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March 24, 2019

Sermon Psalm 22 . . .“Bible songs:  The Psalm of the Cross”

“Bible songs:  The Psalm of the Cross”

Psalm 22

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus.

Larry Kudlow is a financial analyst and a former television host.  He’s written numerous articles for the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Times, as well as four books on finance and economics.  Since this past year, he’s also served as the director of the National Economic Council.

But life wasn’t always so good.  In the early 90’s, he became addicted to cocaine and alcohol and, as a result, he lost his $1 million/year job at Bear-Sterns.  Later he wrote:  “As I hit bottom, I lost jobs, lost all income, lost all friends, and very nearly lost my wife.  I was willing to surrender and take it on faith that I had to change my life.”

So how did he change his life?  He was raised as a Jew until the sixth grade.  Then he attended a private middle and high school.  And he said that, every morning in homeroom, every student had to put their head on their desk and say the Lord’s Prayer.  Then later, as he sank into what he called, “the dark abyss of alcohol and cocaine,” he laid in bed and again started to pray the Lord’s Prayer.  

Then he said:  “All of a sudden it clicked, that Jesus Christ does not want me to touch alcohol or drugs, because I wreck my body, and I wreck His body, and I wreck my life.  Jesus died for me, too.”

He’s not the only Jew who’s come to Christ.  So did a professor of Applied Mathematics and Astronomy named David Block, and Niels Bohr, winner of a Nobel Prize in Physics.  When a man named Charles Halff turned from Judaism and came to Christ, his father said he was insane, had him thrown in jail, and offered him $85,000 to recant.

But why not come to Christ?  After all, the Old Testament is all about Him!  

Isaiah wrote that He’d be born of a virgin.  Micah wrote that He’d be born in Bethlehem.  Moses wrote He’d be a descendant of Abraham and of the tribe of Judah.  Hosea said He would escape to Egypt and Isaiah called Him a Nazarene.

Malachi said He would cleanse the Temple, Zechariah said He would ride a donkey, then would be sold for thirty pieces of silver.  Isaiah said He’d be rejected, spit on, silent before His accusers, and crucified with thieves.  And the Psalms said He would be mocked, pierced, given gall and vinegar to drink, and that He would rise from the dead, ascend into heaven, and sit down at the right hand of God.

The Old Testament is really all about Christ.

So it is here in the words of Psalm 22, what’s been called, “A Psalm of Suffering,” “The Psalm of the Cross.”  Please turn in your Bible to page 580, as I read the words of our text.

I’ll start where it says:  “Why Have You Forsaken Me?”  “To the Choirmaster:  According to the Doe of the Dawn.  A Psalm of David.  My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?  Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?  O my God, I cry by day, but You do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest.  Yet You are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel.  In You our fathers trusted; they trusted, and You delivered them.  To You they cried and were rescued; in You they trusted and were not put to shame.”

“According to the Doe of the Dawn,” it says.  Apparently, it’s the name of the tune to which this psalm was sung.  And while other psalms might be sung to tunes like, “The Lily of the Covenant” or “The Silent Dove in Distant Lands,” this is the only psalm that was sung to “The Doe of the Dawn.”

And though we’ll probably never know just what that tune might be, it must have been an incredibly sad song.

When Luther wrote of this psalm, he called it, “a gem among the Psalms...excellent and remarkable.”  He said, “It contains those deep, sublime, and heavy sufferings of Christ, when agonizing in the midst of the terrors and pangs of divine wrath and death which surpass all human thought and comprehension.”

And Spurgeon wrote:  “For plaintive expressions uprising from unutterable depths of woe, we may say of this Psalm, there is none like it.  It is the photograph of our Lord’s saddest hours, the record of His dying words, the lachrymatory of His last tears, the memorial of His expiring joys.”  And he said:  “We should read it reverently, putting our shoes off from our feet, as Moses did at the burning bush, for if there be holy ground anywhere in Scripture, it is in this Psalm.”

And it begins with a cry, the most anguished cry in all of human history.  In Hebrew it reads:  “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani.”  In English:  “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?”

Sound familiar?  It should, for it’s the very words that Christ cried from the cross.  It’s a cry of abandonment, loneliness, and desperation.  It’s as if He said, “I can understand why You would forsake those who have crucified Me or why You would forsake all of sinful humanity.  But why have You forsaken Me?”

But you know, there’s much more going on here than you, at first, might imagine, unless you knew something about the culture back then.

