Revive Our Hearts Podcast

When God Doesn't Seem to Answer

Leslie Basham: Jesus knows what it’s like to ask “why?”

Here’s Nancy Leigh DeMoss.

Nancy Leigh DeMoss: Have you been crying out to the Lord about something, pleading with Him day and night, feeling that He has not answered, for months, maybe for years? As you cry out, remember that Christ has experienced that long night of unanswered prayer.

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss for Monday, April 2.

A woman wrote us a heartbreaking email to Revive Our Hearts. Her husband was in an adulterous relationship, and this woman wrote: “My husband has left two beautiful daughters behind, his wife behind, and our future is hopeless.”

When you’re in a hopeless situation like that, is there anyone who can understand? That’s what we’ll explore today. Nancy's beginning a series called, Psalm of the Cross.

Nancy: This week we’re observing what is the holiest week on the Christian calendar as we remember what Jesus Christ our Savior did for us those thousands of years ago. Then this coming Sunday we celebrate the resurrected, eternal life of Christ who died to give us eternal life as well.

I wanted to take time on the program this week to draw our attention to the cross. I considered a number of different passages we could have looked at, both from the Old and New Testaments, but I want to expand this week on an Old Testament psalm that appears to have been on Jesus’ mind as He was hanging on the cross.

If you have your Bible, turn with me to Psalm 22. I know that some who listen to this program listen in your car or in your house or in your workplace as you’re doing other things. So if you’re driving, I don’t want you to be reading your Bible at the same time, but if you’re in a place where you can stop and you can follow along in the text this week—this is a fairly lengthy psalm—I think you’ll get a whole lot more out of this series if you can follow along in your own Scripture.

Psalm 22 is quoted more times in the New Testament than any other psalm. It’s been called the Psalm of the Cross, and you can’t read this passage without thinking about the crucifixion.

I’ve been meditating on this passage, and I want to meditate with you on this passage throughout this week as we remember what Christ did for us on the cross.

Now, at the beginning of this psalm, there are three explanatory or liturgical notes. I want to take a few moments to just comment on those notes.

The first note in my translation says, “To the choir master.” Another translation says, “To the choir director.” That indicates that this psalm was intended to be sung. It’s a song. It’s not just for private use, but it’s also for our corporate worship as the people of God. The redemptive work of Christ on the cross that we’re going to see highlighted in this Messianic psalm, the sufferings of Christ on the cross should be a primary focus of our corporate worship.

When I survey the wondrous cross, 
On which the Prince of Glory died; 
My richest gain I count but loss,
And pour contempt on all my pride.
(Issac Watts)

These are precious hymns and songs and choruses of our Christian faith, and it’s right that not just in this holy week but throughout the year we should be singing together about the cross of Jesus Christ.

“To the choir master.”

There’s a second note that says, in my translation, “According to the doe of the Dawn.” The New American Standard uses the Hebrew term, and I think, probably the reason for that is nobody’s really sure exactly what this term means. It may be the name of a tune, as is the case in some other psalms. In fact, if you have a New International Version, it says, “To the tune of—The Doe of the Morning.”

Many commentators think that the doe or the hind of the morning is a reference to Christ, a picture of Christ, who is a picture of innocence. He is referred to in the Song of Solomon as “leaping upon the mountain, skipping upon the high hills.” So it may be a picture of Christ.

Others suggest that this phrase, “the doe of the dawn,” may be better translated “on the help of the dawn,” or “the help of daybreak,” or “on the help at daybreak,” that the word is maybe help.

If that is the case, I think it gives us a clue about the psalm’s theme. At the break of day—the dawning of the day—after the night of suffering is past, God will send deliverance. That’s the message of this psalm. He will come to the rescue of His suffering servant, and God’s redemptive purposes will shine forth in this world. God will send help at daybreak. He will bring an end to the curse of death and sin, and the light of His face will dawn, will shine once again.

Let me just say before we move into the psalm that that is a message for you. You may be in a long night of suffering. You may relate to the tone of despair and abandonment that we see at the beginning of this psalm. But as you meditate on this whole passage, it should encourage your heart that God is no stranger to your suffering. He hears your cry, and in due time your night will end. Help will come at daybreak. 

