Psalm 22 - The God-Forsaken God
The God-Forsaken God – Good Friday 2020 – Summer Hill Anglican (Psalm 22) It is dreadful to watch the suffering of others. Whether it is the suffering of a loved one in hospital, or suffering of a stranger, our humanity rightly makes us want to turn aside from this, to seek to put it out of our minds. The death of Jesus is brutal, horrific and very confronting. I find it so appalling that I want to turn aside from the horror of it all. We instinctively recoil from thinking upon what Jesus went through… but this is something that we should do, especially on this day of all days. The gospel accounts of the death of Jesus are written so that we might understand what Jesus endured for us, and what he has achieved for us. Rather than turn aside in revulsion or scorn or shame, we need to gaze upon the cross, see our saviour writhing there, and understand for ourselves the full significance of Pilate’s words – “Here is your king”. It would be bad enough if Jesus were a criminal who deserved to die. Crucifixion was a cruel and barbaric torture. If Jesus allowed his body weight to be borne by the nails through his wrists, then he suffered excruciating, fiery pain. Furthermore, hanging like this, Jesus was unable to exhale, and the carbon dioxide build-up would lead to asphyxiation. But if he pushed himself upward to avoid this, he placed his full weight on the nail through his feet, which was itself a searing agony. For hours, Jesus writhed from one agony to another, as he fought to raise Himself for every precious breath. To bring death more quickly, the executioner would sometimes break the legs of the victim, ensuring that they could not raise themselves to breathe, bringing rapid suffocation. But for Jesus, there was no such relief. Even if Jesus had been a terrible criminal, I doubt that we could bear to watch all this. Surely, even a criminal would not deserve a death like this. But Jesus was not a criminal. The Roman Governor, Pilate, had declared “I find no basis for a charge against this man”. That fact compounds the awfulness of it all. Jesus was mocked, spat upon, whipped, beaten, and struck upon the face – and it was all undeserved. If ever there was a man who deserved to be spared all this, then Jesus was that man. But, for all this, if we merely focus on the horrors of a death by crucifixion, and of the brutal mistreatment of an innocent man, then we have missed the most awful part of the death of Jesus. The gospel accounts do not dwell on the physical agony or the shame and humiliation, because Jesus underwent a far greater agony on that day. The key to understanding the true horror of the cross comes from a psalm, a psalm which is quoted from, or alluded to, in each of the 4 gospel accounts. That Psalm is Psalm 22. Psalm 22 is quoted in John 19:24, when it says of the soldiers "They divided my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing". Matthew’s gospel echoes this same psalm when it records the Jewish leaders saying to Jesus “43 He trusts in God. Let God rescue him now if he wants him, for he said, 'I am the Son of God.'" (27:43). Luke 23:35-36 alludes to verse 7 of the psalm - 7 All who see me mock me; they hurl insults, shaking their heads: But perhaps the most famous quotation of Psalm 22 is on the lips of Jesus himself, when he cried out from the cross "Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?"-- which means, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" These words, taken from the first verse of Psalm 22, explain why the cross is so dreadful. On the cross, Jesus is experiencing what it is to be forsaken by God. On the cross, we see a God-forsaken one – in fact, we see the God-forsaken God. Psalm 22 is a psalm of King David. It is a psalm that reflects a time in David’s life when his enemies have sought to overthrow the king, and it looks like the enemies have the upper hand. No only do all the people hurl insults and mock him and despise him, but – worst of all – it seems that God himself has forsaken David. Nevertheless, David still expresses his confidence that God will indeed deliver him from death, to not forsake him to the grave. Jesus quoted Psalm 22 on the cross, because he knew himself to be fulfilling it. As I read this series of verses from Psalm 22, I want you to mentally picture Jesus on the cross. Ps 22 1 My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me? Ps 22 6 ..I am … scorned by men and despised by the people. 7 All who see me mock me; they hurl insults, shaking their heads: 8 "He trusts in the LORD; let the LORD rescue him. Let him deliver him, since he delights in him." Ps 22 16 … a band of evil men has encircled me, they have pierced my hands and my feet. 17 I can count all my bones; people stare and gloat over me. 18 They divide my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing. Jesus was the ultimate ‘afflicted one’ that the psalm describes. He was God’s chosen king, whom the enemies of God were triumphing over. Today is the day when we recall that Jesus was forsaken by God, in a way that King David never was. King David was delivered from his enemies and saved from death, but Jesus was forsaken unto death. In the death of Jesus, God turned his face away, and allowed evil men to triumph and take the life of his son. Of course, there is more that needs to be said here. There was an ultimate deliverance beyond the grave, which is a message we celebrate on Easter Day. But let us not bypass the horror of Good Friday. In the death of Jesus, he died as the God-forsaken one. Jesus wrestled with the dread of this in the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus, the Son of God, who had always enjoyed a perfect, uninterrupted relationship with his heavenly Father, faced the prospect of a rupture in that relationship. God was going to allow his Son to die, to allow his appointed King to be defeated by his enemies, to