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How to face the future

Dr. Jim Denison is a cultural apologist who helps people respond biblically and redemptively to the vital issues of our day. He is also the co-founder and Chief Vision Officer of the Denison Forum, a Dallas-based nonprofit that comments on current issues through a biblical lens.

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Topic Scripture: Psalm 22

I recently came across a list of ninety-eight of our most common phobias. I didn’t know about “ephebiphobia,” a “fear of teenagers” (though I understand it, having raised two of them). I’m glad not to have “glossophobia,” a “fear of speaking in public,” or “gynophobia,” a “fear of women.”

It turns out, experts have ranked the top ten phobias of all time. Our number one fear is arachnophobia, the fear of spiders. This despite the fact that only four people each year die from spider bites in the US. (By contrast, six people die each year from their pajamas catching fire.)

What about the future is worrying you today? What problem, decision, or challenge are you facing?

You’re right to be concerned. No financial professional can guarantee that their advice will keep you from losing your savings. No physician can be sure their medical practice will preserve your health. No one can guarantee that you will have even another day beyond today.

So, if you’re looking for faith to face the future, there’s only one source you should trust.

How David predicted Jesus’ death

As you know, Jesus cried from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46). His words are a direct quotation from the first verse of our text.

Since books (papyrus scrolls) were rare and very expensive, the culture of his day was oral, meaning that people were able to remember and recite large quantities of literature from memory. When Jesus called out this verse, those at the cross would remember the rest of the psalm, just as if I were to quote in a sermon, “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound,” the congregation could finish the lyric, “that saved a wretch like me.”

As we will see, Psalm 22 is a remarkable foreshadowing of Jesus’ crucifixion, with stunning detail and descriptions rendered a thousand years before Calvary. I believe that Jesus caused the crowd to call this psalm to mind so they would be able to see the degree to which his death fulfilled biblical prophecy.

Here are some of the scenes they would have seen as they remembered David’s prediction from a thousand years earlier.

Mocked 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!'” (Psalm 22:7–8). In Matthew 27 we read of Jesus’ crucifixion: “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'” (vv. 41–43).

None of the religious leaders would have intentionally fulfilled Scripture in this way, making David’s prediction even more remarkable.

The manner of his crucifixion

David continued: “For dogs encompass me; a company of evildoers encircles me; they have pierced my hands and feet” (Psalm 22:16). He could not have been speaking of crucifixion, since this gruesome form of execution was first employed by the Persians five centuries after he wrote this psalm. He probably described “dogs” who attacked his hands and feet with their teeth or spears. But his picture describes Jesus’ crucifixion perfectly.

The next verse: “I can count all my bones—they stare and gloat over me” (v. 17).

Since Roman crucifixion typically led to asphyxiation as the body’s weight crushed down on the lungs, the victim would use his arms to pull up his body. However, nails driven through the wrists (the more typical form of crucifixion) severed the nerves, making such relief impossible.

The victim would then use his legs to support his body. When the soldiers were ready for the victims to die, they would break their legs with a heavy mallet called the “crucifragium.”

This is the practice behind John’s record:

Since it was the day of Preparation, and so that the bodies would not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day), the Jews asked Pilate that their legs might be broken and that they might be taken away. So the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first, and of the other who had been crucified with him. But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs (John 19:31–33).

His clothes divided by soldiers

In another detail that was fulfilled at Calvary, David wrote, “They divide my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots” (Psalm 22:18). The soldiers fulfilled this declaration at the cross: “When they had crucified him, they divided his garments among them by casting lots” (Matthew 27:35). Again, the soldiers would never have intentionally fulfilled David’s prediction, making it even more astounding.

Nor could Jesus have arranged for these fulfillments. He could not have persuaded the religious authorities to mock him or the Romans to leave his bones intact or divide his garments while he was on the cross. These actions clearly demonstrate the prophetic nature of his death and the fact that God knew a thousand years before Calvary how his Son would die for us.

It is no surprise that David would end his remarkable psalm this way: “Posterity shall serve him; it shall be told of the Lord to the coming generation; they shall come and proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn, that he has done it” (vv. 30–31).

David was more right than he could know. One day every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2:10–11). And the God who is sovereign over the future will be sovereign forever.

Divine sovereignty and human freedom

As we have seen, Psalm 22 precisely predicted and pictured Jesus’ death a thousand years later. It foresaw crucifixion, a manner of execution that had not even been invented. It foresaw actions that Jesus’ enemies would never have taken to fulfill its predictions, behavior he could never have arranged beforehand.

If the Lord knew such details a thousand years ahead of time, can we trust that he knows our future as well? Consider these statements from God himself:

  • “I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope” (Jeremiah 29:11).
  • “Behold, the former things have come to pass, and new things I now declare; before they spring forth I tell you of them” (Isaiah 42:9).
  • “I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come” (Isaiah 46:10).

You may be wondering: If God knows the future, do I have freedom to choose? Am I a robot subjected to his sovereignty with no free will of my own?

The fact that God knows the future does not mean that he chooses it. He is not bound by time. “Tomorrow” is as real to him as “today” is to us. The fact that he can see something does not mean that he always chooses it.

You can watch people acting around you today, but that doesn’t mean that you chose their behavior. You can watch people sit down in a restaurant, for instance, but that doesn’t mean that you chose their seats.

God sees tomorrow as we see today. That doesn’t mean that he always chooses all that happens. For instance, he is “not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). But clearly, not all “reach repentance” (cf. Revelation 20:15).

God’s will is best for our future

The fact that God knows the future does not mean that we have no freedom. But it does mean that God’s will is the best path to our ultimate destination. He knows where he is leading us and uses every day to prepare us for his purpose. His Spirit is something like a GPS system that leads you turn by turn in ways you may not understand at the time. But it is taking you the best way to your destination. You may not understand his leadership at the time, but you can trust that it is always for your best.

That’s why Scripture encourages us to “trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths” (Proverbs 3:5–6).

God’s will is best for our present

And his omniscience means that his will for the future is best for the present as well. Every step we take toward our ultimate destination is the best step for us today.

Remember the Macedonian vision by which God called Paul westward to Philippi. The apostle had no idea he was bringing the gospel to what we call the “Western world.” He didn’t know that he was evangelizing what we know as “Europe.” He didn’t even know that the church he would start at Philippi would become his favorite congregation and the recipient of the timeless letter we know as the Book of Philippians.

He just knew that God was calling him. Every step he took was the best step for that day and the best step for eternity.

In the same way, God will lead us through Scripture, reason, circumstances, other people, and our own intuition. He will lead if we will follow. In fact, he wants us to know his will even more than we do. If we’re not sure what he wants us to do, we may simply ask him. If we don’t receive an answer, it’s because we’re not willing to obey what we hear.

When I was a youth minister in my first church, one of my jobs was changing the church sign beside the road. I have no idea why this was my responsibility, but it was. The pastor would come up with a short, pithy statement I was to put up in six-inch letters.

I’ll always remember this one: “If you don’t feel close to God, guess who moved.”

Conclusion

What about tomorrow worries you today? What decision, challenge, or opportunity do you need help in facing? The God who knew every detail of his Son’s death a thousand years before it happens loves you so much that he sent that Son to die for you. Jesus would do it all over again, just for you.

Henry Blackaby: “If you know that God loves you, you should never question a directive from him.”

Do you know that God loves you?