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Author:Rev. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
 frca.org.au/mountnasura/
 
Title:Why Have You Accepted Me?
Text:Matthew 27:46 (View)
Occasion:Easter (Good Friday)
Topic:Christ's Suffering
 
Preached:2020
Added:2020-04-19
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 31:1,14                                                                  

Hy 1

Reading – Psalm 22; Matthew 27:45-50

Ps 22:1,3,8

Sermon – Matthew 27:46

Hy 35:1,4

Hy 83:1,2

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Brothers and sisters in Christ, is God always near us? Or can there be times in a believer’s life when the LORD has gone away? When God has actually left us, alone and in the dark? These are real questions—maybe you’ve asked them, and you wondered: “Where is God? I know what He said about being with me, but right now I sure don’t feel his nearness. I pray and read Scripture, but it does nothing. I’m seeking him, but not finding him.”

So is it true? Is God always near us, or isn’t He? In this struggle, we know a few things. First, we should know not to trust our feelings. As much as this world tells us to listen to our heart, our feelings aren’t that reliable. And they don’t decide our position before God. There’s a far greater truth than our feelings!

For second, we know that God’s Word is true. What God says, He means, absolutely. He won’t go back on his promise, and He won’t let his Word return to him empty. So when Scripture says that “The eyes of the LORD are toward the righteous and his ears are toward their cry” (Ps 34:15), we know that He’s not lying. That’s dependable: He does see and hear us!

But why? What’s the reason we can know beyond any doubt that God is near? How can we affirm that God is present with us, even if we don’t feel it? Yes, why is God always willing to see and hear us? Grasping this reason rightly can strengthen our confidence. It can give courage for whatever we’re dealing with right now.

And to see the reason for God’s steadfast presence, we look to the cross of Christ. For there He was dying in agony. Yet on the cross our Lord opened his mouth to speak. In the hearing of those gathered, He spoke some “last words.” Seven different sayings, according to the gospels. We consider the one that came right at the height of his suffering. It’s what our Saviour said in Matthew 27:46, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” Among the seven last words, this is perhaps the greatest: a statement of his condemnation, and a statement of our salvation. I preach God’s Word to you,

Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?

  1. a cry like David’s
  2. a cry like no other

 

1) a cry like David’s: For some reason, people like to see the misfortune of others. It’s the attraction of a car accident, when you slowly drive by because you want to see the trouble has befallen someone else. It was no different at the cross of Jesus. There were quite a number of people there—friends, but also foes and passersby—watching, waiting, and listening.

For they listened to the words of that man on the middle cross, the man who somehow had the presence of mind to speak coherent things. He spoke to those on the ground, to those on the crosses beside him, even spoke to his God up above. Though He was suffering terribly, He still seemed to have it together.

That is, until He cries out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” You can be sure this made some of the bystanders jump. This was a jarring cry. And it didn’t quite make sense.  For these words are a mixture of Hebrew and Aramaic. Two similar languages—maybe like Dutch and German—related languages, but not usually blended like this.

So what exactly was Jesus saying? Some conclude, “This man is calling for Elijah” (v 47). Through a voice that was choked with pain, that’s what it almost sounded like: “Eli, Eli!” They think that Jesus is calling the old prophet. Why would they think that? Because many people expected that the great prophet Elijah was going to return in the age of the Messiah. It’s what God had said through Malachi, some 400 years before, “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet, before the great and dreadful day of the LORD” (4:5). Jesus was getting desperate, the bystanders think; He’s hoping to see a sign from God that help was on the way.

But Jesus isn’t looking for Elijah. As He once told his disciples, “Elijah” had already come and gone. He had come in the person of John the Baptist, who prepared Christ’s way by warning all to repent. Jesus isn’t asking that his cousin make a comeback, He isn’t wishing for earlier days—rather the opposite: Christ is nearing the end, ready to finish. With his last breath, He’s calling out to heaven, “My God, my God!”

And Jesus knows what He’s saying. This isn’t some random statement, blurted out in the confusion of pain—this is a quotation from one of David’s Psalms. Jesus had done this many times throughout his life: He applied the Scriptures to himself; He used the Old Testament to explain his ministry and his purpose. Jesus knew that He was the blessing for the nations, as God promised to Abraham in Genesis. He knew He was the Suffering Servant who’d been prophesied by Isaiah. And Jesus also knew that He was the great Son of David, the righteous ruler who was long-expected by Israel.  

