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God’s Word for You

Psalm 22:17 They stare and gloat

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Tuesday, April 4, 2023

17 I can count all my bones.
They stare and gloat over me.

David’s troubles forced him to travel long distances through hard country; stoney mountains, salt deserts, wastelands where vultures and scorpions were the only living things. The dry, empty caves where the Dead Sea Scrolls would be hidden away may have been his camping places, a thousand years before any scrolls made their way into hiding there. Did his body sometimes become emaciated? We know from certain accounts like his visit to Nob (1 Samuel 21:1-3) that he often went for extended periods with no food. It’s easy to think of his words, “They stare and gloat over me” as about the wicked Edomite who was Saul’s shepherd and David’s bitter enemy (1 Samuel 21:7; Psalm 52:1).

So whether or not David is thinking of a time when he was nearly starving to death, or hurt so badly that his bones were showing, or whether he is simply speaking poetically of being naked and alone with enemies that seek his life, his words are easy to apply to our Lord on the cross.

Anyone on a cross would have his bones and body on display for everyone who passed by. There was no dignity offered to the crucified. No help. No peace. No comfort. No hope.

The crucifixion is a proclamation of the law. It is death on account of sin. It is the price demanded because of sin. Man’s sin. My sin.

The crucifixion is a proclamation of the gospel. It is payment for sin out of love and compassion; the ransom for sin. Man’s sin. My sin.

The language of the atonement teaches us lessons to be pondered, especially as we ponder the cross.

First, there are words that describe the sacrifice of Christ as payment for sin. These are redemption, satisfaction, expiation, sacrifice, and ransom: “In him we have redemption through his blood” (Ephesians 1:7). “He will provide satisfaction” (Isaiah 53:11). “The bloodshed will be expiated” (Deuteronomy 21:8). “He came to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). These words describe the payment for sins, payment not made to Satan (for no one owes Satan anything at all) but to God.

Second, there are words that refer both to payment and also to forgiveness: Propitiation, atonement, and the Greek use of reconciliation. This never appeasing a false god in a pagan sense, but making an actual payment for the debt of sin. “In order that he might make atonement for the sins of the people” (Hebrews 2:17). “For God was pleased to have all his fulness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross” (Colossians 1:19). This means that the blood of Christ covered over man’s sin before God with a sacrifice. God is mercifully inclined toward mankind from eternity, so he does not require a sacrifice in order to become gracious to us, but in order that sin might be paid for and covered over. In this way his justice is not compelled to pour out wrath on man, but instead his everlasting mercy has free rein.

Third, there are words that refer to God’s acceptance of the payment and our entry into salvation: Reconciliation, forgiveness, justification, and the original meaning of atonement. “For the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar. It is the blood that makes atonement for one’s life” (Leviticus 17:11). This atonement is the establishment of peace (John 20:20).

So we see that God is not a ‘celestial Shylock’ who just wants his pound of flesh. These passages show that the crucifixion brought about a change in the world’s legal status before God, not a change in the world’s attitude or a change in God’s attitude, but in man’s status: Man was an unforgiven sinner, doomed to hell. Then the penalty was appeased, paid in full (John 19:30), and man is a forgiven sinner. His debt is paid.

Jesus Christ, whose body was ruined and killed on the cross, paid for our guilt with his blood. His sacrifice is at the same time intensive (for every sin) and extensive (for every person). Only those who believe in him apprehend it; all others discard it and heap their sins back on their own heads. But Daniel said: “Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt” (Daniel 12:2).

To be forgiven! This is why Jesus came. This is why his joints were yanked, his bones were exposed, his flesh made to bleed, and his life taken in death. On account of Christ, we now stand in the sunshine of God’s grace, forgiven, adopted, received, loved. We have help. We have peace. We have comfort. We have hope—forevermore.

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim Smith
About Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please visit the St. Paul’s Lutheran Church website.


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