Summary: This is a sermon on the fourth word of Jesus from the cross "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" This sermon takes a new look at Jesus’ words here from Psalm 22 and shows how Jesus is not forsaken but actually praising God even in the midst of the
"Singing with Jesus"
The Fourth Word from the Cross
March 11, 2007
Rev. J. Curtis Goforth, O.S.L.
From noon on, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. And about three o”clock Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” -Matthew 27:45-46
Have you ever thumbed through our hymnal? There are obviously a number of hymns in it, but there are other things as well. There is a collection of the liturgies for baptism and communion and other services. There are a number of prayers, creeds, and orders of service for a funeral. There is even a second hymnal in our hymnal at the back. It is called the Psalter. The Psalter is just another way of saying the book of Psalms. In fact, the word “psalm” even means song in Greek. It would be perfectly fitting for us to have named this book in the middle of our Bibles and at the back of our hymnal the book of songs.
And, just like our hymnal, the book of psalms was the hymnal of ancient Israel. It was the hymnal that was in the Temple. And every Sabbath worship service included the singing and chanting of several of these psalms. And there is a psalm for just about every occasion. There are psalms of thanksgiving, there are psalms of praise, there are psalms which plead for forgiveness, there are psalms that were used for the installation of a king, there are happy psalms and there are sad psalms. These sad psalms we call psalms of lament.
But there is one thing I want you to remember, these psalms were not just written down for private devotional reading. That is not to say that they aren’t wonderful for private devotional reading because they are excellent for that. But it is to say that these hymns were used in the context of public worship. These are words meant to be sung in worship, by the gathered community. There are even some psalms that call for there to be a soloist singing one part and the congregation singing a response. The book of Psalms is a very public hymnal.
But this sermon is not about the book of Psalms. It is about the fourth of Jesus’ last words spoken from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” These words are very difficult for us to hear. They sound almost as though Jesus believes that God the Father has left him alone and empty in his darkest hour. It is troubling to hear Jesus speak these words from the cross. Where was God in that situation? Did God utterly abandon Jesus? Did Jesus lose his faith and feel at the end of his life that he had been forgotten and forsaken? Many preachers have suggested just that. I have heard many sermons on how God had to utterly abandon Jesus in order for him to bear our sins because God somehow can’t tolerate sin. Well, I’m sorry to remind us that we are not the ones that are allowed to put rules onto God about what God can or cannot do or about what God has to do or has to not do. God is not bound by our rules of what we might think he needs to do in a situation—that’s why God is God and we are not.
Was Jesus abandoned by God the Father? Did Jesus lose his faith as he was dying on the cross? These are troubling questions raised by these last words of Jesus on the cross. But I think there is a better explanation.
You see, every time we think about the crucifixion, every time we think about the cross, we think about it in human terms. And in human terms, the cross is the worst and darkest hour of the world. The savior of the world hung from it, bleeding and dying, gasping for breath through the pain that he felt over every inch of his body. The cross is a dreadful thing when we think about it in human terms. But there is another way of thinking about the cross. The cross is not only the darkest and most dreadful event in the history of humanity, it is also the brightest and most glorious thing. Through the cross, through the crucifixion, our dead world was given new life. Through the death of Christ was found the life of the world. I think we too many times see only one side of the cross, the human side, yet we very rarely see the divine side of it.
When we see it through the eyes of heaven, the cross was not only the worst thing to happen, but also the best. Do you remember what I said at the beginning about the book of Psalms being the hymnal of ancient Israel? Do you remember how I said that these words were not written for private devotional reading so much as they were written as songs of praise for the people of God? Well, remember that when you hear these last words of Jesus, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”