Saturday, February 19, 2011

He Moaned on Good Friday, but He Sings on Sundays

Psalm 22

We are familiar with the first words of this psalm, for Jesus pushed them through his own parched throat on the cross, when he was weighted with all our sins. But do you know that the whole psalm is Christ's—not just the lament at the beginning? Do you realize that Christ is not only the lamenting Savior but also the singing Savior who magnifies the name of God in the midst of the congregation that he purchased while he was crying out, "My God, my God, why has thou forsaken me?"

Before Christ sings the praises in the congregation, the Lord sings the lament of the cross. The psalmist passes back and forth between his sense of God-forsakenness and his sense of God's faithfulness. He cries out, "I'm forsaken, you don't answer; but you are holy, you delivered our fathers when they trusted in you." He cries out, "I am a worm, and everyone mocks me; yet you took me from the womb of and kept me safe on my mother's breast." He cries out, "Dogs are round about me, they pierce my hands and feet"; yet he turns again to hope, "deliver my life from the power of the dog!" Like others in deep trouble, the psalmist swings back and forth between hoping for rescue and renouncing all hopes.

Troubles have a way of tearing your eyes of the hills from the source of your help. One of the most common turns of phrase I find ready to my lips when trouble strikes like a snake or lingers like a wasting plague, is "Why?" So it was with the psalmist.

Psalm 22:1–21. The Lamenting Savior—The Power of Darkness Prevails.

Vv. 1–2: Why…?

Ps. 22:1 My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning? 2 O my God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, and am not silent.
On Good Friday, Jesus cried the words of this Psalm in has native tongue, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?" This was the expression of grief that should have been on the lips of every man, woman, and child of all times since the first sin, for God had thrust Adam and Even out of the garden of Eden, out from his presence. "My God, why have you forsaken me?" is the cry that comes to our lips when we feel most painfully the effects of the curse as its blows land on the tender spots of our lives. "My God, why have you forsaken me?" is a cry that stumbles from our lips when death comes to a beloved family member or friend. "My God, why have you forsaken me?" is a cry that fights its way past clenched jaw when plant closings and work force adjustments leave us without even the work from which we might earn our bread—sweat of brow or no sweat. "My God, why have you forsaken me?" is the cry that his hurled from bared teeth when rebels suffer from their own folly."Why are you so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, and am not silent" (vv. 2–3).

Pass me not, O gentle Savior,
    Hear my humble cry;
While on others Thou art calling,
    Do not pass me by.
Savior, Savior,
    Hear my humble cry;
While on others Thou art calling,
    Do not pass me by.

Vv. 3–5: Yet thou… [delivered the fathers]

Ps. 22:3-5 Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One; you are the praise of Israel. In you our fathers put their trust; they trusted and you delivered them. They cried to you and were saved; in you they trusted and were not disappointed.

To all our troubles there should come a time when we look away from our circumstances to say, "Yet you…"

Our strongest assurances rest not in our ability to see ourselves clear from the present trouble by our own resources, plans, or human contacts. Our hopes come not from looking to our own resources; they come from knowing we can look to God's riches in glory, to the wealth of the one who owns the cattle on a thousand hills. Our hopes come not from putting together our own rescue plan; they come from looking to the eternal plan of God, foreordained from the foundation of the world, to the gracious plan wherein,

Rom. 8:28-30 …we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.

Our hopes come not from looking to our own human contacts, they come from knowing that God himself is our contact person who can make things right.

So, we look to God. The psalmist says, "In you our fathers put their trust; they trusted and you delivered them. They cried to you and were saved; in you they trusted and were not disappointed" (Ps 22:4–5). One of the riches veins of faith-building ores is found in history. The history of God's dealings with his people should quicken our hopes when things are crumbling in our own lives. In fact, the history of God's ways with us in our own past should raise our hopes. "Remind me, remind me, dear Lord, how great is my salvation." Mining the history of God's ways with man can put steel in your backbone. Our father… you delivered them; they prayed, and they were not disappointed.

