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Study Resources :: Text Commentaries :: Don Smith :: Portraits of Christ

Don Smith :: Psa 22; A Cry in the Dark

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Portraits of Christ in the Psalms
“A Cry in the Dark” – Psalm 22

There are those in life who imagine sinners being in the hands of an angry God, while others see God in the hands of angry men.

  • God is either the Judge or being judged.
  • Perhaps at one time or another we all have thought of putting God on trial.
  • When tragedy strikes, we prosecutors give evidentiary testimony in our pain that God is either not all good or not all powerful.
  • He is questioned, “Why did You allow this to enter my life?”
  • “Where were You when I needed You?”
  • “Why did You remain silent when I cried out in prayer for deliverance?”
  • Sometimes court is hastily called when bad news is announced.
  • “I regret to inform you that your loved one has been killed in an automobile accident.”
  • “I am sorry to be the one to tell you that your spouse has been unfaithful.”
  • “The test results are back…it is cancer.”
  • “This relationship just isn’t going anywhere.”
  • “The figures don’t lie. You’re going to have to file for bankruptcy.”
  • At these moments we feel real anger, alienation and doom.
  • God seems distant and unsympathetic.
  • “But is there any evidence to the contrary?
  • “Does He use pain like a megaphone to speak to us of His love and grace?”
  • “Is He really present in our tears and suffering?”
  • “And does His silence in the night mean He is working on unforeseen long-term solutions that will bring joy in the morning?”
  • “Easter” is God’s answer to these questions.
  • He cannot be accused of indifference to pain, suffering and rejection.
  • The death of Christ on the cross speaks loudly of His intention to bring about His good and perfect purposes, even though they may require suffering and death.

Artists throughout time have attempted to capture the drama of Easter on canvas.

  • The Bible, however, paints very graphic portraits of the cross by using word pictures.
  • The Gospel accounts are like priceless Rembrandt portraits.
  • They are very realistic because they were written by first-hand witnesses.
  • The Old Testament also painted incredibly accurate portraits of Christ.
  • They were written in anticipation of Him.
  • Psalm 22 is done in more of a Picasso style.
  • Every brush stroke is a magnificent image of Christ.
  • It uses sharp, bright, angular, obtuse images to describe what He felt and saw.
  • However, this is not just a prophetic Psalm about Christ.
  • He actually lived it and meditated upon it, as He suffered on the cross.
  • The perspective of this psalm is best understood as being a view from the cross.
  • The nails in His hands and feet did not keep Him on the cross.
  • Rather it was this psalm that kept Him there, a prayer for deliverance and a song of triumph.
  • There are two very distinct sections in this psalm.
  • The first section begins with a cry unto God in “agony of the cross.” (Psalm 22:1-21)
  • The second section is filled with praises of “triumph in resurrection.” (Psalm 22:21-31)

Psalm 22 is composed by David.

  • It was set to be sung or read to “the Deer of the Dawn.”
  • The deer was a symbol of beauty and innocence, yet it was hunted by man.
  • Some believe this was intended as a tribute to God’s suffering servant.
  • The psalm begins with a cry of dereliction or the cry of abandonment.
  • These are the very words Christ shrieked as He hung on the cross.
  • But as we will see, He didn’t just use one line in the psalm.
  • Rather He meditated upon the whole psalm including the last line before He died.

The agony of the cross is painted in very graphic terms. (Psalm 22:1-21)