As David’s “grandson,” Jesus had a special love for the Psalms that David wrote. Maybe we do a similar thing when we recall the favourite words of our grandparents. Maybe they had a motto, a phrase, an old proverb that they loved to quote: something like Ora et Labora. We know there’s a wisdom in what Opa said, and we’ll often echo it. Their words are still true.

Like that, David’s old Psalms gave voice to many of the things Jesus went through. Numerous are the Psalms that speak of his joys, trials, and triumphs. Psalm 72 speaks of Jesus as the great King. Psalm 55 describes the pain of betrayal by a friend. Psalm 118 tells about the Cornerstone who’d be rejected. Psalm 16 is about Christ’s resurrection from the dead. And there’s many more. The Psalms of David were the soundtrack of Jesus’ life!

Also now, at the climax of his agony, Jesus takes his grandfather’s words into his mouth. For from the very first lines of Psalm 22, David pours out a passionate prayer before the Lord: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from helping me, and from the words of my groaning?” (v 1).

To understand any text, it’s good to think about when it was written. For Psalm 22, we don’t know David’s exact situation. He might’ve been the king of Israel, facing a rebellion. Or he might’ve been a young man, running from Saul. Whatever the occasion, it’s clear that David was facing a deadly serious trouble.

His enemies were many, his friends were few; his worries were countless, his supporters nowhere to be found. “Many bulls have surrounded me; strong bulls of Bashan have encircled me. They gape at me with their mouths, like a raging and roaring lion” (vv 12-13). Wicked men were rejoicing in his pain, looking forward to his death.

It was bad. And what made David’s pain so much worse was the injustice. He’d done nothing to deserve this. David hadn’t been perfect, but he’d tried to serve his God faithfully. The Bible tells us David was a man after God’s own heart, and David’s words confirm this, “From my mother’s womb you have been my God” (v 10).

So where was God and his promised help? David seems alone in his trouble, hopeless in his solitude. And it wasn’t for lack of praying; writes David, “I cry in the daytime, but you do not hear; and in the night season, and am not silent” (v 2). Many prayers, but no answers. In his darkest hour, it seemed that God had forsaken him.

It’s this anguished prayer that our Lord echoes. And how fitting to do so now! For He hung on the cross, wrenched apart in body and soul. He was hounded by evil men, with death very near. And what a fitting Psalm for the whole scene at the cross. Much of the Psalm depicts the last hours of Christ’s life. Psalm 22 reads like a detailed prophecy, a script for this scene, moment after moment—lived by David, and re-lived by his son, a thousand years later.

Verses 7-8 tell of the taunts thrown through the air: “All those who see me ridicule me; they shoot out the lip, they shake the head, saying, ‘He trusted in the Lord, let him rescue him.”

Verse 14 speaks of his body being torn apart in the misery of crucifixion, his blood streaming from every wound, “I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint.”

Verse 15 describes Christ’s oppressive thirst, even as his dying body starts to shut down, “My strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue clings to my jaws.”

Verse 16 looks to the executioners, those soldiers who carried out the work of crucifixion at the encouragement of the Jewish leaders: “Dogs have surrounded me; the congregation of the wicked has enclosed me.”

And verse 18 tells of the final humiliation, when the last of his coverings were taken and Jesus hung naked: “They divide my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots.”

Like for David, what made it worse for Jesus was the injustice of it all. This was Jesus, the one in whom God was well-pleased. This was the Righteous One—tortured for something He didn’t do, executed for crimes He didn’t commit. Yes, this was very much a cry like David’s: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

It’s a cry that many have sent up. And our Lord has been there. Made of human flesh and blood and spirit, He shares in our condition. A person like us, He’s endured the pain of being forsaken. He knows what it is to be rejected by a dear friend, and He knows the misery of unjust treatment. Christ has tasted the bitter tears that fall when life seems hopeless. Our Saviour understands what it’s like when God seems to have gone away.