Vv 6–8: But I…

Ps. 22:6-8 But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by men and despised by the people. All who see me mock me; they hurl insults, shaking their heads:" He trusts in the Lord; let the Lord rescue him. Let him deliver him, since he delights in him."

They prayed and did not suffer disappointment, but I have been disappointed so often.

Haven't you prayed and been disappointed with the results? Haven't you sought for deliverance only to face an even heavier load of pressure? Does God deliver, or do things just work out their natural course.

But I am a worm….

He feels despicable, he takes the scorn to heart after a while. Difficulties can sometimes bring you down till you think you deserve this trouble. After a while, the scorn seems well-deserved.

He trusts in the Lord.…

He claims to be one of God's own, he cries, "My God," let the Lord rescue him. When the world sees the believer in difficulties, they are glad to see it. This is just the reaction that Jesus himself experienced on the cross. His cry of dereliction was met with jeers, "Have saved other, let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!" (Luke 23:35).

Vv 9–11: Yet you… [kept me in the past]

Ps. 22:9 Yet you brought me out of the womb; you made me trust in you even at my mother's breast. 10 From birth I was cast upon you; from my mother's womb you have been my God. 11 Do not be far from me, for trouble is near and there is no one to help.
Not only have you delivered others in the past, you have kept me from my birth on. I know you have kept me all along, but don't be far from me now. This is the psalmist's cry is "God, don't fail me now!"

Vv 12–18: Ravening and roaring…

Ps. 22:12-17 Many bulls surround me; strong bulls of Bashan encircle me. Roaring lions tearing their prey open their mouths wide against me. I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint. My heart has turned to wax; it has melted away within me. My strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth; you lay me in the dust of death. Dogs have surrounded me; a band of evil men has encircled me, they have pierced my hands and my feet. I can count all my bones; people stare and gloat over me. 18 They divide my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing.

I know you have kept me from my mother's breast, but my enemies are surrounding me now. My enemies are like wild animals.

In the history of Israel, there actually were cases where wild animals were set on the faithful. When the Romans conquered Judea after a.d. 70, they took a lot of captives. Some of them were sold as slaves, some were taken to various cities for victory celebrations where they were used in games to fight wild animals. This, however, is not a case of literal attack by wild animals; the psalmist feels just as trapped as if he were surrounded by a pack of wolves—or in this case, of wild bulls.

One of these figurative wild animals is the "roaring lion."

Satan is the ultimate roaring lion who seeks whom he may devour. There was a time when this roaring lion sought out none other than the Son of Man himself, to devour him in a dusty grave. After Good Friday but before the first Lord's day, the cold bony hand of death was laid on Jesus and tried to tear body and soul apart permanently. The servant is no better than the master; we too are surrounded an beat down, sometimes my heart is like wax, it is melted within my breast.

Those who surround the psalmist are evil doers, who have pierced my hands and feet,… gloat over me…, divide my garments among them.

There are times when evil doers oppose us. Before they have even finished us off, they begin bargaining for the proceeds of our fall. They begin dividing up our assets before our agonized eyes. This passage spoke so richly of the opposition that Jesus faced that it was impossible to avoid applying it to Jesus' own sufferings. In fact, the relation goes the other way: Jesus' life was so foreordained that he fulfilled this passage's language in striking detail. Crucifixion, gambling for his garments, being surrounded by enemies—Jesus himself suffered all this.

Vv 19–21: But you… [will save me now]

Ps. 22:19 But you, O LORD, be not far off; O my Strength, come quickly to help me. 20 Deliver my life from the sword, my precious life from the power of the dogs. 21 Rescue me from the mouth of the lions; save me from the horns of the wild oxen.
We have three "But you…" sections, of which this is the climax. The psalmist cries out with final urgency for God's ear in prayer. Hear me, come near me.

Be not far off.

