Never Give Up, Never Give Up, Never Give Up

Psalm 22

Psalm 22 is a Psalm of King David when he was in trouble, which he was, many times in his life. Even before he begins the Psalm proper, David call himself “the hind of dawn.” In so doing he compares himself to a female deer that flees from hunters just as the sun begins to throw its light upon the world. And who is it that hunts David? Is he hunted by an illness within? Is he hunted by his enemies without? Is he hunted by the God whom he worships?

King David opens the psalm with a question and a complaint. He writes:

1 My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? Why art thou so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning? 2 O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer; and by night, but find no rest.

Three times in the psalm King David refers to his enemies, and each time, there is an escalation of hostilities:

In verses 6 to 8 King David says, “People scorn and mock me.” His enemies make faces at him, and shake their heads, and say things like, “8 “He committed his cause to the LORD; let him deliver him, let him rescue him, for he delights in him!”

In verses 12 and 13 King David says, “My enemies threaten me.” His enemies surround him like a heard of strong bulls, bent upon stomping upon him. They open their mouths and lick their lips like ravenous and roaring lions.

In verses 16 and 17 King David says, “My enemies torture me and divide my spoils.” His enemies have pierced his hands and feet. He is reduced to skin and bones, and he can count each of his bones without effort, because his enemies have stripped him of the clothes that once covered his body, and gamble for his garments, to divide them among themselves.

Not all of David’s troubles are outside his body. King David also says that he is sick, and tired, and he has started to think about dying. In verses 14 and 15 he cries:

14 I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax, it is melted within my breast; 15 my strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue cleaves to my jaws; thou dost lay me in the dust of death.

Have you ever felt as King David did? Have you ever cried out to God by day and by night, either in pain of body, or in pain of spirit, and felt that God ignored “the words of your groaning?” And have you ever felt that the last of your friends have deserted you, and left you alone with your enemies, and that your enemies threaten your property and your position, perhaps even your life? Sooner or later fate overtakes both the proud of the earth, and the humble. It it will not more spare kings and queens; it will not spare us. Sometimes fate comes first as some great challenge, or, more likely, as a series of challenges. If we give-in to the difficulties that confront us, and quit, we will never be happy with ourselves again. Shakespeare was right:

“There is a tide in the affairs of men, which taken at the flood, leads on to (greater things); omitted all the voyage of life is bound to shallows and miseries.”

Some challenges we may flee; but there is at least one that we cannot escape. Sooner or later, the grinders become few, the keepers of the house start to tremble, and the windows of the house dim, and we come to that last cloudy day after which the sun will not return, and we, too, stare into the abyss of death. (Ecclesiastes 12:1-5)

It is in times of challenge that we discover if we truly have faith. Faith is not believing this and that about the content of scripture. Faith is not being able to say the Apostle’s Creed without crossing our fingers. Faith is not coming to church Sunday after Sunday when we had rather snatch an extra hour’s sleep. Faith is the willingness to live unreservedly in the complexities and duties of life. The person of faith looks out at all the forces that are arrayed against him or her, and remembers that one discouraged person, one lonely person, one sick person, one isolated person, one person living at the margins— plus God is a majority in any situation.

King David had faith. He was confident that God could deliver him from all his enemies, within and without. He was confident he would escape the dogs and swords that pursued him. He was confident that he would once again speak God’s name to his brothers and sisters, and praise God in the midst of the congregation. (Psalm 22:20-24) And (This is beautiful!) he was confident that his testimony would endure for the edification of future generations. (Psalm 22:30-31)

Now, by this time, most of you have realized that this Psalm, though written by King David, is also a powerful description of the suffering and victory of Great David’s Greater Son, Jesus Christ. How do we account for that?

Some scholars, like John Dominic Crossan, a member of the Jesus Seminar, think that the descriptions of the crucifixion that are written in the gospels are “prophecy historicized.” They say that the authors of the gospel wanted to know more about the crucifixion, and they found it in Psalm 22, so they included details from the Psalm in their gospels. Other scholars like Mark Goodacre, a professor at Duke, think that the gospels are “tradition scripturalized.” They say that the oral tradition of Jesus’ death on the cross already included events like those recorded in the Psalm, so it was natural for them to use the language of the Psalm in writing about these details.

Personally, I go beyond Goodacre. I think Jesus forced the identification when he chose to speak the words of the Psalm, just as he choose to enact the prophecy of Zechariah 9:9. When Jesus wanted to announce to all that he was the Messiah, he mounted himself on a colt the foal of an ass, and rode into Jerusalem. Likewise, when Jesus wanted to express both his total dependance upon God, and his total separation from God, he used the words of Psalm 22: “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” The remainder of the Psalm just fits. We know from historical sources that the Romans often nailed their victims to a cross, through their hands, or wrist, and through their feet. And what can be more natural than soldiers gambling over the spoils taken from their victims? Unless, of course, it be religious authorities taunting the outsider prophet, the enemy of the Status Quo, who had once taunted them, saying, “He trusted in God, let God deliver him.” The authorities thought that the cross was the end of the Prophet of Nazareth. They thought they were having the last word; but we know they were wrong.

