A sermon preached at
Kowloon Union Church on Sunday 1 March 2015, Second
Sunday in Lent, by Nancy Tan. The scripture
readings that day were Psalm
22:23-31, Mark 8:31-38,
If the persons whom
you love very much, perhaps your best friend, parents or your child, and they
are very well and healthy now, and start to tell you they think in the very
near future they are going to go through very difficult times and will soon
die, what would your first response be?
In HK we say,
“Choi”, “touch wood!” and might even add “Chee sin!” etc. So, when Peter rebuked Jesus for talking
about his suffering, humiliation, and death in Mark 8 (vv. 31-38), his response
is very natural, and we can appreciate it when he rebuked Jesus, don’t we?
We want the best for
and wish happiness to those we love – and we become protective of them, hoping
we can shield them from every harm and danger. Hence, when Jesus turned round
and rebuked Satan out of Peter instead and made Peter’s response into a
negative object lesson for the rest of the gang, I am sure we can also feel the
hurt, confusion, and some indignation on Peter’s part! What’s so “demonic” for
wishing Jesus safety and wellness?
Just about a week
later, Jesus brought Peter, James and John to a mountain (Mark 9:2-9).
Suddenly, Peter and his friends witnessed the most incredible and awesome
sight! They saw Jesus transformed into something he couldn’t even describe:
like semi-divinehood and in the presence of two other ethereal beings descended
from the heavens! This was just
completely awesome and you bet Peter and his buddies were dumbfounded and
terrified at the same time, but Peter didn’t have his smartphone with him to
take a selfie! So the next best thing he
could do was, to suggest building booths and to keep all of them safe and
beautiful as they should be! As soon as those words left him, they were
enveloped by a thick cloud and a loud voice boomed into their ears from the
sky, which Peter probably couldn’t quite make out at that time at all what it
was! And the next minute, everything was back to normal again! Peter must have
wished he hadn’t opened his big mouth about the booths!
Why did only the 3
disciples witness the transfiguration and was told to keep it a secret? All
these secrets that the disciples have to keep, holding them until after Jesus
died and rose again – were all “signs” to prove that Jesus was the Son of God.
So, the transfiguration was not really for the sake of Jesus per se. It was
really for Peter, James and John – and all of us – to appreciate the fact that
Jesus was the chosen Messiah: he will face rejection by his own people, he will
suffer, be killed and rise on the 3rd day.
Peter did not
realize it then. Peter only knew he loved Jesus enough to not want bad things
to happen to Jesus. Peter will fight
tooth and nail for Jesus!
We are like Peter.
When we see something beautiful happening to the person we adore, we wish time
would just standstill. We want to build tents or make something just to capture
that beautiful moment, so that no harm and danger will ever befall on them. Yet
reality is cruel and time is merciless. They witnessed the suffering of Jesus
and couldn’t do anything about it. Today most of us probably felt this
helplessness like Peter did. Ps 22 shoves this reality of suffering into our
Psalms 22 is made up
of a few songs or poems where the psalmists cried out to YHWH for help in times
of danger and threat and with the assertion to worship his God nonetheless. It
pleads for deliverance and the mercy of YHWH to act and save. I think in order
to appreciate Ps 22:23-31, one needs to start at least from v. 12.
Before we start, it
is good to appreciate that Hebrew poetry works on parallelism, instead of
rhyme. One of the most common types of parallelism is with words, ideas or
12 Many bulls
the strong bulls of Bashan encircle me.
13 They open wide
their mouths at me.
Like a ravening and
14a I am poured out
All my bones are out
It has melted in my
15a My strength has
dried up like an earthenware.
My tongue sticks to
And to the earth of
death, you lay me down.
In the land of
Palestine and for the most part of the ancient Near East, potteries were dried
under the hot sun before they were put into the fire to be burned. Some
potteries do not go into the kiln. But all were laid out under the hot sun to
speaking, when we are dehydrated, our tongues will stick to the top of our
palates. In this verse, the Psalmist depict how zapped of life and energy the
one suffering is – “to be dry” in Hebrew also means to be lifeless, and near
to, if not, death.
