Psalm 22: The Psalm Of Calvary (Part 4)

Having given this wonderful text of Psalm 22 an expositional and pastoral survey in our previous three articles, we return one last time for a fourth installment wherein we consider further implications and applications. With great indebtedness to the pastoral insight and style provided by the nineteenth-century Southern Presbyterian William S. Plumer (1802–80) in his (seemingly exhaustive) commentary on the Psalms, we now take a few moments to offer some (hopefully) practical applications that Christians might use to implement the Holy Spirit-inspired wisdom of Psalm 22 into their own lives.

There are surely many themes and applications to be derived from Psalm 22, but there are three themes in particular I would like for us to dwell on in this article, all of which serve to bolster the believer’s faith, confidence, and assurance. From Psalm 22 we learn that our Savior is a “man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” (Isa 53:3). He is not unfamiliar with the travails common to his people, and because of that, “we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Heb 4:15). We have a Savior who is very much able to sympathize with his people’s needs—and more than that, to provide “grace to help in time of need” (Heb 4:16). Secondly, Psalm 22 helps us see some of the resources or means of grace at our disposal which we may take up to help us in times of vexing distress. Thirdly, Psalm 22 gives us great confidence because it reminds us that the church of Jesus Christ will, in the end, be victorious. God will gather and preserve a people for himself, and from the pangs of death shall, nevertheless, emerge the glad songs of praise to the risen and reigning Lord.1

A Sympathetic and Suffering Savior

  1. Christians serve a Savior who is also the Suffering Servant. The reality of Christ’s sufferings reminds the Christian that we, like him, ought to expect sufferings in this life. Thus, to some degree we share in the fellowship of his sufferings. We would do well to ponder several passages: “Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you” (John 15:20); “. . .that I may know [Christ] and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead” (Phil 3:10–11); “Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood” (Heb 12:3–4).
  2. Here is a sobering thought well worth pondering: if this is what the righteous, innocent God-Man endured as the sin of his people was reckoned to him and heaped upon him, how much more awful will it be for the reprobate, for the unrepentant sinner on the day of judgment when the due consequence for his sin is visited upon him? Given this, how thankful we ought to be for what is truly amazing grace. What miseries await the wretch—miseries depicted in miniature in Psalm 22—and yet grace saved a wretch like me. Likewise, how much more ought this drive us to fervently pray for the lost, those unsaved friends and loved ones dearest to us, that Christ by his Holy Spirit might take away hearts of stone and grant hearts of flesh; that he would save them! “Lord, save the lost!” is as Calvinistic a prayer as there ever was.
  3. The misery and agony of soul experienced by Christ on the cross can only be understood in light of the so-called “great exchange”: my sin, heaped upon the innocent one; and his righteousness reckoned to me, and to all his people. “For our sake [God] made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor 5:21). He bears the stain of sin and the sting of death in the place of his precious people—by his stripes we are healed. By his death, we have life eternal. Hallelujah, what a Savior.
  4. However miserable we feel ourselves to be, whatever maltreatment we have suffered at the hands of our fellow men, Christ, the Holy and Innocent One, suffered still worse, having been regarded and treated as a “worm” and “not a man” (verse 6). “Low as believers may sink, their Savior sank lower.”2 If we suffer mockery and ridicule for righteousness’ sake or on account of our faith, so too did Christ, our elder brother.

Means of Grace in Seasons of Misery

  1. We learn from verses 19–21 that even our trials—as dark, burdensome, and unbearable as we feel them to be—come from the hand of Almighty God. We would do well to follow Christ’s example, to run to the Lord quickly in our hour of trial, casting our pains and burdens upon him, seeking him for help and comfort, and cultivating the hard-learned spiritual discipline of waiting on the Lord for his deliverance and his perfect relief. No circumstance that a believer endures is too awful or dark to bring to God in prayer. Psalm 22 reinforces the exhortation of 1 Peter 2:21:For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps.” What a model Christ provides for his people: in times of sore distress, cry out to God, for he is still and ever “my God!” What good it does our souls, when faced with any kind of temptation to doubt or despair, to rehearse and recount God’s faithfulness of old and his faithfulness in our personal experience. This bolsters the soul greatly. Let us, in our sufferings, learn to cast our burdens on the Lord (1 Pet 5:7).
  2. Even with all the agonizing miseries of body, mind, and emotion that Christ endured, was there any misery so horrendous, so unbearable as that sensation of the removal of the Father’s glad countenance, to perceive such dark agony on account of the weight of sin that he would adopt David’s words and cry out, “My God, why have you forsaken me?”3 How little we think of the presence of God and the goodness of it. From David and Christ’s cry expressed in Psalm 22, we see that the removal—or even the prospect of removal—of the presence of God is a ghastly thing. If the removal of his cheering presence is such a terrible prospect, conversely, how much more ought we to cherish his presence? How often we take it for granted. How glad we should be for God’s constant presence with us and his cheerful countenance toward us in Christ, and likewise, how frequently we should thank him for it.
  3. Christ suffered anguish of both body and soul on the cross (v. 14). Tangential to that, grief is a real enemy of the soul and can vex it to the point of wasting away (v. 15). We are so accustomed to wickedness that we often simply assume or accept it, having grown almost numb to it. Yet Scripture likens it to dogs (v. 16). How awful can men’s wickedness be—subhuman and exceedingly cruel. Just as total depravity is real, so too is suffering and grief. But since it is in the air we breathe, we may too often assume it as “normal,” rather than as a horrid consequence of the fall. If suffering and grief are real, and can drive a person (even Christ himself!) to the point of wasting away, it is all the more incumbent upon us Christians to cultivate hearts of compassion, to “put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience” (Col 3:12), and to “bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal 6:2).
  4. Inasmuch as Christ’s humiliation was public, so too was and will be his exaltation (v. 22). Our Lord Jesus was sustained not only by his divine nature, but also by “the joy set before him” (Heb 12:2), by his anticipation of his Father’s impending deliverance and vindication of him. And, indeed, Christ did enjoy that blessed vindication. As the Westminster Larger Catechism 52 puts it, Christ was exalted in his resurrection by virtue of the fact that “he rose again from the dead the third day by his own power; whereby he declared himself to be the Son of God, to have satisfied divine justice, to have vanquished death, and him that had the power of it, and to be Lord of quick and dead.” Christ was exalted and vindicated publicly; and so too will be his people (Rom 4:25; 1 Cor 15:21–21; 2 Cor 2:14; 2 Tim 3:16). The Larger Catechism goes on to say in WLC 52 that Christ accomplished “all which he did as a public person, the head of his church, for their [his people’s] justification, quickening in grace, support against enemies, and to assure them of their resurrection from the dead at the last day.” Christ’s glorious exaltation and vindication bolster our own hope. Since Christ is the “firstfruits” (1 Cor 15:20), the first sampling of the larger harvest which is to come, his resurrection and exaltation serve to give us assurance that we, too, shall be guarded, strengthened, vindicated, and one day shall rise in glory.

