Cross: Psalms 22 & 23
The order of the Psalms is not random. Someone with a clever eye has carefully arranged them. We must go through the suffering of Psalm 22 to get to the peace and rest of Psalm 23. Not our suffering, but his - Jesus. Psalm 22 opens with the cry of Jesus on the cross “My God my God why have you forsaken me?” He may have recited the entire psalm for it ends with his last words “it is finished”.
These is indeed holy ground and we can only look on in awe. Rightly did Martin Luther say, “God forsaken by God - who can understand it?”. Why is he forsaken, alone, his communion with his Father (as to his humanity) interrupted? Because God is of purer eyes than to look on evil. He sees the sin that the Son takes and he turns away. That is our sin. We rightly deserve the consequences of sin and even though, as I have said before, our suffering is often not the direct consequences of our sin, nonetheless the wages of sin is death.
But there is also amazing balm here for the suffering and fearful. Because Jesus has stood in our place, rejected and abandoned, we, if we are in his family, have a way out of suffering. We shall look at Psalm 23 in a minute to see this, but looking at Psalm 22 we see that Jesus, still in his utter abandonment, says twice “My God”. And the name of God he invokes is sometimes translated “Mighty God”. Even in his suffering, even when God appears humanly to be far away, he is still our God and he is still mighty to save. He asks questions of God in suffering and so can we. We may often not know why something terrible is happening, but we know that Jesus was abandoned by God so that we will never be abandoned. The cross towers over us casting a mighty light on our way.
And where are we going? We are going home. Now let’s look at Psalm 23 which, if you like, we must access through Psalm 22. The entry to our safety is the cross. “I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever”. This life is oftentimes a dry desert in which we wander, but the Lord has gone ahead to make a home for us and what a place that will be! The Anglican martyr John Bradford who was burnt at the stake under Queen Mary said to the trembling young man being burned with him “Be of good comfort brother; for we shall have a merry supper with the Lord this night!"
We are on our way to something mind-blowingly “merry” and good. En route, here is more comfort; in fact I would say a verse in the Bible that has been of the greatest help to me and countless others in trouble: “Yes though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil for you are with me”. When I am at a medical low that verse has repeatedly impressed itself on my mind like a burning light in the dark valley.
Each of us must walk through that valley and it is a valley of shadow. It is dark and I know that. There is evil. But for there to be a shadow, there must be a light beyond. That light is streaming from the face of Christ. It leads us on and he, the Good Shepherd, is not just ahead holding the door open nor behind on the cross having suffered in our place. No, perhaps most amazingly, dear friends, he is with us right now, walking with us, talking with us, and he has, if you like, two divine “sheepdogs” with him, one called mercy and one called goodness. Evil has to slink away. So this little party, a sufferer, a saviour and two ministering angels struggles on to glory.
Note finally that it is “all the days of my life”. The evil days and the good days, the days of suffering and the days of joy. God in his goodness supplies everything we need in suffering, and his mercy on the cross means we don’t get what we deserve - eternal suffering and separation from God. Amazingly rather we daily receive a free gift - the presence of the Lord God Almighty all the way home.
Almighty and everlasting God, in mercy look upon our weakness and in all our dangers and necessities stretch out your right hand to help and defend us, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.