Good Friday Tre Ore
Our Savior Lutheran Church, Grand Rapids, Michigan
April 6, 2012
Text: Matt. 27:45-46: “Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour. And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, ‘Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?’ that is, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’” (ESV).
Jesus is praying Psalm 22. And fulfilling it. For you. In your place. You see, what is happening here is that Jesus is suffering hell for your sins. To be forsaken by God, that is the definition of hell. We can’t begin to imagine what it really means to be forsaken by God. That would be the utter absence of all that is good, because God is the source of all that is good. Even in our greatest suffering, we do not experience the utter absence of all that is good. In this life, God makes His sun to rise on the good and the evil, and the rain to fall on the just and the unjust (Matt. 5:45). When God forsakes a person in hell, when God is present only in divine wrath and justice, well, that is a hopeless, unrelenting, torturous existence that can only be called eternal death because we lack the words to describe it. When Jesus cries out in the bitter anguish of body and soul, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” it is the high point of His suffering on our behalf. The Father has forsaken the Son. God has forsaken God. How can that be? It is a ponderous mystery. It is a divine necessity. Because if God is to be just, He must punish sin. He cannot simply excuse it, or sweep it under the rug. He must deal with it. And so, if you are to be saved, dear sinner, God must do the unthinkable. He must send His Son to take your place. And that is what He does. He sends His Son. Jesus comes willingly to take your place. He is nailed to the cross for you. He is forsaken of the Father for you. He suffers hell for you. So that all your sins are forgiven, and you have eternal life.
When we suffer profoundly in this life we may be heard to say, “I’m going through hell,” or “God has forsaken me.” Well, we know that’s wrong, but let’s not dismiss the sentiment too quickly. There is real and profound human suffering in this fallen world, in our fallen flesh. And it can seem as though God has forsaken you in your suffering. That’s the point of Psalm 22, and so many other Psalms. It’s right there in the prayer-book of the Bible. Even though these words are first and foremost about Jesus, the Holy Spirit wrote these words for you to pray, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Because it so often seems as though He has. The Prophet Isaiah said it this way: “Truly, you are a God who hides himself, O God of Israel, the Savior” (Is. 45:15). God’s peculiar people Israel were suffering greatly at the hands of other nations. It seemed as though God had forsaken them. Isaiah accuses God of hiding. And yet, in the very same breath, he confesses this God as the Savior of Israel. And that is the key for the Christian who suffers. Though God is hiding, though He is silent, though it seems that God has forsaken you, you know He hasn’t. You know He is the Savior. You know He will do something to save you, because He said so in His holy Word, and He cannot lie. Jesus, who suffered a hell beyond what any of us can begin to imagine, confessed His faith even in His bitter cry. He cried, “My God, my God, why?” I don’t know why, God. But I know you are my God. And that is enough. You will save me. You must. Because You said so. And You cannot lie.
When it seems as though God has forsaken you, when God is hiding, here is the comfort. Jesus really was forsaken by God on the cross. Jesus was forsaken by God so that God will never forsake you. Jesus was forsaken in your place so that you may be united with God for all eternity. That is the truth of your Baptism into Christ. God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting our trespasses against us (2 Cor. 5:19). In Holy Baptism, you are clothed with that very same Christ. “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (Gal. 3:27). That means you are clothed with Christ’s righteousness, even as He has taken your sin into Himself and nailed it to the cross where it has been put to death forever. That means that you are all sons of God in Christ Jesus, through faith (Gal. 3:26). You are God’s own child, you gladly say it. And what does that mean? God did not leave His Son in death. God will not leave you in death. God will not leave you in suffering. He will not and cannot forsake you, because you are in Christ, and Christ was already forsaken once and for all, for you.
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” We cannot always answer the question, why?, when it comes to our suffering. But Jesus knew the answer to His. He was suffering for you, to claim you as His own. The writer to the Hebrews says that for the joy set before our Lord Jesus, he endured the cross, despising the shame (Heb. 12:2). You are the joy set before Him. He did all this, willingly, for you. He was forsaken of the Father, willingly, for you. That you may be His own and live under Him in His Kingdom. And that makes all the difference in your own suffering. Even as you pray Psalm 22 with your Lord, you also pray with Him, as we will hear shortly, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” (Luke 23:46). For the Psalm continues: God “has not despised or abhorred the affliction of the afflicted, and he has not hidden his face from him, but has heard, when he cried to him” (Ps. 22:24). God does not despise you. He has heard your cry. His answer is Jesus, for you, hidden under suffering and the cross, hidden in your suffering, revealed in His Word. Jesus is the end of God-forsakenness. Jesus is the end of death. Jesus is your deliverance and your eternal life. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.