'Christianity is just a crutch for people who can't get along through life on their own. I don't need it – I'm fine as I am.'
That's one of the things we hear from people who aren't interested to talk about Jesus, one of the things you might hear from your friends as we run the mission in a few weeks' time. 'Christianity is just a crutch for people who can't get along through life on their own. I don't need it – I'm fine as I am.' Now on another occasion we can talk about how to reply to that, but today let's think about it differently. Is following Jesus actually a help in tough times? Does Jesus help us? Can we lean on him? And if so, why and how does that work? Those are some of the themes we'll touch on as we come to Psalm 69.
Our morning series at the moment is 'Shadows of the Cross'. We're investigating some of the parts of the Old Testament that point most clearly to particular aspects of what Jesus achieved by his death. We've had themes like victory over sin, atonement, redemption. So far those have come through some of the more obvious historical events – sin in the Garden of Eden, the Passover, the Day of Atonement and others like that. Today we're changing the pace by dropping in to the Psalms.
The Psalms are songs and poems that let us in on the author's relationship with God – praise, wonder, doubt, sorrow, anger, joy, resolve, rejoicing – the whole spectrum of emotion against the background of real life, real joys and real sorrows. Some are deeply personal, some are like hymns or templates for the nation of Israel to use and imitate and many point very clearly to the experiences of Jesus. Psalm 69 is one of those and we've included it in the Shadows of the Cross series because it reveals another new angle on Jesus' death: his role as the suffering saviour, the saviour who suffers like, with and for those he saves. That will be our big idea: Jesus is the Suffering Saviour.
It's a long Psalm; we'll just be skimming the surface, but we should get a clear view of Jesus as the suffering saviour. Please do have it open so that you can follow as we skip through. We'll aim to get an overview of Psalm 69 to begin with, and then we'll look for Jesus in it.
1) What is Psalm 69 about?
In v1 we find that it's a prayer: save me, O God. Save me, O God. I'm in it up to my neck. I'm going to drown. V2: I'm getting swallowed up in quicksand. I'm battered by deep floods. He doesn't know how to describe what he's going through except with these metaphors of desperate scenarios. He is oppressed by the weight of it and the danger of it. V3: I'm exhausted from crying for help. My voice is gone, my throat is burning, my eyes are dim from searching for you, God.
Then in v4 comes the problem: I'm surrounded by people who hate me for no reason. They want rid of me. I am forced to restore what I did not steal – in other words I'm falsely accused. They all think I did wrong, but I didn't. They hate me. They want me dead. They're closing in on me.
V5: You know my foolishness and my guilt, God. I think I'm innocent of what they're saying, but then again I am a failure. Maybe I am to blame in some way. I can't think straight any more. David is in a really bad way here. But why?
V6-7: this scorn and derision is because of David's association with God. I endure scorn for your sake.
V8: It's made me a stranger to my closest family. Some of us here know about that distance that grows and grows between us and non-Christian family members who refuse to have anything to do with God. They listen at first, then ask you not to talk about him, then drift away, even becoming hostile. You've got so little of significance in common any more.
But, v9, he's so close to God, so zealous, so passionate for God that insults aimed at God also hit him, like collateral damage.
V10-12: Even though it's so clear that I'm deeply hurt, they all come, gossiping, mocking me, slandering me, singing their songs at me as I walk past. They all know all the words off by heart. It doesn't get any worse than this.
But then there's a change of tone in verses 13 to 18. His enemies fade into the background for a moment. Now the focus is on him, his prayer and his God. He remembers that he's praying and starts to think about the God to whom he prays, v13. I pray to you, the Lord, the Lord who favours, the God of great love, the God of sure salvation. There's nothing sure about his circumstances. They haven't changed one bit yet. He still talks about the mire, the deep waters, the floodwaters, the depths, the pit. Nothing has changed. But he calls on God. Rescue me. Do not let me sink. Deliver me. Don't let this end in disaster for me. Answer me. Turn to me. Do not hide your face from me. Answer quickly. Come near, rescue me, redeem me. He's concentrating on the character of God and calling on him to act.
