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Thursday, March 29, 2018

Man of Sorrows - The Darkest Psalm

The Psalm most closely associated with the Passion of Jesus is undoubtedly Psalm 22, from which we derive such well known verses as, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” and, “they divide my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots.”

There are numerous psalms that we call “Messianic Psalms” for their close association with the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  They were not written as straightforward predictions, but rather detail the personal laments of the psalmist.  In Psalm 22, David speaks of his own feelings and anguish.  But in the mysterious providence of God, David’s experiences foreshadow the details of the sufferings of the Son of David in such a way that they are considered predictive by the New Testament authors.  We might echo Paul and say that David’s sufferings were a shadow the substance of which belongs to Christ (Col 2:17).

There is another Psalm that gives a foretaste of the sufferings of Jesus, particularly the anguish of the solitude of the cross.  It’s Psalm 88.  Again, this is a psalm of David, in which he speaks from his own experiences, and yet, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, he speaks for his Greater Son (Matt 1:1).  

I find this psalm to be helpful in providing some perspective on Christ’s suffering.  Many tend to emphasize the physical aspect of His passion.  Certainly, we should not minimize that the agony of crucifixion, but the Lord’s suffering was not limited to the horrific physical pain He endured.  Psalm 88 helps us to see that there was another aspect that was perhaps even more difficult, given the eternal, unfettered fellowship He enjoyed with the Father: on the cross, Jesus was abandoned and utterly alone.  

The psalm’s multiple references to the dark evoke images of those three hours in which Jesus hung on the cross in complete darkness.  There are multiple references to His sorrow, to His companions having shunned Him, and to God’s wrath sweeping over Him.  The overwhelming sense is one of suffering in complete solitude.  No one has ever been as alone as Jesus was on the cross.

Psalm 88 is unique in that it alone has no explicit statement of confidence or hope.  No small ray of light is allowed to stream in.  There would be no rescue for Him on the cross.  He was born to suffer in solitude and die.  This aspect of the psalm indicates yet again the complete darkness that Jesus endured so that, unlike Him, we would never suffer alone or without hope.  

While you can find the entire psalm here, I’d like to give you the most striking portions now.  Praise God for this Man of Sorrows, who tasted death on our behalf.

For my soul is full of troubles, and my life draws near to Sheol.
 I am counted among those who go down to the pit; I am a man who has no strength,
 like one set loose among the dead, like the slain that lie in the grave, like those whom you remember no more, 
for they are cut off from your hand.
 You have put me in the depths of the pit, in the regions dark and deep.
 Your wrath lies heavy upon me, and you overwhelm me with all your waves. Selah
 You have caused my companions to shun me; you have made me a horror to them. 
I am shut in so that I cannot escape;
 my eye grows dim through sorrow. Every day I call upon you, O LORD; I spread out my hands to you. 
(Psa 88:3-9)

O LORD, why do you cast my soul away? Why do you hide your face from me?
 Afflicted and close to death from my youth up, I suffer your terrors; I am helpless.
 Your wrath has swept over me; your dreadful assaults destroy me.
They surround me like a flood all day long; they close in on me together.
 You have caused my beloved and my friend to shun me; my companions have become darkness.

(Psa 88:14-18)

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