June 21, 2016
For those with even a passing familiarity with the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, it doesn’t take long to see some of the vivid connections between Psalm 22 and the violent death of God’s Son a thousand years later. Jesus’ clothing was divided and lots were cast for it (Matthew 27:35), he was surrounded and mocked (Matthew 27:43), and he cried out to God about his abandonment (Matthew 27:46)—even the description of the psalmist’s torture, which seems to involve the piercing of his hands and feet, eerily Christ’s death on the cross. The similarities are gripping and undeniable, though commentators have different opinions on why they exist. Whatever the case, it’s very clear that the psalmist wanted to communicate something incredibly important in this song—so important, that the Son of God thought it worthy of repeating shortly before he released his last breath.
At the beginning of the song, the psalmist is speaking as a person who feels entirely abandoned by God, utterly forsaken and cut off. Not only this, but he is mocked and viciously threatened, eventually poured out and laid in the dust of death. Punctuating this sorrowful and graphic lament, however, the psalmist remembers God’s faithfulness, both in his people’s past and his own life from birth. These cries for rescue, banking entirely on God, show the futility that plagues his soul. His constant plea is that God would not be far off; he knows that when his God is near, so is rescue.
And the rescue comes suddenly and somewhat unexpectedly at the center of the psalm, leading to a series of joyful verses of praise which thank God for his salvation and exalt his worthiness. The praise rebounds to the ends of the earth, gathering peoples of all kinds to glorify this amazing and awesome God. Interestingly, the psalmist begins this section by saying that he will tell God’s name to his own brothers, which is precisely how the author of Hebrews describes Jesus’ own witness in Hebrews 2:12. So how does this text connect to Jesus? What can we learn from the connection?
The psalmist’s goal in this song is to strengthen the hands of those who find themselves utterly forsaken and near death: God will not hide his face from you if your trust is in him. No matter how abandoned you feel, or how much danger surrounds you—God is with you. Why? The source of our hope and confidence in God’s ability here is that Jesus did experience all of the pain, horror, and humiliation written in Psalm 22, so that he would be exalted to praise God and tell others of his name. In dying on the cross, Christ secured for us a guarantee that God would never forsake us. He was cut off for us, so that we would never be cut off from him. Jesus Christ has done it (John 19:30).
Like many texts in the Bible, Psalm 22 tells us something about God’s remarkable trustworthiness, but it also provides for us a vivid glimpse of how God can show goodness to undeserving people: the cross of Jesus Christ. We should think deeply about the cross and about our great Savior. We should know what he secured on that tree. The response of our hearts to this knowledge is directly connected to our conviction of what Jesus has done. Look at what God was willing to pay to have you in his family. If you can see it, then you will say with the psalmist: “He has not hidden his face.”