When You Feel Forsaken

As soon as you read the first words of Psalm 22 most people instantly recognize the words. “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me” are words Jesus spoke while on the cross. As you read the rest of the Psalm you find that this Psalm has many pictures that lead us to the cross of Jesus.

Psalm 22 is attributed to David but we are unaware of any time in his life that would seem to fit historically with what we read here. David appears to be describing a crucifixion which is a practice that did not come into being, as far as we know, until the time of the Romans which was hundreds of years after David. So, why did David use these images? How was David able to so clearly picture the suffering of Jesus so many years in advance?

We need to remember (as with all prophetic passages) that these words (from King David) were inspired by the Holy Spirit. Personally, I believe David was likely speaking with bold images about a suffering he was experiencing. (For example we might say “The pain of the injury was like there was a nail going through me” without actually having a nail pierce your flesh.) The words and images David selected to describe what was going on with him were inspired by the Holy Spirit to point to something of which David may have been very unaware.

I hope to show you this morning that this Old Testament Psalm will give us insight into the love and sacrifice of Jesus; help us to see what might have been going on in our Savior’s mind during his crucifixion; and help us handle the times when we feel forsaken by God.

The Struggle

The first thing you will notice in the Psalm is that David seems to be having a dialog with the Lord (and even himself). David expresses his sense of alienation in verses 1 and 2. Verse 3 begins with “Yet”. Verse 6 starts with “But” and then verse 9 is another “Yet”. This tells us that a real struggle is going on in David’s heart, mind, and even soul between the alienation he feels and the trustworthiness of God.

The Psalm begins with the words, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” David feels like God has given up on him. Have you ever felt abandoned by God?

The pain of rejection is deep. It sears your soul and leaves you raw and your strength is depleted.

This sense of being rejected may come out of a time of loss, divorce, job loss, unjust attacks, illness, and even in a transition period of life (the children move out or even head to school). We try to pray, but nothing seems to happen. God seems silent.

In verse 3 David reminds Himself of God’s character and track record,

Yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel.

Our ancestors trusted in you, and you rescued them.

They cried out to you and were saved.

They trusted in you and were never disgraced. (3-5)

David remembers (as should we) that God is faithful to His promise and His people. God is consistent. As He has helped others in the past, so He will help us. In times of despair we must remind ourselves of what is true about God.

In verse 6-8 the wave of despair returns.

But I am a worm and not a man. I am scorned and despised by all!

Everyone who sees me mocks me. They sneer and shake their heads, saying,

“Is this the one who relies on the Lord? Then let the Lord save him!

If the Lord loves him so much, let the Lord rescue him!” 

David is worn out. The only people around him make fun of his faith. Hard times are bad enough without other people seeming to delight in our affliction. There seem to be no limit of people who will use our struggle to try to advance their own agenda. And this just increases the pain.

But David is not giving up. Next (9-10) he reminds himself that God had not only been faithful to generations past . . . He has been faithful in David’s own life. God was not a stranger to David. He knew Him personally. David had experienced God’s provision; he had experienced His strength; and he had received His direction on many occasions. And this is where David focuses his thoughts.

Yet you brought me safely from my mother’s womb and led me to trust you at my mother’s breast. 10 I was thrust into your arms at my birth. You have been my God from the moment I was born.

When we are going through hard times it is imperative that we recognize that what we feel at any given moment and what is true is not always the same thing. David may have felt abandoned but he knew God cared about his life. He had God’s promises.

As David gives word pictures to describe his agony in verses 12-18 we are stunned by how it describes the crucifixion of Christ.

Jesus was surrounded by those who despise Him (the Pharisees, Sadducees and Romans). His bones were out of joint from the weight of His body pulling down on His shoulders, his heart is melting, his strength is exhausted, and his mouth is dry. His feet and hands are pierced. You can see all his bones because he is emaciated and straining for every breath. His possessions are divided even as he watches, acting as if were already dead. It is a picture of a humiliation and agony that is extreme!

Don’t you wonder? Was Jesus going through this same spiritual struggle as David as He hung on the cross? As He looked around it looked as if the Father had completely abandoned Him. People stood at the cross hurling insults and mocked the Son of God. Did even Jesus have to remind Himself that what is true about a situation and how one feels in that situation are not the same thing? Since Jesus was fully man I think He did face this same struggle.

