Psalm 118: Good Friday – God’s Steadfast Love on Public Display

Psalm 118:10-13, 25, 27-30

All nations surrounded me;
    in the name of the Lord I cut them off!
11 They surrounded me, surrounded me on every side;
    in the name of the Lord I cut them off!
12 They surrounded me like bees;
    they went out like a fire among thorns;
    in the name of the Lord I cut them off!
13 I was pushed hard, so that I was falling,
    but the Lord helped me.

25 Save us, we pray, O Lord!
    Lord, we pray, give us success!

27 The Lord is God,
    and he has made his light to shine upon us.
Bind the festal sacrifice with cords,
    up to the horns of the altar!

28 You are my God, and I will give thanks to you;
    you are my God; I will extol you.
29 Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
    for his steadfast love endures forever!

<em>Rose #5</em> | Mercer Botanical Garden | March 2023

This like all the psalms serves both to provide words for our prayers, as well as a view into the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. If you read this psalm solely as your prayer to God, you will likely find much here that resonates with your heart and soul. That is true of many of the psalms. They are rightly called the prayer book of the Bible. In fact Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote a book by that title.

Now there is in the Holy Scriptures a book which is distinguished from all other books of the Bible by the fact that it contains only prayers. The book is the Psalms. It is at first very surprising that there is a prayer book in the Bible. The Holy Scripture is the Word of God to us. But prayers are the words of humans. How do prayers then get into the Bible? Let us make no mistake about it: the Bible is the Word of God even in the Psalms. Then are these prayers to God also God’s own word?

He answers his own question:

In [Jesus’] mouth the word of humans becomes the Word of God, and if we pray his prayer with him, the Word of God becomes once again the word of humans. All prayers of the Bible are such prayers which we pray together with Jesus Christ, in which he accompanies us, and through which he brings us into the presence of God. Otherwise there are no true prayers, for only in and with Jesus Christ can we truly pray. – Dietrich Bonhoeffer, PSALMS: The Prayer Book of the Bible

I love this insight, and appreciate how Bonhoeffer has expressed it. Today, I especially want to lean in to the second part of Bonhoeffer’s thought. When we pray this psalm we are joining Jesus in his prayer. I want to read these verses as though Jesus was praying them. For indeed he was.

As Jesus suffered on the cross, the words of this psalm surely came to his mind. He was surrounded by enemies on every side like bees surrounding someone who disturbed their hive. And in truth he cut them off. But here’s where we must be careful to see how the enemies of God are truly vanquished. For God does not send down 10 legions of angels to rescue him from his humiliating and horrific death. Jesus cut them off by remaining faithful and not giving into the idea that they were defeating him. In fact he was defeating them despite themselves.

There is nothing going on in the visible realm – with one or two minor exceptions – that would indicate that Jesus is in any way triumphing over his enemies on the cross. But that is the witness of Scripture. Jesus “canceled the record of the charges against us and took it away by nailing it to the cross.  In this way, he disarmed the spiritual rulers and authorities. He shamed them publicly by his victory over them on the cross” – Colossians 2:14-15 [NLT].

Jesus triumphed over evil by resisting every temptation, manipulation, intimidation, and pressure to abandon faith in God and give into the deceitful plans of Satan. All Satan wanted was for Jesus to give up reliance on his heavenly Father. All he wanted was for Jesus to fail in his perfect obedience to God. All he wanted was for Jesus to come down from the cross and save himself.

But Jesus did not give into Satan’s schemes. He remained true to God. And to do so he prayed. That is so very clear because he explicitly quotes from Psalm 22. That psalm is the most vivid description of Jesus’ physical suffering to be found in the Old Testament. This psalm (118), encapsules both the suffering of Psalm 22, with the victory and hope of Jesus’ triumph.

Because of this we can pray those closing words of this psalm – even as we contemplate Jesus’ suffering and death on the cross. Because Jesus prayed this and other psalms and lived it out, and experienced the fullness of God’s deliverance. 

[Christ Jesus] humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. – Philippians 2:8-11

Bowing the knee now and confessing that Jesus is Lord – even on the cross – to the glory of God and in honor of Jesus. And praying, “Oh give thanks unto the LORD, for he is good for his steadfast love endures forever!” Amen.

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