Sermon: Seven Last Words:
“My God, My God…”
Matthew 27: 45-49
First Presbyterian Church
By Carl Schaefer
Sunday, March 14, 2010
During Lent, I understand that you have been studying the “Seven Last Words” of Jesus Christ at the time of the Crucifixion. Today we will be looking at that moment recorded by Matthew just following his being taunted by witnesses who mocked him to save himself as He had saved others. At that point, the we pick-up the story as recorded in Matthew in the 27th Chapter beginning with verse 45 (NIV) From the sixth hour until the ninth hour darkness came over all the land. About the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani? – which means, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”
This moment just before Scripture records him declaring “it is finished,” we have all felt Jesus anguish and what seems that moment when all hope is gone, and one cries out in despair, “God where are you?”
There is probably not one reader of Scripture that has not experienced a moment of despair when we searched for our personal language to represent unbearable pain. But moments of despair are usually couched in the context of hope – a sense of trust that things will get better. When we are convinced that things will not get better or we face an unexpected tragedy that goes beyond all reason, when the very world view upon we have based all of life’s assumptions are undermined, the very core that holds anything positive in our lives together crumbles. Those directly involved in 911, or the sudden death of a child, or the senseless slaughter of people can attest to that breaking point we cry out “God where are you?
This moment that unfolded in the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ did not unfold in a vacuum of history, neither do the scholars feel that Jesus just arbitrarily pick the opening line to the Davidic psalm 22, verse 1, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? To better understand this moment in context, I would like you to follow along the NIV version of Psalm 22 that I have provided for you. Let us use the research of the biblical scholars of the Interpreters Bible to be our guide as we look at this Psalm both in its context and its content and then see if we can look at these words that Jesus spoke in a more complete light, just as those that present would have heard him quote David’s psalm.
First of all, we have come to know Psalm 22, believed to be written by King David, to represent one of the psalm of lament that on the service represents a righteous person calling out for vindication which the author goes on to both promise and celebrate. But again, with the copy in front of you, let’s go deeper.
The first two versus clearly spell out a lament, a crying out for vindication, but also carry a unique tone that begins to hint the psalm’s special nature. The psalmist cries out to not just God, but “my God” that is considered rare and personal. It incorporates the tone of a special, personal relationship. So in picking this psalm to quote from, even the listener would interpret, “he is crying out to Elijah” which is referred to in verse 47 of Matthew. Here the crowd is listening with taunting anticipation to see if Elijah comes to save him. We will come back to this as the “my God” address by Jesus is critical to the meaning of Psalm 22 and a clue to Jesus’ special relationship with the Father.
Vs. 3 speaks to the addressing the sovereign nature of God- the “holy One,” the “praise of Israel. We know by this that the author is addressing not just any god, but the sovereign God of Israel. It harkens to the mantra of the Israelites, “Hear oh Israel, the Lord our God is One.” Many of the psalms begin, or at least contain an element of this nature.
Vs 4-3. speaks to the nature of trust; it is mentioned three times. This trust is rooted in history that testifies to God’s grace and relationship with the nation of Israel and all the mighty acts of the God of the Passover, Exodus, Covenant and Commandments. The people cried and history says God heard them. This background would only tend to accentuate the psalmist’s despair as his trust and cries have not been heard.
In this regard, we must also look at the context of Psalm 22 within the structure of Psalm as it is preceded by Psalm 20 and 21. In Psalm 21, titled a “Prayer of Victory” we can read in vs. 6, “Now I know that the Lord will help his anointed; he will answer him from his holy realm.” And in Psalm 21, also written by David, vs. 2 states, “…and have not withheld the request of his lips..” followed by vs. 4, “He ask you for life; and you gave it to him.” Clearly the author of Psalm 22 cherished a close relationship with the God of history that the people had reason to trust. Jesus own words are echoed in this history that the Father will answer.
As we go on to examine vs. 7-8, we find an element of mockery. You will recall I mentioned earlier that the people witnessing Jesus’ suffering on the cross-said, “Let’s see if Elijah comes to save him.” Well, just as insulting as Job’s friends were of him in his suffering, the chief priest and teachers of the law, and the elders mocked him in Matthew 41, and said, “…He saved others,…but he can’t save himself. He’s the King of Israel! Let him come down from the cross, and we will believe in him.”
Vs. 9-10 speaks to David’s as the psalmist own personal relationship with God. How many times wasn’t God faithful to him despite his sin and disobedience? He knew God would not desert him, yet….
Vs. 11 repeats that despite all this history, trusting relationship and personal experience, the psalmist says I still need help…
Vs. 12 –21 contain many images of how desperate the author is and contains elements of Eastern traditions of animal figures representing demonic forces, the powers of evil, and reference to body parts heightening the nearness of death. One could say that the psalmist is saying that he is as good as dead. In vs. 19-21 we can already see a transition in this section towards affirmation of the original trust.
In vs. 22-31, the transition is complete and almost abrupt in the way the psalmist now turns towards praising God. The one who is suffering transitions as if to one leading worship and bearing witness to God’s glory and faithfulness. The transition now is almost a transformation from one who suffers to one who suffers and celebrates and that the suffering itself is now a reason to celebrate. Again, like Job who was faithful throughout his ordeal, the Psalmist, the one who is suffering, bears testimony that God is present with the afflicted. It is as if we bear witness to the crossing of traditional boundaries of life vs. death as see it not as an end, but a transition to life. I quote one author who writes, “In short, the afflicted psalmist, having been assured of God’s presence in his affliction, becomes a source of life for other sufferers. By this life defies death with God present – testimony to the unbroken relationship with the God of history that can be trusted.
There can be no mistake here that Jesus did suffer the most horrible of death and that his passion was real, but there was a reason he quoted Psalm 22 for the hearers, the readers, to understand that his death and resurrection to follow where in itself testimonies to the reign and sovereignty of God.
For Jesus, the cry “My God, My God” takes on new meaning that this “cry of desperation is in of itself an affirmation of faith in the God who does, as the psalmist comes to understand that his God is the one who shares in human suffering and enables even the dying to experience the ever present faithfulness of God.
Jesus’ own crying out then becomes an invitation to trust God, and as another author puts it, “…a matter of dependence upon God and that suffering can be accepted with the knowledge that God shares in suffering and death, a fact the Paul eloquently referred to in Romans 8: 31-39 which speaks to the truth that neither life nor death can separate us from the love of God.
As we reflect upon the time that Jesus spent in the garden of Gethsemane, in full anticipation of his coming passion and death, as he cried out to the Father in Matthew 26, 39b, “My Father, if is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want.” This scene bears witness to Jesus’ relationship with the Father, His acceptance of his mission – his impending death, and willingness to surrender to his relationship with the Father.
Knowing all of this, doesn’t this shed light on the context of those words that Jesus chose to speak on the cross. It leads us to believe that He chose to quote them and call the people’s attention to the history of words of David – from which hope would spring rewarded by the resurrection.
It is then that even as we approach Holy Week, we ourselves can lay claim to the words of the Psalmist who despite his despair found reason to trust God and lay claim in our own worship praise to the one and only sovereign God of the Universe, the God of our salvation.