Text: Psalm 22, Good Friday
Let us pray,
Father God, we have entered once again into the deepest and darkest mysteries of your love for us, to stand at the foot of your cross and to gaze at the broken and bleeding body of your son. Our ears ring again with the story of his passion, and we are all too aware that we have little understanding of the real agony he endured and of the love that put him there. Father, open the hearts of all who have gathered here and everywhere this day of sorrow and death to the fullness of what you did for us that day through the cross, and let us never forget why we remember the wounded flesh, the spilled blood, the thorns, and the rough hewn wood as good. In the name of he who died, that we wouldn’t have to, Jesus Christ. Amen.
And so we have come again to the darkest of all days to witness a violence we can only barely comprehend. It is a story we have heard many times, and recently seen dramatized graphically on the big screen. But even as we look on the violence and recognize the physical agony, and comment on how terrible the torture must have felt, how long the walk with the cross must have been, and how shameful it was to die as a criminal and to hang on a cross, none of us truly comprehend what it means.
Most of us, really, are desensitized to the violence of it anyway. We have seen worse things dramatized in film and on television. We hear of violence as brutal time and again on the news, often with many more than one or two victims, and it takes little effort to recall the holocausts of history, wars, maimings, tortures, genocides, and burning towers.
As Christians, we don’t have to look any farther than our own brothers and sisters to know that a brutal death was not reserved for Christ alone. Christians have died for thousands of years by torture, fire, lions, stones, and weapons. Nothing has been spared of the imagination of evil men and women in devising ways to harm and kill those who claim to love and serve the Father as Jesus did. Jesus was not even the last to hang on cross.
Even today, if we’re willing to listen, we hear that many Christians in other parts of the world are going through horrendous violence in the name of Jesus. If we are honest with ourselves, I don’t think any of us we claim to really know and understand what that’s like.
So when we consider the cross and Christ’s broken body, we might wonder how brutal it really was. We who are so aware of violence as somewhat commonplace and yet removed enough from us to touch us only in our awareness might be tempted to ask what was really so awful about the cross by comparison. And if we were a victim of that kind of violence, who in death could stand before Jesus and compare the wounds and the scars, we might be tempted to ask how his suffering was any different than ours.
There is little doubt that if we look at the cross merely form the standpoint of its physical torture and social shame, if we see it as a brutal instrument of pain and agony, the cross is absolutely terrible and something we would never want to have to experience. But it isn’t unique, and there is much in this world we could look upon with equal fear and distaste.
But the cross was different for Christ.
He did suffer in ways most of us will never have to, but some have and will. But there was one way he suffered that was more terrible than all the rest, more horrendous than the shame of his trial, the flesh torn by the Roman whips, the thorns pressed upon his brow. more agonizing than the nails pounded through his sinews and bone into the splintered wood, than the hours of thirst and labored breathing, and the spear in his side. There was something Jesus endured that was more intensely painful than the jeers of the crowd, the spittle on his face, the taunts of the soldiers, and even the denial and betrayal by his dearest friends. There was something Jesus went through that he never would have had to face if it wasn’t for us and our sin, something so profoundly terrible that we cannot even begin to really imagine what it was like even if we spend our lives trying, something that even the most brutalized Christians, past or present, could not begin to understand, something that wounded Jesus more deeply than anything else he endured.
There was something Jesus suffered that we will NEVER understand because we will NEVER have to face it.
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me” (Pslam 22.1).
– the alpha and omega,
– who was one with the Father from the begin of all time
– who knew God as only God himself could
– who knew the constant love and companionship of the Father intimately and deeply
– who walked the entire road to the cross with the confidence of the Father’s love and presence and the full knowledge of his blessing and will
Jesus Christ, because he was our sin for us, before holy God, because he was our guilt, our shame.
Jesus Christ was utterly, completely, forsaken by God the Father.
And because he was…we never will be.
Earlier we read the words from Psalm 22 that Jesus spoke during his last moments on the cross. They are words we can read and speak, but they are words we will never truly say as ours. To the wind, and to the silence, Jesus cried:
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from saving me,
so far from the words of my groaning?