Now what about us? Most of us can say with David, “Since my mother bore me, Thou, O God, hast been my God.” Most of us can likewise confess that God is the God of our fathers. We think that God delivered them—do we also believe that God also deliver us?

There are few things that can be said about that:

1. On Father’s Day, we must remember that God has already delivered us through our ancestors.

We belong to the people of God. God delivered his people at the Yom Suph, the sea of Reeds that is at the northern end of the present day Red Sea. God caused a strong east wind to blow all night, so that the waters stood in a heap, and Israel passed over as on the dry ground, and then God allowed the waters to rush back upon the armies of Egypt, foiling and destroying them. The deliverance at the Red Sea is the definitive miracle of the Old Testament. The people of Israel, including David (Psalm 22:4) , knew that if God had overcome impossible odds on one occasion, he could do it again. So they told the story of God deliverance over and over again; and passed on this faith and hope to their children, and to their children’s children, down through the generations.

When you think about each of who are here this morning are are also among those who have been delivered. This is Father’s Day. My father made the Normandy Invasion, going into Utah Beach with the 55th Medical Battalion on D plus One. Just before the invasion dad and two other members of his unit were on a hillside in England. A storm blew up. Lightning struck all three, knocking them to the ground. Dad said that he and one other man got up laughing. The third man got up saying, “This is a sign, we are going to die in the invasion.” That man did die, but my dad, and the other man who laughed lived. It is because my father lived, I am here today. Yeh! If you consult your family history, you will find a similar event. You had a father, or a mother, or a grandfather, or a grandmother, who was spared some premature death, and because they were, you are here. And because you are here, you are able to ask, “What now, do I owe God for this life that I have received as a gift?”

The only thing better than knowing that God has delivered our fathers and our mothers is experiencing God’s deliverance for ourselves. God delivered David when he went out to face Goliath of Gath with nothing but his shepherd’s sling-shot and five smooth stones. In the New Testament Paul speaks of a dramatic deliverance without giving details. In 2nd Corinthians 1:8-10 the apostle Paul writes:

8  For we do not want you to be ignorant, brothers and sisters, of the affliction we experienced in Asia; for we were so utterly, unbearably crushed that we despaired of life itself. 9 Why, we felt that we had received the sentence of death; but that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead; 10 he delivered us from so deadly a peril, and he will deliver us; on him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again.

He might well have said, “again, and again, and again.” For in the 11th chapter of this same epistle Paul list all the trials through which he had passed in his life. He mentions stoning, and beatings, and shipwreck, and travel, and travail, and treachery. God delivered Paul from all his trials, save one, the last one, through which he passed into God’s more immediate presence; and God will deliver us from all of our trials, save one, the last one, through which we will pass into God’s more immediate presence. And God tempers even that final trial for us. St. Paul says that, in Christ God has taken the sting out of death, and snatched victory from the grave. (1st Corinthians 15:55)

2. God will deliver us if we pray aright. In James 5:16 we read that, “The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous person is mighty in its effects.” The scripture teaches that God always hears our prayers. However, the scripture also teaches that God is not likely to answer the prayers of those who do not hear him. Thus in Zechariah 7:13 we read:

13 Just as, when I called, they would not hear; so, when they called, I would not hear, says the LORD of hosts.

It only makes sense that if we want God’s help, we must first give God our obedience. If present circumstances make obedience beyond our ability, we can at least offer God our repentance. In 1st John 1:9 we read, “If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and cleanse us of them.”

3. Finally, God will deliver us if go all in. Faith means living unreservedly in the complexities and duties of life, and we cannot do that by holding back the moral, spiritual, and physical resources that God has given to us. If we pray for a thing, we must work to make that thing possible. We must be willing to put feet on our prayers. We must be willing to work out our own salvation, knowing that God is at work in us, both to will and to do according to God’s good pleasure. Jesus went all in. He set his face steadfastly toward Jerusalem, knowing that he had to be rejected by the elders of the people, and that he had to suffer many things, including the cross, and be killed, and on the third day, rise from death. If we go all in, then we can be sure that God will not “despise or abhor the affliction of the afflicted,” but God will hear us. God used his power to raise Jesus from death; and that same power is available to us today, not just in the moment of death, but in the midst of life. If we truly believe this, then it makes it easier for us to hold on, and never give up, never give up, never give up.

Finis

Worth Green, Th.M., D.Min.