Call me old fashioned, but I still prefer to sing the old hymns of the faith. And for good reason: they are objective, that is, Christ is the primary object of the message. If you listen carefully, most contemporary Christian music is subjective. It emphasizes what the believer has done for the Savior. Since singing is an integral part of our worship, all the glory is to be given to the Lord. Although the old hymn writers generally captured the essence of the Scriptures, occasionally they were inconsistent. Perhaps the most beloved of the old hymns is the Old Rugged Cross by George Bennard. In poetic prose he beautifully portrays the sufferings and death of our Savior.
The Old Rugged Cross
On a hill far away stood an old rugged Cross,
The emblem of suffering and shame;
And I love that old Cross where the dearest and best
For a world of lost sinners was slain.
So I’ll cherish the old rugged Cross
Till my trophies at last I lay down;
I will cling to the old Cross,
And exchange it some day for a crown.
Surely we shall never exchange the Cross for a crown, as the last sentence of the chorus suggests. Those nail prints in the Savior’s hands and feet will be a constant reminder throughout eternity of His finished work (Zech. 13:6; John 20:25-29; Rev. 5:5-9). Christ is our Redeemer who “became obedient unto death, even the death of the Cross.” He didn’t die just any death; He died the death of the Cross. Death by crucifixion in biblical times was one of the world’s most disgraceful and cruel methods of torture. The Jewish historian, Josephus, had witnessed countless crucifixions, which he called “the most wretched of deaths.” Cicero referred to it as “the most cruel and hideous of tortures.” Will Durant writes, “even the Romans pitied the victims.”
As we prepare to enter into a study on the Cross of Christ, we are about to embark upon a great journey over a sea of Scriptures. Our journey begins in prophetic waters with the “Prediction of the Cross.” David will be our captain who will steer us through the afflictions Christ would endure at Calvary.
A PSALM OF DAVID
“My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me? why art Thou so far from helping me, and from the words of my roaring? O my God, I cry in the daytime, but Thou hearest not; and in the night season, and am not silent.” (Psa. 22:1,2).
As we gather our thoughts around Psalm 22, we have perhaps one of the most detailed accounts of the sufferings of Christ found in the Word of God. In the Hebrew Scriptures, the heading “Aijeleth Shahar” appears above this Psalm, which translates into “The hind of the dawn of the morning,” which is interpreted to mean “the young deer suffers innocently, but the dawn brings relief.” Though veiled at the time, the correlation is to be made with Christ, who suffered and died as an innocent victim, but the dawn of the resurrection brought relief.
There may be another path of thought here as well. Recent arche-ological discoveries suggest that the Hebrews likened the horns of the deer to the morning light. In other words, they viewed the shafts of the antlers to be like shafts of light. Interestingly, the morning sacrifice in Israel was offered as soon as the Watcher on the pinnacle of the temple saw the morning dawn. He would then shout, “Behold the first rays of light shine forth.” Hence, the 22nd Psalm marks the dawn of redemption.
In addition, Psalms 22, 23, and 24 form a trilogy. In John 10, Christ is said to be the Good Shepherd who lays down His life for His sheep, as depicted in Psalm 22. According to Hebrews 13, Christ is called the Great Shepherd who was brought again from the dead to guide His people through the wilderness of sin and death. This is the theme of Psalm 23. Finally, the Chief Shepherd of I Peter 5 finds its roots in Psalm 24 where Christ returns in power and great glory to establish His Kingdom upon the earth.
One of the remarkable things about the 22nd Psalm is that David vividly described the crucifixion of Christ approximately 1,000 years before the event took place. Another amazing fact is that death by crucifixion had not yet been introduced into humanity at the time of David’s writing. It is believed the Assryians were the first to use this form of execution, for they were well known for their inhuman tortures. But what the Assyrians created, the Romans perfected. By the time of Christ, death by crucifixion was the chief form of execution in the Roman Empire for crimes against the state.
As we study Psalm 22, the Psalm is divided into two parts, the spiritual sufferings of Christ and His physical sufferings. The Psalm begins with “My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?” and ends with “he hath done this,” (vs. 31) or as the Hebrew conveys, “It is finished!” “My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?” was one of the seven last sayings Christ uttered from the Cross. The word “forsaken” is perhaps one of the most tragic words in the human language. It is difficult for us to understand how a mother could abandon her newborn, but sadly it’s a common occurrence. We are stunned when we hear about a husband who has forsaken his wife of many years. We ask why? We have trouble believing it, much less accepting it.
