Most of us are familiar with Jesus’ final words from the cross.
Every year, countless Good Friday worship gatherings center around the seven phrases Jesus spoke. Of the seven, Jesus directs his attention to God in three. Father, forgive them. My God, my God. Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.
Jesus speaks to other people with the other four phrases.
Now, the first phrase makes sense. It sounds like Jesus to ask God to forgive his enemies. And before he breathes his final breath, we understand why Jesus would offer his life to God.
It’s that middle phrase that gets us.
Why did Jesus say, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
Many sermons have suggested it was a dark moment of humanity for Jesus. I don’t doubt that. The idea is that in the fullness of his humanity he suffered a lapse of faith and trust. It was only one moment, but a real in-the-flesh one.
I can appreciate that.
As a part of humanity myself, I welcome any and all instances Jesus struggled with being a human being. Thank God we do not have a high priest unable to sympathize with our weaknesses.
Still, others question why Jesus would have felt forsaken at all. God had already voiced affirmation of who and what Jesus professed to be. Did Jesus think God was going to spare him after all? Maybe Jesus thought it would turn out to be a last-minute save like it was for young Isaac.
Some people can’t imagine Jesus having doubts or questions. So, they might suggest Jesus quoted the psalms as a way of fulfilling prophecy about himself. That’s an okay response, too.
I tend to affirm another thought.
It coincides with an idea I heard once. That every word we have from Jesus is a callback to some word from his scripture, our Old Testament. In that light, when Jesus recites the first line of Psalm 22, he wants us to remember the entire psalm.
For most of the first half of the psalm, the psalmist is in trouble. People are against him. It’s no wonder Jesus chose that psalm as he looked out at the crowd who chanted for his death.
But the psalm takes a victorious turn.
The psalmist experienced the power of God. The Lord did not hide from him. As a result, praise erupted. And praise would continue for generations.
Jesus understood his suffering would bring God praise. Generations later, you and I are still praising God.
Now, that’s not a cheesy sitcom tie-up. Those help a TV show finish its episode on a high note. Instead, this is a reminder that all of life will be redeemed by God. Jesus didn’t lose faith in God. He knew what was next.
That helps give us a broader perspective to see our own suffering. Even if we can’t see it now or if it feels as if God has forsaken us, God’s presence is still with us.
A modern psalmist said it this way:
It may be unfulfilled
It may be unrestored
But when anything that’s shattered is laid before the lord
Just watch and see
It will not be unredeemed
And like the psalmist of old, I know all of that and declare, “I shall live for him.”