Seeing God in our Sufferings Part 2 of a series based on Psalm 22
By Philip Powell
RECAP: In part one we saw how this “Psalm of the Cross” presents Christ as He is dying, looking in five distinct and different directions and seeing GOD, His Father everywhere He looks. This is what I wrote in the previous article, in part:
Here’s the outline based on the key verses which will be extended and commented upon in the series:
1. LOOKING UP HE EMBRACED GOD ON HIS THRONE–verses 1-3
2. LOOKING BACK HE ENCOUNTERED GOD IN HISTORY–verses 4-5.]
Seeing God in history
PSALM 22 verses 4 and 5: -
Our fathers trusted in You; they trusted, and You delivered them. They cried to You, and were delivered; they trusted in You, and were not ashamed (New King James Version–NKJV).
In the messianic Psalms of which this is surely “chief”, as well as in the other messianic passages of the Bible (eg. compare Isaiah 53), the writers appear to be transported through time to the actual events that they describe, so that the language they use applies both to themselves and to their subject, the Messiah (Christ). The Psalmist learned the hard lessons of life and of history as did the patriarchs (“Our fathers trusted in You; … and You delivered them”) and here he prophetically applies them to Christ in His suffering on the cross.
Notice human trust issuing in divine deliverance and ending in personal satisfaction “not ashamed”—AV “not confounded”. The Hebrew signifies “to put to or feel shame”. How appropriate that such a word is used in the context of the crucifixion of our Lord: On a hill far away stood an old rugged cross,The emblem of suffering and shame;1
As the Psalmist continues he turns from the big picture where he speaks of the faithfulness of God in history to another equally big picture—God’s faithfulness in both his own and his Messiah’s personal lives (verses 8-10): He trusted in the LORD, … “…You are He who took Me out of the womb; You made Me trust while on My mother’s breasts. I was cast upon You from birth. From My mother’s womb You have been My God.
Clearly the psalm is Messianic, but is also personal to the author and to us all. We quoted C.H. Spurgeon more fully in part 1. The following is an extract: This is beyond all others THE PSALM OF THE CROSS. … David and his afflictions may be here in a very modified sense, but, as the star is concealed by the light of the sun, he who sees Jesus will probably nei¬ther see nor care to see David. Before us we have a description both of the darkness and of the glory of the cross, the sufferings of Christ and the glory which shall follow.2
How true. Christ is the shining centre of everything and the cross with its message must dominate: But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified to me, and I to the world (Galatians 6:14). Paul had it right and takes us further than did Spurgeon in his revelation of the truth of the cross. We are all there in a “modified sense” not just David. In the crucifixion sufferings of each one of us we need to see and learn from the experiences of our Lord Himself on that cross and what He testifies of.
He looked up and embraced God on His throne; He looked back and encountered God in history—both that of God’s people and of Christ Himself. We need to learn from this so that we can face our crises, especially those involving great suffering of all sorts, physical, psychological, spiritual, in the way that He did. We too have to die, to self and to the world in order that we can live to and for Christ. To see how the Saviour, our supreme example acted and reacted as He hung on that cross is vital.
The lessons of history
History repeats itself because no one was listening the first time —Anonymous. If men could learn from history, what les¬sons it might teach us! But passion and party blind our eyes, and the light which experience gives us is a lantern on the stern which shines only on the waves behind —Samuel Taylor Coleridge. 3
These things are true of us as humans, but they are not true of the “perfect man” Christ Jesus, for He was more than man—what the older theologians called “the God-man”. At this point human rationalisation and speculation must cease, or we will get into trouble. As I heard a pastor of long-standing and a denominational Bible college principal wrongly suggest: if we speak of the “God-man” then why not the “man-God”? He failed to grasp the magnitude of the mystery of the incarnation—GOD took upon Himself our “flesh”, yet the “Godhead” was not converted into flesh, nor was it “man” taking upon himself deity or divinity.
J.I. Packer was correct:
The mystery of the incarnation is unfathomable. We cannot explain it; we can only formulate it. Perhaps it has never been formulated better than in the words of the Athanasian Creed, ‘Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is God and man; … perfect God, and perfect man: … who although He be God and man: yet He is not two, but one Christ; one, not by conversion of the Godhead into flesh: but by taking of the manhood into God.’ Our minds cannot get beyond this. What we see in the manger is, in Charles Wesley’s words: Our God contracted to a span;Incomprehensibly made man.Incomprehensibly—we shall be wise to remember this, to shun speculation, and contentedly to adore.4
Psalm 22 presents Christ as He hangs on the cross proclaiming the faithfulness and sovereignty of God His Father:
(9) … You are He who took Me out of the womb; You made Me trust while on My mother’s breasts. (10) I was cast upon You from birth. From My mother’s womb You have been My God. This was uniquely true of the “God-man”, who was conceived supernaturally: And the angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; yet born naturally: therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God” (Luke 1:35—NKJV), and then divinely schooled from birth: The Lord GOD has given Me the tongue of the learned, that I should know how to speak a word in season to him who is weary. He awakens Me morning by morn¬ing, He awakens My ear to hear as the learned(Isaiah 50:4—NKJV). He said: He who sent Me is with Me. The Father has not left Me alone, for I always do those things that please Him (John 8:29–NKJV).
These things can become true of us all generally, with the exception of the supernatural conception in so far as our physical bodies are concerned. (There is a parallel to this supernatural conception of the physical Jesus Christ of Nazareth in our “new birth” by the Holy Spirit cf. 1 Peter 1: 23, but that’s another topic.)
