A Psalm of Suffering

A Psalm of Suffering

Apr 14, 2017

Passage: Psalm 22

Preacher: Jason Wolin

Series: The Psalms

Category: Jesus Christ, The Passion of Christ, God

Detail:

 

A Psalm of Suffering

Well this evening we are going to advance the narrative of the passion week up until the death of Jesus on the cross, a day that we remember as Good Friday. Now it is common, especially in our current cultural climate to resist thinking about anything unpleasant. If there's war going on in the Middle East or Europe I just would rather not know about it. If there's suffering from starvation or catastrophe, I'd just rather go camping. I relate to those feelings. It's hard to think about suffering. But I want to rebuke us right up front for that kind of thinking, especially as it relates to the pain that Jesus suffered:

A few years ago I read a book entitled Prisoner in Tahran. It was about this poor girl who was imprisoned as a political prisoner in Iran. She was horribly tortured. She was abused in horrible ways. To envision what she went through was so difficult for me. Finally she was drug out to the desert to be shot but at the last moment the prison guard decided to save her because he wanted to marry her. She was forced into a marriage she didn't want, she was forced to convert to Islam, she got pregnant, but eventually this man was assassinated and amazingly, she was set free. So she went home.

And you can imagine the scars. You can imagine the pain. You can imagine the balled up and pent of emotion that would have needed to be released. She needed to talk through it all and process everything she went through. But what happened next was totally unexpected. Her family was so horrified at the thought of what happened to her they just pretended like it never happened. And she said that more painful to her than the blows of the prison guards was the abandonment of her family at a time when she needed them most.

"It was probably easier for everyone to pretend my imprisonment had never happened. But was this silence their way of protecting me or protecting themselves? .... How could I tell my family about Ali, about my marriage, and about his death? I felt like a stranger, a guest no one really cared about but had invited over to their house out of a sense of obligation. Once the visit was over, I was supposed to say good night to everyone and go home.

The guests smiled, hugged, and kissed me and told me I looked great. I was happy to see them all, but there was a tangible distance between us, between the girl who had been gone and those who had lived a normal life. There were uncomfortable pauses in every conversation. “Marina, you look lovely. How are you?” someone would ask. “Very well, thank you,” I would answer. Then they would force a smile and try to hide the discomfort that was as visible as the color of their eyes. “Oh, those pastries look delicious. Has your mother made them?” It wasn’t their fault. Everybody was polite and kind, but that was where it ended. No one wanted to know.

I can think of nothing more horrible than to come home from torture to be received in this manner. Now here's the point, if you love someone, you need to enter into their suffering. Of course it will be painful, but that's the point. That's what love does. And I wonder how many of us approach good Friday like Marina's family? To just pretend like it never happened. To not really enter into it because it's uncomfortable and uncivilized. I mean, haven't we advanced beyond such barbaric things?

Does our protection of our own heart prevent us from really imagining what it was like for our Lord to suffer the way he did? To just serve pastries at church and say, "You look very lovely. How are you?" And not really appreciate the cost. Well, if that strikes a chord of any sort, let's fix that this evening. We are here tonight to understand the sufferings of Christ in our place.

And tonight we are going to talk about that suffering from a particular angle. We are going to think about how utterly alone Jesus was.

Let's begin with the story leading up: Alone He Goes. And the idea here is to focus on the complete abandonment of all of Jesus' closest friends leading up to his death on the cross.

I know in times past I have tended to downplay this aspect of the passion week and I shouldn't have. It just seemed like, yeah, that's what happens when you save the world. All heroes have to save the world alone. Talk about a calloused approach.

But you know what has really helped me to empathize with Jesus' loneliness? The Psalms. Over and over again, when Jesus suffers he quotes the Psalms. When Jesus is betrayed by Judas he quotes the Psalms. When he is in the garden of Gethsemane, he quotes the Psalms, when he is on the cross he quotes the Psalms. Anytime there is serious inner turmoil, he quotes the Psalms.

And that is helpful. Because, when Jesus does that, he's reminding us of his humanity. He is saying, "I identify with that man who is suffering. My suffering is like his suffering." It helps us to understand what Jesus went through.

And so under this heading let's think through three ways in which Jesus suffered alone. Just quickly here:

It is a lonely thing to not be believed. John begins his passion week narrative by saying,

Think about how many miracles Jesus did in his ministry. Think about how much proof existed out there. Think of all the clear teaching that Jesus performed. And yet, he is not believed.

Man that is a tough pill to swallow. Do you know that terrible feeling of people not believing you? Maybe you are accused of something falsely, or you are trying to explain something that happened to you and your testimony is being discounted as exaggeration.

  • No, listen I really am in pain.
  • I really am suffering.
  • I am not exagerating

That is a terrible feeling, to not be believed. Well here Jesus is offering himself as the Savior of his people. He is performing miracle after miracle (what more could he do to prove himself) and he is rejected.

