Ten Minute Sermons
"My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" These are Jesus' words from the cross.
There He is: naked and alone. His disciples have abandoned him. The crowds once cheering Him are now jeering Him. He has been scourged with such violence that He is unable to burden His own cross. He has been nailed to the cross-piece.
Make no mistake: this is a particularly cruel form of execution. Shoulder and elbow joints dislocate and as such considerable body weight is transferred to the chest: elevating the rib cage causing the body to be in a perpetual state of inhalation. Exhaling is the problem: it is fatiguing. After a few hours the body is unable to assimilate oxygen. The condemned suffocates. Medical textbooks tell us that death from crucifixion is sheer agony.
"Cursed is he that hangs on a tree."
"My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" It is not only appropriate that Jesus should breathe these words at His last 2000 years ago; it is imperative that today we realize that these words should breathe life into you and into me.
"My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?", for you see, Jesus is quoting scripture. This is the first line of a poem, a psalm of King David. We heard a portion of it just a few minutes ago: Psalm 22. Those familiar with the Psalm would understand why this Psalm should be on the lips of our dying Lord.
Now if I were to say, "Four score and seven years ago", all of us would know that this is the first line from Lincoln's Gettysburg address. Some of us would be able to quote the entire speech, but certainly most of us would understand its context: we were at war, people were gathered to honor men who died on a "great battlefield of that war", and Lincoln was set to preserve the Union.
Likewise, the first line of Psalm 22 would bring a rush of understanding to the hearers of Jesus' words in the first century.
My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?
why art thou so far from helping me, and from the words of my roaring?
O my God, I cry in the daytime, but thou hearest not; and in the night season, and am not silent.
This is the agony of King David as his world is crashing around him: his enemies are hounding him, they seem to be destroying his kingdom. The rebels are led by his own son. It seems as if the Lord has abandoned David. The OT states that the Holy Spirit resided in David until his death, but here the Holy Spirit is not supplying David with so much as a cool breeze. God's gone?
But I am a worm, and no man; a reproach of men, and despised of the people. All they that see me laugh me to scorn: they shoot out the lip, they shake the head, saying, He trusted on the LORD that he would deliver him: let him deliver him, seeing he delighted in him.
St. Mathew records the chief priests saying about Jesus, "He trusted in God; let him deliver him now, if he will have him." The parallels between Psalm 22 and Jesus' death are astounding:
"I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint: my heart is like wax; it is melted in the midst of my bowels. My strength is dried up like a potsherd; and my tongue cleaveth to my jaws"
One outcome of crucifixion is an intense dehydration due to the buildup of carbon dioxide in the body: Jesus said "I thirst"…my tongue cleaveth to my jaws.
"The assembly of the wicked have enclosed me: they pierced my hands and my feet. […] They part my garments among them, and cast lots upon my vesture."
How very appropriate that Jesus of Nazareth should utter these words at His crucifixion: a pious man relating the circumstances of his death to a pious psalm.
But we don't just have a pious man dying on a cross, here we have the divine Son of the Living God, dying…dying as well. Luther uses the term Deus Crucifixus: "a crucified God". God Himself shares in the sufferings of the crucified Christ.
Obviously, the living God cannot perish. However, the theologian Eberhard Jüngle suggests God cannot perish but He can experience "perishability" in Christ. God condescends to experience death and thus associate Himself with the ultimate fallen condition. "The wages of sin is death"
"Cursed is He that hangs on a tree?" Jesus was cursed: all of our burdens, all of our wrongs, all of our sins were nailed to the cross that Good Friday. Our curses became His curses.
They were nailed on that Cross, but they were not forsaken. Yes, Psalm 22 begins, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? why art thou so far from helping me, and from the words of my roaring?"
Yet it continues "But thou art holy, O thou that inhabitest the praises of Israel. Our fathers trusted in thee: they trusted, and thou didst deliver them. They cried unto thee, and were delivered: they trusted in thee, and were not confounded. […] Be not far from me; for trouble is near"
The psalmist, and thus Jesus in His repeating this psalm, wholly trusts that God will deliver Him. And in delivering Jesus, delivering us as well; but that is a topic for another time: perhaps three days from now.
Just remember, Jesus suffered horrifically on the Cross, not just His worldly body, but His divine nature as well. God has experienced what it is like to perish, and as such has opened the way for us to have everlasting life.
Jesus was not forsaken on that Good Friday, and neither were we. As did the psalmist, Jesus had complete trust in His heavenly Father: with His help, I pray that we do likewise.