Now the third note is that this is a psalm of David. The psalm was written by David. Many psalms by David are tied directly to experiences in David’s life, as when he was running from King Saul, etc. As you read it, you realize this psalm can’t be just about David because there are parts of this psalm that describe things that go far beyond anything that David ever experienced.

That’s why commentators across the centuries have agreed that this is a prophetic or messianic psalm. It’s a psalm about Jesus, prophesying the earthly life and ministry of Christ. In Acts chapter 2, speaking of another psalm, David is called a prophet who foresaw and spoke about Christ (see vv. 30-31). I believe that’s what was happening here. He was foreseeing and speaking about Christ.

Psalm 22 was written 1000 years before the crucifixion of Christ that we’re going to see described in this psalm. At this point execution by crucifixion wasn’t even known to man. It was not until hundreds of years later that that practice was first invented by the Persians. But in this passage we see an amazingly detailed, accurate description of the sufferings that Christ endured for us on the cross.

There’s a close correlation between this psalm and the gospel accounts about the crucifixion of Christ. For example, look at verse 1 of Psalm 22: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” That’s what we read in the gospels that Jesus spoke—the first seven words that He spoke from the cross.

Then look at the last verse of this Psalm, verse 31, the last phrase: “He has done it.” The original Hebrew there could be translated, “It is finished.”

So from start to finish we see a prophetic psalm, a psalm that is about Christ, a foreshadowing of the work that Christ would do for us on the cross as He cried out about His sense of being forsaken by God and then crying out, “It is finished”—the work of redemption is done.

It appears that Jesus was actually meditating on this psalm while He was hanging on the cross. In fact, He may well have recited the entire psalm from start to finish in His mind. Jesus quoted the Scripture frequently—when He was tempted in the wilderness; when He was responding to questions from His opponents; when He was teaching His disciples, and when He was suffering.

In fact, we know that on the cross, He was concerned that Scripture would be fulfilled. John 19:28 gives us this little note—it’s only in John’s gospel—Jesus, knowing that all was now finished said, “To fulfill the Scripture, I thirst.”

Now, what Scripture was that fulfilling? Well, Psalm 69, verse 3 says, “My throat is parched.” When Jesus was dying for our sins on the cross, one of the things that mattered supremely to Him was that every jot and tittle of the Scripture would be fulfilled.

It’s just a reminder of the important role of Scripture memory and meditation at all seasons of our life, but particularly when we come to times of crisis and suffering. You will find that if you have God’s Word in your heart, when you come to the cross, you will have God’s Word there to sustain you, to meditate upon the Word that has filled your heart.

Now as we’ve said, Psalm 22 is about Jesus, clearly. It’s about what He did for us on the cross. The primary message of this passage is the story of redemption, the power of the cross. It’s an Old Testament telling of the gospel.

There’s a secondary message here that I don’t want us to miss. That is the suffering of Christ impacts and informs our own perspective on suffering, on our suffering. I helps us to think rightly about God when we are suffering.

When David, who wrote this psalm under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, was facing trials, he looked ahead to the suffering of Christ to help him find comfort. As Christians, we can look back to this psalm—and ones like it—and find comfort and help for our times of suffering as we reflect on the life, the death, and the resurrection of Christ and what that means for us.

Now, the psalm is divided into two main sections. The title that you have for this psalm in the New American Standard helps tell you what those sections are about. The dividing point is in the middle of verse 21. Over these next days, we’ll walk through the entire psalm, but I just want to give you an overview today.

The first verse through the middle of verse 21 we could call, “A cry of anguish or grief.” The grief of the suffering servant, the Savior of the world.

Beginning in the middle of verse 21 through the end of the chapter, verse 31, we have, “A song of praise or joy.”

So first the cry of anguish and grief, and then the song of praise and joy.

The first half of the psalm, the first twenty-one verses can be broken into six paragraphs. The focus of those six paragraphs alternates. The first, the third, and the fifth, you see the pronouns "I" and "me." You see vivid descriptions of the suffering of Christ. Every other paragraphs, numbers 2, 4 and 6, you see the major pronoun is "you," where Jesus’ prayers are being addressed earnestly to God. You’ll see that as we walk through this passage.

Let me just read these first twenty-one verses so you get a sense of the whole, and then we’ll step back and look at the pieces of it.