My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer,
by night, but I find no rest.
Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One;
you are the praise of Israel.
In you our ancestors put their trust;
they trusted and you delivered them.
They cried to you and were saved;
in you they trusted and were not disappointed.
But I am a worm, not a human being;
I am scorned by everyone, despised by the people.
All who see me mock me;
they hurl insults, shaking their heads.
“He trusts in the LORD,” they say,
“let the LORD rescue him.
Let him deliver him, since he delights in him.”
Yet you brought me out of the womb;
you made me feel secure on my mother’s breast.
From birth I was cast on you;
from my mother’s womb you have been my God.
Do not be far from me, for trouble is near
and there is no one to help.
Many bulls surround me;
strong bulls of Bashan encircle me.
Roaring lions that tear their prey
open their mouths wide against me.
I am poured out like water,
and all my bones are out of joint.
My heart has turned to wax; it has melted within me.
My mouth is dried up like a potsherd,
and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth;
you lay me in the dust of death.
Dogs surround me, a pack of villains encircles me;
they pierce my hands and my feet.
All my bones are on display;
people stare and gloat over me.
They divide my clothes among them
and cast lots for my garment.
But you, LORD, do not be far from me.
You are my strength; come quickly to help me. (Psalm 22.1-19)
But this time, the help did not come, and Jesus’ strength left him. “For the first time in eternity,” as singer and writer Michael Card reminds us, “Jesus was alone. Abandoned. No Father. No answers. Only Silence” (Michael Card, A Violent Grace, 134).
Do we understand what this meant? Can we understand what it means to be abandoned by God, to have him truly turn his face from us and to leave us utterly alone?
We can’t…because Jesus did.
And this is why we can only comprehend in part what it means to suffer in this way, why we must use our imaginations and then recognize that we can’t imagine enough to really understand this mystery. As violent and depraved as our world seems to be, as dark and brutal this fallen world is, and as much as it seems to us sometimes that God is nowhere to be found, the fact is that we have never tasted what it’s like to be abandoned by him.
The creator and sustainer still makes the world go ‘round, and though we reject him and fail him, though we don’t believe or believe poorly, we have truly never known how bad it can be to be left fully to ourselves.
That would be, quite literally…hell.
Even in our darkest moments, even for those who lay no claims to knowing God, we have never known what it means to be forsaken.
But Jesus did.
And because Jesus did—we don’t have to.
In the very moment when God was most absent,
– when the veil over the cross was the deepest darkness between the Son and the Father
– when Jesus Christ was abandoned by the Father because he bore our sin
– when he was wounded in ways we can never imagine
– when jesus Christ was more like us than we could ever be ourselves, more fully separated from God in sin, bearing on his own body and in his very being the consequences of our disobedience, our rejection, our pride and willfulness, and trapped in time and a mortal body, dying as Son of Man on a cross,
In that very moment, the worst we can only begin to imagine, God was closer to us than ever, and the veil between us and the Father was torn in two. Jesus assured that we would never, ever have to know and understand what it means to be forsaken by God.
This is the depth of Christ’s love for us, that while we were still sinners, while we should have born not only the wounds of the body but the unbearable agony of abandonment and eternal silence,
He died for us.
His love is why this day is good and why in our darkest moments we are never abandoned. In the deepest darkness of our sin, Jesus became all that we are and bore the wounds we will never have to bear—the abandonment of the Father, the silence…even hell itself.
My God, my God, why…?
The poor will eat and be satisfied; those who seek the LORD
will praise him— may your hearts live forever!
All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the LORD,
and all the families of the nations will bow down before him,
for dominion belongs to the LORD and he rules over the nations.
All the rich of the earth will feast and worship;
all who go down to the dust will kneel before him—
those who cannot keep themselves alive.
Posterity will serve him;
future generations will be told about the Lord.
They will proclaim his righteousness, declaring to a people yet unborn, saying
He has done it! (Psalm 22.26-31)