The Christmas season is defined by some very special traditions: Decorations, lights and songs that help us remember the meaning and message of the season and the giving of gifts which reflects the “spirit” of the season. After all what is Christmas all about?
I have often wondered why we do not have more Christmas cards or ornaments showing a cross? Yes Christmas is about the birth of our Savior but really its all about the cross about a God who loved the world so much that as we read in John 3:16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
And yet to appreciate a gift properly, we must appreciate the price or cost of the gift. There is perhaps no other passage of scripture that best describes for us the price that Jesus paid to give us the gift of salvation as we find in Psalm 22.
This psalm is called the Psalm of the Cross or the “gospel according to David. It is so named because it describes more accurately and minutely the crucifixion of Christ than does any other portion of the Word of God.
In Psalm 22 we have an X-ray which penetrates into Jesus thoughts and into His feelings on the cross. His soul is laid bare. In the Gospels is recorded the historical fact of His death on the cross; but only in Psalm 22 are His thoughts and feelings revealed.
So let’s consider Psalm 22 as we enter into this Christmas season. Psalm 22 is written at least a 1,000 years before our Lord was pierced to hang on the cross for our sins.
On the cross, Jesus quoted Psalm 22 when He cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? (Mat 27:46, Mark 15:34) And for those standing at the foot of the cross, His words should have evoked the words of this psalm in their minds. Had they remembered David’s words, could have seen and understood what was happening before their eyes? Psalm 22 is a script written a thousand years before it was acted out in detail!
It is said that the best way to approach this Psalm is to read it through and make brief comments and let it speak for itself. We begin with the familiar words of Jesus when he hung on the cross:
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
When Jesus uttered these words, Matthew tells us that a strange darkness settled over the land. Someone said that when Jesus was born that night in Bethlehem, a star shone as bright as the sun in the night sky. When he died in the middle of the day, the sky grew dark. The Sun’s creator was dying
Do not forget, on the cross, Christ was made sin for us – “For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. 2 Corinthians 5:21 (NKJV)
Take the words for what they are. Jesus in his humanity really felt forsaken or abandoned. This is not unbelief, this was his reality.
In verse six, it says, “But I am a worm, and no man…” Jesus was certainly a man on the cross. So what did the psalmist mean when he wrote, “But I am a worm?” Worms were considered the lowest of the low, this is definitely a statement of being humiliated, but there is more.
The common Hebrew word for “worm” is “rimmah,” and it is defined as a maggot or a worm. However, in Psalm 22:6, the word for “worm” is tola’ath. Strong’s Dictionary defines this word as the crimson-grub. So the word “tola’ath” in Psalm 22:6 denotes not only a worm but also identifies it as a crimson or scarlet worm that is common to the Middle East, and predominantly in Israel. It should be noted that the colors crimson and scarlet are very deep, blackish-red, which is the color of blood. And in this crimson worm, we find a hidden meaning of biblical significance. The crimson worm was used by the Hebrews in dyeing all the curtains of the tabernacle scarlet red. More than the lowest place, it is saying that through his blood sin can be washed away.
Jesus Was Born to Die
9 Yet you brought me out of the womb; you made me trust in you even at my mother’s breast. 10 From birth I was cast upon you; from my mother’s womb you have been my God. Psalm 22:9-10
Jesus knew He was born to die. It was the reason that he was brought on the earth at that exact time. Jesus expresses a close relationship with God from the beginning, from birth He knew God.
Ultimately we cannot believe that we or any baby in the womb are accidents. God was so intimately involved with the birth of Jesus, this is true. But as David says in Psalm 139, “God knit us together in the womb,” He knew us and has our “days numbered.” We too are the products of grand design with great purposes.
Jesus’ Death was Foretold in Detail.
“Many bulls surround me; strong bulls of Bashan encircle me. Roaring lions tearing their prey open their mouths wide against me” (12-13). As bulls they seem powerful and strong, and unstoppable. They are like lions, fierce, frightening, threatening, their fangs dripping with anxiety to be at him and tear him apart. The bottom line: he is surrounded by his enemies and they are in control.