In the first two verses we see the spiritual suffering of Christ described, which was by far the greatest suffering that He endured on the cross. Verse 1:

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest.

Then verse 3, His focus turns upward:

Yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel. In you our fathers trusted; they trusted, and you delivered them. To you they cried and were rescued; in you they trusted and were not put to shame.

Then verses 6 through 8 we have a description of the psychological suffering of Christ:

I am a worm and not a man, scorned by mankind and despised by the people. All who see me mock me; they make mouths at me; they wag their heads; "He who trusts in the LORD; let him deliver him; let him rescue him, for he delights in him!”

And then again, verses 9 through 11, lifting his earnest prayer to God:

Yet you are he who took me from the womb; you made me trust you at my mother’s breasts. On you was I cast from my birth, and from my mother’s womb you have been my God. Be not far from me, for trouble is near, and there is none to help.

Then in verses 12 through 18, we have a description of the physical suffering of Christ. First we had the spiritual, then the psychological, and now the physical suffering of Christ. Verse 12:

Many bulls encompass me; strong bulls of Bashan surround me; they open wide their mouths at me, like a ravening and roaring lion. 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; my strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to my jaws; you lay me in the dust of death.

For dogs encompass me; a company of evildoers encircles me; they have pierced my hands and feet—I can count all my bones—they stare and gloat over me; they divide my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots.

Then again this cry to the Lord, this earnest plea—just a series of punctuated prayers in verses 19 through 21:

But you, O Lord, do not be far off! O you my help, come quickly to my aid! Deliver my soul from the sword, my precious life from the power of the dog!

And then verse 21, let me read from the New King James Version, because I think that’s the version that makes the best sense out of this verse:

Save Me from the lion’s mouth and from the horns of the wild oxen!

The first half of Psalm 22: “That cry of anguish and grief.”

Now, from Mark’s gospel, chapter 15, we know that Jesus was crucified at 9 o’clock in the morning. Three hours later, at twelve noon, darkness fell upon the land as the sun was blotted out, obscured, eclipsed. We don’t know how. We don’t know if this was a worldwide eclipse, but we know that the sun was blotted out, and what would ordinarily have been bright noonday, the earth fell into total darkness. Three hours later, at 3 o’clock, Jesus cries out the first of seven times from the cross in the final moments of His time before He actually dies.

The first of those cries we read in Psalm 22, verse 1: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken Me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?”

That word groaning, in the King James is translated roaring. That’s probably a better translation. It’s a word that means "a cry of distress." There’s that groaning, that roaring, that crying out that can hardly put words to it, of somebody in intense, excruciating, anguish and pain and suffering.

Verse 2, “O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest.”

Now in Psalm 22, we find the only time that Jesus addresses God as “God,” rather than as “My Father.” That tells us something about the spiritual suffering that He was enduring there on the cross as He was experiencing a profound sense of alienation, separation, abandonment from His Father.

The messages we hear on the crucifixion often focus on the intense physical suffering that Jesus endured, but horrendous as the physical suffering was, the fact is that thousands of others have been crucified over the years, and others have endured equal or greater physical pain than what Jesus endured on the cross. The physical suffering Jesus endured does not begin to compare to the spiritual suffering, the separation from His Father that He expresses in this anguished howl, this groaning in verses 1 and 2.

The breach in His fellowship with His Heavenly Father—think about it. From eternity past until this very moment, not once ever before had His Father ever been far from Him, had His Father ever turned a deaf ear to His Son’s prayers. Now we know that at this moment Jesus is experiencing the consequences that we deserved for our sin, which means separation from God. It is the full cup of God’s wrath He is drinking there on the cross, the cup we deserve to drink. We should have been separated from God; instead, Jesus is enduring it.

Now there’s a lot of physical and psychological abuse and suffering that takes place in our world. That ought to concern us, but we need to realize that by far the greatest torment anyone can ever experience ultimately is spiritual separation from God, now and for all of eternity.

I read this morning this note in a commentary on this passage. It says, “Jesus suffered pains equal to those which we had deserved to suffer in Hell forever.”

And yet in this anguished cry: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” we also hear ringing out a statement of unshakable faith. Jesus says, “My God” four times in this passage. In the midst of His agony, as He’s experiencing separation from His Father, He still cries out to God.