David was not finished. In verses19-21 he cries out again to the Lord.

19 O Lord, do not stay far away! You are my strength; come quickly to my aid!

20 Save me from the sword; spare my precious life from these dogs.

21 Snatch me from the lion’s jaws and from the horns of these wild oxen.

Even in the midst of the intense pain there is an abiding confidence in the Lord. David affirmed that the Lord was His strength. He knew that God alone can save. He may feel alone, but He knows God is listening and hearing. The whole cry of the Psalm testifies to David’s faith. Imagine how comforting these words were to Jesus if as He reflected on these words.

The Victory (22-31)

If this was where the Psalm ended we would have a passage that helped us express the anguish of the times when we feel deserted by God but our situation would not have been altered. However, at verse 22 the tone of the Psalm changes. Some suggest that this is because David had found deliverance; he had come out of the darkness to light.

22 I will proclaim your name to my brothers and sisters.

I will praise you among your assembled people.

23 Praise the Lord, all you who fear him! Honor him, all you descendants of Jacob! Show him reverence, all you descendants of Israel!

24 For he has not ignored or belittled the suffering of the needy.

He has not turned his back on them, but has listened to their cries for help.

David exalts the Lord publicly for His greatness. He testifies to the fact that God did not and will not desert the needy but instead listens to our cries for help.

I hope this encourages you. Do you feel you are crying out to deaf ears?  You are not. God cares, He listens, and He will (at the right time) give you help.

In verse 31 the last phrase in the New Living Translation is “They will hear about everything he has done.” The Hebrew for this can be translated “for it is done” or “for it is finished”. Is this what Jesus was thinking about when He cried, “It is Finished!” from the cross?

Seeing Jesus in the Psalm

Psalm 22 points a spotlight on the cross of Jesus. It is easy to make the suffering of Jesus only one dimensional. We think only about the physical suffering He endured. This Psalm reminds us that the agony was much more extensive. The Bible tells us that Jesus “became sin for us”. He took our penalty. He suffered the alienation and wrath that we deserved. In some profound and mind numbing way, the Son who had been in eternal fellowship and unity with the Father, felt the Father turn His face away and pour out on Him the wrath that you and I deserved. It is an agony that would have been unimaginable.

Can we fully understand this? No. All we can do is observe with our mouths opened in wonder. We cannot take it all in because what is happening is something much bigger than our experience. It is also an act of love that we cannot wrap our minds around. Who would ever love us like this? Only the Son of God, our Savior, Jesus. This Psalm reminds us of the emotion, the pain, and the true sacrifice that took place on the cross. Jesus understands the sense of rejection we may feel.

Think about this: Rabbis used to frequently give one verse of a text and expect their students to repeat the rest of it; almost like a quiz. Jesus may have been doing much the same thing. I believe, while He was on the cross He was mediating on this Psalm. He spoke several verses out loud as He worked His way through this text. He begins with the cry “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me.” He then moves to “I thirst”.  And He concludes with, “It is finished”.

I believe Jesus was drawing strength from these words as He bore our sin. In the depth of anguish the fully human (and fully divine) Son of God reminded Himself of God’s faithfulness in history and in his own life. He looked past the pain and the sense of alienation and remained focused on what is true: God will never desert us.

I suspect, as Jesus hung there in agony upon the cross, He thought about what the Father was doing through His suffering. Perhaps he meditated on the benefit that His death was gaining for you and for me?

In what is probably the greatest of all of Charles Wesley’s hymns, he asked,

And can it be that I should gain

An interest in the Savior’s blood?

Died he for me, who caused his pain?

For me, who him to death pursued?

’Tis mercy all, immense and free;

For, O my God, it found out me.

Amazing love, how can it be, that thou my God shouldst die for me!

Here is the question for you as you go through the times of loneliness and alienation: “Have you experienced His mercy?” Has God’s grace and mercy “found you”?  You may feel very alone. However as you look at the cross of Jesus, do you draw strength by remembering how He suffered on your behalf? I hope you find new strength.

