Friday, October 10, 2014

Why Have You Forsaken Me?

When Matthew tells the story of how Jesus died, it's a multi-layered narrative.  He is working in two different languages (Greek and Aramaic); he's telling not only the immediate story of what had to be the worst day of his life, he's retelling an ancient tale first recorded in prophetic poetry by the Psalmist.

The intertwining of the two tales begins when the cruel and mocking leaders make this ironic statement:
He saved others; Himself He cannot save. If He is the King of Israel, let Him now come down from the cross, and we will believe Him.  He trusted in God; let Him deliver Him now if He will have Him; for He said, 'I am the Son of God.'  (Matthew 27:42-43)
If we  don't recognize the two strands of Matthew's narrative we could skim right over the significance of their words. When they address Jesus as the "King of Israel" and talk about how he said "I am the Son of God," they acknowledge that he believes himself the Messiah. But the line in bold (He trusted in God; let Him deliver Him now if He will have Him;) is in fact a direct quote from Psalms 22.
All those who see Me ridicule Me;
They shoot out the lip, they shake the head, saying,
"He trusted in the Lord, let Him rescue Him;
Let Him deliver Him, since He delights in Him!"
In other words, they are saying, "You think you're the Messiah?  Then why hasn't God rescued you the way he said he would?" That the Messiah is going to be victorious through death is beyond imagination. From their perspective this is God's punishment executed through their hands on Jesus for claiming to be God's own son.  Somehow they missed the deep story; they are identifying themselves with the ones who ridicule the Messiah in his troubles.

It is in this context of the 22nd Psalm and their mocking accusation that Jesus quotes the first verse of the Psalm,  "Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?" that is, "My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?

How are we to understand his words?  I have heard a lot of debate ranging from the idea that Jesus was so covered in our filthy sin that God had to turn his back on him, to the idea that Jesus was so distressed by his ordeal that he was confused about being the Messiah.  However neither opinion addresses Matthew's context adequately.

When Jesus quoted "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?" he was claiming that the prophecy of the advent of the Messiah was fulfilled in this very moment.   Matthew goes out of his way to record all the complex ways (ways outside of Jesus' control) that the prophecy is fulfilled.  Jesus was the one whom God was going to let die. He was the one "despised by people," (Psalm 22:6) and he was the one whom God brought forth from his mother's womb (Psalm 22:9-10).  Hanging there up on the cross he was thirsty, surrounded by criminals, pierced, and his clothes are being gambled away (Psalms 22:15,16,18 and Matt  27:33-34 and 48, 38, 35-36)  He was the one who appeared to be forsaken by God. He was the fulfillment of the Psalm they mocked him with.
For He has not despised nor abhorred the affliction of the afflicted;
Nor has He hidden His face from him;
But when he cried to Him for help, He heard. (Psalms 22:24)
In resurrecting his son from the dead God made it plain that no matter how much it might have seemed that Jesus was rejected, abandoned, and forsaken, in fact, God did not despise him or hide his face from him, but even from the grave he heard and came to our Savior's rescue. 

I am amazed by the entire Psalm and even more so by the way Matthew illustrates its fulfillment in Jesus.  I am also amazed by the fact that the prophecy stretches out to reach us today.  Hear the last words of the Psalm. 
Posterity will serve Him; it will be told of the Lord to the coming generation.  They will come and will declare His righteousness to a people who will be born, that He has performed it. 
Every mom who tells the story of Jesus to her eager children, every Sunday School teacher who is rattling dice to represent the gambling soldiers, every grandmother who rubs her daughter or daughter-in-law's belly and promises God that this child too shall know takes her place to make this prophecy come true.

My coming generation will know, will yours?


Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE(R), Copyright(c) 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

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