The psalmist does not pray that God will draw him nearer to the Lord, but rather that the Lord will draw near to him. He prays not that God will make him more spiritual, more able to walk in the Spirit; rather, he prays for God's presence to rescue. Rather than "Draw me nearer, nearer, nearer blessed Lord," it is "Lord come near to me in my distress"; come quickly to help me.

Deliver my life from the sword.

My enemies come near me like warriors, like a pack of wild dogs. They surrounded our Lord's trials as denial-prone disciples, torture-prone jailers, and indifferent or hostile judges. They surrounded our Lord's death-cross as gamblers and spear-thrusting soldiers. They even surrounded our Lord's tomb as conspiring religious leaders and materialistic jailers who would confine even a corpse under lock and key, or Roman seal and guard. The psalmist prays, deliver me from violent death at their hands.

Rescue me from the mouth of the lions… from the horns of the wild oxen.

The lion's mouth is a common OT metaphor for violent death. And the great adversary, Satan, roams like a roaring lion, plotting the violent and eternal death of those born in iniquity—plotting even the death of the very elect. In the Lord's Prayer, we echo the psalmist's prayer ourselves, "deliver us from the evil one" (Matt 6:13).

Psalm 22:22–31. The Singing Savior—The Spread of Joy Prevails.

As we noted at the beginning, the Lord Jesus does not stop with taking the words of the early part of the psalm on his lips. He does not stop at the cross but continues to Resurrection, Ascension, and Return. Upon victory, he also takes up the hymn of praise that closes this psalm. When the author of Hebrews was developing his argument that Jesus is one like unto us, he pointed out that Jesus is not ashamed to call us brethren, using v. 22 of this psalm as his proof text. He says Jesus sings these psalms with us: in the congregation I will praise you.

Vv 22–26: The votive feast

Ps. 22:22-26 I will declare your name to my brothers; in the congregation I will praise you. You who fear the LORD, praise him! All you descendants of Jacob, honor him! Revere him, all you descendants of Israel! For he has not despised or disdained the suffering of the afflicted one; he has not hidden his face from him but has listened to his cry for help. From you comes the theme of my praise in the great assembly; before those who fear you will I fulfill my vows. The poor will eat and be satisfied; they who seek the LORD will praise him—may your hearts live forever!

I will declare your name to my brothers.

The psalmist promises that he will give ready testimony to God's deliverance when God answers his prayer. Let the redeemed of the Lord talk about it. When Jesus is raised from the dead, the author of Hebrews finds in the congregation, telling forth the praises of God (Heb 2:12). If the resurrected Lord Jesus himself praises God Almighty for his deliverance, so ought we.

You who fear the Lord, praise him!

The fool has said in his heart, "There is no God." The fool who lives as if there is no God is pulled up short with the demand for his life: This night, it's required. The one who will not give praise to God is one without fear of God, one who lacks the elementary principle of wisdom: he is a fool. You who will not praise the Lord… you are fools. When you find praising God impossible because of your sufferings, don't be foolish; God is not ignoring your trouble.

He has not despised or disdained the suffering of the afflicted one.

"During the days of Jesus' life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission" (Heb. 5:7). God did not despise the afflictions of The Afflicted One; he raised him in glory, openly triumphing over the Enemy. Those who fear the Lord, their prayers will be heard.

From you comes the theme of my praise.

I will pay my vows, for you are the object and subject of my praise, the source of my deliverance. I will give public testimony by votive offering to the one who is my deliverer.

The poor will eat and be satisfied.

I may be in such pitiful condition that I can count my bones (v. 17), but I am confident that in the end I will eat and be satisfied. In seeking the Kingdom of God as my foremost object of desire, all these things shall be added on for me. They who seek the Lord will praise him.

Vv 27–31: The boundless kingdom.

Ps. 22:27-31 All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the LORD, and all the families of the nations will bow down before him, for dominion belongs to the LORD and he rules over the nations. All the rich of the earth will feast and worship; all who go down to the dust will kneel before him-- those who cannot keep themselves alive. Posterity will serve him; future generations will be told about the Lord. They will proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn—for he has done it.

