My God, my God, look upon me; why hast thou forsaken me: and art so far from my health, and from the words of my complaint? O my God, I cry in the day-time, but thou hearest not: and in the night-season also I take no rest. And thou continuest holy: O thou worship of Israel. Our fathers hoped in thee: they trusted in thee, and thou didst deliver them. They called upon thee, and were holpen: they put their trust in thee, and were not confounded. But as for me, I am a worm, and no man: a very scorn of men, and the outcast of the people.
-- Matthew Coverdale, BCP 1662
How heart-wrenching the references to the Messiah in the Psalms happen to be. They often reveal the heart of the Son of God to be in unutterable anguish. We cannot grasp or imagine his transition from his princely place and due praise in heaven to the pains of hell. The depth of his humiliation and suffering defy description. No words match his horrifying experience of torture, terror, and forsakenness. We have no perception of his grandeur in glory, nor of his groanings under the wrath of God. We comprehend the grammar of the gospel but we can never gain its emotional force or estimate the demotion of Jesus from kingly status to criminal condemnation and the consequences of human rebellion.
"My God my God"
Now here is intensest agony and crushing disappointment. The cry of the Messiah claims the closest intimacy with the God who is seemingly, cruelly, abandoning him. The basic bond of his existence is being broken. A bruised spirit writhes in excruciating agony. And yet such an appeal signifies the survival of trust.
"Why have you forsaken me"
Why are you so far from helping me and from the words of my groaning?: Being “so far” from God is the dreadful plight of the sinner and without a change of direction it results in self-selected and complete abandonment forever. That “forever” was compacted into the three day descent into death of the Lord Jesus for all those for whom he substituted on the cross. He absorbed the woe and misery of far away offenders on their behalf. He endured and terminated their due forsakenness of God.
"My God I cry to you by day but you do not answer
and by night also I take no rest"
The abiding reality of forsakenness is relentless internal distress beyond dimension. Neither the rule of the sun nor the reign of the moon bring any periods of respite. The piercing of the soul only increases when the fond Father is absent. The breach with him, and the communication breakdown, are unendurable.
"But you continue holy
you that are the praise of Israel"
At the nadir of desperate and undeserved torment the innocent one does not dispute with the Father. He grappled with his awful coming ordeal in the Garden and now maintains the justice of God in the burden he must bear. If men are to be ransomed then he must carry in his cross the results of their ruin and the infliction of their wounds in his own person. This is not resignation to an inevitable transaction but self-giving love that is willing to make the sacrifice of infinite worth.
"In you our fathers trusted
they trusted and you delivered them"
Trust is the essence of and entrance to the covenant the Messiah is establishing and confirming. His human trust is in line with the patriarchs and prophets. His obedience will rescue them and the faithfulness of God will vindicate him. His torment has not evaporated his trust. It remains in spite of his soul being beyond feeling. There is agreement that the crucified will be raised on the third day. The present is intolerable but its reversal is certain. Messiah is not contrasting himself with the fate of the Patriarchs and saints of Israel. He is clinging to the undertaking of God to bless his servants, which includes him. Here is the tenacity of true faith. It denies disappointment and death. The suffering of the Saviour is acute but he refuses to regard it as final.
"To you they cried and they were saved"
God’s people have known dire circumstances and severe trials but at length they have been given relief and have been compensated. The immaculate person of the Christ was incorruptible. Like any tested believer before or now Messiah waits on his rescue from appalling affliction. His righteous memory could not have been erased. Job’s words enunciated the attitude of Christ, “He set me up as a target” (16:12) “Though he slay me, yet will I trust him” (13:15). His hope was in his innocence and his innocence is our hope. “I will surely defend my ways to his face, Indeed, this will turn out for my deliverance, for no godless man would dare come before him (13:15b-16). We are saved by his innocence that is credited to us. The resurrection was striking testimony to his purity. Jesus knew that he would hold on to life in glory as his words of assurance to the dying thief confirm (Luke 23:43). In his time of keenest woe the Son established the reliability of his Father and the dependability of his promises and finished work through him.
"They put their trust in you and were not confounded"
Messiah was not supposing the Father might fail him and therefore issuing his complaint at the prospect, but in his hour of darkness confiding in the light afforded to him by the fulfilment of God’s lovingkindness towards the ancients of the covenant people. Faith “sees” in the dark by anticipating the irreversible goodness of God to his own. When our way is bleak and black the word is a light to our path and the eyes of the soul. Faith was an exercise of the Saviour and in so doing he is the great exemplar of ongoing, undying trust to us. Suffering educated him in the misery and fears of humanity. It qualified him as our sympathetic High Priest. He has merged with our misery. He has procured our manumission from our plight. We are no longer to be confounded but founded in the joy and hope of the gospel.
"But as for me, I am a worm and no man
the scorn of men and despised by the people"
Many of the sufferings and troubles of the Servant of God were presaged in the lives of believers who preceded him. Our sufferings as his followers are alleviated in him. He truly shared a common humanity, the intensity of which was enhanced in his closeness to God. Blessing was more bountiful and sadness more sorrowful because of his virtue and aversion to evil and its injuries. His abasement was greater than that of any other for he took upon him the unloveliness of our sin to remove our guilt. Under the judgement due to us he took on all our deformity. It was not his by nature or behaviour but he bore the blame and consequence of our depravity and misdeeds. Therefore, before the righteous assessment of God he appeared as a worm to receive righteous loathing in our stead.
He attracted the contempt of man and was ridiculed and rejected unfairly. As one hatefully despised he felt the shame and squalidness of the scum of society, the off-scourings of humanity, the spurned outcast of the people. Here is the depth of his saving humility, the disclosure of his compassion towards those he humbles, the manifestation of his empathy with the downtrodden and the downcast. To deliver such he came down from heaven to rescue and uplift us.
It is inconceivable that our Lord should voluntarily become an outcast. It is unthinkable that we should be instrumental in making him so. But such is the truth.
God determined that he should be the outcast who turns and brings us home so that we should never bear the eternal death of being cast out.