And even his own disciples, who actually confessed him as Christ still massively misunderstood him. They didn't understand the real reason he came. We could point out several texts here but let's just let Matthew 16 suffice:

And what does Jesus have to say to Peter, get behind me Satan. In other words, Peter you have no idea what you are talking about so please shut your mouth. Your not helping one bit.

You might imagine receiving news that you had a serious form of cancer. And you were super worried about the upcoming surgery and finally you work up the courage to tell your spouse and they say to you, "Oh, come on, you don't have cancer." Imagine how difficult that would be to absorb. And if that insistence continued, imagine how lonely that would be.That's a small taste of the kind of loneliness Jesus felt here. Nobody knows what I must do and why I must do it. Nobody can relate. Even when I plainly they will not listen. Jesus had to bear this all alone.

Jesus was anticipating the darkest moment of his life. He was anticipating horrible suffering and yet his disciples were so focused on themselves, they couldn't even hear the words he was saying.

Just recall to mind a few of these incidents. Jesus has just been betrayed by Judus....as in, mere minutes earlier.

He's just been betrayed. He's seen Satan himself, the epitome of evil betray him and he's stricken with this urgency to share about what overcomes evil. He needs to talk about the power of love to eliminate evil.

You can imagine the weight on Jesus' heart, so he launches into this mini discourse. He says, "A new command I give you that you love one another."

The very next thing that happens. Immediately.

Can you imagine how this felt? In mere hours Jesus will have nails crushing the tendons in his feet Jesus. He's going to have to have a 1 inch spear thrust into his chest cavity. He's on his way to do this for his disciples. He just gets done teaching them the importance of self-sacrifice and love. He washes their feet and they break out into an argument about who is greatest.

Talk about throwing your pearls before swine. Can you imagine the feeling of dealing with these selfish, inconsiderate brats. You want to throw up your hands and say, "Do you realize I'm trying to help you. Don't you realize you need my help? You are so selfish."

I'm the one about to die!

They were selfish. It's so lonely to be in a relationship with a self-centered person. Most relationships are give and take but a relationship with a self-centered person you just give, give, give and they just take, take, take.

Like Proverbs 30:30 says, "The Leeche has two daughters, Give and Give" In other words, selfish people just shout at you all the time, give me. Give me. Give me. And that is draining to be around.

I remember going out with a friend once that I hadn't seen in a long time. I was super anxious to talk because I was having a hard time and I felt like this person might be able to give me some advice. So I really was ready to pour my heart out. And we had 90 minutes together and 85 out of the 90 minutes this person talked. I felt so terrible when I left. I wanted to tell him how terrible I felt, but I never had the chance to do it. All he did was talk about how great things were in his life and all the exciting things he was up to.

This was the feeling Jesus had multiplied by 10 thousand. It's hardest to give when you are in the deepest position of need. Have you ever had a really hard day? People were yelling at you at work, deals were falling apart, emotionally, relationally things were out of control and you come home really needing and wanting support and comfort and you are greeting with kids who are bickering over who got a corner brownie vs a center brownie. And you think, really? And you have to switch modes into shepherding. Selfishness is draining.

At a point when Jesus needed filled he gets further drained. All around him was the noise of selfishness and he was dying inside. Nobody bothered to care for his needs. He was all alone.

When we talk about going alone to the cross, the high water mark here of this abandonment comes the night of the arrest.

Because, Jesus was strong, powerful, mentally tenacious, we tend to think of the abandonment of those around him, as being something that he could handle. We tend to forget about the humanness of our leaders, especially strong ones.

  • You forget that even presidents get scared.
    - You forget that they struggle with insecurities and want someone they can be comforted by when they have a bad day.
  • Perhaps you remember a time when you saw your dad cry and you thought, I didn't know dads did that.

And this is especially true of Jesus. When we think through the narrative, we see him abandoned by all his closest friends. And we think, well, that's a bummer, but he's God. He can handle it. We are ruthlessly unsympathetic toward Jesus in this way. And I want to resuscitate our empathy this evening.
As Jesus got closer and closer to the cross you see genuine human horror. We are told that in the garden he looks into the cup of wrath that God had prepared and he just absolutely trembles. He shudders at the thought of it. It's so bitter.

We of course cannot relate to a terror of this magnitude, but maybe you've had a trepidation of your own, something you were terrified of facing. Maybe a surgery, maybe a difficult conversation, maybe having to watch something horrible. And you know it's coming and you just can't stop thinking about it. It's then that you need help, right? It's at that moment that you are in absolutely desperate need of companionship.

Imagine going into a terrifying heart surgery where there's a 50% chance you won't make it and the entire week before none of your friends call or text or visit you. You have to drive yourself to the hospital. And you are all alone. And you're because all your friends, who claimed they had your back, who claimed so strongly, I'll be with you till death. I will never desert, scatter like flies.