  1. Christ cried out in anguish to His Father. (Psalm 22:1-2; Isaiah 53:10; Matthew 27:45-46; 2 Corinthians 5:21)
    • This was a cry out of a deep sense of abandonment by His Father and man.
    • It was a real and authentic expression out of the God-Man, Jesus Christ.
    • He was in every way feeling alienated and far from God.
    • Yet He still referred to Him as His God.
    • These words ran through Christ’s mind during his six hours on the cross.
    • For three hours He hung exposed to the hot sunlight.
    • Then the Father caused a mysterious, cold darkness to roll over Jerusalem.
    • It was like a shroud to cover the death of His Son.
    • But you may be asking, “Why would God the Father turn from the Son?”
    • Christ was like the Passover lambs that were being slaughtered in the temple.
    • The sin of the people was imputed or placed upon sacrificial lambs.
    • They suffered and died as a type of Christ’s sacrifice.
    • For those moments, Christ became our sin.
    • Christ who knew no sin became sin that we might become the righteousness of God.
    • The Holy Father cannot countenance sin.
    • Therefore He turned His face from His Son and poured out all His wrath upon Him.
    • The Father was pleased to bruise Him and put Him to grief.
    • He made Him an offering of sin, so that we might be saved from the curse of sin.
    • His Son literally went through Hell, so that we might be brought to glory.
  2. Even though Christ was experiencing alienation in the darkness, He believed His Father remained holy. (Psalm 22:3-5)
    • Christ’s comfort in His suffering was the holiness of His Father.
    • He never allows anything to enter our lives that He has not designed or allowed to accomplish His Holy purposes.
    • God’s holiness required just punishment for sin.
    • It was His will, even before the foundation of the world, to send His Son to become our substitutionary sacrifice.
    • For this God will forever be enthroned in our praises.
    • Israel had trusted in Him during days of suffering and He delivered them.
    • They cried out and were delivered.
    • They trusted Him and were not ashamed.
    • Yet, because of the nature of Christ’s identity with our sin, He cried out and heaven was strangely silent.
    • So let those who suffer be reminded that Christ has experienced our pain.
    • He is truly our sympathetic High Priest.
  3. The one in agony endured merciless mockery from man. (Psalm 22:6-8)
    • He was treated by men as a worthless worm and not like a man.
    • The kind of worm referred to here was likely used in the ancient world to make a purple or scarlet die for clothing.
    • In other words, Christ felt like a worthless worm being stomped under foot for blood.
    • Matthew included these verses in his narrative: “And those who passed by blasphemed Him, wagging their heads and saying, ‘You who destroy the temple and build it in three days, save Yourself! If You are the Son of God, come down from the cross.’ He saved others; Himself He cannot save. If He is the King of Israel, let Him now come down from the cross, and we will believe Him. He trusted in God; let Him deliver Him now if He will have Him; for He said, ‘I am the Son of God.’” (Matthew 27:39-44)
    • These head-wagers and mockers were relentless in their ridicule.
    • Humanity poured out its vilest words upon Him while He suffered.
  4. At this point while Christ’s life was passing quickly before His eyes, He recalled His Father’s provision from birth. (Psalm 22:9-11)
    • This might very well have come to mind, as He beheld His grieving mother weeping at the foot of His cross. (John 19:25-27)
    • Mary had been God’s faithful servant in caring for the Savior of the World.
    • As Jesus labored to breathe, He cried out to her, “Woman, behold your son!”
    • His thoughts may have gone back to those early days in Bethlehem, those years of exile in Egypt and those tender moments of His mother’s care for Him.
    • Through all the years, Jesus attributed her love and care as a provision from God.
    • From His earliest recollections, He trusted in God the Father.
    • His tender memories turned into a desperate prayer.
    • Like in our suffering, the closer trouble comes the more distant God seems.
    • He pleaded to the Father to close the gap.

Prophetic images of Christ’s perspective from the cross. (Psalm 22:12-18)

  • He was suffering the excruciating pain of crucifixion.
  • The images are solemn and graphic.
  • One dare not read them lightly.
  • There are at least six prophetic images that find specific fulfillment in the Gospels.
  • To gain an appreciation of their importance in foreseeing Christ’s crucifixion, try to imagine discovering a Picasso like painting dating back more than a thousand years.
  • In this picture it accurately depicted the assassination of President John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963.
  • The world would be in amazement to see the images of a king riding in a horseless carriage down a street lined with multitudes of onlookers.
  • In the top right-hand of the picture there would be a tall brick building with a man in a window holding a metal and wood instrument of death.
  • Out of this weapon came a ball of fire.
  • Down below the king slumped over with a mortal wound to his head.
  • You say that’s impossible.
  • Well in essence that’s what is recorded in Psalm 22:12-18.
  • All of this was written so that we might understand that Christ was not a victim.
  • He suffered and died as part of God’s ordained plan to save a people for His Son.