The point I am trying to make is that the experiential lessons we learn from history about the faithfulness and sovereignty of God will always stand us in good stead in our crises and particularly in our greatest crisis—dying to self in order to live to Christ. We should learn from history as well as from personal experience! God is always faithful but only to those who obey and trust Him so they can confess: Because He was faithful then I know He will be NOW as I face my greatest crisis.
Until we honestly face our failures we will never experience a guilt-free future. Aldous Huxley wrote: That men do not learn very much from the lessons of history is the most important of all the lessons of history.5 It’s much worse if we fail to learn from our own major mistakes. Failure here results in our repeating them and sometimes more than once. Too many evangelicals—especially Pentecostals and charismatics—have bought the idea that God’s love is unconditional without qualifying the notion. Of course in the originating sense, God who is love in its essence, loves “unconditionally”. However that love in its practical outworking is not positively expressed unconditionally. There are conditions to our experiencing the love of God.
Take the two thieves crucified with Christ as an illustration. One failed to evaluate his guilt and effectively turned away from love’s offer. The other repented and sought forgiveness. If words mean anything the second found that Christ’s “unconditional” love and salvation were adequate at his time of death. The other died unrepentant, unconverted and unchanged:
Then one of the criminals who were hanged blasphemed Him, saying, “If You are the Christ, save Yourself and us.” But the other, answering, rebuked him, saying, “Do you not even fear God, seeing you are under the same condemnation? “And we indeed justly, for we receive the due reward of our deeds; but this Man has done noth¬ing wrong.” Then he said to Jesus, “Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.” And Jesus said to him, “Assur¬edly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise” (Luke 23:39-43—NKJV).
Because Christ never failed, He alone of all men—yes, He was human (very man of very man)—was able to fully and uniquely confess in the deepest sense, I was cast upon You [God] from birth. From My mother’s womb You have been My God (Psalm 22:10). This enabled Him in His greatest moment of suffering to fully confess the total faithfulness of His Father God throughout all of His life. None of us can ever make such a claim. However it is imperative that we as Christians come to a similar conclusion based on our experience since we have come to know God and Christ in reality. Otherwise we will have nowhere and no one to whom we can turn in our crisis.
For this reason, as well as for others, repentance of sin is such an important part of the gospel message. In fact it is vital and as such it affects leaders and people alike. There is no difference. God is totally impartial. Repentance of sin based totally upon the requirements of God’s Word is vital. This was not so with Christ because He never sinned:
Which of you convinces Me of sin? And if I tell the truth, why do you not believe Me? (John 8:46). It does apply however to all other human beings, who must turn to Christ alone as the great sin-bearer: For He [God] made Him [Christ] who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might be¬come the righteousness of God in Him (2 Corinthians 5:21).
As I say, this equally applies to all human beings—leaders and people alike. Unlike Christ we are imperfect. As a result our perception of God’s faithfulness at all times is tarnished, but the fault is ours NOT His. In respect of leaders it has been my sad experience through more than fifty years of ministry to discover that those who refuse to honestly face and openly repent of their serious (public) sins will repeat them somewhere along the line. When the chips are down in their greatest moment of crisis unless they have truly repented they will falter at this hurdle.
If you use our CWM search engines (http://www.christian-witness.org/search.html) selecting various key-words eg. “money scams”, “benny hinn”, “reinhard bonke”, “ponzi money schemes” and so forth, lots of stuff will surface.
Some years back hundreds of millions of dollars were lost on ponzi money schemes, by TV and other prominent ministries such as Benny Hinn, and AoG etc. One district of AG-USA lost $7 million. (I have an email in my files from Thomas Trask former AG-USA General Superintendent distancing himself and his office from this loss, thus in effect admitting that it happened.) The church leaders, denominations and ministries who lose money through this folly and greed, deserve what happens! It’s the ordinary people, especially the elderly who are coerced or deceived into surrendering their hard earned savings who I have a care for.
In the 1970s a prominent “pastor” in Auckland NZ was exposed for immorality, which was of such a serious nature as to biblically preclude him from pulpit ministry for life. Instead it was mainly covered up by his denomination. He removed to Perth and became involved in a money scam with people losing tens of thousands of dollars—as much as the value of a house in one case.
It is rumoured that a similar more recent financial scandal involving investments in a shonky money scheme based in Mexico, of all places, has been promoted by church leaders. Long ago CWM published a warning written by a reputable accountant about this sort of scam.6
Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap (Galatians 6:7). But if you do not do so, then take note, you have sinned against the LORD; and be sure your sin will find you out (Numbers 32:23). He who covers his sins will not prosper, But whoever confesses and forsakes them will have mercy (Proverbs 28:13).
A Christian leader who seriously sins may be restored to fellowship if he truly repents and openly submits to the biblically required discipline—“Those who are sinning rebuke in the presence of all, that the rest also may fear” (1 Timothy 5:20)—BUT he may not be restored to Christian leadership, because he can no longer meet the apostolic requirement for leaders—cf. 1 Timothy 3:7. This is something that is vitally important both for the leader and the people whom he purports to lead.
Why do I raise this and what has it got to do with Psalm 22? Well much in every way. You see God remains faithful no matter what happens. The issue relating to human suffering and to our great crises rests on the matter of our TRUST in God and our trust is proved by our obedience.
John 14:15-18: If you love Me, keep My commandments and I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever—the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you. “I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you.
Until our past has been dealt with in the light of the Cross our guilty conscience will tarnish our view of God on His throne and of the God of history.
NEXT: Looking down, Christ describes the outworking of God in His Sufferings—verse 6
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