I’m listening to NewSong’s ‘Arise My Love’ on the radio as I write this newsletter. It reinforces something that I’ve been thinking about since the Easter season. It’s the Cross thing that I have rolled around in my mind. Obviously, what happened at the Cross is one of two or three foundational parts of our Faith. I mean, golly, what if what we believe about that Cross is true! Well, you would have to write a book on that, not a letter. But one of the things that has always intrigued me about that crucifixion is the words of Jesus, ‘My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me?’ (The most common Greek definition for the word forsaken is ‘to leave behind’.)
Imagine that. Is that what really happened? How does the Son of God suggest such a thing? How does he do the unthinkable and question God! Surely Jesus knew differently, or, maybe the Father did forsake him! Did God abandon him? I don’t think so; actually I think we can find out exactly what He did. If He did not, then what was happening when Jesus said that?
It was not what Jesus was saying at that moment, as much as what he was asking. That’s the only place in the New Testament where Jesus is calling out to God, not calling out to Father. Here, Jesus uses the ‘Creator’ reference to God. Here, Jesus did not call out in the personal, loving relationship reference to a Father, but to God who can do all things. We know from Scripture that Jesus became sin for us. We know that the humanity of Jesus paid that great price for us, not his deity. At that moment it was not the Son of God that cried out, it was the man Jesus, his humanity that cried out. At that moment, he was not Righteousness for us, but Sin for us. At the Cross, everything that we are Jesus took upon himself; everything that we experience he experienced for us. He was Sin for us. Every thought of abandonment, loneliness, hopelessness and isolation he was carrying just as we would. Every human emotion and every pain was his. Just as we feel abandoned some of the time, isolated and lonely in our journey, on the Cross Jesus experienced those same fears. Where was His anointing at this moment? Where was the presence of God in his life there? Did God turn His face from Jesus? Well, that’s part of the end of this letter.
The reason I was thinking about this subject is that there seems to be an increasing sense of isolation and helplessness present in our daily lives. Christians, who have the most witness to the Word of His Power, well, we forget our Faith hats and sometimes put on fear. You can’t go to an internet news site without an overload of bad news, can’t pick up a paper, listen to most talk-radio stations, without finding bullying, swearing, corruption–and that’s just what’s being said and done by our so-called political leaders, people we have chosen to protect us, chosen to protect this unique country. I’m embarrassed at how our politicians display so much lying and name calling and then they stand, seemingly, self-righteously amazed that the country in such shape.
I’m concerned with what appears to be an ever increasing effort to demean people of Faith in this country. Well, some of it I understand; we have not represented the Gospel very well in some ways. We have lost some of the skill of being an ambassador of Christ in some of our language, some of our actions. But still, with those mistakes made and admitted, there is a bigger effort here than just complaints against our Christian manners. There is a daily sense of the persecution of believers in some very big sense. Not just attacks on a couple of issues like abortion or same sex marriages, but attacks on a whole gambit of our beliefs, attacks from the courts, attacks through executive orders, and a legislative branch of government that does not seem to represent or take up the causes of the majority of the people in this country. I don’t know if it bothers you, but it concerns me when the Senate and House leaders and our own President choose to leave out ‘under God’ in their quotes of the Constitution of this country….It bothers me because it’s no accident, that it’s policy, that it’s a world view!
That kind of world-view, if I’m not careful, brings me to feelings of being more alone, more isolated, less hopeful. When I say ‘if I’m not careful,’ what I mean is if I leave those feelings unchecked. They come naturally, just as when enormous pressure was put on Jesus, even he defaulted to thoughts of abandonment. I’m not to that point just yet! I have a couple of things that I can trust in. One, I think all the pressure put on the Church might teach us that we must either pull together or fall apart. The effort to overcome a real world-wide assault on the Christian Faith must be based on what for the most part will be an invisible organization. Not a group built on structure but on relationships between the common interests of all believers. Laying aside our differences and finding those things we have in common. Just as the opposition to the Gospel does not come from one source, one package, our ability to challenge the challenge to our Faith will need to come from many pulling together to resist losing our expression of Faith. We will need a new flexible wineskin to take on the challenge. Our old ways have not been working and new, inspired ways must come. We are in need of new ways to challenge the media attacks and legal push, old politics is just not going to do it. I still think there is a ‘Moses’ in some tent somewhere in America that can lead us; he just has not been revealed yet!
Secondly, well, it’s the answer to the question I posed in the first paragraph. At the Cross, had God abandoned Jesus? Could Jesus have been wrong in his ‘forsaken’ statement? In my opinion, not really wrong, but certainly, Jesus could have been ‘thinking’ human! He could have felt the weight of the world on his humanity, could have ‘felt’ like God had forsaken him (just like we ‘feel’ like God has forsaken us sometimes). Actually, we know exactly what was taking place on that Cross. Jesus was quoting Psalm 22 and in it is found the answer. This Psalm is a prophetic cry of David about the crucifixion of the Messiah of God. It is an insightful picture of what actually went through the mind if Jesus at his death. (There is no traditional Jewish stoning here; it’s a picture of a Roman crucifixion, hundreds of years before crucifixion was even thought of.) Our answer is in verse 24, ‘… (for God) hath not despised nor abhorred the affliction of the afflicted, neither hath He hid His face from him, but when he cried out He heard…’
Where was God at the Cross? He was with Jesus, even in him, reconciling the world unto Himself! Did Jesus feel that at the time? The scripture and the Psalm indicate that Jesus did not. If you read the whole Psalm you will find the Messiah felt like a worthless worm, the reproach of all men, despised by all of the people. The powerful political leaders (bulls, maybe even bullies), the assembly of the wicked had surrounded him. In Jesus’ mind, he was completely and hopelessly cut off, abandoned, isolated, surely God had ‘left him behind’. We can feel like that as well, even as believers. Jesus was the biggest believer of all and he felt like that. The thing we must bring to mind is where was God at the Cross and where is God at times of pressure in our lives? He was right there, and He is right here! He hears us! He does not turn His face from us. It may seem like that, but ‘My God, My God, why have you forsaken me’ was a question, not a statement of fact. It was what Jesus said, it was a picture of the moment, but it was not the whole story. Just remember the next Psalm David wrote: the Twenty-Third.