You see, in Jesus’ day, the Jewish people had an insatiable love for the Scriptures.  In fact, by the time a Jewish boy was twelve years old, he was expected to memorize the first five books of the Old Testament--Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.  In your Bible, that’s right about 225 pages.  And many Jewish boys had them memorized by the time they were twelve years old!

Also, you should know that it wasn’t until centuries later that Bible scholars added in the chapters and verses.  So in Bible times, when a rabbi was teaching, he couldn’t give you a verse reference.  Jesus couldn’t say:  “Psalm 22, verse 6.”  And He didn’t need to.  Since people had memorized so much of the Old Testament, the rabbi could simply say the first verse of a passage, and they could fast forward through the rest of it in their minds.

So when Jesus said:  “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” it wasn’t meant to be a stand-alone statement.  It was meant to point His listeners to the rest of the psalm.

So what does the rest of the psalm say?

Verse 6:  “But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by mankind and despised by the people.  All who see me mock me; they make mouths at me; they wag their heads; ‘He trusts in the Lord; let Him deliver him; let Him rescue him, for He delights in him!’”

Verse 14:  “I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax; it is melted within my breast; my strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to my jaws; You lay me in the dust of death.”

And verse 16:  “For dogs encompass me; a company of evildoers encircles me; they have pierced my hands and feet--I can count all my bones--they stare and gloat over me; they divide my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots.”

You know what’s a little strange about this psalm?  While it’s a perfect description of crucifixion--verse 14:  “My bones are out of joint”...verse 15:  “My strength is dried up like a potsherd”...verse 16:  “They have pierced my hands and feet”...and verse 18:  “They divide my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots,” crucifixion wasn’t even invented for another six hundred years!  Long before the Romans or the Persians ever lived, David could look through the mist of time to see Christ crucified on the cross.

And what did he see?  An absolute horror of horrors!  Life itself.  Love itself.  Hope itself.  God Himself.  And there He hangs on a cross, with nails piercing through His flesh--Jesus, the Son of God--the omnipotent weak, groaning in pain, dying for the sins of the world.

Though men sarcastically called Him king, in reality, He truly was their King.  Though men said He blasphemed God, He truly was God.  The guilty condemned the innocent.  The One who gives life, who is life, was dying, that those who are dead might receive life.  He saved others, because He refused to save Himself.  And while men sacrificed lambs that had no power, the Lamb of God, to whom all power belongs, became the sacrifice Himself.

In the words of an ancient chant:  “Today He who hung the earth upon the waters, is hung upon the cross.  He who is King of the angels, is arrayed in a crown of thorns.  He who wraps the heavens in clouds, is wrapped in the purple of mockery.  He who in Jordan set Adam free, receives blows upon His face.  The Bridegroom of the Church is transfixed with nails.  The Son of the Virgin is pierced with a spear.”

Before we leave this text, there’s one more thing to say.  Look again at the words of verse 6:  “But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by mankind and despised by the people.”

“A worm,” it says.  Have you ever wondered why the Bible called Jesus a worm?

Well, you could say, it’s because there, at the cross, He became the lowest of the low.  For the Great “I Am,” to say, “I Am a worm,” there’s no lower He could go.

But you know, there’s something more.  Normally, whenever the Bible uses the word “worm,” the original word behind it is “rimmah.”

But that’s not the word the Bible uses here.  Instead, here we find the word, “tolat.”  And that is an entirely different kind of worm.

So what’s a “tolat”?  It’s what people in Bible times called, “The scarlet worm,” or “The crimson worm.”

Let me explain.  You see that little “tolat,” that “scarlet worm,” was called the “scarlet worm” for one simple reason--it was a source of fluid used by the ancients to make a scarlet dye.

First, when the mother “tolat” is about to give birth, she finds a branch, a stick, or the trunk of a tree, then she fastens her body onto it so strongly that, to get her off, you’d have to tear her body apart.  Then she lays her eggs beneath her body.  As they grow, they feed on the living body of their mother.

Finally, a few days later, when the young worms are able to care for themselves and crawl off on their own, the mother dies.  Then she oozes a crimson or scarlet dye which not only stains the wood she’s attached to, but also her young children.  And so they, too, are colored scarlet red for the rest of their lives.

Then, last of all, after three days, the mother’s body loses its crimson color, turns into a white wax and falls to the ground like snow.

As the prophet Isaiah once wrote:  “Come now, and let us reason together...though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow.  Though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.”

 

Thank You, dear Father, for Jesus.  Thank You for the cross.  And thank You that You have chosen even us to follow You.  Hear us as we pray in His name.  Amen

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