As Christ hung on the cross, he observed many strong bulls surrounding Him. (Psalm 22:12; Luke 4:13; 23:1, 10, 21)

  • Poetic language is used to describe the proud, the prosperous and the powerful men that sought His death.
  • Unknowingly, as they threw their insults at Him who wore a crown of thorns on His head, they were Satan’s instruments being used to bruise the Son of God.
  • Jesus had told them, “This is your hour and the power of darkness.”
  • They preferred the release of a known felon than to see this innocent man go free.

He was being attacked by them like a raging and roaring lion. (Psalm 22:13; 1 Peter 5:8)

  • One cannot help but think of Peter’s description of the devil who walks about like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour.
  • The cross was playing out an unseen sinister plot contrived by the Serpent, since the Garden of Eden.

Christ described His condition as being poured out like water. (Psalm 22:14; Luke 23:26)

  • He was so weak and exhausted by the ordeal that He literally felt life being poured out like a drink offering to the Lord.
  • His bones were all out of joint from hanging suspended from nails in His hands.
  • Every joint in His body was in pain, as He pushed down on His nail-pierced feet so that He might rise up to take air into His lungs.
  • Then exhausted by this trauma, He hung down with the weight of His body bearing down on His nail pierced hands again.
  • He did this over and over again for six hours.
  • His heart melted like wax under the fury of His Father’s wrath.

In Psalm 22:15, His strength quickly dried up and He became thirsty. (John 19:28-29)

  • John’s Gospel tells us this was recorded that we might know Psalm 22 and Psalm 69 had been fulfilled, when He cried out. “I thirst!”
  • This was an obvious sign that He was being brought to the dust of death. (Genesis 3:19)
  • Adam’s curse of dying in the dust was being fulfilled by Jesus Christ, the Second Adam.

Psalm 22:16 gives us further snapshots of those who were surrounding the cross.

  • They are described as wicked, snarling dogs. (Philippians 3:2)
  • This was another way of saying His enemies were workers of evil.
  • Isaiah 50:6 gives us an important insight into Christ’s obedience on the cross.
  • He said, “I gave My back to those who struck Me, and My cheeks to those who plucked out the beard; I did not hide My face from shame and spitting.”
  • These evil men circled around the cross like a pack of mangy, mongrel, street dogs.
  • They pierced His hands and feet with long spikes to hold Him to the cross.
  • This is an incredible prophetic picture, since crucifixion wasn’t practiced in Israel and wasn’t perfected as cruel punishment until the days of Rome. (John 19:16-18; 20:27)

With pain shooting up and down His extremities, He could count all the bones in His body. (Psalm 22:14-17; John 19:36)

  • Just as the bones of a Passover Lamb were not to be broken, so none of Christ’s bones were broken.
  • The Praetorian Guard stripped off Christ’s robe and under garment before they hoisted Him up on the cross. (Matthew 27:28)
  • Every shred of modesty was stripped from Him.
  • He hung suspended as an object of shame.
  • The crowd looked and stared at Him.

The Roman soldiers who took Christ’s garments divided them up and cast lots for them. (Psalm 22:18; John 19:23-24)

  • This was not so much for gain as it was mockery.
  • In John’s Gospel he says this fulfilled the prophecy of Psalm 22:18.
  • Nothing escaped the eye of David’s prophecy, down to the throw-of-the-dice for Christ’s clothing.

As Christ suffered on the cross, He prayed this prayer for deliverance from the mouth of the lion and the horns of oxen. (Psalm 22:19-21)

  • He called out to be delivered from the sword, which was a symbol of Roman military power. (Luke 22:52)
  • He prayed to be saved from Satan’s sharp teeth.
  • The cross was like being impaled upon the horns of an ox.
  • He pleaded to be saved from the agony of this punishment.

Let it never be said, “God doesn’t know what we go through when we suffer.”

  • Christ suffered the agony of the cross, so that we might be saved from God’s holy wrath.
  • Let no one say, “Where is God when I need Him?”
  • He may be silent, but He is there.
  • Who can fathom the depth and width of His love?
  • Charles Wesley’s hymn tried to capture his amazement at God’s grace.
  • “And can it be that I should gain an interest in the Savior’s blood? Died he for me, who caused his pain? For me, who him to death pursued? ’Tis mercy all, immense and free; For O my God, it found out me.”

