Last week, we saw that Jesus quoted the first verse from Psalm 110 to get the religious leaders, the Pharisees, to understand who God’s Messiah was. In our reading Psalm 110, we saw that the Messiah, God’s anointed one to set things right, was far different from the Messiah the Pharisees imagined. God’s Messiah came to bring righteousness and to bring people to God. The Pharisees’ idea of the Messiah was that of a strong man and an able warrior who would conquer Israel’s enemies.
Sadly, the Pharisees never came to understand the God’s Messiah foretold in Psalm 110. I say sadly because the Pharisees, together with the other religious leaders, the Sadducees, along with the Herodians, and ultimately the Romans conspired to kill Jesus, without ever realizing Jesus was God’s Messiah. Earlier today, we read the dreadful scene of Jesus’ execution and death from the Gospel of Mark.
Mark wrote, “25 It was nine in the morning when they crucified him. 26 The written notice of the charge against him read: the king of the jews. 27 They crucified two rebels with him, one on his right and one on his left. 29 Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads and saying, ‘So! You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, 30 come down from the cross and save yourself!’ 31 In the same way the chief priests and the teachers of the law mocked him among themselves. ‘He saved others,’ they said, ‘but he can’t save himself! 32 Let this Messiah, this king of Israel, come down now from the cross, that we may see and believe.’ Those crucified with him also heaped insults on him” (Mark 15:25-32).
“33 At noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. 34 And at three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, ‘Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?’ (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”). 35 When some of those standing near heard this, they said, ‘Listen, he’s calling Elijah.’ 36 Someone ran, filled a sponge with wine vinegar, put it on a staff, and offered it to Jesus to drink. ‘Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to take him down,’ he said. 37 With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last” (Mark 15:33-37).
The scene was gruesome and disturbing on many levels. The inhumanity of man was on full display in taking the life of a righteous man, who was only guilty of healing the blind, the paralytic, the demon possessed, and the mute. The man they killed that day was guilty of teaching his followers to turn the other cheek, praying for your enemies, and to love the Lord your God and love your neighbors. And for these crimes, the best and brightest in the land of Israel, beat him, whipped him, spit on him, and then hanged him on a tree.
But perhaps one of the most disturbing thing for many about the execution was what Jesus said. Jesus said, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Forsaken. Forsaken is a terrible word. To be forsaken is such a terrible state to find oneself in. To be forsaken is to have a sense of complete and utter abandonment. To be forsaken, there comes a feeling of being isolated and alone, a sense that you have loss something you once had and cherished.
“My God, my God, why – why have you forsaken me?”, words spoken by Jesus, seem very troubling. Jesus’ words make us wonder and ask, “How could God abandon Jesus? Wasn’t Jesus being faithful to God’s will and yet it seems that Jesus expressed a feeling that God had abandoned Jesus at his hour of greatest need?” That very idea makes us then ask, “If God abandoned Jesus in his need, how can I trust that God will not forsake and abandon me in my times of greatest need?”
Theologians try to explain away Jesus’ lament saying that Jesus had taken the sins of the world upon himself and in that moment on the cross, as sin, God could not bear to look upon Jesus. And so, Jesus felt God turn his back on him and in desperation and aloneness, cried out to God.
I struggle with such theological reflections because they seem to set God at war with himself. Such theological reflections imply that God in heaven and Immanuel, God with us, on earth, although one, were somehow now at odds with one another.
I think there is another way to look at this scene that will lead us to a true and encouraging understanding of Jesus’ words from the cross. I said when we opened that Jesus quoted the first verse from Psalm 110 to encourage the Pharisees to read what had been foretold about the Messiah. Now on the cross, desperate to breath, Jesus spoke in Aramaic, the language of the common people, Jesus’ followers. And Jesus spoke the first verse from Psalm 22, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” I would like us to consider the idea that Jesus’ words were not a lament and cry for God at all, but were instead words Jesus intended to speak to encourage for his followers to find comfort in by reading all of Psalm 22. Psalm 22, a poem, written hundreds of years before Jesus’ death on the cross. What might Jesus followers, what might we find out about Jesus, if all of Psalm 22 was explored as perhaps Jesus was suggesting from the cross? Shall we do look at Psalm 22?
“1 My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from my cries of anguish? 2 My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, but I find no rest. 3 Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One; you are the one Israel praises. 4 In you our ancestors put their trust; they trusted, and you delivered them. 5 To you they cried out and were saved; in you they trusted and were not put to shame” (Psalm 22:1-5). The psalmist was reviewing the history of the people of Israel with God revealing that time and again God rescued and redeemed the people of Israel. And God did so even though the people had been sinful and had walked away from God. Perhaps Jesus in bringing his followers to Psalm 22 wanted them to see and be encouraged that God had always been faithful and would be faithful in this dark moment.
The psalmist continued, “6 But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by everyone, despised by the people. 7 All who see me mock me; they hurl insults, shaking their heads. 8 ‘He trusts in the Lord,’ they say, ‘let the Lord rescue him. Let him (God) deliver him, since he (God) delights in him’” (Psalm 22:6-8). Right away we see in the psalm the scene Mark described, “29 Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads and saying, ‘So! You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, 30 come down from the cross and save yourself!’” (Mark 15:29-30). Jesus, in turning his followers to Psalm 22, was helping his followers to see that the horrible scene before them had been foretold by God hundreds of years earlier. If that was so, then maybe the entirety of the psalm would yield more of the story that was unfolding before Jesus’ followers.
