A victorious turn

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.”

Stay blessed…john

Those Who Are Suffering

Let’s talk suffering.

By now I’ll assume you know I don’t give much merit to American Christians who cry persecution here. That’s not to say there aren’t legitimate concerns about religious freedom. By and large, most people of all faith traditions, Christian and otherwise, feel those apprehensions.

Generally speaking, Christians in the US have mistaken a fall from religious dominance for persecution. We can point to noticable shifts in societal perspectives to explain this feeling. A lot of the blame, though, falls at the feet of the church.

We’ve been untrustworthy. We’ve been poor witnesses to the gospel. While preaching forgiveness we brought shame. We masked abuse to protect ourselves and our ministries. With boldness, the church told the rest of the world how wrong it was while ignoring its own faults.

Is it any wonder people outside the faith don’t trust the church?

All that clouds our sense of suffering. Most of our congregations know the feeling of struggle to maintain the status quo, but we do not know suffering for the gospel’s sake.

At times the church has made people suffer. Whether it was the lure of power or the supposed defense of orthodox belief and practice, the church has often been a heavy hitter.

There are many times as well the church, or at least people of God have been the aim of persecution. It still happens. It is still happening around the world today.

As Christians, we need a developed understanding of suffering. The true struggle against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms necessitates that we do. Suffering as a result of the gospel requires our willingness to decide what the good news means to us.

1 Peter has in mind those Christians who are suffering. The ones who worship in secret to avoid death from their governments. Those imprisoned for their unwillingness to recant their convictions. Congregations who hear of their sanctuaries closed and burned to the ground.

That’s the suffering 1 Peter anticipates Christians will face. Now, thanfully, not all of us do. That’s why it irks me when we conflate our fall from grace as persecution.

The question remains, are we prepared to face that kind of suffering? How would we respond?

1 Peter 3 lays out a few responses for us. Peter’s point is one I pray we hold close to us. That even in the face of persecution our witness would hold strong. As you face suffering for the sake of the gospel, that the Lord would strengthen your heart and mine, make all that we declare about the goodness of God real enough to believe it with all our heart and all of our life.

And if we do not face such suffering, how will we support our sisters and brothers of faith who are?

Stay blessed…john