Yet for David, there was still hope. That’s what we read in the second half of the Psalm, that after the long night, David speaks of a better day, about hope and healing. At last he realizes he hasn’t been ignored. All those prayers sent from the darkness have surely been received in heaven’s light. At last David is able to confess: “For He has not despised nor abhorred the affliction of the afflicted; nor has He hidden his face… but when he cried to him, He heard” (v 24). Even if it didn’t seem like it, God was with him—He hadn’t gone away. It’s an unchanging reality. When a child of God cries out to him, He will hear and answer.

So did Christ know how the Psalm ended? Did He understand that, just like David, He would begin this day in the depths, but end it on the heights? That would change the experience, wouldn’t it? It would mean this forsakenness on the cross wasn’t so bad after all, not if Jesus read the script ahead of time, not if Jesus knew the abandonment wasn’t forever. “Hold on just a few moments more,” He could’ve said to himself, “I’m almost there—almost at the end of the Psalm and God’s answer and his renewed blessing.” Did He know what was coming?

It’s beyond us to get into this question fully. We know that Jesus was God, which means He had perfect knowledge of future events. But as a true man He was also subject to human limitations. And we know it was as a man that He had to suffer. As a man He had to endure the Judge’s wrath, just as we sinners would’ve had to. He remained God, yet this was fully a human experience of anguish and pain. Christ’s genuine humanity, his natural weakness, even his fear of dying—such things overshadowed everything else in these moments. He surely knew the ending of Psalm 22. But in the terrible agony of being forsaken by God, that meant nothing. And this made his cry,

 

2) a cry like no other: Imagine being utterly alone. Nobody to call on, nobody to turn to. To hear only silence and see only emptiness. Such would be the pain—not just of being without friends, but being without God. This was Christ on the cross.

But had God actually abandoned his Son? Wouldn’t such a thing be impossible, and make the Trinity fall apart? So when Jesus said, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me,” wasn’t this kind of like when someone today says, “I’m ruined. I’m dead”? Things might be really bad, but you’re not ruined or dead. Was Jesus then really and truly left in his misery by God? Didn’t He still have a help and escape? Yet let’s consider this carefully.

Was God really gone? First, look at the cross. For our Saviour, this wasn’t a meaningless way to die. Remember how after the Israelites had stoned a person for his crimes, the body was usually buried with respect. But when it was a terrible offender, his broken body was hung on a tree. For he had lived like God didn’t exist. This was the sinner’s shame, and no earthly punishment was enough. So hung on a tree, delivered up to God, he’d receive the full sentence.

And the full sentence was God’s curse. To be cursed is to be condemned. To be cursed is to be crushed by the full wrath of God. No one survives his curse! Christ, the crucified one, was the cursed one. Neither on earth nor in heaven, He hung there all alone.

Was God really gone? Look at the darkness. Matthew the eyewitness reports, “From the sixth hour until the ninth hour there was darkness over all the land” (v 45). Three hours of gloom and shadows: this wasn’t just a really cloudy day in Palestine, but the darkness of God’s absence.

When you read the Scriptures, you see that light signifies the presence of God. That was the first thing God did in creating the world; He commanded, “Let there be light.” For light is life. Light tells us that God is near. But on that particular day, it was dark. Around that cross, it was dark. That is why, at about the ninth hour—after three terrible hours of darkness, Jesus could take no more: Jesus cried out in that loud voice, for He was shut out from the light of God’s face!

Was God really gone? Listen again to that cry: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” People dealing with severe pain can feel all alone, but this was about much more than physical suffering. Back then, thousands of people were crucified by the Romans. No question, it was an awful way to go. Yet for Christ, the blood and the pain and the slow suffocation of being on a cross wasn’t the worst part. It was the rejection from his own Father.

So Jesus cried those words. This wasn’t a scream in the delirium that comes with great  suffering. It was the plea of one who was fully aware: God had forsaken him! In that hour, Christ prayed and received no answer. Jesus lifted his eyes to heaven, but finally He had to bow his head—for there came no reply.

