16 Apr 2016

Psalms & The Cross: Jesus’s Faith on the Ragged Edge: Psalm 31, Holy Saturday & “Seeing” the Prayer of the Crucified One

Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: Christian hope, Discipleship, Easter, Faith, Hebrew Bible, Holding On, Jesus, Lent, Prayer, Psalms, resurrection, Suffering, Worship
Psalm 22 & 31

Psalm 22 & 31

A Very Dark Day

The seeds for this blog were planted Saturday after “Good Friday.”

The ragged edge of Jesus’s faith.

This morning I woke up as always and had to pet Casper who was making lots of noise. I went and sat on the swing in the back yard to enjoy the morning air and read the Psalms. I broke with my lectio continua today because it is “Holy Saturday” in the ancient Christian calendar.

This morning I read two Psalms, 16 and 31. I tried to imagine what Peter, John, Matthew, Mary, Martha and Susanna may have been thinking on this day. It was the day after the most disturbing event in human history. It was the day after they all abandoned Him. It was the day after their world was shattered.

What were they doing? What were they thinking? How were they coping? The guilt. The shame. Where do you go? What do you do?

I am convinced that on “this day” they were consumed with the events of the last 24 to 48 hours. Shocking events. Disturbing events. Earth shattering events. Events they never dreamed of, nor imagined, for Jesus and even of and by themselves.  What powerful things were learned about ourselves “yesterday.”

What did they do, today?

I am convinced that on “Holy Saturday,” historically, these disciples lamented the Psalms. If I was a betting man I’d put serious money on this.

What Might Be Going Through their Hearts & Minds

Shame. Anxiety. Guilt. Fear. Loss. Hope shattered. Utter confusion. And the biggest question of all, “why?” Why did he … ? Why did they … ? Why did I … ?

These are yesterday’s emotional ghosts that torment this little band today. What did they do?

First, they lamented because that is what scared, confused and shattered people do. Suitable Psalms that may have flowed from that small qahal (Hebrew, assembly), may have been Psalm 12 and 13. I am certain Psalm 79 and 80 were prayed with trembling lips.

Lament is the cry of the faithful, and even the barely faithful, in light of unbelievable injustice and suffering. Lament is the voice of prayer in darkness of tragedy.

I see, in my mind, these disciples lamenting not only because they witnessed the power of Rome but because they all had betrayed their master. This is just historical reality.  “Holy Saturday” allows us to situate ourselves with the original disciples.

Second, I believe they would have sang the prayer song, Psalm 31. They, unlike many today, could not have failed to note that while on that Cross for those 6 hours on Friday (yesterday) that Jesus himself was constantly praying the Psalms. In fact this was etched into their minds.

Luke records the last words of Jesus as he died, “into your hands I commit my spirit” (Lk 23.46 quoting Ps 31.5) which is none other than a confession from Psalter that Jesus had imprinted on his heart and mind.

Jesus’s last words were lament mixed with nearly shocking hope.

Psalm 31 & Golgotha

Psalm 31 is Jesus’s prayer. Listen to the words and hear them rising to heaven from the throne of the cross … hear the pleas of the Man of Sorrow.

Be gracious to me, O LORD, for I am in distress;
my eye wastes away from grief,
my soul and my body too …
My strength fails because of misery,
and my bones waste away.
I am the scorn of all my adversaries
a horror to my neighbors
{the disciples!!??}
an object of dread to my acquaintances;
for those who see me in the street flee
from me
{the disciples!!}

This is the very last prayer of Jesus.

Why was he praying this prayer?

Jesus in his deepest hour of need finds the words to pray in the ancient prays of Israel. He identifies with the words of this psalm.

You know that band of shattered disciples, as they talk about it, pray it and cry about it, on that holy Saturday, they knew that Jesus was lamenting them.

More than that he was expressing his own dismay at God! The petition, on the lips of Jesus pierces heaven, “Be gracious to ME, O LORD …”  This is a plea for mercy, a plea of one in torment.

Why This Psalm?

But why did Jesus park on Psalm 31 at the “end?” It was a prayer, no doubt, he had prayed and sang as part of Israel’s worship many times. Jesus knew it by heart (as he knew all the Psalter by heart). But now the Psalm was his in a way like never before. He is in the existential situation of the ancient prayer warrior.

When we are in the Pit of Hell there is only one place to go and that is Godeven if we suspect that God is the reason we are in the Pit.

Jesus has no doubt that God has abandoned him (Mk 14.34; Ps 22.1). His earlier prayer from Psalm 22 reveals his complete knowledge and yet total faith.

But why Psalm 31 at the “end?”

Because in the midst of darkness the Psalm expresses the triumph of trust when our eyes cannot see what we believe.

Hear these words with Peter, Mary, John … hear them moaned from the Cross – not from an organized liturgy but from a body nailed to a Tree.

It is here that I believe Peter and that little church began to understand what amazing faith that Jesus himself had in his Father.

The words are whispered nearly for lack of breath …

In you, O LORD,
do not let me ever be put to shame;
in your righteousness DELIVER ME;
Hear me; rescue me.
Be a rock of refuge for me

The Psalm shifts between begging for mercy to confession of confident, even victorious, faith in God …

“You are indeed my rock and my fortress;
for your name’s sake lead me and guide me …
I will exult and rejoice in your steadfast love
because you have seen my affliction;
you have taken heed of my adversities,
and have not delivered me into the hand
of the enemy ..

The-Crucifixion-2Sit in Silence on Holy Saturday

Now imagine you are Peter, Mary, John, Susannah, and you pray that yourself on this Holy Saturday.

The memory of the voice of Jesus murmuring these words with blood stained lips causes a moment of silence.

How could Jesus have said that? What does it mean?

Praise from the Throne of the Cross?

