Saturday, March 29, 2008

Saturday Sermon: A Very Certain Call

Matthew 27:46 (Reading Psalm 22)

The days leading up to the crucifixion of Jesus Christ are what we typically call the “Passion Week”. These days are marked by events that portray many prophetic passages from the Old Testament being played out. We could list many, but to name a few: Zechariah 9:9 – Matthew 21:5 (riding on a donkey) / Psalm 118:26 – Matthew 21:9 (the shouts of Hosanna) / Psalm 69:9 – Matthew 21:12 (driving out the moneychangers) / Psalm 8:2 – Matthew 21:16 (the praise of children) / Zechariah 11:12-13 – Matthew 27:9-10 (the thirty pieces of silver, the price of betrayal). This is important to note because, as the biblical writers point out, Jesus was revealing things in fulfillment of previous scripture, which had temporal fulfillments but their ultimate fulfillment in the Messiah was veiled, in a sense.

Paul states in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4 that Jesus was crucified and resurrected in accordance with what the Old Testament had prophesied of. In Romans 1:1-4 Paul tells us that God used the prophets of old to show that the promise of the gospel was not a new thing. Jesus Himself stated in John 5:39 that the scriptures about the Messiah were about Him, and after His resurrection Jesus told the two disciples on the road to Emmaus that all the Old Testament essentially pointed to Him (Luke 24:25-27). And so it is no wonder then, to discover that this quote from Jesus, which seems such a mystery, is actually the fulfillment of a great Old Testament prophecy written by the hand of David. Part of the mystery of this verse, Matthew 27:46, is revealed by looking back at Old Testament scripture of Psalm 22.

This cry from Jesus illustrates the depth of His suffering of soul as He felt Himself regarded as sin though He was sinless (2 Corinthians 5:21). We are reminded of John 3:16, Isaiah 53, and 1 Peter 2:24 as we see the Son of God bearing the sin of the world. This cry of desolation comes at the close of the three hours of darkness. However, it was not only a seeming cry of desolation but also a declaration. Jesus was not simply playing a role, only acting out a part. No, His pain and suffering were very real, but even amidst this agony He knew what the conclusion would be.

Still, Jesus suffered the ultimate loneliness. Some of the people that had shouted “hosanna” were now shouting, “crucify Him”. Some of the disciples who had stayed with Him had now denied, deserted, and betrayed Him. But much worse than all of this, as bad as it was, much worse, more worse than we can possibly imagine, was the forsaking by the Father of His Son. The Father had spoken words such as, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” but now was silent. The Father had let the Son be beaten, spit upon, mocked and mangled at the hands of men, finally to be hung on a cross, a tree, a curse to a Jew, which Jesus was. But He was more than a Jew, He was the Son of God, and all this other pain and suffering was nothing compared to the absence of that sweet communion Christ had always known. Jesus’ faith did not fail, He cried out “My God, My God”, and He cried out to God, not against God, but the Father did not answer Him in tenderness, but with wrath (Isaiah 53:10). Even when Jesus had poured out His own blood in the prayers at Gethsemane, God the Father was still with Him, and He had the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, as He had always known. But He had known nothing of the pain of desertion and the suffering of damnation He endured on the cross.

Yet this wasn’t an uncertain cry but a very certain call. When Christ called out to God in this manner, clearly He was consciously quoting this part of Psalm 22 as an illustration of the fact that He was fulfilling all of this Old Testament prophecy. Jesus drew the attention of the Jews to Psalm 22 while He was hanging on the cross. The observant Jew immediately knew what Jesus was referring to. The observant Jew also knew that Psalm 22 was a Messianic Psalm. Now being a prophetic person (cf. 2 Samuel 23:2) David probably knew of the Messianic nature of this writing, but it did have original intent for him as well. David did not conclude in his prayer of Psalm 22 that God had in reality “forsaken” him; though it might have appeared that way to his enemies and the spiritually shallow who did not know the God of Israel that David knew.

Jesus, however, was in a real sense “forsaken”, yet He also knew the final outcome of all this, and so therefore endured the greatest suffering of all time. David had been victimized, but his was not the cry of a victim, but the voice of a victor whom God would deliver out of all trials. Jesus’ cry was about suffering the world’s penalty due to sin, but it was signifying more than just that. It was the voice of the eternal victor who proclaimed the eternal victory of the Messiah to His people who were the victims of their own sin. Every person who has ever been born has felt alone and forsaken and wonders if God is real and if He cares, even Christians go through these sorts of things. But only Christians, those born again to a living hope can also cry, “it is finished” (John 19:30), and thereby know that God will never leave nor forsake them, on account of Christ. When you do that it is not an uncertain cry but a very certain call.