V19: You know. You know what's happening to me. You know what they're saying about me and shouting at me. You know how many of them there are and who they are.
V20: I'm absolutely heartbroken. I'm gutted. I feel it in the pit of my stomach. I was desperate for a friend, a hug, someone to be there for me, but there was no-one. I'm completely alone.
V21: The people I looked to for help… they deliberately made things worse. Instead of eating with me they poisoned my food. Instead of giving me a cup of tea they gave me vinegar to drink. Talk about kicking a man when he's down. I am alone, without a help or a friend.
Verses 22-28 are difficult for us as Christians. In them David essentially curses his enemies again and again. When you look at what he asks God to do it's to bring on them all the evil things they're doing to hurt him. And that's not very Christian. Jesus taught us to love our neighbours and pray for those who persecute us. Now, apart from the fact the Jesus' arrival is hundreds of years after this was written, I think there are two things I can say that are both brief enough and helpful enough to let us keep on with our overview. The first is that this is still a prayer to God. It's not an oath of personal vengeance or a call to religious terrorism or anything like that. It's a prayer. The second thing is that the motivation is a God-given sense of and longing for justice. God is worthy and holy and good, and he must do what is right. He must set things right. Those who oppose God and his people must be punished, otherwise God is either not worthy or not holy or not good. This isn't a Christian prayer, but it is a Christian motivation.
Verse 29 transitions us out of the prayer and into a hymn of sorts. David looks forward to the time when he will praise God in song with thanks for deliverance. In fact, v34, all creation will join the praise of God as he delivers all of his suffering people, there in the last couple of verses.
So that's the long and the short of Psalm 69. Actually just the short to be honest, but enough for now. I wonder what you make of it. Does this ring true with your experience? Is this what you feel like? Is this the pattern of your life? Some of us will be going through horribly difficult trials at the moment, trials of all sorts, and I'll come back to that in a few minutes. But I want to guess that actually this doesn't really ring true with your experience. This isn't what you feel like, certainly not all the time. This isn't the pattern of your life, this hatred and opposition, this feeling of being completely alone and drowning. Perhaps at times we've felt something like that, but none of us would say this is our story. None of us have plumbed the depths of this Psalm. Our lives, however difficult, are not this bleak.
And I want to propose that that is because only one person has plumbed the depths of this Psalm… Jesus. Why do I think that? What does this Psalm have to do with Jesus? How is this a shadow of him and of the cross? Let's think about that next.
2) Where is Jesus in Psalm 69?
In the first instance this Psalm is written by David and about David's circumstances, or perhaps as a template response for his people, the Israelites, to use in their own times of trouble, or maybe both of those. But it's also one of the most quoted Psalms in the New Testament, where it's applied to Jesus, so we need to understand how it's about him. There are elements of the Psalm which show David as a type of Christ, a foreshadow, which is what this series is all about.
Look back up at v4:
4Those who hate me without reason
outnumber the hairs of my head;
many are my enemies without cause,
those who seek to destroy me.
Jesus actually applied this verse to himself on the night before his death in John 15. He explains to the disciples that they will be hated by the world. Why? He says, "They have hated both me and my Father. But this is to fulfill what is written in their Law: 'They hated me without reason.'"
At his birth King Herod massacred children trying to get rid of Jesus. His brothers were against him. Judas, a close close friend sold him off. The religious leaders hated him. The very next day the crowd that had welcomed him into Jerusalem would bay for his blood – crucify him, crucify him. Yet Pilate concluded there was no basis for the charges made against him. From the cradle to the cross, they hated me without reason.
Next look down to v9:
9for zeal for your house consumes me,
and the insults of those who insult you fall on me.
