Good Friday – Pr Smith

Message for Good Friday, 2024 – Psalm 22

In the name of Jesus.

We said it last night as the altar was stripped in anticipation of the events we remember today. Written a thousand years earlier, the psalm seems uncanny in its descriptive prediction of the key events of our Lord’s crucifixion. In all the years I’ve preached on Good Friday,

Psalm 22 was not a text I turned to.

Verse 17 reads: “All who see me mock me. They open wide their lips, they shake their head… they gaze, they look at me.” Matthew tells us: “Those who passed by reviled him, shaking their heads… In the same way also the chief priests, along with the scribes and elders, were mocking him.” (Mt 27:39, 41)

Verse 18 reads: “They divided my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots.” John makes sure to tell us: “When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took his garments and divided them into four parts, one part for each soldier; also his tunic. But the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom, 24 so they said to one another, “Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it to see whose it shall be.” He even tells us this was to fulfill the Scripture of

Psalm 22 to make sure we don’t miss the connection.

In Bible class, last week, Pastor Martin mentioned the textual corruption in verse 16, “they have pierced my hands and feet.” The Hebrew copyists made the line “like a lion they are at my hands and feet.” “Pierced” maybe being too much on the nose for Jewish scholars of the 2nd and 3rd centuries after Jesus. And there may well not be a conspiracy here; it could have been a slip of the pen for the difference in Hebrew is only one letter. But two different Dead Sea Scroll manuscripts, presumably copied even before the events of that first Good Friday have what we read, “They have pierced my hands and feet.”1

And of course, Jesus’ cry from the cross, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” is the opening line.

Apart from the purely textual links there are also other elements of the psalm that appear in the crucifixion account. “I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint.” “My strength is dry like a potshard, and my tongue is sticking to my jaws.” Both of these John seems to make sure he connects to events on that fateful day. He tells us Jesus thirsts. He makes sure to tell us the blood and water flowed from Jesus’ side and His bones were not broken.

But one line has always made me curious, and it wasn’t until a few years ago that I did the homework in the background of the text and found the connections. Verses 12 and 13 read, “Many bulls encompass me; strong bulls of Bashan surround me; they open wide their mouths at me like a ravening and roaring lion.” These bulls of Bashan are flesh-eating and the image is shocking. But what does it have to do with Jesus’ crucifixion?

Bashan is a region east of the Sea of Galilee running north all the way up to the slopes of Mt. Hermon. Today it’s called the Golan Heights. We’re used to images of the Middle East being desert wilderness, but Bashan was nothing like that. With an average of 24 inches of rain a year and good volcanic soils, it was a fertile region and good for growing wheat and raising livestock. Cows from Bashan were well-fed, and the bulls were strong. The image in the psalm is a huge man-eating bull, probably as dreadful an image as you could imagine. That makes more sense when you realize that in OT times, the people who lived in Bashan were particularly brutal human enemies of Israel. To describe ones enemies as fearsome, flesh-eating bulls from enemy territory, is a powerful metaphor, especially when the geographic and historic background is taken into account.

But there’s more here than a metaphor. Before Israel’s conquest Bashan in the far north is a stronghold for pagan Canaanite tribes. Later, after Solomon, wicked king Jeroboam established a rival kingdom and permitted the worship of the regional Canaanite gods instead of Yahweh. They are specifically called shedim in Hebrew. We would call them shades or just straight up demons. And so, from this time, the region was known for demon worship. If I’m right, and our Lord was transfigured not on Mt. Tabor in Galilee but up on the southern side of Mt. Hermon, then Psalm 22 so clearly associated with our Lord’s crucifixion, we can make the connection that as He hung on the cross, He was surrounded and tormented by the bulls of Bashan, the demonic foes of Yahweh and His people since the rebellion. And that Jesus fought and won a supernatural battle against the devil and his rule in this world as He hung on the cross for the salvation of the world.

I’m convinced that the apostle Paul is making precisely this point in Colossians chapter 2. “And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, 14 by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. 15 He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them by it, [that is, the cross].” The rulers and authorities, the arche and the exousia in Greek, can refer to demons. And this is not an esoteric reading because the ESV even has a text note that says that Paul probably means demonic rulers and authorities. (Col 2:13-15) Jesus disarmed the demonic powers by His death on the cross.

If you want to find out what happens to Bashan, read Psalm 68.

1 God shall arise, his enemies shall be scattered;

and those who hate him shall flee before him!

2 As smoke is driven away, so you shall drive them away;

as wax melts before fire,

so the wicked shall perish before God!

Not only are there strong textual links back to Psalm 22, but the rest of the psalm describes an all-out assault on Bashan by Yahweh and His holy army, a battle that the Bible does not record the people of Israel ever fighting, and so we’re left to think it’s a battle fought in the spiritual realm. Verse 17 and following anticipates Yahweh the divine warrior tearing down the strongholds of Bashan and leading a train of captives down the mountain.

I think many people look at the events of Good Friday with great sadness. They see how Jesus was failed by justice in not one but two trials and died a painful, dishonorable death. By the time Jesus is laid tomb, it looked as though all hope was lost. The words of the disciples Jesus met on the way to Emmaus is telling, “But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.” (Lk 24:21) Amid their brief recounting of events, what stands out is their heartbreak. We need only look at the latest headlines to lament the demonic darkness that seems to encroach on God’s people all over the world and wonder if Jesus really won the battle that day on the cross. But all is not lost, not for those who know their Psalms, and while we may not know them as we should, Jesus does. It is no coincidence that Psalm 22 in the one the Evangelists make sure to record for us. They, who know their psalms better than we do, they know Jesus does not die in defeat. He dies on purpose, to accomplish God’s purpose, to put an end to our sin and to conquer demonic tyranny among the people of God.

Not only does this give us hope in the grand scheme of things, knowing that Jesus is risen and ascended and in charge. It gives us true hope in the short term as we struggle, and the world seems more beset by demonic forces than ever. The cross of Jesus means He has already won. We need not fear they have won. Jesus’ cross is a sign of conquest over our enemies.

Psalm 22 ends like this:

‌“All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord, and all the families of the nations shall worship before you. For kingship belongs to the Lord, and he rules over the nations. All the prosperous of the earth eat and worship; before him shall bow all who go down to the dust, even the one who could not keep himself alive. Posterity shall serve him; it shall be told of the Lord to the coming generation; they shall come and proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn, that he has done it.”

‌“It is finished.” We need not fear. “He has done it.” Amen.

1 Scroll 4Q88 Psalms and Scroll Nahal Hever Psalms.

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