All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the Lord, and all the families of the nations will bow down before him.

The OT prophets promise that there will come a time when all the nations will flow in to worship together with the people of God. Even as Jesus fulfilled the laments of this psalm on the cross and rose to sing its hymnic strains as well, so he is the one who begins fulfilling the promise of worldwide worship. In Christ, there is neither Jew nor Gentile, all nations join in worshiping God in Christ.

Dominion belongs to the Lord and he rules over the nations. 

John the Seer heard the testimony of the end of the ages: "The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he will reign for ever and ever" (Rev 11:16b).

Rev. 11:17-19 saying: "We give thanks to you, Lord God Almighty, the One who is and who was, because you have taken your great power and have begun to reign. The nations were angry; and your wrath has come. The time has come for judging the dead, and for rewarding your servants the prophets and your saints and those who reverence your name, both small and great-- and for destroying those who destroy the earth." Then God's temple in heaven was opened, and within his temple was seen the ark of his covenant. And there came flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder, an earthquake and a great hailstorm.

All the rich of the earth will feast and worship; all who go down to the dust will kneel before him.

There will come a time, says the psalmist, that all the proud will bow down. Every knew shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.

Posterity will serve him; future generations will be told about the Lord.

The promise is to your children and your children's children, and to them that are afar off. As the psalmist himself was reminded of past deliverance of his father, so we are reminded of the psalmist's deliverance. More than that, we are reminded of the Lord Jesus Christ's deliverance, which justifies us.

Tell it: Mothers, tell it to your daughters. Say, "He is risen; he is risen indeed!" Fathers, tell it to your sons. "He is risen; he is risen indeed!" Leaders of the church, covenant with God to proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn (v 31). Proclaim his vindication by resurrection, "He is risen; he is risen indeed!"



The Scriptures tell us that we can actually rejoice in suffering, and that is because we have hope.

This hope is no unhealthy attempt to push reality back into the unused corners of a foolish mind that has been darkened by sinful rebellion against the Sovereign God. This hope is real stuff that can keep on pressing in to the presence of God—even when God seems far away that we cry, "Why have you forsaken me?" This is the hope that can rejoice even in sufferings, knowing that we will share in the glory of God.

Jesus Christ is our bother in sorrow, and he's our brother in joy. He's our dark brother of Calvary, and he's our brother who lights all of heaven with his splendor. He's my bother, unashamed to name me as his brother.

When we weep, and our hearts our crying, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" know that Christ himself is touched with the feeling of your infirmities, that he actually cried that same cry when the wrath of God rolled over him who was made sin for us. When we leap for joy, shouting the praises of the one who delivers, know that Christ himself is touched with the feelings of our joys, having shouted victoriously over his own enemy and our ultimate enemy. He himself was raised for our justification and now is our singing Savior, unashamed to call us brothers.

How about today.

Are you ashamed to call him Lord? You, who can cry the cry of forsakenness; can you stand in the midst of the congregation and declare his name? Won't you do that with others today as we close in prayer?

Thursday, February 17, 2011

My Sermon at Nepal Theological College on 17 February 2011

Psalm 75
Some Bible readers wonder how the sentiments of imprecatory psalms can be harmonized with Christian teaching about forgiving your enemies enemies. But the one crying out for deliverance and vengeance did so as a representative of God's rule over all creation; he was an anointed ruler uniquely representing God's authority. In maltreating the Lord's anointed one, rebels assaulted the Lord himself. Thus, the vengeance called for was vengeance for the sin of rebelling against God's own plan. The deliverance and vengeance sought was an early breakthrough of the hope of final judgment, a foretaste of final and perfect justice, which is—in the end—assured, because he chooses the "appointed times" (Ps 75:2).

