Psalm 22 Study: The Song From the Cross

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

desolate

You only have to read the first line of Psalm 22 to recognize the words spoken by Jesus on the cross. This was the fourth of his 7 utterances recorded by the gospels during his six hour agony.  In my mind that fact sets these words apart from all the other sentences in the Psalms…as holy.  I feel a little shy about taking them up as my own cry.

How dare I?

That kind of reticence means I have forgotten that originally these words were spoken by David, not by Jesus.  It is OK to for me to use them, too, when I feel forsaken by God.  As we study this Psalm, we can personalize David’s experience and recognize the times when these words are the best ones we can pray.  When we do, we are not pretending to suffer the way Jesus did.

Instead we are actually proclaiming something unique about Jesus, the Christ, when we use these words as our own.

The Two Voices of Jesus in the Psalms

We have been studying the Psalms by reading them from 3 perspectives.  We have called it “listening for the voice of…David, Jesus, and me.”  This way to read the Psalms isn’t my idea, it originated with the Church Fathers and was based on a Greek method of interpreting both drama and literature.  Technically it is called a “prosopological hermeneutic.”  Try throwing that term that around at your next coffee break or soccer game!

What makes this method particularly eye opening is the way it shows us the two natures of our Savior.  Romans 1:3-4 spells the two natures out very clearly.  Paul writes

…concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord,

Because Jesus is both God and man, he speaks each of the Psalms with two voices.  As man he is tempted and suffers and cries out and rejoices.  All of the emotions in the Psalms belonged to him at one point in his earthly life, except sorrow over personal sin.  As God he came to fulfill the Psalms, just as he came to fulfill the Law and the Prophets.  David’s reign points to his greater reign.  All of the hopes expressed in the Psalms find their fullest expression in him–his coming, his life, his death, his resurrection, and his return.

This isn’t just an academic exercise.  This brings me into fellowship and worship at the same time:  fellowship with Jesus my brother and worship of Christ my Savior and Lord.

This Week’s Questions

I hope these introductory thoughts whet your appetite for Psalm 22.  It’s actually the psalm that first showed me the great blessing of reading all of the psalms this way.

Days 1 & 2 — Psalm 22:1-11 “Agony and argument”

  1. David’s voice:  David pours out his agony in verses 1-2.  Summarize his complaint and why it sounds so intense.
  2. Jesus’ voice:  Jesus pours out his agony using verse 1a. See Matthew 27:46 and Mark 15:34. At what point in his suffering was this?  What is the significance of his addressing the Lord as “God”?
  3. Jesus’ voice:  How did Jesus pray during his earthly life?  What did it look like, sound like?  Compare Psalm 22:1 and Hebrews 5:7.  Did God save him from death?  How?
  4. My voice:  Do I have a complaint to voice to the Lord today?  A “why” to ask? A “but” to speak?  Let verses 1-2 give you the permission and the structure to speak it.
  5. David’s voice:  David then seems to argue with himself before the Lord in verses 3-11.  Trace his reasoning through the words, “yet you,” “but I,” yet you.” Where does he end up?
  6. Jesus’ voice:  How do verses 3-11 relate to his crucifixion?  See Isaiah 53:3, Matthew 27:39-43.
  7. My voice:  Am I tempted to quit praying because of unanswered prayer?  Follow David’s argument back into praying again.

Day 3 — Psalm 22:12-21  “Renewed prayer”

  1. David’s voice:  Describe the external circumstances and internal emotions of David’s trial in verses 12-18.  Take the prayer in vv. 19-21 and see how it matches both the circumstances and the desperation of his situation.
  2. Jesus’ voice:  How do verses 12-18 describe the crucifixion?  See John 19:24, 28, John 20:25, Luke 23:34-35, Luke 24:40.  Do you think Jesus prayed his circumstances and inner desperation from the cross?  Read vv. 19-21 as his prayer.
  3. My voice:  Am I in the middle of circumstances or internal reactions that are troubling me today?  Call out to the LORD as specifically as David and Jesus did.

Days 4 & 5 — Psalm 22:22-31  “Deliverance beyond expectations”

  1. David’s voice:  David records his sudden deliverance in vv. 22-26.  How does he describe the answer?  Whom does he tell (and what does he call them)?  What response does he call for?
  2. Jesus’ voice:  What does Jesus do after he is delivered from death?  See Matthew 28:10,  John 20:1, and Hebrews 2:11-12.
  3. Jesus’ voice:  What was the content of his testimony to the disciples?  Read vv. 22-26 from this perspective.
  4. My voice:  Do I ever feel like Jesus is ashamed of me?  That I am a second class Christian?  Read and meditate on Hebrews 2:11-12.  Think about the disciples, how often they let Jesus down, and rejoice that he is not ashamed of them or me!
  5. David’s voice:  How does the scope of David’s praise expand in vv. 27-31?  Does this surprise you as an outcome of this psalm?
  6. Jesus’ voice:  How did his resurrection provide for the expanded deliverance we see in vv. 27-31?  What titles in these verses refer to him?  See Philippians 2:10.
  7. My voice:  Do I have trouble reaching out to non-believers around me?  Read and ponder vv. 27-31 to see the power of Christ’s victory.  Let it fill me with boldness to love and speak.

This Psalm is the longest one we will do.  But it’s worth it, don’t you think?

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