  • This super committed band of followers fell asleep in the garden
  • When the guards come to arrest Jesus,all the disciples fled.
  • Peter outright denies Jesus and you have that classic scene of Jesus being led across the courtyard and the eyes of Jesus catching the eyes of Peter.

Have you ever been in foreign country where nobody spoke your language? Nobody spoke the language of Jesus. Nobody could relate. Have you ever had a dream where you were trying to scream but nothing was coming out of your mouth? I imagine that to be exactly what Jesus was going through. I am sure his mind was screaming, "Does nobody understand? People, do you have any idea what I am going through, what awaits me?"

And then all of Friday night he is alone. Accused by Annas the High Priest, accused by the Sanhedrin, then tried by Pilate, then flogged. And all of it utterly alone.

And so let's contemplate through the singing of two songs the cross.

This is God's Word:

The focus of this section is: alone he dies. Jesus was abandoned by his friends but far worse was this abandonment by God himself. We are in our series on the Psalms and one of the best pictures of the suffering of Christ as he is abandoned by the Father is Psalm 22.

Psalm 22 describes the suffering of a man who really is crushed by some crazy trial. But it looks forward to an ultimate form of suffering.

When Jesus is on the cross, he cries out, "My God, My God why have you forsaken me." Now everyone there, if they knew their Bibles, would know exactly what he was doing. Remember, they didn't have chapters and verses. So if you want to reference a particular Psalm, what's your only option? You quote the first line.

And so Jesus takes this Psalm, Psalm 22, that was written hundreds and hundreds of years earlier that was ultimately about him and he filled it up with meaning. This Psalmist was able to cry out to God in his pain, and God delivered him. And it was through the pain that he was delivered.

And Jesus says, I want you to take a look at the Psalm again. There's a meaning here that you could never have seen, but I'm showing it to you now. You see really all deliverance is pointing to me. You didn't see it but it was always all about me. I am the ultimate deliverer. It will be through my pain that you will ultimately be delivered.

And again, I just want to read it without comment and let the weight of the text fall on us afresh:

What we have to come to grips with here is that all this horrible dying and suffering has a purpose. It's not meaningless. It's to give us an indication of what we need saving from. I want to read an extended quote from Alvin Plantinga about the proper place of fear as an emotional response to Good Friday.

"One of our proper moods on Good Friday is fear. And the reason is that fearful things happen that day. The earth quakes and the temple curtain rips and the sky darkens. All this quaking and ripping and darkening tell us that evil is having its way with goodness. But the signs also tell us that God is doing some shaking of the heavens and earth, shaking out the debris in a fallen creation and ripping the disguises from the powers and principalities.

God is ripping the disguises even from people like us. You see, the poured out wrath of God and the pent-up wrath of the Lamb—such wrath isn’t just some Bible picture for naive people. God’s wrath is very real and very frightening. Wrath is love offended. It’s the awesome, straining fury of God who hates sin like sin and who terrifyingly changes personality in the battle to overcome it. Good Friday is in fact the trial run of judgment day, and I wonder how much it matters to us.

After all, we are mostly comfortable, friendly, middle-class people, and we’d like a religion to fit. A comfortable, friendly, middle-class religion—that’s all we want. And if we happen to wreck somebody else’s life because of the way we vote, or how we run our friendships, or because we choose to drive drunk; if we happen to wreck somebody else’s life because of our lust or our pride or our sheer lazy indifference, why, we never intended it. We never intended any of it. We had only wanted to be comfortable. All we wanted was to set our agenda, and then in our hymns and prayers bring in Jesus Christ to bless our agenda.

But all this is doomed. Judgment day is coming. “[Evildoers] call to the mountains and the rocks, ‘Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne, and from the wrath of the lamb! For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?’”

Nobody. Nobody can stand. Certainly none of us. We can’t stand. All we can do is to get on our knees, confess our sin, humbly seek the forgiveness of God, and focus our faith like a laser on the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

You see, the Lamb of God has two faces. One is the face of wrath, a sight that “ought to make our blood run cold,” as C. S. Lewis once put it. The other is the face of suffering love, the face of one who has had his throat slit for the sins of his sorry people. One face or the other is turned toward you and me this very day, this very hour. As the darkness falls from noon till three, which face shall we see?

Jesus died to save us from our sins. And that saving had a cost.

The cost to save you was suffering. That is what we are remembering this evening. Resurrection Sunday we rejoice at the result. But this Good Friday in which we remember the cost. And the cost was significant.

What Jesus did on the cross he did alone. Alone he went. Alone he died. And that earned him the right to save alone.

What I'd like you to do now is bow your heads and I want you to just listen to a song which very, very simply but powerfully portrays this message. It's called the Gospel Song. And then we will follow it up with a song where we will all join in.