The psalm takes a dramatic turn from pain to praise.

  • These are the words that filled Christ’s mind just before He died.
  • For the joy set before Christ, He endured the cross.
  • His prayer was answered.
  • The Father answered His prayer by raising Him from the dead.

The joy of resurrection kept Him on the cross. (Psalm 22:21-31)

  1. In Psalm 22:21-23, He foresaw the joy of His church joining Him in praise of the Father.
    • This expectation made everything He suffered worthwhile.
    • Nothing brought joy to the Son like glorifying the Father.
    • He was born for this day on the cross.
    • Hebrews 2:11-14 quotes Psalm 22:21 and explained that Christ destroyed the power of the devil and released His people from the fear of death.
    • The promised blessing of the Woman’s Seed and Abraham’s seed would find fulfillment. (Hebrews 2:11-14; 5:7; John 18:37; Genesis 12:3; Isaiah 53:10; Galatians 3:14; 6:16)
    • He would live another day to see His seed.
    • Sons and daughters would be brought to glory to sing the praises of the Father forever.
    • This hope kept Him on the cross.
  2. Christ foresaw the Father satisfied with the sacrifice of His life. (Psalm 22:24-26)
    • The Father may have turned His face from His affliction because He became sin, but once the sacrifice was paid, the Father was pleased.
    • Christ paid His vow of sacrifice.
    • This made it possible for the poor in spirit to call upon the Lord.
    • They could take of Him and be satisfied, even as Israel ate of the Passover lambs and were satisfied.
    • Those who seek Him will find Him.
    • They shall find life forevermore.
  3. Christ also foresaw the Gospel being preached to all nations. (Psalm 22:27-29)
    • Jesus prophesied in Matthew 24:14, “And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come.”
    • He would not only die for Israel, but for God’s children scattered around the world.
    • He commanded His followers to “Go into the world and make disciples of all ethnos.”
    • Psalm 22:27-29 gave Him further assurance that all this would come to pass.
    • Resurrection will be the grounds of praise and worship.
    • We worship a living God!
  4. Christ foresaw future generations, declaring to them that His righteous work was finished. (Psalm 22:30-31; John 17:4; 19:30; Ephesians 3:21)
    • Previously, the night before, when He was in the Garden of Gethsemane, He prayed to the Father, “I have glorified You on the earth. I have finished the work which You have given Me to do.”
    • His incarnate, earthly purpose had been fulfilled.
    • In John 19:30 it records Christ’s last words, “So when Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, ‘It is finished!’ And bowing His head, He gave up His spirit.”
    • His last words were the last line of Psalm 22:31.
    • He anticipated the day when the redeemed will rise up and declare His righteousness to a people yet to be born.
    • They will hail the good news, “He has done this!” or literally, “It is finished!”
    • Repentant sinners will be able to shout, “It is finished! Christ’s righteousness has been placed on our account.”
    • The saints have been saved from God, by God, for God. His work is done!
    • Our part is to cast ourselves on God’s mercy and repent of our sin.

The story is told by famed theologian Arthur Pink of his attempt to explain the completed work of Christ to his neighbor, who was a farmer.

  • The farmer protested that there must be something he can do or pay for this gift.
  • Pink, then asked the man to construct a gate for him out of wood.
  • When he finished it, he proudly presented it to him.
  • However, Pink took out an axe and began to chop it in two.
  • He told the shocked farmer, “Every time we try to add to a gift we destroy it.”
  • Christ’s work is finished! Just accept it as complete.
  • There are those in life who imagine sinners being in the hands of an angry God, while others see God in the hands of angry men.
  • But in the cross, we see God both the Judge and the judged.
  • The resurrection is the hope of all who believe Christ’s work is finished.

“Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” (Ephesians 3:20-21)


The Blue Letter Bible ministry and the BLB Institute hold to the historical, conservative Christian faith, which includes a firm belief in the inerrancy of Scripture. Since the text and audio content provided by BLB represent a range of evangelical traditions, all of the ideas and principles conveyed in the resource materials are not necessarily affirmed, in total, by this ministry.


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