When we see injustice, we cry out for justice. The totalitarianism of Hitler and Stalin; the bloodied hands of terrorists, abortionists, and other murderers; the dark dealings of dope and pornography peddlers; the wealthy oppressors of widows, orphans, and the poor—all these things are unjust. All their victims cry out for vengeance. And with them, we cry like the martyrs of the book of Revelation: "O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge?" When some great enemy of God's people is destroyed,
we sing joyously, "Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God!" (Rev 19:1).

Our spirits bear us witness that these psalms are full of righteous Christian sentiment, of desire for the triumph of justice over evil.

Justice Desired, Required, and Acquired

Justice is desired, we longed for it.

When we see wrongs left unrighted, something in us hurts; a desire for justice cries out when it isn't forthcoming. This psalm speaks of the fate of the arrogant; it tells us that the boastful who promote themselves to places of power and prestige will find their horns chopped off. They will be brought low to be degraded and humiliated (Ps 75:4-6, 10). Isn't our confidence in a just God quickened when we are assured of that final judgment? The wicked totalitarian oppressors and the uncaught—or unpunished—murderers, thieves, and rapists will be chopped off, degraded, and humiliated. They will be brought to justice. The ungodly will receive the judgment they deserve—it is promised, and we are glad.

Justice is required, we fear it.

Since all men are sinners, all must fear justice. If it is perfect justice—and impartial—it will miss no sinner in its sweeping settlement of all claims outstanding against God's righteousness. Not only do murderers go to their doom; the gossips, liars, unbelievers, and unrepentant will be brought to shame. The foaming cup in the hand of the Lord is for "all the wicked of the earth" (Ps 75:8).

What is this 'cup'?

Ps. 75:8 tells us the wicked must drink it.Habakkuk says the one who degrades others will be degraded by this cup (Hab. 2:15-16). Jeremiah was told:
Take from my hand this cup of the wine of wrath, and make all the nations to whom I send you drink it. They shall drink and stagger and be crazed because of the sword that I am sending amo g them.... and if they refuse to accept the cup from your hand to drink, then you shall say to them, "You must drink... you shall not go unpunished" (Jer 25:15–17, 28).

Ps. 75:8 says it is a cup of horror and desolation to be drained to the dregs. God spoke to Judah when she was facing conquest just like Israel had years earlier, he said your ways are as wicked as those of your northern sister; your punishment will be the same. Jeremiah says it is the inescapable violent punishment of the wrath of God (Jer 49:12). It is inescapable unless the Lord pleads your cause. But if he does, Isaiah says it can be removed from your hand "to drink no more" (Isa. 51:22) and be handed to your tormentors.

You will be filled with drunkenness and sorrow, the cup of ruin and desolation, the cup of your sister Samaria. You will drink it and drain it dry; you will dash it to pieces and tear your breasts. I have spoken, declares the Sovereign Lord. "Therefore this is what the Sovereign Lord says: Since you have forgotten me and thrust me behind your back, you must bear the consequences of your lewdness and prostitution" (Ezek 23:33-35).
Because we sinners are estranged and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds (Col. 1:21f).Until the wrath of God is propitiated, we must drink that cup.

What happens when this 'cup' is poured out?

The psalmist says it will be like "fiery coals and burning sulfur; a scorching wind" (Ps 11:6). Micah says, "When it falls, mountains melt and run like wax before the fire" (Micah 1:2-3).

Whose 'cup' is it?

You must know; it is your cup, it is my cup. That cup is ours; for "all the wicked of the earth shall drain it down to the dregs" (Ps 75:8); and as Paul tells us, all of us have been found out to be sinners (Rom 3:23). Jer 16:7 tells us that what we need is the cup of consolation. Zech 12:2 tells us that what he deserve is the cup of trembling and reeling.

But why must all the wicked drink it? Why us; why me?

Looking at all these Bible references reminds us of this inescapable fact: We need mercy, but we deserve judgment; justice calls for it. Since God has sworn in his wrath that unbelievers will never enter into his rest, how shall we escape from the wrath of God; as Heb 2:2 says, "every transgression or disobedience receives a just retribution."