16 Dogs surrounded
me; evil doers encircled me.
Bound up are my
hands and my feet.
17 I can count all
oppressors) stare and gloat over me.
18 They divided my
garments among them.
And they cast lots
for my clothes.
In the ancient Near
East, this practice means one’s fate is determined neither by humans nor the
gods! It depicts the person, his life and all that belongs to him are now
succumbed to “chance”. It is a gesture by the enemies that their victim is
beyond hope. That is, even their gods will not help the victim, similar to the
notion that: even your God left you to die.
19 But You, O LORD!
Do not be far away!
My Strength! Come
quickly to help!
20 Deliver my soul
from the sword!
My life from the
power of the dog!
21 Save me from the
mouth of the lion
And from the horns
of the oxen! You answer me!
Of course, we may
not have horns of bulls, lions, swords, scorching sun, wild dogs and evil men
waiting to kill us … but we experience forces of threats in our lives that
brings us fear, terror, and that which zapped our strength away!
Mortgage! Debts. Rents. Insurance. Inflation.
demands. Friends. Social expectations. Betrayal.
Pressure to Succeed:
Grades. Exams. Approval. Projects. Quotas. Competitors.
They are pressures
we are confronted with every day. These are our bulls, lions, swords, dogs that
threaten to eat us alive. And we feel our health, our sanity and strength
ebbing away… we can be drained in all
ways: physically, emotionally, spiritually and even our self-esteem
diminishing. Sometimes, the impact of these pressures is manageable, other
times, not so. And we pray the ones we love need not face them as well. This is
exactly what Peter wished of Jesus – that there will be no additional suffering
than those daily ones, and especially not anything that leads to death.
Yes, as the Psalmist
prayed, sometimes we get delivered.
showed up to help us. Or, something happens and we get extension of time to
complete or to sort things out. We thank God for saving us!
Sometimes all the
bulls, lions, dogs had a change of intention … instead of being a threat, they
become nice, or they ignored us, or they get distracted by other matters or
their threats upon us are forced to stop! We thank God for saving us!
happened, sometimes we feel they are a big miracle, sometimes small, but
nonetheless we are grateful.
Now let us turn to
the rest of Ps 22.
vv. 22-31 Here is
the overall structure which shows an internal parallelism within these verses.
V. 26 seems to be the climax. We shall read these verses.
Resolution to Praise in public
Identities of those who praise
God who listens to the Oppressed / Afflicted
Resolution to Praise in public
The Oppressed are admonished to praise and live on.
Resolution to Praise in public
Identities of those who praise
Future generations will praise God.
to Praise in Public
22: I will talk
about your name to my brothers
In the middle of the
assembly, I will praise you.
23: The Identities of those who praise
Fearers of YHWH,
Praise him! All you seeds of
Honor him! Fear him!
All the seeds of
24 The God who listens to the Oppressed / Afflicted
Because he did not
regard with contempt
And did not detest the
afflictions of the oppressed.
There is something
important about the identification of those who praise and the God who was
praised in these verses here.
It is necessary that
you know, the seeds of Jacob and Israel, has, in the larger history of Israel,
an oppressed nation, rather than a victorious, a super power, or a significant
political and economic player in the ancient Near East. It is for the most part, significantly
oppressed – and especially when these psalms were collected and collated. The
God of Israel – is the God of those who were afflicted, who were oppressed. He
is the one who will help them! Therefore, how could he look upon Israel’s
oppressions with contempt? If Israel’s health gave way and caused him to smell
badly, or were bullied by their neighbors, how could Israel’s God looke at them
with disdain and feel they are not worthy of his help?
This is also the God
whom we worshipped and praised and why we are gathered here today. The God of
Israel, is the God of the Afflicted and the Oppressed.
25 Resolution to Praise in public
From with you my
praise in the great assembly
I will pay my vows before those who fear him.