What the Psalmist describes next is a perfect picture of the exhaustion of the cross! “I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint. My heart has turned to wax; it has melted away within me. My strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth; you lay me in the dust of death” (14-15).
Written at a time when crucifixion was unknown as an execution, this describes death on a cross exactly. After hanging on the cross for six hours suspended by nails in his hands his body weight will have pulled Jesus’ arms out of their joints. His energy would be depleted and he was gripped by a horrible thirst so that his tongue stuck to the roof of his mouth.
“Dogs have surrounded me; a band of evil men has encircled me, they have pierced my hands and my feet” (16). “Dogs” are a metaphor used often by the Jews to describe Gentiles, especially Romans. How appropriate that the Psalmist would say “dogs” when a squad of Roman soldiers would be standing guard at the crucifixion.
Here’s a huge point, when David says, “they pierced my hands and my feet.” He was writing hundreds of years before crucifixion was even invented! Crucifixion was invented by the Persians and perfected by the Romans.
His humiliation continued: “I can count all my bones; people stare and gloat over me. They divide my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing” (17-18). It was as if he were already dead and gone. The Roman soldiers did not wait but began to divide up his meager belongings, playing a game for the last piece so they would not tear it. How could these words and actions be so precisely exact if this were not of God? One thousand years later the scene is acted out to the letter.
In her book The Hiding Place, Corrie ten Boom tells of the time she and her sister were forced to remove their clothes and stand naked during a typical Nazi inspection. Miss ten Boom said she stood there feeling defiled and forsaken. Then she remembered something. Jesus hung naked on the cross. Suddenly her emotion turned to wonder and worship when she thought of how He chose to do what they were forced to do. She leaned forward and whispered to her sister, “Betsie, they took His clothes, too.” Betsie gasped and said, “Oh, Corrie, that’s right, and I never thanked Him.”
He was naked when He was crucified. It is difficult for us even in this day of nudity and pornography to comprehend the great humiliation He suffered. He suffered by hanging nude on the cross. They had taken His garments and gambled for ownership. He went through it all, crucified naked, so that you may be clothed with the righteousness of Christ, and be able to stand before God throughout the endless ages of eternity.
Lastly an expression of Trust…But he believes in God’s ability to deliver. “But you, O LORD, be not far off; O my Strength, come quickly to help me. Deliver my life from the sword, my precious life from the power of the dogs. Rescue me from the mouth of the lions; save me from the horns of the wild oxen” (19-21).
Jesus has just reached his lowest point. And still the sufferer persists in believing that God is his God. His strength was gone but he now calls God his Strength. He still believes that God can be a source of help to people who suffer like he does and will rescue him somehow. Even in this darkest hour, the Psalmist’s faith, and later, Jesus’ faith, will not give in to despair or unbelief. As the Psalm continues we read that it is a victory. The resurrection victory can only give us hope though, as the forsaken one goes through this dark valley of sin and abandonment. We cannot identify with this hope unless he identifies with our suffering.
Jesus’s Death Saves the World
27 All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the LORD, and all the families of the nations will bow down before him, 28 for dominion belongs to the LORD and he rules over the nations. Psalm 22:27-28
In the second part of this psalm, the mood and tone change dramatically. Agonized prayer turns to ardent praise. This ardent praise is for the success of the cause of God. The failure that at the beginning of the psalm seemed certain is now swallowed up in victory. This success will not just be personal or individual but will be worldwide. The praise rests on the abundant promise: “All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the LORD, God’s success will not only affect the whole world, but will also span the generations.
They shall tell of the Lord to the next generation.
They shall come and shall declare His righteousness to a people yet to be born—that He has done it [that it is finished]! Psalm 22:30-31 (AMP)
The psalm ends showing the glorious work of salvation is done, the promise delivered eternal and true. “It is done, It is Finished.” Jesus has finished the work of salvation!
That’s the Christmas message, the message of the cross the greatest gift of all the true message of Christmas. Let’s be grateful and give thanks, praise the Lord he has done it for us.
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- Vernon McGee, Thru The Bible with J. Vernon McGee, (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1983), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, Under: “GENESIS SECTION (1 – 41)”.