The Righteous Sufferer

The Righteous Sufferer

Attributed to King David, Psalm 31 is the prayer of the righteous sufferer. In the psalm, the worshiper pledges to trust in the Lord and find refuge in him (vv. 1-5). Then he gives thanks to the Lord for delivering him from the hand of the enemy (vv. 6-8). He admits his distress is a result of his sin but trusts in the graciousness of God to overcome his iniquity (vv. 9-10). The oppression of his neighbors weighs heavily on him (vv. 11-13), but the Lord lightens the load (vv. 14-20). Finally, the worshiper blesses God for delivering him (vv. 21-22), and cries out, “Love the Lord, all you his saints! The Lord preserves the faithful…be strong, and let your heart take courage, all you who wait for the Lord!” (Psa. 31:23-24).

It is a beautiful psalm of trust, reliance, and faith. The worshiper is suffering persecution from a community at odds with righteousness but finds his deliverance in God.

In the dramatic crucifixion scene of Luke, the evangelist records the final words of Jesus. On the road to Calvary, Jesus told the women who followed, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and your children” (Luke 23:28-31). His concern was for the welfare of the nation under such unscrupulous leaders. When he was raised on the cross, he said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). Again, his concern was for the welfare of others, not himself. When one of the criminals crucified with him sought Jesus’ grace, Jesus replied, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43).

Around noon, the region went dark for about three hours because “the sun’s light failed.” Judgement fell on the land as the curtain of the temple was ripped in two. The height of man’s sin—killing the son of God—reached its fruition as Jesus uttered his final words before death, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” (Luke 23:46). In his other sayings, Jesus showed concern for others, but in the final moment he showed concern for himself too.

This final statement is from Psalm 31, the prayer of the righteous sufferer, and it is fitting since Jesus is the righteous sufferer par excellence. Never before nor since has one so righteous and undeserving of punishment been so cruelly treated. Jesus’ community convinced themselves their only hope was to destroy Jesus. In contrast, God was the only hope (Psa. 31:5).

However, don’t mistake Jesus’ concern for himself as a moment of selfishness. It isn’t. In fact, his final words reveal a deep concern for others over himself. In the original psalm, the sufferer entrusted his spirit to God for his care. When Jesus uttered the same words, he was entrusting his spirit to God to allow God to do with him whatever he willed. Jesus had made that determination in the garden, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done” (Luke 22:42). Committing his spirit to God was an extension of this same desire to do God’s will over his own.

What plan did God have for Jesus? He was to be the perfect sacrifice so humanity could have hope for salvation. By committing his spirit to God, Jesus hoped for his resurrection as the firstborn from the dead. He expected God to use his sacrifice for the welfare of humanity. Jesus wasn’t asking God to take care of his spirit. He was asking God to take care of humanity through his death and resurrection.

We worship a God who has been eternally mindful of our spiritual welfare. We trust in Jesus who willingly laid down his life so we could be saved. Jesus is the righteous sufferer who endured hate, abuse, and death to save sinners like us.

-Sam Dilbeck

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