But when the Son of God states that He was forsaken by the Father, we stand amazed. If there is one thing that characterized the life of Christ upon the earth, it was the unbroken communion which He enjoyed with the Father. The silence of heaven was broken on more than one occasion when the Father declared, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye Him” (Matt. 17:5). But now in His darkest hour the Father had forsaken His Son. Why? This was the very question that weighed heavily upon the Son’s heart as He sought to understand, humanly speaking, why He had been abandoned.
As darkness descended from 12:00 to 3:00 p.m. the day Christ died, the Son reasoned, “O my God, I cry in the daytime, but Thou hearest not; and in the night season, and am not silent…Our fathers trusted in thee: they trusted, and Thou didst deliver them” (Psa. 22:2,4). Here we have the innermost thoughts of Christ as He hung on the Cross. It is the only place in the Word of God where we are told what the Savior was actually thinking as darkness fell over Palestine. Only the Spirit of God could have given us this remarkable revelation through the prophet. The Son reasoned with the Father, “Our fathers trusted in Thee: they trusted, and Thou didst deliver them.” As the Son pondered the history of His people, He recalled how Samson was delivered from the hand of the Philistines; Daniel from the mouths of hungry lions; and Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego from the fiery furnace. But there would be no deliverance for the Son, who was foreordained to suffer for the sins of His people, indeed for the sins of the world!
The Son answered His own question as to why He was forsaken of the Father in verse 3: “But Thou art holy, O Thou that inhabitest the praises of Israel.” The Father is holy, which speaks of His moral excellence. Sin is, without exception, a violation of His holiness. Our finite minds cannot begin to take in the majesty and holiness of God. He is infinitely pure. This helps us to understand the purpose for the veil in the tabernacle; it separated a holy God from His unholy people. Both King Uzziah and Isaiah had an encounter with God’s holiness with totally different results.
“In the year that King Uzziah died I saw also the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and His train filled the temple. Above it stood the seraphims: each one had six wings; with twain he covered his face, and with twain he covered his feet, and with twain he did fly. And one cried unto another, and said, Holy, holy, holy, is the LORD of hosts: the whole earth is full of His glory. And the posts of the door moved at the voice of him that cried, and the house was filled with smoke” (Isa. 6:1-4).
During the years that Uzziah reigned, he led Judah in a program of peace and prosperity. But while the nation prospered materially, it was bankrupt spiritually. Note that in the year Uzziah died Isaiah “also” saw the Lord sitting upon His throne. This strongly suggests that Uzziah had been exposed to the holiness of God, but with catastrophic consequences. Although the king had done that which was right in the sight of the Lord, he had foolishly intruded into the priest’s office by entering the temple and burning incense on the altar. Uzziah was stricken instantly with leprosy and died shortly thereafter for his intrusion into the holy things of God (II Chron. 26:16-23).
One sin brought death and banished Adam and Eve from the garden. One sin barred Moses from entering the Promised Land. One sin ended the lives of Ananias and Sapphira. You see, a right view of the holiness of God leads to a right view of sin. When Isaiah came into the presence of God and heard the Seraphims cry to one another “holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts,” and felt the posts of the door move at his voice, this was Isaiah’s reaction: “Then said I, Woe is me! For I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips.” Because Isaiah had the proper view of the holiness of God, he lived, and had his iniquity taken away, and his sin purged (Hebrew kaòphar or atoned—Isa. 6:5-7).
Since sin is a violation of God’s holiness, the Father could not look upon His Son who was made sin for us that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him. Christ bore the burden of our sins alone. As despair visited like an unwelcome friend, the Savior reasoned, “But I am a worm, and no man; a reproach of men, and despised of the people.” The term “worm” in this passage is the Hebrew word tola. The tola was a small maggot, specifically, the crimson grub. In ancient times they were placed in a bowl and crushed to produce a scarlet dye. As we know, Solomon robed the daughters of Israel in scarlet. May we suggest that the analogy we are to draw from the tola is this: the weight of Israel’s sins (and ours) crushed the life of Christ, who shed His precious blood that we might wear the garments of salvation.
THE PHYSICAL SUFFERINGS OF CHRIST
“Many bulls have compassed me: strong bulls of Bashan have beset me round. They gaped upon me with their mouths, as a ravening and a roaring lion. I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint: my heart is like wax; it is melted in the midst of my bowels. My strength is dried up like a potsherd; and my tongue cleaveth to my jaws; and Thou hast brought me into the dust of death. For dogs have compassed me: the assembly of the wicked have enclosed me: they pierced my hands and my feet. I may tell all my bones: they look and stare upon me” (Psa. 22:12-17).