From the psalmist, “9 Yet you brought me out of the womb; you made me trust in you, even at my mother’s breast. 10 From birth I was cast on you; from my mother’s womb you have been my God. 11 Do not be far from me, for trouble is near and there is no one to help. 12 Many bulls surround me; strong bulls of Bashan encircle me. 13 Roaring lions that tear their prey open their mouths wide against me. 14 I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint. My heart has turned to wax; it has melted within me. 15 My mouth is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth; you lay me in the dust of death. 16 Dogs surround me, a pack of villains encircles me; they pierce my hands and my feet. 17 All my bones are on display; people stare and gloat over me. 18 They divide my clothes among them and cast lots for my garment” (Psalm 22:9-18). Again, Jesus followers would be, and we are, able to see that the psalmist was describing the crucifixion of man with the elite among men mocking him with open mouths and villains casting lots for his clothing. Moreover, this man, Jesus’, felt his heart melting within him, his bones were showing against his skin, all in the view of his own mother. Jesus’ followers and we can see that the crucifixion of Jesus was not just some random act of violence. The crucifixion of God’s own Messiah was known to God and the Messiah before God sent Messiah to earth and was revealed to the faithful long before the crucifixion occurred. This must mean to Jesus’ followers and to us that God is present in this horrendous act scene. He is not absent.
The psalmist continued, “19 But you, Lord, do not be far from me. You are my strength; come quickly to help me. 20 Deliver me from the sword, my precious life from the power of the dogs. 21 Rescue me from the mouth of the lions; save me from the horns of the wild oxen” (Psalm 22:19-21). If the psalmist knew that God was present, then so too did Jesus. Despite the cruelty of the cross that was killing the body, Jesus’ followers could see through the psalm, and we see, that Jesus’ faith in God as his strength, his rescuer, and savior never faltered. The ancient and modern readers of Psalm 22 would then have reason to believe that something profound was unfolding in the crucifixion scene that defied the physical appearance. There was a strength present. There was an unbreakable bond in play that the faithful could know existed even amid the howls of the tormentors. What could it be?
The psalmist began to reveal that to us, writing: “22 I will declare your name to my people; in the assembly I will praise you. 23 You who fear the Lord, praise him! All you descendants of Jacob, honor him! Revere him, all you descendants of Israel! 24 For he has not despised or scorned the suffering of the afflicted one; he has not hidden his face from him but has listened to his cry for help” (Psalm 22:22-24), The psalmist expressed the understanding of the man upon the cross, here Jesus, that despite appearances, God had not despised or scorned him. God had not hidden his face. God had not abandoned him. To the contrary, God had listened and had heard the cries for help. This is joyous news. That in the darkest moment from Jesus upon the cross, God was embracing his son. God had not turned his back on his son. These two verses are important to us because they reveal that in our darkest hours, God is embracing us as any good father would do. God does not turn his back on us. God does not forget us. God draws near to us to give us strength to bear our cross.
The psalmist then closed the psalm with insight into what would happen once the ordeal upon the cross was completed. This ending is perhaps would offer the greatest comfort to Jesus’ followers who saw in Jesus execution that all hoped had ended. Far from it. The psalmist wrote this is what will happen now, “26 The poor will eat and be satisfied; those who seek the Lord will praise him—may your hearts live forever! 27 All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the Lord, and all the families of the nations will bow down before him, 28 for dominion belongs to the Lord and he rules over the nations. 29 All the rich of the earth will feast and worship; all who go down to the dust will kneel before him—those who cannot keep themselves alive. 30 Posterity will serve him; future generations will be told about the Lord. 31 They will proclaim his righteousness, declaring to a people yet unborn: He (God) has done it!” (Psalm 22:26-31). The psalmist gave the prophesy that instead of the man on the cross, Jesus, being forgotten and forsaken, generation after generation would turn to him. That the praises of Jesus’ Christ would ring out across every tribe and every nation of this earth. That even those who are yet unborn will hear of the Lord and his righteousness. Those who live and those who die whether believers or not will bow before the man on the cross, Jesus the Messiah, the chosen one of God.
How is all that possible? Because “He has done it! (Psalm 22:31b). God has done it. God has brought glory to the name of Jesus Christ, the man hanging from the cross. God had not abandoned Jesus and Jesus wanted his followers to know that was the case. Hence, Jesus spoke the first words of Psalm 22 in the hopes that his followers would find peace and reassurance.
We all need peace and reassurance that comes from the knowledge that God does not abandon or forsake those who seek him. The best and brightest of Israel hoped that Jesus would be forgotten. Jesus knew better and pointed to Psalm 22 to help his followers, including you and me to know that the name of Jesus shall not perish upon the earth nor shall the joy of knowing Jesus as our savior shall perish.
What cross are you carrying that has become greater than you can carry in your own strength? Read then Psalm 22 and see Jesus in the entire psalm. Take from the psalm the confidence that God will give you the strength and see you through the darkest moments of your life. Do not give up. Do not believe the lie that God has forsaken or abandoned you. He has not and will not. Amen and Amen.