Even the best people sometimes suffer
Psalm 22:18 They divide my clothes among them and cast lots for my garment.
Superficially, the Old Testament can sometimes read like the plot of an old movie. The good guys are the Israelites, and they fight with the bad guys from nations around them. The Israelites have moments when they get off track, worshiping idols and acting like their “bad guy” neighbors. But when they turn back to God, they invariably win, and win big. The ending, in story after story, is happy. God is on their side.
Yet, in Psalm 22 and a few other places, the “good guy” story doesn’t fit at all. This poem, credited to David, the great king and man after God’s “own heart” (1 Samuel 13:14), tells of tremendous suffering with no relief from God. It sounds like a mob scene, a lynching. The “good guy’s” enemies have him. They surround him, jeering, like a pack of dogs. He is helpless and exhausted. All he can do is cry to God.
The psalmist wavers back and forth, first crying out in misery, then taking stock of God’s wonderful character, then describing his misery again. The whole poem is a prayer to God. Although this cry has gone up day and night (see Psalm 22:2), God remains silent.
Then, in Psalm 22:22, the poem takes a dramatic turn, switching from grief to jubilation. Somehow, God has saved the sufferer, who, in great excitement, tells others about it. He sees more than his own good fortune: He foresees this deliverance spilling over into the whole world. He predicts the story of God’s help told to future generations forever. God will be worshiped by the entire world.
A person might read Psalm 22 as an extravagantly poetic description of David’s troubles. But Jesus and the writers of the New Testament saw something more in it. When Jesus was dying on the cross, he had this psalm on his lips (see Matthew 27:46). Afterward when his disciples wanted to explain Jesus’ life and sufferings, they turned to this psalm and others like it.
In them the disciples saw a pattern and a foreshadowing. The pattern is redemptive suffering. If good guys do not always win, if God seems actually to desert them—if David himself, the great leader and true man of God, knew these pains—then surely no one is exempt. And this suffering has a point. After it (and because of it) come victory and power, and the salvation of the world. This pattern helped Jesus’ followers appreciate why Jesus, along with his followers, had to suffer.
A Fulfillment of Prophecy
Psalm 22 also helped the New Testament writers to see Jesus’ life as a fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. Jews had expected a Warrior-Messiah, a son of David who, like David, would lead his people to victory through battle. In Psalm 22 they saw that David had left another legacy: victory through suffering. The Messiah would lead his followers in suffering. Only Isaiah had put it more clearly, in his famous “servant” passages (see Isaiah 42:1–9; 49:1–7; 50:4–9; 52:13—53:12). Psalm 22 stretches beyond the time of David; Jesus fits it perfectly.
Have you ever seen good come out of suffering for your friends or family?