This verse is also quoted in John, back in chapter 2. Jesus saw the profiteering going on selling animals for sacrifice at extortionate prices in the temple courtyards. John 2.15-17 says:
15So he made a whip out of cords [just imagine Jesus sitting doing that], and drove all from the temple area, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables [imagine the scene, the mess]. 16 To those who sold doves he said, "Get these out of here! How dare you turn my Father's house into a market!" 17 His disciples remembered that it is written: "Zeal for your house will consume me."
The second half of v9 is applied to Jesus in Romans 15. The Roman Christians are to imitate Jesus, not being afraid to be insulted by fellow Romans for associating with Jewish Christians among the church there.
Finally look down at v21:
21They put gall in my food
and gave me vinegar for my thirst.
Two verses from the crucifixion account… Matthew 27.34:
34 There they offered Jesus wine to drink, mixed with gall; but after tasting it, he refused to drink it.
Jesus wouldn't take a drink laced with anything designed to dull the senses or speed up his death. Further on, Matthew 27.48:
48 Immediately one of them ran and got a sponge. He filled it with wine vinegar, put it on a stick, and offered it to Jesus to drink.
It would have been all wrong for someone whose throat was parched, suffering from severe thirst in the heat of the day on the cross. These offers, the gall and then later the wine vinegar, are not help. This is merciless.
There's more that could be said, but hopefully we're building the picture that Jesus is the embodiment of Psalm 69. He is the suffering servant of God. He has plumbed the depths of this Psalm, and he did it for us, to offer us life with God, the one we hated. Jesus is the Suffering Saviour.
I was reading through a list of self-proclaimed 'punchy Christian quotes' and I came to this:
"Why do bad things happen to good people? That only happened once, and he volunteered."
Now that's not how I would suggest you lead out when you're comforting someone who's going through a tough time. It's not high on the corresponding list of 'pastorally sensitive Christian quotes'… But there is truth in it, isn't there? Psalm 69 tells us that the worst things happened to the only good person, and that he suffered them willingly, matching his will to that of God, who ordained that suffering for him so that we could be forgiven.
That's one of the big contrasts between Jesus and the Psalmist here. Remember that difficult bit, that prayer of curses in 22-28? What's the corresponding prayer from Jesus? Praying as his people crucified him, he said, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing." Father, forgive them. A superhuman prayer. A prayer from the Son of God. The Psalmist really is just a shadow of the real thing. Jesus is the suffering saviour.
We need to finish, so let me suggest three learning points or action points.
1) Whoever you are, whatever pain you've felt, whatever false accusations, whatever betrayal, whatever scorn, whatever derision, whatever attack you've experienced, especially because you are a Christian, Jesus has felt that and more. We do not go through worse than Jesus. So Jesus is always able to sympathise with you and to comfort you because he has plumbed the depths of this Psalm. Is Christianity a crutch? Does Jesus help us? Can we lean on him? Emphatically, yes. You can turn to God in prayer through Jesus and receive comfort. That might seem like exactly the hardest thing to do, to pray. Please just do what the Psalmist does in v1: start. You don't need to make sense, you don't need to pray well, just start praying. Remember who God is, remember his character, remember that Jesus has suffered it all. That's the first thing to take away today.
2) Secondly, and this should blow your mind, where are we in Psalm 69, you and me? When Jesus suffered all of this, where were we? Look at v4: we were his enemies. We were those who hated him without reason. All of that pain and hatred and betrayal that Jesus went through was from us. So we can add to his ability to give us sympathy and comfort the astonishing fact that as he went through all of that suffering it was at our hands and for our salvation. He went through all of it because of you, and for you. He went through all of it willingly, to give you new life in him.
3) Last learning or action point, be prepared. Be prepared for this suffering pattern of experience. Our pattern as followers of Jesus follows the pattern of Jesus. This Psalm points us to the one who suffered most and who is now glorified. Expect suffering now because of your bond to Jesus, and eagerly look forward to glory to come, as the one who suffered comes to put everything right.
Jesus is the suffering saviour.