Psalm 22: Echoes of Eternity

From noon until three in the afternoon darkness came over all the land. About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, Lema sabachthani?” (which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”).

I have tried to make this mediation about something other than the obvious, but try as I might I find no way to turn this Psalm completely away from the obvious.

I wonder if David knew when he wrote these words they would ring throughout all of time? Did David know his pain would be taken on by his son, his Lord, and his King?

I often wonder if those who wrote prophecy knew the future implications of their words. I wonder about the original circumstances precipitating the first echo of an event that would occur many years in the future. I also wonder what the best way is to read prophecy.

Do we read it as a description of an event in the distant past also describing something yet to come, or do we read it beginning in the future then peering into the past?

If we read Psalm 22 primarily from the vantage point of the past it describes an event in David’s life and his lonely cry to God. It is about how David suffered through his life wondering when God might come to save him. But it is also about how David vowed to declare God’s name before the nations and feed the poor if only God would save him. And it is about how David would make his praise heard by the rich, the poor, and the unborn for generations to come. AFTER all of this it is THEN a Psalm echoing Jesus’ pain on the cross.

When the soldiers crucified Jesus, they took his clothes, dividing them into four shares, one for each of them, with the undergarment remaining. This garment was seamless, wove in one piece from top to bottom. “Let’s not tear it,” they said to one another. “Let’s decide by lot who will get it.”

BUT, if we read Psalm 22 as a prophecy primarily about the future, then it is about Jesus’ passion on the cross. It is about humanity scorning Jesus and mocking him. It is about the ones surrounding his feet and casting lots for his clothing. But it is also about how Jesus’ work on the cross satisfies the sin-debt of all those who come to him: past, present, and future. And it is about his work satisfying the poor and saving the wretch. AFTER all of this it is THEN a Psalm echoing David’s painful experiences in life.

He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem. Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgression, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.

Both seem possible and both seem likely.

On the one hand, I think we have all found ourselves at one moment on top of the world and the next tossed aside. We have felt useless, despised, and alone. We have cried to God and wonder why he holds himself distant. We make promises that if only he would only save us, we would tell the world. In this case, Psalm 23 is representative of not only David’s cry, but the cry of all humanity.

But on the other hand, this Psalm certainly speaks of the work of Jesus on the cross. He considered equality with God unimportant so he came to us in the flesh, enduring constant scorn, having only a handful of people believe and love him, all of whom abandoned him in his moment of need, only to die upon a cross, left alone even by his father. In this case, Psalm 22 echoes the deep cry of a lonely God hanging upon a cross.

But which one is it?

His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.

But maybe there is a third option. Maybe the real event began in the depths of eternity with God the father choosing to redeem a people who would someday reject him. Maybe Jesus’ painful cry on the cross is an echo of the Father’s choice to sacrifice his Son for our sins. And maybe David’s cry in Psalm 22, while a response to his temporal suffering, partakes in the pain of the eternal act displayed on the cross. Maybe Jesus’ cry and David’s cry is our cry. And maybe our cries should become songs reaching beyond our own demise and touching future generations singing of God’s great saving work.

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.

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