Friday, April 9, 2010

Significance of Christ's Last Words

"...Jesus cried out in a loud voice, "Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?"—which means, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (Matthew 27:46; Mark 15:34)

The Gospel accounts of Jesus' last anguished cry from the Cross raise both questions and provide insights to the armchair theologian. The obvious question this heart-rending verse might raise is "Why is Jesus, in His omniscience, asking this of the Father?" Countless Good Friday and Passion Week sermons have examined this verse in light of the Atonement, and the realization that during those last awful 3 hours on the Cross, God the Father turned away from Christ. He was willingly bearing the full brunt of our sins - the consequence of which is eternal separation from God. He knew this, and out of love chose to feel the full weight of our sin from eternity past.

But let's look a little more deeply at that exact phrase, and examine why Jesus might have sovereignly chosen to use it before fully completing His ministry.

As you probably know, Christ was quoting the first verse of Psalm 22, written by David some 1,000 years earlier. To put it in context, Psalm 22 is "the anguished prayer of David as a godly sufferer victimized by the vicious and prolonged attacks of enemies whom he has not provoked and from whom the Lord has not (yet) delivered him." (NIV Study Bible notes). Okay, so we see the persecution of David as God's annointed, and we already know that he was a "type" of the Messiah Who would later rule eternally.

Here is what I noticed when reading Psalm 22: it is entirely in the first person. It is not quite so easy to spot as a "Suffering Servant" passage as Isaiah's prophetic writings are; David, as the precuser to the Messiah, is writing from his own experience...and using hyperbolic language. Look at vereses 7-8 and see what's going on here:

7 All who see me mock me;
they hurl insults, shaking their heads:

8 "He trusts in the LORD;
let the LORD rescue him.
Let him deliver him,
since he delights in him."

and vs. 14-18:

14 I am poured out like water,
and all my bones are out of joint.
My heart has turned to wax;
it has melted away within me.

15 My strength is dried up like a potsherd,
and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth;
you lay me in the dust of death.

16 Dogs have surrounded me;
a band of evil men has encircled me,
they have pierced my hands and my feet.

17 I can count all my bones;
people stare and gloat over me.

18 They divide my garments among them
and cast lots for my clothing.

(Emphasis of 16b mine). This psalm most clearly prophesided what would happen to David's divine Descendant on Golgotha, and Jesus knew it every time He read or heard this psalm sung in the Synagogue. There is no doubt that He was underscoring this fact when He proclaimed the verse 22:1 from the Cross, in far more anguish than the psalm's original author could ever know.

Psalm 22 is similar in many ways to the prophetic psalm 69, but it contains no calls for vengeance such as are found in 69:22-28. Again, I do not believe this was coincidence. Christ's call for His tormentors' forgiveness (Luke 23:34) showcases an almost unbelievable desire for them to repent and thus be pardoned - nowhere in the Gospel accounts do we see Jesus threatening divine retribution from the Cross. The imprecatory psalms do call down God's just punishment on the unrepentant, but on the Cross Jesus displayed only mercy and grace (which was what moved the centurion to recognize His deity in Luke 23:47). Psalm 22 ends with a praise to God and looks forward to future glory; vengeance is completely absent from the text. No psalm is quoted more frequently in the New Testament; and no passage more completely foreshadows Christ's suffering. It was not coincidence that He quoted it on the Cross.

What, then, was Jesus saying? That the Trinity was divided against itself, for reasons He did not understand? No! Substitutionary Atonement was far clearer to Jesus than it could ever be to even the most astute believer. He was obviously affirming, once again, that He was indeed the Messiah by quoting this particular Davidic passage. How the bystanders on Calvary missed this allusion is beyond me - as religious Jews, they were extremely well-versed in the psalms of David. The pointed message was unmistakeable - "I am the One David wrote about. It's all happening, just as prophesied...down to the Roman centurians gambling for My clothing."

It is iumpossible to imagine what exactly Christ experienced when He became a sin offering and bore the full wrath of God - and was, literally, "forsaken" of Him on the Cross. However, we should not miss the significance of His exact choice of that verse in the darkest moment. It is a claim both to Messiahship, and and affirmation of His divinity.

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