Jesus in the Old Testament (Part 9)
Review series topic and read Lk.24:44-47—Jesus claimed that every major section of the Old Testament was filled with predictions of his suffering and death and resurrection. Over the last several weeks, we have looked at many of these predictions from the “Law” (e.g., Gen.22; Passover; Tabernacle; Ex.17). In the coming weeks, we will look at some of the predictions from the “Prophets.” This week, I want to look at an example of the many “Psalms” that predict Jesus’ death and resurrection.1
The greatest of these “passion” Psalms is Ps.22, written by King David around 1000 BC. The first two-thirds is a cry of anguish over suffering; the last third is a song of praise for God’s deliverance. This is the normal pattern of “lament” Psalms. But, as you will see, David describes a suffering and deliverance that go far beyond anything he ever experienced. Rather, by inspiration he describes the suffering and deliverance of the Messiah. Furthermore, Jesus quoted the first and last verses of this Psalm from the cross to announce/confirm that he was fulfilling it. Let’s take a look...
This first section contains three “stanzas.” Each stanza describes his sufferings, followed by an affirmation of trust in God, and each stanza describes his sufferings in greater detail.
Read 22:1-5. He feels forsaken by God because God isn’t answering his prayers for help. But he affirms that since God has always ultimately delivered his ancestors, he will also answer him in this situation.
Read 22:6-11. He has no human support as he suffers. In fact, everyone around him mocks him. They see his suffering as proof that his claims to belong to/trust in God are false. Yet he knows that he knows that he really does belong to/trust in God. In fact, he claims that he has trusted in/belonged to God even before he was born.
Read 22:12-21. He is surrounded by a band of evil people who are torturing him to death. He likens it to being trampled and gored by bulls (22:12), or torn apart by lions (22:13), or ravaged by a pack of wild dogs (22:16). In fact, it is a detailed description of death by crucifixion:
“They pierced my hands and my feet” (22:16) describes the unique aspect of crucifixion—no other form of execution involves this. And the other details of his suffering correspond exactly to what crucifixion victims experienced.
“I am poured out like water” (22:14a) and “my strength is dried up like a potsherd” (22:15a) both describe his complete physical exhaustion. Crucifixion victims became physically exhausted by having to keep lifting themselves up to inhale.
“All my bones are out of joint” (22:14b) describes the dislocation of limbs caused by slamming the cross into the hole, and the stretching and eventual snapping of ligaments from having to support their body weight for hours and even days.
“My heart is like wax...melted within me” (22:14c) may simply speak of his despair, but more likely (immediate context is physical agony) describes the severe heart trauma caused by exertion in spite of decreased blood and oxygen. Some crucifixion victims evidently died of ruptured hearts, and the mixture of water and blood in Jesus' case (Jn.19:34) suggests that this happened to him.
“My tongue cleaves to my jaws” (22:15b) describes the severe dehydration which caused the tongue to swell, making breathing even more difficult.
“I can count all my bones. They look, they stare at me” (22:17). Crucifixion victims were stripped naked to humiliate them.
“They cast lots for my clothing” (22:18). So certain is this victim's death that his executioners are already dividing up his clothes.
This detailed description of execution by crucifixion goes beyond anything David experienced. And here’s the kicker: It describes crucifixion several centuries before it was invented!2
No wonder Jesus quoted this Psalm as he hung from the cross! What irony! His enemies were saying: “The fact that you are being crucified proves you are not the Messiah!” Jesus’ citation of 22:1 means: “The fact that I am being crucified proves that I am the Messiah!” But why would God insist that his Messiah endure such a horrible death? The answer to this question takes us to the very heart of the Bible’s message.
Read 1Pet.3:18. God is the great Creator/King—he created us to live under his loving rulership. But we have all rebelled against him and we deserve his judgment for cosmic treason. So great and deep is our guilt that only the crucifixion of God’s blameless Son can fully wash our guilt away. So great and deep is God’s love and mercy that only the crucifixion of his blameless Son can fully express his love. On the cross, an exchange took place that is wonderful beyond our imagination—Jesus took on our guilt and endured God’s judgment for our sins in spite of his righteousness, so that we can receive his righteousness and experience God’s love in spite of our sins.
And so that we could know that this is God’s diagnosis of our problem and his cure, he predicted the death of Jesus centuries before he died and recorded and preserved it in writing. This is why Paul says 1Cor.15:3 (read). Ps. 22 is one of dozens of these predictions—something absolutely unique in world religions. How will you respond to this unique phenomenon?