Jesus, in quoting this first verse of Psalm 22, He was revealing that it prophesied of Him and how He would atone for the sins of man against a holy God. Jesus invoked and appropriated Psalm 22 as being applicable to that scene of the final hours of the cross. These words make manifest the agony and suffering that Christ was under as He is intimately and personally identified with the judgment of God upon man for sin. To suppose that He was merely complaining, or that He was unaware of the meaning of the words of that Psalm, is to completely ignore all His teachings on these subjects (Matthew 20:18-19). Christ knew He had to die for our sins, He knew the cup was handed to Him of God. This is the mystery of God forsaking God, and to try and separate God from the man Christ, who hung on the cross, is like confessing that God was made flesh, but then abandoned it when needed most. Christ suffered as a divine-human, yet in the sense of payment for our sins, Christ was separated from God.

So then how do we answer the objection of why Jesus prayed, "if it be possible, let this cup pass from me", and why did He cry, "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me" when He already knew perfectly well? The answer is that these things were said and done of God for "man's benefit." He wasn't complaining as an eternal example of His own weak faith or His delicate nature, or His frail humanity. He said these things as a reference key for us to unlock the words of the prophets and the psalms that spoke of these things. Christ is revealing to us by these comments that "He" was the God-Man prophesied to come as the Savior of Israel, and the Savior of the world. In other words, God is telling His people to search the scriptures and compare scripture with scripture, that they may see what these words He spoke signify and pertain to.

Psalm 22:7 / Matthew 27:39
Psalm 22:8 / Matthew 27:43
Psalm 22:16 / Matthew 27:35
Psalm 22:17 / Matthew 27:36
Psalm 22:18 / John 19:23-24
Psalm 22:22 / Hebrews 2:12
Psalm 22:31 / John 19:30
Psalm 69:21-22 / John 19:28-30

Forsaken, He was literally suffering the pangs of hell for us, an atonement that is beyond our comprehension. We cannot comprehend it but we can adore Him for it. I have often said that when we can see the heights of His holiness compared to the depths of our depravity, then we will know the measure of His love to us.

Charles Spurgeon, in a sermon on Matthew 27:46, said it this way: You shall measure the height of his love, if it be ever measured, by the depth of his grief, if that can ever be known. See with what a price he hath redeemed us from the curse of the law! As you see this, say to yourselves: What manner of people ought we to be! What measure of love ought we to return to one who bore the utmost penalty, that we might be delivered from the wrath to come? I do not profess that I can dive into this deep: I will only venture to the edge of the precipice, and bid you look down, and pray the Spirit of God to concentrate your mind upon this lamentation of our dying Lord, as it rises up through the thick darkness – "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?

Jesus did not cry out over mere human suffering or despair. It wasn’t the physical pain that hurt so much, but the mental anguish, and the torment of His soul, that was the real suffering. That was what Jesus called the “cup” when He was agonizing in the garden of Gethsemane the night before. Many had been and would be tortured and placed on a cross to die, perhaps even other innocent men. But no other man would suffer for the sins of the world, the spiritual wrath of God upon mankind, placed upon Jesus at the cross of Calvary.

Christ spoke these words of seeming abandonment not because of His humanity as many suppose, but because God is illustrating that in essence, we were in the body of Christ (Romans 6:6-11). It was "we" who deserved to be forsaken of God, and to suffer. Our Savior was speaking on our behalf, taking that suffering as a substitute for us.

So the answer to the rhetorical question of "why," is because He had the body of the iniquity of us all. He had “become” sin for us (2 Corinthians 5:21). He was forsaken in the sense that God allowed Him to suffer and die upon the cross for the sins of man. God could have stopped His wrath at any time, but then we would have been condemned with the rest of the world, and His promise to Abraham unfulfilled. Christ had the sin of all His people laid upon Him, and that is why God had forsaken Him. His wasn't a cry of despair because He was a man, but of pointing out that God had prophesied this. He was forsaken that scripture might be fulfilled. He said it that we might understand that He was forsaken for us. When the great darkness fell across Calvary for 3 hours, it illustrated the purpose of Christ in absorbing the darkness of Hell that we deserved. These words from our Savior make it clear that, on the one hand, He understood why He had to suffer – this was His mission (Matthew 20:28) – and, on the other hand, that He was supremely confident of the Father's ultimate deliverance of Him through the resurrection of His body before it had even seen decay (Psalm16 – Acts 2:24-31), for the second half of Psalm 22 is hymn of victory (v.22-31). This wasn’t an uncertain cry but a very certain call.