The Psalm Jesus prays continues …

“I have passed out of mind like one who is dead
{Jesus has no illusion of his situation}
I have become like a broken vessel.
For I hear the whispering of many – terror all around!
as they scheme together against me
{the Romans & Powers}”
{or did Jesus say Abba!?} …
Let your face shine upon your servant
{Peter call Jesus “servant” in his second sermon, Acts 3.13}

Psalm 31 makes the remarkable shift from acknowledging the horror of the present reality of the suffering One, to acknowledging the goodness and care of God. In fact, it actually moves into praise.

At the end of his life, with nails in his wrists and feet, Jesus offered humble praise … the praise that only faith can offer … to his God and Father.

Was Jesus praising God, his Abba, while hanging on the Cross!!?? If he prayed Psalm 31 then, astonishingly, yes he did!

It is Jesus’s own faith on the ragged edge. His praying this prayer at the end reveals his unconquerable faith in the God of Israel.  Praise on the cross is a sheer act of the will. A deliberate decision. Praise is an act of faith.

If the One on the Cross did this yesterday, I can only imagine how Mary would hear, much less say, these words herself on that Holy Saturday … but the voice on the Cross utters …

O how abundant is your goodness
that you have laid up for those who fear you …
Blessed be the LORD,
for he has wondrously shown his steadfast love
{Hesed} to ME
when I was beset as a city under siege.
I had said in my alarm
‘I am driven afar from your sight’
{perhaps a reflection on his prayer of Ps 22}
But you heard my supplications
when I cried out to you for help

The Psalm includes the final words of the One on the cross to those priests with their wagging heads, to his disciples that had fled his presence, to the criminals he was hung between and to the guards nearby. The Man of Nazareth said …

Love the LORD, all you saints.
The LORD preserves the faithful

And at this point Luke records

And he cried out in a loud voice

and the cry was Psalm 31

into your hands I commit my spirit.”

Returning to Holy Saturday

Praying Psalm 31 in that circumstance, and on that cross, was a supreme act of faith by Jesus. We Christians often think we are saved by our faith “in Jesus.”

But it seems to me that we Christians are saved as much by Jesus’s faith in God as our faith.

We do not think about Jesus’s own faith nearly enough.

But the Hebrews’ Preacher did. The Hebrews’ Preacher tells that Jesus was “heard” because of his “loud cries” and that “learned obedience” from the things he “suffered.” For so many centuries the cross has been an object of faith for Christians but what we often loose sight of is that the Cross is the greatest testimony to Jesus’s personal faith in the God of Israel.

On the Cross, he shows us that he was no mere phantom. He did not cheat. The Cross reveals Jesus as fully human as ever Bobby Valentine is.

He died not – and I am convinced of this – not fully comprehending what or why “this” was happening.

But he died in astounding trust – faith – in God, that he would deliver him. So Jesus committed his life and his death into the hands of God.

So on that first Holy Saturday with Peter, John, Mary, Susannah and Matthew, I know that they were trying to understand not only what happened but also … what could such faith mean.

How could Jesus pray THAT prayer hanging on the Cross?

It is only in light of Easter, the miracle of resurrection, that we see that Jesus’s faith in the God of Israel was vindicated.

But today, Holy Saturday, the disciples did not know that. They are simply moved by the sounds of prayer – the last prayer of Jesus – from the Cross.  A prayer that includes pleas for mercy, expresses dismay, but ends with triumphant faith and praise in the One that is to be trusted even when hanging on a Tree.

Read. No. Pray Psalm 31.

Join Jesus in praying such holy words.

Imagine Peter, John, Mary and the rest with you as you hear these sacred words. What faith. What a gift of the Psalms that they provided even Jesus with the last words he ever wanted to pass his lips …

May be we should know them better.


5 Responses to “Psalms & The Cross: Jesus’s Faith on the Ragged Edge: Psalm 31, Holy Saturday & “Seeing” the Prayer of the Crucified One”

  1. Mike Glenn Says:

    Bobby, I am missing something and cannot seem to figure it out. What gives us the clue that Jesus is quoting Ps. 22 or 31 on the cross? Is it something in the Hebrew that is missed in the translation? Thanks for taking a moment. Mike

    • Bobby Valentine Says:

      Mike Glenn honored to have you read my blog and leave a comment. We know that Jesus quotes both Ps 22 and Ps 31 because it is in the Gospels. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me” (Mt 27.46) is straight from Ps 22.1. Imagery of Ps 22 saturates the “passion narrative” as well. The phrase “into your hands I commit my spirit” (Luke 23.46) is also straight out of Psalm 31.5. Both Matthew and Luke are writing in Greek (not English) and they use the wording from the Septuagint (ancient Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible that was readily available to the authors of the NT) in their quotations of Jesus. This is how we know. Blessings.

  2. Edward Fudge Says:

    Thanks, Bobby! Roughly 50 years ago I read C.H. Dodd’s little book, ACCORDING TO THE SCRIPTURES, in which he taught the reader to go behind any OT quote or allusion in the NT and study the larger OT context and details of the OT passage being referenced. That has been one of the most helpful suggestions I have ever heard. You are setting a good example for us all who teach and preach. God bless you. -Edward

  3. Bobby Valentine Says:

    Brother Edward Fudge so glad to have you reading and commenting on my musings. Thank you for the kind words.

    I agree with you on C. H. Dodd’s work According to the Scripture. Richard Hayes has also written quite perceptively on the importance of taking in the wider context of quoted materials in his Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul.

    I am so pleased that you have shown us in your own writings how important this wider context is for understanding the depth of the NT writings.

    Blessings brother.

  4. john acuff Says:

    Thank you so very much you have opened my eyes to so much I had never seen, Keep it up

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