If you don’t believe it is a prediction of the Messiah’s death that Jesus fulfilled, how do you explain it? It isn’t a later forgery—we have copies of Ps.22 dated centuries before Jesus. How could it be a coincidence (not to mention the dozens of other predictions Jesus fulfilled)? Why would Jesus want to self-fulfill it unless he knew he was the Messiah?
If you do believe that it is a prediction of the Messiah’s death that Jesus fulfilled, you’re not home yet. You need to personally identify with Jesus’ death. You need to say to God what Rembrandt said through his painting “The Raising of the Cross.” He is saying, “My guilt and treason put Jesus on the Cross—I am just as guilty as the people who crucified him. I deserve the judgment that Jesus bore. Jesus died in my place, for my sins—and this is my only hope.” If you think you’re a pretty good person, you just don’t get it—your sins put Jesus on the cross. If you think you’re too sinful and guilty to be redeemed, you jut don’t get it—Jesus went to the cross for your sins. Will you agree with him and take your place with Rembrandt, or will you reject him?
Beginning in 22:22, the tone changes abruptly from anguish over being forsaken to praise for being delivered. This psalm doesn’t tell us how God delivered him, but Isa.53:10 and the New Testament tells us that God raised him from the dead. This section focuses on the amazing impact of his suffering and God’s deliverance—impact that goes far beyond any impact David ever had. Read 22:22-31.
Not only Jewish people (22:23), but also people from every ethnic group (22:27).
Not only the rich and prosperous, but also those so poor and weak they can’t keep themselves alive (22:26,29).
Not only people in the present, but also those who wouldn’t be born until many generations in the future (22:30,31).
This is why Jesus quoted 22:31b just before he died (Jn.19:30)—he knew that he had paid for the sins of all humanity—and that the news of what he had accomplished would be spread around the entire world and transform millions of lives. This is why Jesus told his disciples that the news of this great event would be proclaimed by his followers to all nations (Lk.24:47). Do you realize how audacious this prediction is? That the news of the crucifixion of a hick-town Jew would be so important that his followers would take it all over the world, and that people from every ethnic group would receive it? Yet this is exactly what has happened over the last 2000 years—and it is continuing to happen!
This is the unfolding drama of human history. Most Americans have the impression that Christianity is a dying white, western religion that has little or no impact on the rest of the world. But the truth is that Christianity is exploding in the non-white, non-western world among people who are converting to Christianity from their religions of origin. The ethnic group with the greatest number of Christians is not northern Europeans—it is Mandarin Chinese! The nation with the greatest percentage of Christians in its population is not the U.S.—it is South Korea! There are now more Christian churches in India than there are in the U.S.! And there are more Christians in sub-Sahara Africa than there are people in the U.S.!
Is this the focus and passion of your life? This is our great privilege—to experience the gift of Jesus’ forgiveness, and to play our unique roles in announcing what Jesus did on the cross and inviting people to join us in receiving his forgiveness.
You have a role that no one else can play. God has fashioned you to share Jesus in ways that no one else can share, and he has placed you among people that need to hear your story.
This is not one of many roles for your life—this is the role of your life into which all of your other roles fit.
A thousand years from now, how much will your investment portfolio, or low golf score, or favorite football team’s 2008 record matter? Is your answer consistent with the amount of focus and passion you have on/for these things? But Jesus will reward you for every effort you make to share his love (word & deed)—and every person who responds will be a source of unending joy for you (1Thess.2:19,20)! Do you believe this? Is your answer consistent with the amount of focus and passion you have on/for these things?
If not, ask God to re-open the eyes of your heart to what Jesus did for you on the cross! Ask him to give you his love for the people among whom he has placed you. Then ask him to provide you this week with opportunities to show and share his love (at work; in your neighborhood; with your family; in line at the bank; etc.)—and for the eyes to see these opportunities. What would happen if all of us asked God for this, and acted on his answers? Why, we would be like the church in Acts, and the gospel would redeem thousands of lives, and our city would be changed for the good! Do you believe this?
1 The “passion” Psalms are Ps.22; 35; 41; 55; 69; 109. All of them are authored by David and most link the theme of the Davidic King with the Suffering Servant. Additional Messianic Psalms include Ps.2; 16; 72; 118.
2 Normal capital punishment for Jews was stoning. Crucifixion was invented by the Phoenicians and Carthaginians around 600 BC, and the Romans probably learned it from the Carthaginians. No Jew was crucified until sometime in the late inter-testamental period.