The Suffering Messiah Part 1 of 2
by John Lowe
“My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? why art thou so far from helping me…”
Title: The Suffering Messiah
Text: (Psalm 22)
Of all the psalms dealing with the Lord’s great desire to save lost men and women, this is undoubtedly the best. It’s identified as a Messianic psalm (a psalm written about Jesus, the Messiah) because Jesus used its opening words at the end of His agony on the cross, when He cried out, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me…”
Because he was a prophet, David was able to write about the Messiah centuries before He came. Did you know that crucifixion was not a Jewish form of capital punishment, yet David described it accurately? As you read this psalm, you see Jesus at Calvary: His cry to the Father; the period of darkness; the ridicule of the people; His thirst and pain; His pierced hands and feet; and the gambling for His clothes. Remember, He endured all of these things for you.
The psalm can be divided into two easily identifiable parts. The first part, verses 1-21, speaks of being forsaken by God, and the second part, verses 22-31, is about being delivered by God.
Forsaken By God.
Verse 1 contains a pitiful cry for help. “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? why art thou so far from helping me…” These words are unmistakably similar to the startling cry of Calvary: Eli, Eli, lama sabacthani? (Mt 27:46). When Jesus cried out, “Why hast thou forsaken me,” His complaint did not arise out of His need to know the deep-seated reasons for God’s absence. Rather, it arose out of the incomprehensibility of it all. Certainly, God had forsaken the Lord Jesus in those moments on the cross, but the reason was that He had made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us. That’s what Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 5:21: “For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.”
God turned His back on the sin He hated, not the Son He loved. Although people may have such horrible experiences that they feel God has forsaken them, still no one has experienced what Jesus did, because no one has had the close relationship with the Father that Jesus had.
After the despair expressed in verse 1, there comes hope expressed in verses 3-5. “But thou art holy, O thou that inhabitest the praises of Israel. Our fathers trusted in thee: they trusted, and thou didst deliver them. They cried unto thee, and were delivered: they trusted in thee, and were not confounded.”
Once again, why was Jesus forsaken by God? Because, on the cross in those last three hours, in the impenetrable darkness, He was made sin. He was forsaken for a brief moment. The irony is that at that very moment God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself.
The Father was with Him when He was in prison, the Father was with Him when He was being beaten, and The Father was with Him when they nailed Him to the cross, but in those last three hours He made His soul an offering for sin, and it pleased the Father to bruise Him according to Isaiah 53:10.
Forsaken! Friends, you do not know what that is; and I don’t know what it is to be forsaken by God. The vilest man on earth today is not forsaken by God. Because of who He is, God could never abandon anyone who trusts in Him. Anyone can turn to Him. But when Jesus took my sin upon Himself He was forsaken by God.
In verses 6-8, David tells about the disrespectful treatment at the hands of the enemy. “But I am a worm, and no man; a reproach of men, and despised of the people. All they that see me laugh me to scorn: they shoot out the lip, they shake the head, saying, He trusted on the LORD that he would deliver him: let him deliver him, seeing he delighted in him.” The figure of a “worm” is a reference to total helplessness and defenselessness. Ridicule from others produces a particular kind of hurt in a person, and I believe we have all experienced it.
In verse 7 we see a picture of Calvary. The laughing taunts were flung at Jesus first by the priests and leaders and then by those passing by.
Verse 8 is clearly reminiscent of the taunts our Lord’s crucifiers heaped on Him. What does it mean when he says, “But I am a worm, and no man?” The worm is a symbol of extreme weakness and helplessness, something that is crushed, unnoticed, and despised. It’s disgusting, and repulsive to people.
Jesus had reached the very lowest point. He had become so despised that the very people who once would have crowned Him now expressed their desire to have a murderer released instead of Him. They shoot out their lip, and they shake
their head. These gestures of contempt are fulfilled in Matthew 27:39 where it says, “And they that passed by reviled him, wagging their heads.” I think this is the lowest thing that has ever been said of religion. They sat down to watch Him die and made fun of Him while He suffered on the cross. You have to be low to do that. In fact, you can’t get any lower than that.
“Then Jesus said, Father forgive them: for they know not what they do…” (Luke 23:34). They were forgiven for this great sin and as a result, some were saved. We know the centurion in charge of the execution was saved. And a whole bunch of Pharisees were saved, including Saul of Tarsus, who probably was in the crowd.
Next, a plea for help to the God who has always been a helper is the essence of verses 9-11. “But thou art he that took me out of the womb: thou didst make me hope when I was upon my mother’s breasts. I was cast upon thee from the womb: thou art my God from my mother’s belly. Be not far from me; for trouble is near; for there is none to help.”
Now, the pendulum swings from the pit of despair back to hope. Here is an indirect reference to the virgin birth and to God’s protective care of Jesus while He was a baby. It could be a specific reference to the flight to Egypt that saved Him from death at the hands of Herod’s soldiers. The phrase “I was cast upon thee from the womb,” in certain respects could be said of every person, however, it is more appropriate for Jesus to say it.
God the Son had never been separated from God the Father until that moment at Calvary. It’s there, where the sins of mankind were placed on Him that God turned away and couldn’t look at His Son. That’s why Jesus cried out, “Be not far from me … for there is none to help.” This obviously cannot apply to David, for he had never been in such an awful position. But, when the Lord Jesus suffered on the cross, there was only one disciple and a few women to stand beside him, and none of them could help.
In verse 12, the enemies of our Lord are compared to strong bulls from the grassy plains of Bashan, ready to smash this poor victim whom they have encircled. It says, “Many bulls have compassed me: strong bulls of Bashan have beset me round.” Escape for him seemed impossible. He says the soldiers who are crucifying him are like the bulls of Bashan, but he doesn’t stop there.
In verse 13 the figure of speech moves from “bulls’ to ravenous wild beasts that are anxious to devour him—that’s what his tormentors had become.
Verses 14-18 give us a realistic picture of our Lord on the cross. “I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint: my heart is like wax; it is melted in the midst of my bowels. My strength is dried up like a potsherd; and my tongue cleaveth to my jaws; and thou hast brought me into the dust of death. For dogs have compassed me: the assembly of the wicked have inclosed me: they pierced my hands and my feet. I may tell all my bones: they look and stare upon me. They part my garments among them, and cast lots upon my vesture.” This accurate description of crucifixion is remarkable when you consider that crucifixion was unknown when this psalm was written. The Roman Empire was not even in existence, and it was Rome that instituted crucifixion.
Yet here is a picture of a man dying by crucifixion! His heart was broken by the rejection of His people. He experienced excruciating physical thirst, and His hands and feet were pierced. He says, “I am poured out like water.” That describes the great perspiration of a dying man out in the sun. Then he says, “All my bones are out of joint.” The horrible thing about crucifixion is that when a man began to lose blood, his strength flowed away from him, and all his bones slipped out of joint. That is an awful thing. It was terrible, terrible suffering.
Then he says something that is very strange, “My heart is like wax.” He died of a broken heart. Many doctors have said that a ruptured heart would have produced what John carefully recorded. He wrote, “But one of the soldiers with a spear pierced His side, and forthwith came there out blood and water” (John 19:34). Let me paraphrase that. “I saw that Roman soldier put that spear in His side and there came out blood and water—not just blood, but blood and water.” John took note of that and recorded it. I want to say to you again, Jesus died of a broken heart.