When He can’t see God, when He can’t sense God, when there’s no visible or tangible evidence that God is still there, Jesus knows He’s still there. He cries out in faith when He cannot see, and He uses the name "El" —the name for God that emphasizes the might, the power, the strength of God. His Father’s face has been eclipsed, but Jesus knows that He is there and that He has the power to carry Him through this experience. He is still confident enough in God to call Him “My God.”

Charles Spurgeon said of this passage: “Oh that we could imitate this cleaving, this holding fast to an afflicting God.”1

To know that He is there even when the rod of chastening is on us, or the darkness of this world or sin eclipses our view of the Father’s face, when we cannot feel His presence, when we cannot see His presence, to still cry out in faith, “My God, You are the strong one. You are able to carry me through this.”

When Jesus cries out saying, “Why have You forsaken me? Why are You so far? Why do I cry, but You do not answer?” He’s crying out in anguish, in grief and pain, but it’s not a sinful, demanding crying out. He does not doubt the goodness of God. It’s like a child coming into his dad and saying, “Can you help me understand? I trust you. I know you’re a just and righteous and holy God, but why? 'I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest'” (Hab. 1:2). This is persistent prayer, by day and by night.

This is the prayer of the One who taught us that we ought always to pray and not to give up, Luke 18:1.

It brings up this whole issue of the pain and the mystery of unanswered prayer. “I cry day and night, on and on, over a long period of time, but You don’t answer Me. It doesn’t seem that You’re hearing.”

The fact is, at this point, God did not answer His Son. He did not deliver Him from the cross. He left His Son alone and let Him die, but thank God that’s not the end of the story. Remember—Resurrection Day is coming! We will see that even in this passage God did hear His Son and at break of day, God sent deliverance.

Have you been crying out to the Lord about something, pleading with Him day and night, feeling that He has not answered—for months, maybe for years? As you cry out, remember that Christ has experienced that long night of unanswered prayer. He’s been there. He knows what it is to cry out day and night in travail and not to see at that moment those prayers being answered.

Remember that in His most desolate moment, when He couldn’t see God, when He couldn’t feel God, when there was no evidence of break of day coming, at those moments, He still clung to God and prayed.

So remember Christ and remember Resurrection Day is coming—Resurrection Day is coming. At break of day, God will send help, and that help will come to us in the form of a Man whose name is Jesus, the Son of God who suffered on our behalf. Resurrection Day is coming.

Leslie: Nancy Leigh DeMoss has been focusing us on one of the ways Jesus suffered. He felt as if His prayers were unanswered. I hope that message encourages you if God seems very far away.

That message is part of the series, "Psalm of the Cross." You'll be able to read the transcript, listen to the audio and order it on CD by visiting ReviveOurHearts.com. We're so thankful the God can use the archives, the transcripts, and the radio broadcast to encourage women when they are tempted to feel alone. Nancy's here with an example.

Nancy: One woman wrote us about the patience that’s required in her difficult situation. She’s been a caregiver to her husband for almost fifteen years, and as she patiently fulfills those tasks day after day, she listens to Revive Our Hearts. That helps to remind her why she’s serving. She wrote and told us, “Thank you for your words of encouragement many times when I felt I was at my breaking point.”

We’re able to encourage listeners like that woman through all kinds of challenges thanks to listeners like you who support the ministry financially. So when you donate any amount to the ministry of Revive Our Hearts this week, we want to show our thanks by sending you a copy of a wonderful book by my friend Elyse Fitzpatrick.

The book is called Comforts from the Cross. Elyse writes in an easy-to-read, personal style about important, deep truths of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus and what that means for our daily lives. As you read this book, you’ll understand better what Jesus did on the cross and how that can enable you to experience greater grace and freedom from sin.

Just ask for the book Comforts from the Cross when you make a donation to Revive Our Hearts. You can give us a call at 1-800-569-5959, or you can make your donation online at ReviveOurHearts.com.

Leslie: I am a worm and not a man. It sounds like a simple statement of humility, but Nancy Leigh DeMoss points out this statement from the Psalms means so much more. She’ll explain the significance of the worm tomorrow on Revive Our Hearts.

Revive Our Hearts is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

All Scripture is taken from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted.

 

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