Justice has been acquired, so it is satisfied.

That cup Jesus drank was the cup that we should have drunk in judgment for our own sins.

My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt.... and again for the second time, he went away and prayed, "My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, thy will be done" (Matt 26:39, 42).
Jesus drank that cup for us, and be so doing he saved us from the threats of those violent vengeful psalms. Peter tells us, once we had not received mercy, but now we have received mercy (1 Pet. 2:10). Hammer in hand, nails in my pocket, there I stood at the foot of the cross; blood on my hammer, blood on my fingers.... and he forgave. God put this cup of wrath into the hands of his only begotten son, so that he might drink it for us. Paul gave us the Gospel in a nut shell: He who knew no sin became sin for us and was forsaken by God, he drank our cup of wrathful judgment (2Cor 5:21).

He who knew no sin was forsaken so that we who were wicked might be reconciled to the Holy God. Paul said, "While we were yet enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son... through whom we have now received our reconciliation" (2 Cor. 5:18ff). In another place he said, "While we were estranged and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, we were reconciled in his body of flesh by his death" (Col. 1:21-22). As he said, we have all have sinned (Rom. 3:23), but God's forbearance is righteous (3:24ff); John tells us how: because "he is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world" (1 John 2:2).

We have received mercy with justice.

God is a holy God of wrath; but John tells us that he reconciled us in this way: "he sent his son to be the propitiation for our sins" (1John 4:10). God so loved the world... (John 3:16). God is faithful and just to forgive our sins and to cleanse us (1 John 1:9). Once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy (1 Pet 2:10).


Jesus drank the cup of the wrath of God. He was forsaken of God that we might be reconciled to God.

We need not fear the day of judgment.

The cry for justice, the call for appropriate vengeance freezes the blood in our veins when we stop to ask, "But what if that fury falls on me?" The Psalmist tells us is angry every day (Ps 7:11). Hebrews tells us that it is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of a furious God (Heb 10:31).  Thanks be unto God for his unspeakable gift of salvation! (2 Cor 9:15). Christ is the unspeakable, inexpressible gift. Paul tells us, now we have the peace of God, peace with God our Father, through Jesus Christ (Rom 5:1).


Is that peace yours now? It can be; but only in Jesus Christ. Acts 4:12 tells us that there is no other name granted under heaven by which we must be saved. It must be; or you are in danger of a fiery hell. To the wicked, he will one day say, "Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels... and they will go away into eternal punishment" (Matt 25:41).

If that peace is yours, look forward to the blessings of heaven. If that peace is not yours, I warn you to flee from the wrath that is coming, "while a door of reconciliation is open; for here will you flee from his presence" (Ps 139:7) in the day of his wrath?
Those who are, by their own deeds, condemned will never be inscribed in the book of life; but the righteous will be saved.
But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the polluted, as for murderers, fornicators, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their lot shall be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death (Rev 21:8).

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

India trip

Today I head out for the first leg of an India-Nepal trip for teaching assignments that run through the next several weeks. It's been awhile since I've done this, and it's great to get back into  the swing of this.

Street scene in Pune, India
My first assignment will be at Union Biblical Seminary in Pune, India. I'll lecture on "The Role of Biblical Theology in  Preaching." I'll probably also supervise a few Hebrew reading course sessions with students reading in Amos and in Exodus.

I frequently tell students, "A commentary is not a sermon. When you've completed your exegesis, you're just getting  started on the sermon." And that's from someone who heartily endorses the expository sermon as the generally preferred approach to preaching.

But preaching must "move on to Christ," from wherever the biblical text itself left the reader. Jesus' hermeneutical lesson on the Emmaeus Road taught disciples to find Christ everywhere in the Scriptures. And we should do it, and lead our congregations to Christ from the text we preach. Does the text give a promise? It's fulfilled in Christ (2 Cor 1:20 NLT). Does the text threaten a curse? It's lifted in Christ (Gal 3:13). Does the text teach us what we should be like? Jesus fulfilled it.