Here, the Psalmist
is resolved to praise in the public space again. In this praising, is a promise
to return to God what one has committed to during the time of need. This is a
public testimony, to acknowledge how God has done that miracle for you!
Oppressed are admonished to praise and live on.
The afflicted will eat and be satisfied.
Those who seek him will praise YHWH.
May your hearts live
Here is the climax,
and it is an exhortation to press on. If
you are feeling oppressed, get nourished, get help so that you can be
satisfied. Seek God and praise him.
Remember when was the last time “hearts” were mentioned? Yes, that was in the second part of v. 14! When you are afflicted, you feel your heart
losing strength and melting away. We want to give up, but here is the
admonishment to tell your heart to live on! It’s telling us: Do not lose hope!
27 Resolution to Praise in public
They will remember
and return to YHWH all the ends of the
And they will bow
down before you all the groups
of the peoples.
For the kingship
belongs to YHWH.
And he rules over
reminds us: This God who rules, is the very same God of the Oppressed…
Identities of those who praise
All the fat
(prosperous) of the earth shall eat
And all who are
going down to the dust
and the lives who
cannot preserve (or keep themselves alive)
shall bend their knees (in supplication).
Here we have a
contrast of the types of people who worship YHWH.
Perhaps the first
are those who have received their miracles and they became prosperous. It may
even include those who have hardly suffered life’s difficult challenges before
their lives end. And they worship YHWH too.
The second group,
did not have a chance of an earthly deliverance from all those threats
mentioned earlier. Maybe they were too weak to even eat and be satisfied, too
weak to get help, and they could not keep themselves alive. They too, shall end
their lives, yet they continue to supplicate to and worship YHWH.
vv. 30-31 is also a
Resolution to Praise but it is for the future generations:
31b To a people who will
Yes, there will be a
new generation of oppressed praising YHWH, just because he is the God of the
The verse I want to
highlight in this sermon today is v. 29. It admits straightforwardly that
suffering in humanity is inevitable. Sometimes there are miracles of
deliverance and sometimes we die in our suffering. For Jesus, his death is one
of suffering, and Peter, and all the disciples, as well as Jesus’ mother and
brothers, could not save him. They watched Jesus suffered physically,
humiliated before the crowds and died in brokenness.
The celebration of
Lent is one for us to practice self-denial – that is to not think about our
wants and comfort as much but meditate on Christ. As we enter the second week
of Lent, remembering the life of Jesus and his imminent suffering, I think it
is good to remind ourselves that Jesus’ suffering was for the sake of humanity
and for those sufferings that humanity could not bear themselves. Yes, I am
saying, if we only remember Jesus’ suffering and not consider the everyday
sufferings of all humanity, we might have missed the purpose of Jesus death as
well as the point of celebrating Lent. If we think less of ourselves and our
own sufferings, then think about Christ’s suffering for others.
There are many
persons among us who are plagued by sufferings – some were born with them like
those who are born with autism, or cerebral palsy; some were consequences of
other people’s abuse, like post-traumatic stress of rape or terror attacks; or
their own consequences, like drug abuse… they have all become afflicted in many
forms and many ways, and for most of them and us, we will die in the state of
these afflictions. When we remember Christ on his way to take up the cross for
humanity, may we remember the afflicted ones: not only those who are bearing
their own crosses, but also the many who are bearing the crosses for those who
can’t carry themselves. Yes, these are people who suffer along with those
suffering, care-givers and parents of persons who cannot take care of
themselves 24/7, persons who are tormented by the suffering of their loved
ones. Yes, it was like the psychological torment of Peter, the rest of the
disciples and Mary, the mother of Jesus went through when they could only
witness Jesus sufferings, humiliation, affliction and death but could not do
And may we, out of
our own humanness, on their behalf – those oppressed and afflicted, offer our
praise and supplications to YHWH, the God of the Afflicted and the Oppressed!
Maranatha and Amen!