The first step in the time of crisis is to strengthen your hold on the foundation of your life. So, here is the question: have you responded to this love of Jesus? Have you surrendered to His mercy and His grace? If you have not, I invite you to turn to Him in simple trust and declare,

Gracious and Loving Savior, I know you died for me. I know it was my sin that put you on the cross. I turn from my sin and receive your gift of forgiveness and new life, and I do so filled with gratitude. O Lord, help me to walk with you from this day until the day that you call me home to live with you.  Amen

Practical Application

You may still feel a little cheated. We began by talking about times when we feel alienated from God. Maybe you hoped that you would get some practical assistance for surviving such times. You may feel we have taken a detour. We have not.

We learn from both David and Jesus how best to survive the times when we feel abandoned. First, we draw comfort knowing that our Lord does understand what we are going through because He too suffered and in a manner much more pronounced than us. He is acquainted with our grief (Isaiah 53:3). He is not indifferent. We are not alone.

Second, we learn we can be honest about your pain and frustration. In those times when we feel abandoned we can be honest with God. He can handle it. It is in these times we confess our sin and our frustration. It is right to ask God to help us to remember and to lay hold of that which we know is true.

There is nothing wrong with admitting that you feel alone, rejected and deserted. Even Jesus felt this way. The question is: What will you do next? Will you hand on to the Lord or will you turn your back on Him?

Third, we must remind ourselves of God’s faithfulness. In the times when we feel alienated from God we must remember how God has been faithful in the past. Remember the stories of Noah, Abraham, Moses, Gideon, David, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Daniel and even Jesus Himself. Remind yourself of the stories of Peter and Paul in the book of Acts. They too faced times of alienation yet . . . God was faithful even in those who died.

It is a common experience that when we are in a time of crisis it becomes hard to read the Bible. This is the wrong approach. We must immerse ourselves in the Word of God. We need to flood our minds not with despair but with the truth of Scripture.

Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 10:6 that the Old Testament was written so that we might have examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things. The Bible tells us about God and gives us examples that serve as object lessons for our own lives. Those Old Testament stories are not just interesting stories, they are meant to give us tangible examples to follow.

Fourth, in times when we feel abandoned we must focus on God’s wonderful promises. In the difficult times of life we easily become absorbed with the pain and we lose perspective.  We must remind ourselves that what we feel is true and what is actually true are not always the same thing. The best way to refocus is to repeat over and over that Jesus said, “I will NEVER leave you or forsake you.” (Joshua 1:5 and Hebrews 13:5) He has told us that “he will supply all our needs”(Phil 4:19). He said “No one could ever snatch us from His hand” (John 10:28-29) and of course He has reminded us that “nothing shall separate us from the love of (Romans 8:39). Jesus said, “In the world you will have tribulation but take courage, for I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

We must remind ourselves that even though we feel alone, we are not. We must remind ourselves that the peace that comes from God is superior to the peace that comes from circumstances. The “well done” of God is more to be desired than the applause of men. What the world calls wisdom is often seen as foolishness by the Lord. Rather than being swallowed up by the feelings of rejection we need to rejoice in the security of God’s love. If we want to survive the hard times we must choose where our minds will focus.

Finally, remember that the payment for your sin and mine has already been made. In difficult times our default position is often to assume that God is made at us and is punishing us for some wrong that we have done. It is true that sometimes God does discipline His children. However, it is also true that there is now “No Condemnation” for those who have put their true faith in Him. Hear these words: NO CONDEMNATION! God does not have to punish you . . . Christ took that punishment on our behalf.

You may feel like God is mad at you but He is not. You may feel beyond redemption but that is not the truth!  Rest in His provision! Rejoice in His grace! Remember the wonderful words of the converted slave trader and Pastor, John Newton,

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound saved a wretch like me

I once was lost but now I’m found, was blind, but now I see.

Thru many dangers, toils, and snares, I have already come

‘Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home.

There will be painful circumstances and trying times in life. There is no promise that you will never feel abandoned. However, we do have the promise that no matter what happens, or how we feel, God will never leave our side. It is up to us to remind ourselves that God remains faithful even when we may struggle to believe it.

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