The Kingdom of God: Covenant Mercies and Certain Triumphs

  1. True piety fears God, reveres God, praises God, and is delighted to give thanks to God on account of answered prayers (vv. 21–26). Thankfulness assumes a careful remembrance of God’s provided mercies and a sincere expression of praise and gratitude to the Lord for them. A heart that truly delights in God is glad, and even finds it natural to be thankful. Praise begets more praise and worship begets further worship. David, and ultimately Christ, anticipated not just a localized expression of thanks and praise due to answered prayers, but also a global tidal wave of worship in “the great congregation” and a universal spread of Christ’s gospel (vv. 27–31).
  2. The Scriptures tell us of early regeneration, even from the womb, of men like the prophet Jeremiah and John the Baptist. What a splendid testimony Psalm 22:9–10 is of a covenant child. Early, young piety is possible. We should pray and desire that this might be the testimony of so many more of our covenant children: “Yet you are he who took me from the womb; you made me trust you at my mother’s breasts. On you was I cast from my birth, and from my mother’s womb you have been my God.”
  3. Verses 30–31 remind us that, to borrow the phrase of Samuel J. Stone, “the church shall never perish.”4 Though we live in a time of so much bad news that might cause God’s people to despond and despair, all the plotting and conspiring of the wicked is in vain (Ps 2:1). Their desperate ploys will come to naught. What a comfort and assurance we have in the promises of this psalm. As 2 Peter 1:19 puts it, “We have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.” In the end, the schemes against the church hatched by the devil and all his wretched minions will be in vain. The kingdom of God advances, the gates of hell shall not prevail against it (Matt 16:18), that grand tidal wave of praise from the church continues to swell, and all Christ’s sheep will be kept and brought safely home at last (John 10:29). There is no stopping the advance of God’s agenda of redemption.

There are surely more practical observations to be gleaned from the wonderful Twenty-Second Psalm, but limitations of time and space prompt us to draw our thoughts to a close for now. Sufferings are real. This is a reality known all-too-well by both Christ and his people. Nevertheless, our sympathetic High Priest provides us the resources of grace to help us in times of trial. Thus, we are assured that the people of Christ are, like their Savior, victorious and—perhaps more importantly—eternally and truly safe in him. May the Lord bless the truths of Psalm 22 to our hearts and minds, to our piety, our practice, and our eternity.

Notes

  1. W. S. Plumer, Psalms: A Critical and Expository Commentary with Doctrinal and Practical Remarks (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 2016), 302–307.
  2. Plumer, Psalms, 303.
  3. Emphasis added.
  4. Samuel J. Stone, “The Church’s One Foundation,” 1866.

©Sean Morris. All Rights Reserved.

You can find the whole series here. 


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Posted by Sean Morris | Saturday, April 20, 2024 | Categorized Biblical Exposition, Biblical theology, Psalms, Saturday Psalm Series | Tagged Bookmark the permalink.

About Sean Morris

Sean was educated at Grove City College, Reformed Theological Seminary (Jackson, MS), and the University of Glasgow (Scotland). He is an ordained teaching elder in the Presbyterian Church in America, and serves as a minister at the Covenant Presbyterian Church in Oak Ridge, TN. He also serves as the Academic Dean of the Blue Ridge Institute for Theological Education. He is currently pursuing his PhD in Historical Theology at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Sean lives in Oak Ridge with his wife, Sarah, along with their children and useless beagle.

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