life: we see Jesus on the Cross. When we hear the first verse of Psalm 22 — “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” — we hear those words of desperation and abandonment cried by Jesus from the cross. And as we keep reading through the Psalm, we continue to see reflections of Jesus’ experience on the cross. Verse six says, “But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by everyone, despised by the people. All who see me mock me; they hurl insults, shaking their heads.”  In the same way, Jesus was mocked, ridiculed and insulted by those gathered around the cross. They taunt him, saying, “He trusts in the Lord… Let the Lord rescue him. Let the Lord deliver him since he delights in Him.” The religious leaders say to one another, “He saved others; let him save himself.” The soldiers also mock Jesus, saying, “If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself!”  And even the criminal next to him joins in: “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!”  

As we keep reading Psalm 22, and it reflects the image of one who is praying while being tortured and dying — tortured by those lions, those dogs who bound his hands and feet, and pinned him down. The Psalmist laments saying, “They divide my garments among themselves, and throw dice for my clothing.” This cry mirrors Jesus’ experience on the cross as soldiers gambled for Jesus’ clothing. 

Still, this Psalm is also a mirror for our own soul. And no doubt, there may be aspects of Psalm 22 that do reflect back your own experience — maybe you can relate to this heart cry, lamenting God’s absence. Maybe it is the cry about being abandoned by those whom you depended on most. Maybe it's the cry about your own body wasting away. So when we pray through Psalm 22, we have this sense of, “I’m not alone.” Perhaps, because when we look at the mirror of Psalm 22, we begin to see Someone besides ourselves taking shape in the mirror. When we intently stare into Psalm 22, we begin to see Jesus, our Messiah, looking back out at us from the cross. Psalm 22 is a mirror that shows us not only ourselves, but about Jesus’ time on the cross. Of course, this definitely begs the question: ‘Why call this a mirror at all?’ Would it not be better to say that this Psalm is not so much a mirror, but a picture of Christ? A prefiguring of Christ? A foreshadowing of Christ and His passion? Of course, we can and certainly should say those things — all that being true, Psalm 22 remains a mirror, a mirror of our soul in a very mysterious way. 

After all, when we come to know Jesus, we become one with Jesus. We shall probably never comprehend the depths of our unity with Jesus. The unity of Christ’s followers with Jesus is so deep that when we look at ourselves in the mirror, we are seeing Jesus. When we see Jesus, we see ourselves. This profound reality is captured throughout John’s Gospel. Jesus was praying to His Father on the night He was betrayed, saying, “As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one. I in them and you in me…” (John 17:21-23) Jesus Himself is like a strange mirror — when we look deeply into Jesus we encounter ourselves, and when we move into the deepest parts of ourselves — there we find Jesus.

One of the early Church Fathers, St. Athanaius wrote, “God became man so that man might become god.” Of course, Athanasius knew that there is only one Father and one Son, and one Holy Spirit — yet Christ became human so that we might reflect more and more the character of God. This happens not by seeing the example that Jesus sets for us and imitating that (although there is certainly part of that). Becoming like the Son happens through participation — through mutual indwelling of Christ in you and you in Christ. This means that what is true of Christ is true of us. This is no less true of Jesus’ experience on the cross.

The Apostle Paul captures this in Galatians 2:20 when he says, “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives within me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” Think of that: “I have been crucified with Christ.” For sure, when Paul would look at Psalm 22, this Psalm which foreshadows so powerfully the death of Jesus — Paul knows that he is also somewhere in that picture. After all, He is baptized in Christ. In Romans 6:3, Paul says, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?”  When we look into the mirror of this Psalm, and read about Christ’s foreshadowed suffering — our story is there as well. For in some mysterious way, Christ carried us within Him on the cross. We were there with Him, we died with Him. We died to sin. We died to rebellion. We died to estrangement from God. We died to death. We died with Jesus. 

And this mirror works both ways. We are in Christ in his suffering, just as Christ is in us in our suffering. As we find this Psalm imprinted on our own lives — whatever it may be, whether a sense of God’s abandonment; whether it be the experience of being taunted or mocked. Whether it be the experience of being abandoned by those who you trusted the most. Whether you feel trouble is near with no one to help. Whether you feel as in v 14 as though “your bodily strength drains away like water; your bones dislocated, your heart like wax melt away inside you.” Whatever your experience, your experience is mirrored in Christ. Christ suffers in you, as you suffer in Him. Just as Christ prayed on the night he was betrayed, “As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us."

I find this the best news ever. This means that our experience of suffering is transformed in Jesus. All suffering for those in Christ has the same trajectory of Christ’s suffering. Remember the way that Christ described his suffering throughout the Gospel of John? He describes this suffering as Glory. As his glory! Jesus said to his disciples Andrew and Philip: “The Hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” (John 12:23-25)

Glory and suffering. Suffering and Glory. It is no small thing that Jesus quoted this Psalm on the cross. This Psalm that begins with “My God my God, why did you abandon me?” ends with: 

I will declare your name to my brethren;

in the midst of the congregation I will praise you:

You who fear YHWH, praise him!

All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him;

stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel!

For he did not despise or abhor the affliction of the afflicted;

he did not hide his face from me,

but heard when I cried to him …

The poor shall eat and be satisfied;

those who seek YHWH shall praise him.

May your hearts live for ever!

All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to YHWH;

and all the families of the nations shall worship before him.

For the kingdom is YHWH’s,

And he rules over the nations.

To him, indeed, shall all who sleep in the earth bow down;

before him shall bow all who go down to the dust,

and I shall live for him.

 My seed shall serve him;

future generations will be told about YHWH,

and proclaim his deliverance to a people yet unborn,

saying that he has done it!

In Christ, from suffering comes glory. This is the way of Christ in the world. This is the way of God in our lives. The mystery of this Psalm is the mystery of God; that somehow through suffering, the suffering of His people, the Suffering of His Chosen One, the Suffering of the Messiah — the suffering encapsulated in the first half of Psalm 22 — somehow, through this Suffering, the Royal and Divine Kingship shall be established on Earth.

Christ Jesus lived the first half of this Psalm on Good Friday, yet he embodied the second half of this Psalm on Easter Sunday when He burst forth from the grave. When we see our suffering in Christ we can also expect to see His resurrection in us. We know not when, yet the result is firm and assured. So we are in Christ’s Suffering and our Suffering is in Christ. As Dan Allender and Tremper Longman say, “Jesus’ cry of despair also transforms all human suffering as a promise. It is a down payment on hope. Jesus suffered, and so will we. But He has been there before us; He waits for us at the end of our sorrow. He has been perfected and resurrected through suffering; and so will we.”

We have been talking about Psalm 22 as a particular type of mirror in which we are embodied in Jesus’ own suffering and glory, and through our own suffering, we are with Jesus. Ironically, that means that although we may sometimes resonate with Jesus’ cry of abandonment — it will never be true for us in the same way as it was for Him. For He is in us and we in Him. As the author of Hebrews reminds us in 13:5 that God has said: 

I will never leave you nor forsake you.”

So we can say with confidence, 

The Lord is my helper; 

I will not be afraid. 

What can anyone do to me?”

He will never abandon those whom he loves.


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