12 Many bulls encompass me;
strong bulls of Bashan surround me;
13 they open wide their mouths at me,
like a ravening and roaring lion.
14 I have been poured out like water,
and all my bones are out of joint.
My heart is like wax
and has melted in my inner parts.
15 My strength is dried up like a potsherd,
and my tongue sticks to my jaws;
you lay me in the dust of death.
16 For dogs encompass me;
a company of evildoers encircles me;
they have pierced my hands and feet—
17 I can count all my bones—
they stare and gloat over me;
18 they divide my garments among them,
and for my clothing they cast lots.
19 But you, O LORD, do not be far off!
O you my help, come quickly to my aid!
We know from the Old Testament what the New does not disclose, namely, Jesus’ inner feelings as his struggle with death intensified. The evangelists certainly tell us what Jesus cried out on the cross. But they don’t say what lay behind what he said. They don’t explain what gave rise to those cries of anguish.
They couldn’t report that because it wasn’t obvious. It wasn’t something that could be heard. And they had too much respect for their Lord’s suffering to simply make something up!
But they really didn’t have to say more than they did, because it had already been recorded.
The Messiah had already powerfully poured out the depths of his soul through the Holy Spirit. What he said came from the marrow of his bones. It was expressed in gripping language that was as deeply disturbing as it could be. He was not like one of us. He hadn’t taken this suffering on without knowing what it would be like. He didn’t go to the cross only half-knowing what was actually involved. And when he was crucified, he wasn’t even partially dumbfounded by how terrible the suffering turned out to be. No, that would have been unworthy of his divine majesty. As the Son of God, he didn’t take on something that he hadn’t measured in all its depth beforehand. He had calculated its breadth and actually lived into and suffered every aspect of it ahead of time.
What was involved is captured by the Holy Spirit in the soul-wrenching lament on David’s lips that we find in Psalm 22. It rose from the top of Judah’s mountains: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from helping me and so unresponsive to my groaning?”
So if you really want to know what Jesus was going through in his inner being and what he was ultimately struggling with on the cross, don’t look for it in the Gospels. Go back to Isaiah 53 and Psalm 22. Then explain to me why we don’t pay attention to these profound laments in our preaching on Christ’s passion.
Well now, one of the features that we capture from this psalm of the cross is Jesus’ inner meltdown and his emotional weakening and collapse. The Holy Spirit describes this very vividly in verses 15 and 16. He does so in a number of images and a flood of thoughts that make you realize how powerless our language really is to adequately describe this inner weakening of the Messiah.
While still living, the Lord felt like he was already dead and buried because he laments: “You lay me in the dust of death.” Pouring out his soul had been cut off because “his tongue was cleaving to the roof of his mouth.” He couldn’t even voice his complaints. His tears refused to flow because he felt “as dried up as a potsherd.” His heart was unable to resist any longer. He had lost all energy and even the will to live since “his heart was like wax and had melted within him.” His body was totally powerless and it felt like he was falling apart because “all his bones were out of joint.” In short, it felt to the Savior like his entire existence was caving in and ebbing away because he complained: “I’m being poured out like water!”
Where are those now who say that Jesus died as a martyr?
How do martyrs die?
Always upheld by grace! By power poured into their weakened hearts that gives them heroic courage! By an energized faith that keeps them strong and unwavering internally until their last gasp, despite the fact that externally everything is being destroyed.
But what do you see in the case of Jesus?
Exactly the opposite!
No grace, because he was forsaken by his God! No infused power, because drop by drop all his strength was sucked out of him. He was simply tapped out! No heroism whatsoever, because inside he was completely weakened even before that became evident on the outside!
Internally your Jesus had been broken, not strengthened.
But “broken” is not saying it strongly enough to capture the speed with which that emotional desolateness overcame him or how terrible it was. That’s why the Holy Spirit reaches for a more powerful image. He doesn’t say “broken,” but “poured out.” This doesn’t convey “poured out” in the sense of oil slowly flowing from a jar, but in the sense of water rapidly gushing down the side of a mountain. “Poured out like water” is a forceful, powerful expression designed to help you grasp what Jesus’ emotional weakening was really like.
“Poured out like water” intends to convey how one drop by falling pulls the next one after it. That one, in turn, pulls the next and so on with every drop that follows. Together all the water becomes one irresistible force that races and sloshes down as one mighty flood. That’s how it was for Jesus. It began with the ebbing of his strength. That increased rapidly. It swelled and became more intense until all at once it seemed like he was totally in its grip. Suddenly he was poured out like a great river of water, drained of all strength for living, all spiritual courage, and all energy in his will.
This is an image that conveys indescribable weakness. It’s a weakness capable of nothing, nothing at all. Incapable of opening the lips! Incapable of lifting the eyes! Incapable of inspiring the heart to stir the will! It conveys a weakening of the pulse. It’s weakness that sucks all desire to pray out of the soul. It’s the unspeakable weakness associated with fear and anxiety. It describes being so weak that even the thought of being weak takes too much effort for the completely despondent heart.
This is what the Holy Spirit wants you to see with complete clarity about the Jesus you profess. Crucifixion is not the most bitter of all deaths by far. That’s not what this passage is all about. Countless people have suffered crucifixion. But no one except Jesus alone, hanging on his cross, has descended into the depths of hell. No one has ever shouldered the burden of God’s wrath against the sins of all human beings. Furthermore, no one else by dying on a cross has ever been crucified in his soul, experiencing the unseen and painful weakness of dying a thousand deaths all at once.
Oh, to be Jesus! To be the Son of God! To possess power like that of the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the roar of his death cry was still frightening! And then out of sheer obedience and in tender mercy to be completely willing to descend into that terribly constricting and oppressive condition of total powerlessness and inner weakness! Can’t you feel now, you who are so weak and powerless in yourself, what kind of indescribable torture Jesus your Savior felt in his soul? What a price he paid!
But what if he had not done this? What if he had resisted allowing his heart to melt like wax in his inner parts? What do you think? Could he have ever been your Savior? Or isn’t your own weakness really not all that absolute and terrible compared with his? Or isn’t it fitting that you have the kind of High Priest who descends so deep that he reaches the place where you are, lifts you in his arms, and carries you on high?
Oh, the wonderful mystery of divine grace!
You thought that you were too powerless yourself! But no, not powerless enough, you have to confess about yourself. You have to become totally powerless! Then Jesus will be with you.
Or, to turn this around, however powerless you may be and however close you may be to sinking into total despair, my brothers and sisters, never toss aside the staff of hope. He who once was the most powerless among all the powerless is now sitting on the right hand of power, at the throne of God.
Abraham Kuyper, Ever in Thy Sight: 31 Devotions on the Psalms