Traditionally in the Lutheran church, and possibly in other denominations as well, Good Friday worship service presents the seven last words of Christ for our remembrance and meditation. Normally, the pastor turns to Scripture passages in Matthew for this task. Instead, last night, my pastor chose the passion account in the book of John, which does not contain all seven last utterances of our Lord, only a few of them:
- “Dear woman, here is your son. Here is your mother.”
- “I am thirsty.”
- “It is finished.”
Unfortunately, my favorite passage is not in this list, that of “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
When I was young, the only explanation I ever heard for these words was that, at some specific moment before His death, Christ was so covered with the sins of the people (past, present, and future), it was impossible for God the Father to look upon Him. Being so completely holy and unable to abide sin, and despite the fact that He so completely loved the Son, God the Father could not look on Christ because He was so completely unholy. I believe this to be true.
When I was older, sometime during King Richard’s bout with cancer and while I was attending Bible Study Fellowship, someone suggested to me that those words were not just a recognition by Christ that He was wholly unacceptable to God at that moment, but they also represented one final attempt by Christ to teach the Pharisees (and anyone else who happened to be standing at the foot of the cross) who He was. My initial reaction to this explanation was skepticism…until I read Psalm 22.
For people unfamiliar with the Holy Scriptures, the opening line of Psalm 22 is none other than, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Being thoroughly educated in the writings of Moses, the prophets, and the other giants of the Hebrew faith (like David), the Pharisees who were present at the crucifixion would have known this passage well. Perhaps if they had read their way through it in their minds and carefully observed the events unfolding before them, they may have recognized Christ in the description given there, perhaps not:
1) ...SCORNED BY MEN AND DESPISED BY PEOPLE
Then they spit in his face and struck him with their fists. Others slapped him… --- Matthew 26:67
They spit on him, and took the staff and struck him on the head again and again. --- Matthew 27:30
The people stood watching, and the rulers even sneered at him. --- Luke 23:35a
2) ALL WHO SEE ME MOCK ME; THEY HURL INSULTS, SHAKING THEIR HEADS...
They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, and then twisted a crown of thorns and set it on his head. They put a staff in his right hand and knelt in front of him and mocked him. “Hail, king of the Jews!” --- Matthew 27:28-29
The soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on his head. They clothed him in a purple robe and went up to him again and again, saying, “Hail, king of the Jews!” And they struck him in the face. --- John 19:2-3
Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads… --- Matthew 27:39
In the same way the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders mocked him. --- Matthew 27:41
3) HE TRUSTS IN THE LORD; LET THE LORD RESCUE HIM. LET HIM DELIVER HIM...
“He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself! He’s the King o Israel! Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. He trusts in god. Let God rescue him now if he wants him, for he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’ ” In the same way the robbers who were crucified with him also heaped insults on him. --- Matthew 27:42-44
They said, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Christ of God, the Chosen One.” --- Luke 23:35b
4) ...A BAND OF EVIL MEN HAS ENCIRCLED ME, THEY HAVE PIERCED MY HANDS AND MY FEET.
Then the governor’s soldiers took Jesus into the Praetorium and gathered the whole company of soldiers around him. --- Matthew 27:27
So the other disciples told him [Thomas], “We have seen the Lord!” But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it.” --- John 20:25
5) THEY DIVIDE MY GARMENTS AMONG THEM AND CAST AMONG THEM AND CAST LOTS FOR MY CLOTHING.
When the soldiers crucified Jesus, they took his clothes, dividing them into four shares, one for each of them, with the undergarment remaining. The garment was seamless, swoven in one piece from top to bottom.
“Let’s not tear it,” they said to one another. “Let’s decide by lot who will get it.”
This happened that the scripture might be fulfilled which said, “They divided my garmets among them and cast lots for my clothing.” So this is what the soldiers did. --- John 19:23-24
Psalm 22 was written by David many, many years before Christ was born, and even more years before He was crucified. Yet, it perfectly describes what happened to our Lord in the last hours of His life. I never cease to be amazed by the ability of God to make everything accomplish so much more than I can comprehend. In the case of these last words of Christ, they recognized that Jesus, the sacrificial lamb, was abhorrent to God because of our sins and they continued to teach until the very end.
Lord, grant me the wisdom to listen and to learn whenever you are teaching. Amen.
Inspired by a little-known picture book from the pen of Bethany Tudor, this is a diary, of sorts, where I document some of my thoughts, activities, and ideas as I explore the challenges met by the characters in the story: hard work, the care and nurture of others, housekeeping skills, life changes, charity, community, and cooperation, among others. Like Samuel and Samantha, the ducks in the tale, I struggle and succeed, cope and celebrate, work and play, handling the tasks that come my way. I invite you to join me on my journey.