It is interesting how many references there are to animals in Psalm 22—the bull, lion, dog, unicorn, etc. Those who were responsible for the crucifixion were like the beasts of the field. They were cunning, vicious, and methodically stalked their prey. The strong bulls of Bashan undoubtedly refer to the religious leaders in Israel, who sought to gore the Lord with their horns of hate (Luke 23:8-21). Like the beast of the field that taunts it prey before killing it, these wicked leaders scoffed:
“He saved others; Himself He cannot save. If He be the King of Israel, let Him now come down from the Cross, and we will believe Him.He trusted in God; let Him deliver Him now, if He will have Him: for He said, I am the Son of God” (Matt. 27:42,43). Thankfully, the Savior remained upon the Cross, for had He come down the world would have been swept into the lake of fire forever to satisfy the holiness and justice of God. Christ never wavered in His resolve to complete the work of redemption. The above clearly shows that these religious leaders were not only ignorant of the prediction of the Cross, they also had no comprehension whatsoever of the significance of Calvary.
Death by crucifixion was the death of deaths. The victim’s arms were outstretched and nails were driven through the palm of the hands. Then they tied off the wrists so the nails wouldn’t tear through the victim’s hands. Next, one foot was placed on top of the other and a large spike was driven through both feet. Hence, “they pierced my hands and my feet.” This was only the beginning of sorrows, for death by crucifixion was a slow excruciating process that took two or three days. Three rusty nails secured our redemption—one fastened the law to the Cross, one fastened the sins of the world to the Cross, and one fastened self to the Cross (Col. 2:14; II Cor. 5:14-19; Gal. 2:20).
While not a bone in our Lord’s body was broken, it does appear that when the Cross was placed into its slot the Savior’s arms were dislocated from His shoulders, based upon the statement “all my bones are out of joint.” Hanging by outstretched arms placed such tremendous pressure upon the lungs that it gradually became more and more difficult to breathe. To do so the victim had to push himself up by his feet to inhale. As the carbon dioxide levels increased in the body, the victim began to suffer from pulmonary edema, eventually dying from either a cardiac arrest or suffocation.
Interestingly, the Savior died within a matter of hours after being placed upon the Cross. In His own words He states, “my heart is like wax; it is melted in the midst of my bowels” (vs. 14). Could it be that the Savior died of a broken heart over the sins of the world? As the moment of His death approached, the Son prayed to the Father:
“But be not Thou far from me, O LORD: O my strength, haste Thee to help me. Deliver my soul from the sword; my darling from the power of the dog [Gentiles]” (Psa. 22:19,20).
It was the Savior’s desire to voluntarily give His life for the sins of the world and not have it ended by the sword of godless Gentiles. The Father graciously granted His Son’s request, for we read in the gospel according to John, the Savior had already given up the ghost before the sword touched His side: “Then came the soldiers, and brake the legs of the first, and of the other which was crucified with Him.But when they came to Jesus, and saw that He was dead already, they brake not His legs. But one of the soldiers with a spear pierced His side, and forthwith came there out blood and water” (John 19:32-34).
PRACTICAL LESSONS FOR YOU AND ME
While the word of man is as unstable as water, the Word of God is always accurate and true, as we have seen from the prediction of the Cross and the actual fulfillment of the events nearly 1,000 years later. God’s Word is truth. So when we read a passage such as the following we can count on what is said to be true. “Be not deceived: evil communications corrupt good manners. Awake to righteousness, and sin not; for some have not the knowledge of God: I speak this to your shame” (I Cor. 15:33,34).
The context of this passage is a warning not to adopt the ways of the world. Since the world had rejected the resurrection, their philosophy was to eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we die. Those of the household of faith are appalled at such reasoning. But God says, be not deceived, evil associations gradually destroy good morals. In other words, if you entangle yourself with the world, before long its influence will cause you to question and deny the Word of God. Consequently, sin and the condoning of sinful behavior is displeasing to God. The Corinthians are a prime example of failing to heed this warning, but let us not be guilty of the same (I Cor. 5:1-13; 6:1-8,13-18; 11:20-22).
Psalm 22 teaches us that there is a conflict between good and evil in the world. Christ was the very embodiment of everything that is good and righteous. His enemies, on the other hand, were given to lies and hypocrisy. They hated Him without a cause. Therefore, we should not be surprised when the world hates us without a cause for standing for the truth of the gospel.