Today is the convergence of two series. It is the fourth installment in our series on the book of Hebrews and it is the 13th in our series entitled Psalms Greatest Hits. When a person reads the book of Hebrews, it’s unlikely they will go back and read all the Bible references which the author quotes, however, these are interesting portals through which we can gain the thrust of his message. So today, the twenty-second Psalm will be explored as the means of explaining a pivotal theme which will carry us through the book of Hebrews.
To those who do not know the bible or Hebrew scripture, this may be a surprising discovery. The Dead Sea Scrolls were found in Israel and have been carbon 14 dated to as far back as 200 B.C. Psalm 22 is a manuscript which, among many others, was copied on papyrus and found within these scrolls and dated to about 100 B.C. Clearly the author of Hebrews, in writing to the Hebrew people, was using this scripture which for him was passed on, not in the Dead Sea copies, but through the Hebrew cannon dating back prior to their exile in Babylon in 587 B.C.
For the Hebrew audience, many of whom may have been eye-witnesses to Jesus’ life and death, would easily put together what I will need to spell out for those of us in the modern era, namely, that Jesus clearly fulfilled the prophetic words of the Twenty-Second Psalm, and as us such was positioned as the promised messiah (Christ) of the Jewish faith.
While skeptics later argued that there are too many “coincidences” for this to be written prior to Jesus’ life and death, the archeological evidence is too strong to overcome given that copies are found in multiple locations hundreds of years before Jesus.
This matters because the mind of the audience did not believe in coincidence. The random chance world view did not exist as it does today. Thus the use of this verse is powerful evidence that Jesus was either a liar, delusional about himself, or precisely whom he claimed to be; the Christ of God.
Psalms 22 opens up with the famous quote that Jesus’ said upon the cross. Jesus could easily have said this knowing the scripture, so that in and of itself is not prophesy, but rather a statement of Jesus laying claim to this passage, thus making himself to be the Messiah.
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
Has there ever been a question that resonates more with the unbelieving mind? The Author of Hebrews would not have to convince the audience that the Hebrew people trusted in God and saw him deliver them from many enemies and dire situations.
“Yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel. In you our fathers trusted; they trusted, and you delivered them. To you they cried and were rescued; in you they trusted and were not put to shame.” (v.3-4)
In that line of thinking, the “Church and State” who put Jesus on the cross ridiculed Jesus’ and his claims and even record the angry mob exclaiming:
“And those who passed by derided him, wagging their heads and saying, “You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.” So also the chief priests, with the scribes and elders, mocked him, saying, “He saved others; he cannot save himself. He is the King of Israel; let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he desires him. For he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’”” (Matthew 27:39-43)
The parallels of this to the twenty-second Psalm are significant.
“But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by mankind and despised by the people. All who see me mock me; they make mouths at me; they wag their heads; “He trusts in the Lord; let him deliver him; let him rescue him, for he delights in him!”-(v.6-8)
Is this too much of a coincidence? Did the New Testament writers conveniently write the story of Jesus into the Hebrew text? It’s a fair critique knowing how institutional religion has used Jesus to gain power and wage wars. However, we have to ask: “Why would the New Testament writers try and describe a man, one who seemingly failed in his mission, to be the promised Christ of God unless, as eye-witnesses, they were already convinced of this fact?” Otherwise, wouldn’t they simply share a similar disposition to the audience to which the author is writing?
“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.” (V.27-28)
“…they shall come and proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn that he has done it.” (v.31)
The Psalmist is seeing something here. He is pointing to a future moment of convergence where all people (not just Israel) gain the eyes to see the Kingdom of God. This is not so much a metaphor for Heaven, but a healthy way to bring all people together under one leader and rule, not by overpowering, conquering and war from the outside in, but by transformation of each person from the inside out.
This is precisely why the most religious people of Jesus day could not see their own Messiah when they stared him in the face. They were expecting a mighty warrior, a political and military leader who would over-power the powers that oppressed them. Instead, the Messiah was oppressed too and his kingdom was not a political or military type, it was a rule over the corrupt heart of man, which would ultimately subvert every lesser kingdom in the world. Interestingly, this is precisely why the modern Evangelical Christian is failing to see the Messiah today, for they too are waiting for a rapture, an Armageddon, a tribulation, and ultimately a triumphant warrior kingdom. They, like the audience in Hebrews, are waiting for the so-called real power to begin, all the while missing the source of it all.
Switching back to Hebrews:
“Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. For surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham.” (Hebrews 2:14-16)
Here the author of Hebrews strives, just like I’m endeavoring, to show his audience that the Kingdom is of a different kind. It was counter-intuitive. It’s not as you would expect. The way, Jesus rules the world (all things subjected to him-v.8) is not by man ascending to God, but by God descending to man and enduring, as a man, every single thing the human race must endure, including death. This would have been unheard of in the Greek world of deities. God helps all humanity, that is what he meant as the offspring of Abraham. The Jews would have thought this only applied to the blood lineage of Abraham, but the author will show how this implies to all humanity.
God’s help is universal, NOT tribal.
Hopefully you are beginning to see something emerge here, namely that the deconstruction of religion is necessary to see in clarity the promise and work of Christ Jesus. This was clearly not an appeal to a new startup religion as the author will point out later, but to a way in which all people, of all nations, tongues, religions, and times can access God, not through a new religious ritual, but by God manifesting himself fully as a human like each and every one of us. From that standpoint, it is the only system of faith of it’s kind in all of human history. Every other belief system or religion is man’s ascent to God, and this is the only system of God’s descent to man which is backed by the most trusted and historically accurate, and oldest manuscripts of human history. It is codified by archaeological evidence, and beyond all this proof, it makes sense. It resonates like a tonic note within each and every person once they have eyes to see it, and ears to hear it.
No wonder this story has sold more copies than any other story in human history. It’s the only one that truly has the power to converge all systems into a larger, wider, single way to believe, and it does so by deconstructing everything that is not simply faith.