Torment and triumph – Jesus went the way of the cross to atone for our sins, and also to help us to follow Him to the cross that we might put our trust in Him during trials, even those leading to death. Hebrews 12:2 – when you have to take up your cross and you feel the pain and it seems like God has forsaken you, remember, to look to Christ. Why has God forsaken Him, so that He might win for us the victory and when it seems like God has forsaken you it is so that He might give you the victory and to declare His glory.

Now we may understand this truth a little better today, but I do not want to stop there. I want you to make a vital connection with Jesus today. We may know this truth in our heads, but we need to have it in our hearts. We may have the conception, but we need to make the connection. The bridge from conception to connection is compassion. This is the way for His reality to become our reality. Jesus really suffered and He knows that we suffer, and we can call to Him in faith. Our cry to Him is not in vain it is a very certain call.

We can cry out knowing that we will not be forsaken. Jesus cried this out so that we will never have to. He cried this out to show that even in the darkest moments we could have utter assurance of our final victory in God. Nothing can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:39). We can have real pain and suffering, and real tears as we cry out in seeming despair, but we can also know God in the midst of it all, and through it all, and through to the other side of despair to declare His victory.

Because Christ suffered the penalty for us, we can be assured that we will never be forsaken (Hebrews 13:5). God has not forsaken you no matter how far down in the pit you have sunk. His arm is not so short it can’t save; He can bring you out of the miry clay and stand you on the solid rock. He can do for you as He did for the imprisoned prophet Jeremiah and bring someone to pad the ropes as He pulls you up from despair (Jeremiah 38:6-14).

For those of you have already called to God to save you, but you are living in a daily despair, let me make this connection even more real to you today. In this life we will have tears on our face and tears in our armor. It is no disgrace to cry out to God when bearing the cross and feeling the pain. God knows we live in an imperfect world. He understands our difficulties. He realizes that we will have complaints, but we have a right way and a wrong way to complain. We need to be honest with ourselves that we may be honest before God, and we need to learn to bring our case before Him in the right way. We should make our complaints with honesty, trust, and hope.

It is good to feel emotion. Sometimes it is good to feel bad; look at the Psalms, depressed feelings are often a legitimate part of our relationship with God, as strange as that may sound. We often think of Psalms as a book of praise (which it certainly is), but laments and grievances to the Lord make up more than 60 of the 150 psalms. God can interact with us through the context of our depression. He has wise and loving motives although we may not see them.

Christians can and do get depressed, to varying degrees, and for varying durations. This is not always about a lack of faith or a direct result of personal sin or some symptom of a problem with the spiritual life. Depression is not a punishment from God; it may be instructive to you and certainly for others. The truth is that it is in some sense compatible with Christianity.

We seem to sell the Christian life in America today with too much triumphalism and denial of feelings, but look at the Psalms, look at our text today and Psalm 22, and see that we as Christians need to embrace and realize a more fully orbed biblical dealing with feelings. This is not to excuse and embrace wrong thinking, but to deal with depression and emotion in the way we see demonstrated as correct in scripture. Not all of this in scripture is correct; we see both the right and the wrong way. The Jews in the wilderness complained in the wrong way (cf. Psalm 78:41) but also in the Psalms we see that you can complain to Him in a way that indicates you are trusting Him, instead of grumbling in a way that amounts to an unbelieving accusation. Take a close look a Psalms 42-43 to get a feel for what I am talking about. Remember, Jesus cried out to God, not against God.

Colossians 2:14 – There was a real record of our sin debt, and God the Father told Christ it must be paid. If that sin debt weren’t paid then no one would be allowed to enter into heaven. But Jesus Christ accepted His role as redeemer, he agreed to pay the sin dent of humanity with His own life, given for His own people who would call to Him in faith. God put the record of our sins in the palm of Christ’s hand and then He put a nail through it! Remember that when you feel like you are in the devil’s grip. Satan has no power to control you, he only fools you into thinking you are his instrument, but instead yield yourself to be an instrument of Christ’s righteousness. Jesus has got you in the palm of His hand.

Christ was forsaken that we might never be. His cry wasn’t an uncertain cry but a very certain call. Make no mistake, you are receiving a very certain call today. Do you believe that? If you do, then cry out to the One who will certainly save you. We are not forsaken. Let us adore the One who endured for us. Amen.

“Living For Today With An Eye For Tomorrow”©

1 comment:

Even So... said...

This sermon was preached live March 16, can hear it by visiting sermon audio...the link is just below the profile box...