Seeing God in our Sufferings
Part 1 of a series based on Psalm 22
By Phillip L. Powell
RECENTLY my wife, Kathleen and I returned from a visit to New Zealand—part holiday (we needed it) and for me part ministry tour. During our time of rest and relaxation, through the kindness of some Open Brethren friends, we were able to spend a few days in beautiful Queenstown. On the Sunday morning we joined their fellowship in the worship and breaking of bread service. Every Christian should be exposed to a typical Sunday morning worship service among the Open Brethren. It’s a present day eye-opener to the practice cited by Paul the apostle in 1 Corinthians 14:26:
How is it then, brethren? When you come together, every one of you has a psalm, has a doctrine [teaching], … Let all things be done for edification.
Controversies aside I always find it refreshing to experience a sincere effort to get away from a platform controlled “worship” service. Theirs is led from the floor by the men in the congregation—cf. 1 Timothy 2:12. At the door I was met by one of the elders and told that I was at liberty to participate along with any of the “brethren” and I did—very briefly. Everything was focused on the Cross of Christ and it all flowed so beautifully, ending with the Lord’s Supper. It was two Sundays before Easter and as I had been musing on Psalm 22 I commented publicly on the strange expression of verse 6—“I am a worm and no man”.
After I sat down, a brother of the family who had so kindly extended accommodation to my sister and her husband and to Kathleen and me, read a most moving piece of prose based on Romans 5:8 “Christ died for us”. He gave me a copy which I used twice in my preaching tour of New Zealand and once since I returned to Brisbane as part of my message based on Psalm 22. I plan to share a series of five articles as the Lord wills, based on this psalm. Author J. Sidlow Baxter calls Romans 5:8 “the crux of the Gospel”—see insert below: “When I Survey”, page 4.
The Psalm of the Cross
In his Treasury of David (http://www.spurgeon.org/treasury/ps022.htm), C.H. Spurgeon writes:
This is beyond all others THE PSALM OF THE CROSS. It may have been actually repeated word by word by our Lord when hanging on the tree; it would be too bold to say that it was so, but even a casual reader may see that it might have been. It begins with, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” and ends, according to some, in the original with “It is finished”. 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. 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 neither 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. Oh for grace to draw near and see this great sight! We should read reverently, putting off our shoes from off our feet, as Moses did at the burning bush, for if there be holy ground anywhere in Scripture it is in this psalm.
DIVISION. From the commencement to the twenty-first verse is a most pitiful cry for help, and from verse 21 to 31 is a most precious foretaste of deliverance. The first division may be subdivided at the tenth verse, from verse 1 to 10 being an appeal based upon covenant relationship; and from verse 10 to 21 being an equally earnest plea derived from the imminence of his peril.
From late 1978 to early 1981 I pastored the Katoomba Christian Fellowship based in the AoG Bible College in the Blue Mountains (New South Wales, Australia) and lectured in the College, where my life-long friend, Aeron Morgan was principal. He asked me to do a series of lectures on the Messianic Psalms. In my preparation, when I reached Psalm 22 I struggled to get an outline other than that provided above by Spurgeon. Then one day as I was driving through the beautiful Blue Mountains en route for Sydney and meditating on the Psalm, an outline dropped into my mind which I have consistently referred to ever since.
The Psalm of the Cross presents Christ our sacrifice looking in five distinct and different directions and seeing GOD everywhere He looks. The lessons for us, His people, are enormous and soul saving in our times of crises.
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—vs 1-3 2. LOOKING BACK He encountered God in history—vs 4-5 3. LOOKING DOWN He envisaged God in His sufferings—vs 6 4. LOOKING OUT He enumerated God's enemies—vs 7-8 5. LOOKING FORWARD He entered into God's victory—vs 22-31
I saw THE LORD – high and lifted up
One of the keys to victorious Christian living relates to the direction in which we look in the times of our tests and crises. No doubt most of us are familiar with the little ditty:
Two men looked out from iron bars; One saw mud, the other saw stars.
Too often we are more preoccupied with the mess of mud than with the scintillating stars. Where is our focus in our moments of suffering? In Psalm 22 our Saviour and our supreme example underwent suffering beyond the normal:
As many were astonished at you; His visage [face] was so marred more than any man, and His form more than the sons of men (Isaiah 52:14).
Yet His focus remained on God, who is of course far above the stars and the controller of all things. In fact, as we shall see, no matter where He looked as He suffered on the Cross, He was able to perceive God at work in the entire redemptive process, and this the Psalmist most wonderfully sets forth in this prophetic Psalm penned some 800 years before the event it describes.
How Great is our God
A couple of months before we set off on our recent New Zealand visit, Gary Gilbert, a member at the Brisbane CWM-Fellowship in his communion message, shared information from a video called “How Great is Our God” by Louie Giglio. The message challenged us on how great God is and stated the following amazing facts about our universe, about man’s essential constitution and, most amazing of all, how God has put His fingerprint in the shape of a cross in our bodies by means of a substance called Laminin which is the glue of the human body. Here is what he revealed, summarised for space. See—http://www.godtube.com/send_to_friend.php?v=152b5103d741aca61093.