Words can’t describe what it’d be like if God took away his presence from us. What would it be like, not to have God’s blessing, God’s Spirit, God’s listening ear, God’s sure promise to save? If you’re a person who desires to walk with God, who cherishes fellowship with the Lord, you cannot fathom being without him. Even a fraction of this suffering would’ve destroyed us—yet Jesus held on.

And why? He held on in devotion to his Father, who sent him to earth to do this. He knew these words had to be spoken, that the Scriptures had to be fulfilled, that his mission would take him to the darkest depths. So He’d go to the depths.

To answer Jesus’ question: Why had God forsaken him? Why would He cause his Son to endure the worst imaginable despair? Because this same God is moved by love for a helpless people. In us God sees a people who can’t do anything for themselves. We’re only candidates for cursing, worthy of wrath. But God looks on us, and He’s moved with pity.

Think of the words we hear these whenever we celebrate the Lord’s Supper: Christ was cursed by God, that we may be richly blessed. Our Saviour was bound, that He might free us from our sins. He suffered countless insults, that we may never be put to shame. He was innocently condemned to death, that we might be acquitted at the judgment seat of God. He was utterly forsaken by God, that we might nevermore be forsaken.

Christ was abandoned, so that no child of God ever again has to say the words of Psalm 22:1! We’re not forsaken, for God will not do such a thing. As we said, that truth doesn’t always penetrate. As a statement of fact, it might be stored safely in our head. Yet it’s still a long thirty centimeters from reaching our heart. And reality can seem different, when we fear being forgotten by the LORD. Because of guilt, because of depression, because of chronic illness or pressing anxiety, we can be in a place where God seems completely gone.

And maybe we feel like we deserve it. We sinned badly. We haven’t prayed for months. We’ve loved our sin more than Christ. Yet the gospel is that God is there. Those who seek him will find him, if we seek him with all our heart. And if we’ve been sinning, God promises, “Return to me, and I will return to you.”

We cling to God. The sins we’ve committed, though they’re terrible and worthy of total condemnation, have been forgiven. Our failures as Christians, as parents, as office bearers, as husbands and wives, as friends—though we deserve God’s rejection for each one of them—these are totally cleared away because of how Christ died.  

We cling to God, even when the LORD seems absent, even in that time when prayer seems to get no answer. Perhaps even now, God seems far from you: distant and silent, for reasons you don’t really know. Or maybe God seems distant for reasons that you’re not ready to admit, whether to yourself or to him.

In such times, refuse to believe that God has abandoned you. Refuse to believe that God could not forgive the things you’ve done. Is your sin greater than God’s love? Is your trouble heavier than God can lift? Is your darkness too dark for God’s light? If you go to the Father in humble prayer, He’ll hear you. If you go to the Father in true repentance from your sins, when you want to stop sinning and leave them behind, God will receive you.

If you seek God truly, then you can hold onto Christ’s promise from a chapter later, “I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (28:20). The risen Christ is with his believers, always, and forever. He will never leave us nor forsake us. Like it does every time, this gospel calls us to faith and to obedience. Believe God’s sure promise in Christ: God is your God. Believe it, and now also serve him with thanks!

Let’s consider a final thing. When Jesus cried out the words of Psalm 22:1, this wasn’t the last word. Jesus lived for a while more. In those few hours, He would die an eternal death, but He’d come through on the other side. So a few minutes later, Matthew tells us, “Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, and yielded up his spirit” (v 50). He reached the end. With a last breath, He was able to say the seventh word, “It is finished.” For though He’d been forsaken, God now receives his Son into heaven—He accepts his Son for a job well done.

Our Saviour died, not a broken man, but a champion and king. As He hung there lifeless, you can imagine the words of Psalm 22 resounding in the air once again. But this time from the end of the song, “[This shall] be recounted of the Lord to the next generation. They will come and declare his righteousness to a people who will be born, that He has done this” (vv 30-31). God has done this! Long before we were born, nearly 2000 years ago at the cross, the Triune God brought about our salvation.

Today we hear about it. Today we celebrate. Today we can cry out, “My God, my God, why have you accepted me? How can you love me? Why do always stay with me, and why are you always near me, to guide and to bless?” My God, why have you accepted me? We cry out, and in Christ we find the beautiful answer.  Amen.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2020, Rev. Reuben Bredenhof

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