Friday, April 22, 2011

Sermon on Psalm 22 and Mark 15:34, for Good Friday, "My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?"

My God, my God, why have You forsaken Me? These gasping, dying words of Jesus, as He hung dying on a cross. Ancient words that begin a prayer written some 1,000 years earlier by the prophet, King David. My God, my God, why have You forsaken Me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning? Psalm 22:1. It was no accident that these particular words tumbled out of Jesus’ mouth—this whole Psalm was an ancient prophecy, an ancient prayer, that described in great detail the events of this very day of Jesus’ death. These words were written and then waited 1,000 years to find their fulfillment on Jesus’ tongue. They describe His intense feeling of loneliness and abandonment by God. In a terrifying way, He felt what it was to be separated from God because of sin. Yet it was not because of His own sin that God’s face was hidden from Him, but because of the sin of the world that He bore as the heavy yoke and burden on the cross.

Movies that have tried to portray the suffering of Jesus on the cross have been able to some extent capture the physical suffering that Jesus endured. But no movie can capture the intense spiritual suffering that He endured when the guilt of our sins—our rebellion against God—bore down on Him. To feel God’s wrath and anger against sin, the terrible cup of God’s wrath against sin, poured out on Jesus. To feel God’s judgment for the unbelief of the world—all the proud and sinful denials that God exists. The wicked worship of other gods. The unfaithfulness to the God who so richly blesses us. To feel God’s judgment against all the ways in which we have broken the commandments—dishonoring His name; disregarding worship and the hearing of His Word; disrespect and disobedience to parents and authority; disregard for human life and safety, hatred for other people; disregard for marriage as the God-honoring way of using our sexuality; disregard for our neighbor’s property, and greedily coveting after what is not ours; and defaming our neighbor’s reputation by lies or slander. All these broken commandments, all these acts of rebellion and disobedience to God—Jesus bore that guilt on the cross. Forsaken. Abandoned. Scorned and mocked by the very people He was dying to save.

He cry echoed back from the lonely hill where Love was crucified: My God, my God, why have You forsaken Me? No answer. Only the hours ticking slowly by in agony. In the unspoken words of the prayer written for Him, Jesus said “I am a worm and not a man, scorned by mankind and despised 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!’” How bitterly those words must have stung Jesus, as He heard the mockers echo them in near perfection quotation at His death. Words accusing Him of being a fraud, a false prophet, an imposter. Words accusing Him that He had no power to save others or Himself. That God had rejected Him. Yet in silence He did not answer their cries. In silence He bore the brutal irony that in this very act of surrender, this very act of obedience to God’s will, in dying on the cross—He was in fact saving them. He would not be rescued—He would not be delivered from death—no, not on this day. He was giving His life to rescue us that Good Friday. He was giving His life to rescue all the sinners whose guilt He bore before God.

A life that looked to be wasted was in fact God’s gift given for the life of the world. Bones stretched out of joint by the cruel nails piercing His hands and feet, His appearance marred and offensive to people from His mistreatment. Dying of thirst, ribs sticking out as His breath became labored and heavy. It looked like His life was wasted. It looked like even God had abandoned Him. Jesus cried out to God, but He seemed far from saving Him, no answer and no rest. Rescue would have to wait three days. But Jesus’ life offered here on the cross was no waste. Contrary to all the external appearances, it was a life well spent. Not just well spent, but the best and most perfect life ever spent—the costliest life ever spent. A life spent in perfect obedience to God—faithfully keeping each and every commandment. A life spent in remarkable and self-giving love and service to the sick, the poor, and the lonely. A life spent calling lost sinners to repentance, so they might share in the forgiveness and life He was buying here on the cross. Yes, Jesus’ life was well spent, teaching the kingdom of God and preaching people into it by God’s love.

But Good Friday is no funeral, it is no eulogy in remembrance of a life well spent that is nevertheless over and done. Good Friday is called ‘good’, not because of the terrible deeds that were done to Jesus on the cross, but because through them Jesus purchased our salvation, our rescue—at the expense of forgoing His own rescue. We call Good Friday ‘good’ because Jesus did not remain in the tomb where He lay for three days. Because after death was not too late for God, and God served His innocent Son Jesus with Justice on the third day. Good Friday is “good” because our Savior is alive and living—having defeated death. You see the chains of death could hold a guilty man—but not the innocent Son of God! Forsaken in His hour of death, forsaken as He bore the judgment of the world’s sin, He was vindicated by God on the third day, and by His rising to life again, is proclaimed as the innocent Son of God.

Psalm 22 was a prayer written centuries beforehand, waiting for Jesus to take it’s words on His lips on Good Friday, when He hung upon the cross. But the Psalm did not end in despair and gloom, even as it spoke of the evil men that surrounded Jesus, as it spoke of the piercing of His hands and feet, His thirst, or even that they cast lots to gamble for His clothing. See, it was also a prayer of deliverance, with the hope and confidence that God would finally deliver Him in the end. After being laid in the dust of death, He would live to tell of God’s name to His brothers, “in the midst of the congregation [He would] praise [God.]” Jesus would die, but live again. Jesus would live so that the Gospel—the good news of His death and resurrection, could be proclaimed and circulated around the world. That generations yet to be born would here and receive the preached good news, that the righteousness of Jesus would be heard by generations yet unborn. So here you are drawn into the fulfillment of this Psalm also! Some 3,000 years after it was penned, and 2,000 years after Jesus’ death and resurrection, we who were distant and foreign generations, have had the gospel preached to us, and we have believed.

We’re brought into the amazing fulfillment of God’s promises, and we are connected to the saving acts of righteousness that Jesus did on the cross. We’ve become a part of God’s plan and story of salvation. We’ve become His children. And so we remember and give thanks and praise to God, in the congregation, that we have been included in so great a salvation, and that the sins and wrongs that we have done were punished at the cross in Jesus. So are we forgiven and free, given to live a new life of thankfulness and love for what Christ endured for us and our salvation. Mindful of the great price you paid, O Jesus, we thank you. We thank you, Amen.

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