Our nearest star is the Sun, some 93 million miles from earth. Light travelling at 186,300 miles a second takes 8 minutes to reach us. If earth were the size of a golf ball the sun would be 15ft in diameter. You can fit 960,000 earths into the sun.
Betelgeuse, a much larger star, is 427 light years away and twice the size of the earth’s orbit around the sun. Imagine the earth as a golf ball on the pavement at the foot of the Surfers Paradise Q1 Tower, the tallest residential building in the world (1,058ft), and Betelgeuse would be seven times that height—7,500ft. If the earth were a golf-ball you would need enough golf balls to fill the Telstra Stadium in Sydney 3,000 times to equal the size of Betelgeuse.
Mu Cephei, the third star, is 3,000 light years away and would equate to our earth as a golf ball to the width of two of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridges viz 17,962ft. You can fit 2.7 quadrillion earths inside this one star. A quadrillion is a thousand trillion, in other words one thousand with 12 zeros following.
To get some perspective—a million seconds ago was 12 days back; a billion seconds ago takes us back to 1976 and a trillion seconds back to 28,800 BC, while a quadrillion seconds takes us back to approximately 30,800,000 years ago. Remember you could fit 2.7 quadrillion earths inside Mu Cephei, the third star being considered.
Canis Majorus, also called “The Big Dog Star”, is the largest star, so far, sighted through the world’s best telescopes. If the earth were a golf ball Canis Majorus would be the height of Mt Everest. You could fit 7 quadrillion earths inside this one star.
In contrast to all of this Gary went on to say:
Now I’d like us to consider sin and where man stands before God. Sin has a way of puffing us up, elevating ourselves. We need a correct perspective of ourselves before a holy God. Just a glance into the universe that God has created should resize everything. We worship a mighty and wonderful God of power and glory and awe. Mankind is a vapour, tiny and frail and yet we are marked by God. We are “fearfully and wonderfully made”.
But now—back to the Psalm of the Cross and Christ on that cross and the first direction in which He looks.
Verse 1: My God, [Strong 0410 ‘el ale’] my God [Strong 0410 ‘el ale’] Verse 2: O my God [Strong 0430 ‘elohim el-o-heem’]
Note the repeated use of the possessive pronoun. Notwithstanding the magnitude of His suffering and His proclaimed sense of being “God forsaken” our Lord declares His personal claim upon God whom He names as the “Mighty One” (singular Hebrew ‘el’) twice in verse 1 and as the “Almighty One” (plural ‘elohim’) in verse 2. [Biblical] Hebrews uses plural to intensify the idea contained in the singular. So seeing ‘el – El’ means ‘mighty one’, ‘elohim’ signifies the ‘mighty one who is full of mightiness’, ie. the ‘almighty.’
What we have here is a view of God in His sovereignty, which is an essential view irrespective of our particular experiences but especially when we are facing or experiencing intense suffering. That ‘God is sovereign’ is the recurring idea throughout this Psalm of the Cross and for that matter throughout history, scripture and even throughout space.
Verse 3: You are holy [Strong 06918 ‘qadowsh kaw-doshe’ or ‘qadosh kaw-doshe’]
The earlier questions and complaint of verses 1 and 2 can only be understood in the light of the clear and definite confession of verse 3 where our suffering Saviour proclaims the rightness and holiness of God’s character and action. His question is not one of doubt, but rather one that explains the central mystery of the redemptive process, which is no mystery to the true follower of Christ but only to the bystander and casual observer at the Cross.
H.G. Wells wrote of the crucifixion:
Towards the end of the long day of suffering this abandoned leader roused himself to one supreme effort and cried out “My God, my God why have you forsaken me” and leaving those words to echo down the centuries a perpetual riddle to the faithful, died.
He was wrong. What was a riddle to the late H.G. Wells is no riddle to the faithful. Before Christ died He also cried, “It is finished”, and as we shall see as we proceed, the second half of this Psalm 22 prophetically declares a turning point in the Saviour’s sufferings when He declares His victory.
In his communion message on Sunday morning January 13, 2008 Gary Gilbert challenged us further:
Now consider this. Within our bodies is DNA, which has been described as “the language of God”. There are 3 billion character descriptions of who you are. If I were to read your DNA at one character per second night and day it would take me 96 years to read who you are. There are 75 trillion cells in your body and everyone contains 6ft of DNA . If the DNA in your body could be stretched out it would reach to the moon and back 178,000 times.
There is a protein molecule in our body called LAMININ—a cell adhesion molecule that holds the body together. It’s the “steel bar” of the human body. You know how concrete contains steel reinforcement? Laminin is the “steel bars” of the human body. It’s the glue that holds us together.
Garry then showed us diagrams of laminin and amazingly it is in the shape of a cross.