allow his Beloved-one one to perish as the Forsaken-one. It was this that Jesus wrestled with, as he prayed “Father, if it is possible, take this cup from me”. And this is something that we must wrestle with, too. What could bring God to do such a thing? And why would Jesus go willingly to his death, knowing what awaited him there? The answer is that Jesus had to be forsaken in this way, in order to overcome our own God-forsakenness. Humanity has forsaken God - we have turned our backs on him. We do not have the perfect relationship with God that Jesus had. Our forsakenness means separation from God - we are estranged from God, and God from us. The bible’s definition of hell is permanent estrangement from God, to be eternally forsaken by God. This is not what God wants for us, which is why he sent his son to be forsaken in our place. Jesus death is the solution to our estrangement – he was forsaken by God, in place of you and me. The apostle Paul puts it this way - God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.( 2 Cor 5 21). That is the unfathomable mystery of the gospel - God made him who had no sin to be sin for us! When Jesus died on the cross, he died under God’s curse for sin. Jesus died to bear the forsakenness that we deserved. As uncomfortable as it is, today is a day for gazing upon the cross of Christ in wonder and amazement, and letting it speak to us. The cross has some very powerful things to say to you. The cross of Christ says to you and I – It says “you are not God-forsaken”. Regardless of what we have done in our lives, God has not abandoned us or withdrawn himself from us. The barriers caused by my sins and yours have been dealt with by another, who bore the curse we deserved. The cross says “You are not God-forsaken”. The cross of Christ also declares to us how much God loves us, and the lengths to which God has gone to draw us back to into relationship with himself. As it says in that most famous of verses – God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son – gave him over to die a God-forsaken death – that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. And the cross of Christ also says to us – don’t remain a stranger. It says - God has not forsaken you, but are you still forsaking God. Are you still keeping God at a distance? Jesus died in order to bring you back into a relationship with God. Jesus willing let his perfect relationship be ruptured, for the sake of including us in that relationship. Are we spurning that offer, and treating as nothing what Jesus did for us? And finally, the cross of Christ says to us “Here is your king”. These were the mocking words of Pilate, who spoke them without realising the significance of what he said. It is these words which are the most confronting of all. As we gaze at the cross, we see Jesus, writhing and bleeding and dying. What we see is exposed, broken, vulnerable humanity, and he looks anything but a King. But the reality is that this is God’s anointed king of Psalm 22. This is the one to whom all God’s people must submit, the one whom God has appointed to lead his people. He is not our vision of a mighty king, which only goes to show how corrupted our notions of kingship are. This king rules by service; this king overcomes by giving of himself; this king triumphs through weakness. And this king calls us to follow him! As we gaze on the cross of Christ, and hear it say these things to us, it calls on us to make a response - a threefold response. Firstly, it calls for a response of awe and thankfulness. We should be lost in wonder that our God should love us so much as to forsake his own son. Our hearts should be filled with thankfulness to the Lord Jesus, for what did for us. Realise the magnitude of what he went through. It was not just the bitterness of desertion & betrayal by friends, not just the shame of mocking & humiliation, not just the physical agony of his passion & cross. Jesus endured something much worse – being forsaken by his heavenly father. And he did that with you in mind. He did it for your sake, to include you in his relationship with the father. Secondly, the cross calls us to respond in repentance. It calls us to turn from our indifference to God and our rejection of him. For far too many people, Jesus remains the ‘perfect stranger’. Time and again, they hear this message about Jesus’ sacrifice on their behalf. They understand that the perfect one has taken the penalty they deserve, but they do not want to go any further than that. Jesus is to them nothing more than a perfect stranger, because they want to keep him as a stranger in their lives. To do this is to miss out on the very thing that laid down his life for. Jesus was estranged from God in order to overcome our estrangement from God. To all of us, the cross says “don’t remain a stranger”. Pray to God and ask to come back into relationship with him, through what Jesus did for you on the cross. Finally, the cross calls us to commit our lives to Christ as our king. Psalm 22 reminds us that God’s anointed king is also a suffering servant. And so, as we follow Christ our king, expect it to take us to places of suffering and service, and we as do, to give of ourselves in humility, to overcome not by might but by weakness. The cross holds up the example of our master, and beckons us to follow. This is a day for gazing on the cross, and seeing there our God-forsaken God, who endured the cross for our sake. It is a day for responding in wonder, in awe, in humility, and in love, and in dedication. Let us use this day as God intends. Let us pray: Heavenly father, we thank you for your great love for us, that you were prepared to rupture the relationship with your beloved son, for the sake of including us in that relationship. Help us to respond rightly to you this day, and enter into the fullness of that relationship. We pray this in the name of Jesus our saviour, Amen.