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Where are you God?

April 19, 2013

God where are you?

Read Psalm 22

This is an extraordinary passage of scripture. If you are a Christian, even if you’re not familiar with this passage my guess is that it was completely impossible for you to read that Psalm, without any pre-conceived ideas about what you were reading. Even if you wouldn’t call yourself a Christian, I imagine there are bits of the passage that sounded familiar to you. This is about Jesus isn’t it?

But how can it be, as it was written by David, the king of Israel around 1000 years before Jesus was even born.

What is this psalm? If David wrote it, what did it mean? What did he think it meant? Many people have tried to make sense of the original context of these words and for the most part they just come up with a puzzle.

What do we know? Like so many of the Psalms, we know that David wrote it. We know it was set to music, with instructions to the director of music, and we know it was to be sung to the tune of “The Doe of the Morning”, maybe a popular hit tune of the day?

It is a song about suffering – grave suffering. David is singing the blues. It’s about being abandoned by God. It’s about unanswered prayers. Being surrounded by those who mock, insult and hate you. We read of physical suffering. And yet it is interspersed with, and ends with, hope and faith in God.

There is no doubt that David had his hard times. The king described as “the man after God’s own heart” knew how to get it wrong and knew times where God was distant. David had plenty of enemies, that is true, but as scholars try to fit the words to one of David’s experiences of life, they come up with a blank. There were dark times in his life surely, but nothing which warrants words like this.

Did he exaggerate a bit for effect or was there something else going on here? As David penned the words, was their meaning almost as much a mystery to him as they might have been to those who would have the task of singing it?

But as we said it is impossible for many of us not to see something else in this. I would hazard a guess that everyone reading the Psalm caught a glimpse of events over a millennium later.

The exact words of David at the start of this Psalm are echoed by Jesus, as he hangs nailed to the cross. The air is thick with insults and mockery, and a challenge – if he really trusts in God, let’s see God rescue him. Strength is gone. Extreme thirst. Hands and feet are pierced. People cast lots for the victim’s clothes. Is it really possible to escape the conclusion that David was more than a King and a singer-songwriter, but a prophet, speaking of the events of Calvary?

For most of us when we read this Psalm, that’s what we’re thinking. We rarely if ever focus on David. We fix our eyes on Jesus.

And we hear not David, but Jesus cry, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

There were times in Jesus’ life when the heavens were opened and God spoke. When the new born king arrived in Bethlehem, choirs of angels sang “Glory to God in the highest”.

When the adult Jesus rose from the waters of baptism God himself spoke, “This is my beloved Son, I am pleased with him.”

As Jesus’ closest friends watched him on the mountain of transfiguration, talking with Moses and Elijah, and Peter started to talk without thinking, God called out, “This is my beloved Son, listen to him.”

But on the mountain of Calvary, God did not speak. In Jesus’ darkest hour, his father had nothing to say. No expression of pleasure. Silence and darkness. If Jesus’ felt his father’s pleasure at the River Jordan or on the other mountain, it was not so here. The silence of God spoke loudly. God was saying something very different though no one heard, Jesus surely felt it. Having experienced his father’s pleasure Jesus now knew what it was to be disowned. And worse than that, to be accused and condemned by him.

It was as if God said to him, “My son? You are a murderer, an adulterer, a thief, a liar, a blasphemer. And now you’re going to pay the price”. If that itself sounds like blasphemy, it is worth remembering the words of Isaiah, again penned hundreds of years before the events that they described – “We all like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all”.

There have been Christians throughout history, and it’s still an argument today, who find the whole idea that God would punish his own son (his own perfect son at that), holding him responsible for the sins of the whole world, unacceptable. Paul wrote that “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us”. No wonder Jesus felt the silence. No wonder he felt abandoned and so alone. No wonder he echoed the words of David from a thousand years before with a depth of meaning that David could never anticipate.

But to those who describe God’s punishment of Jesus, by way of the cruellest torture devised by men, as cosmic child abuse, there is an important reminder here. Jesus was as much planner of these events as his father. As Jesus prayed and anticipated the horror of his crucifixion, he had said, “Please, if there is a way of avoiding this. But no, let your will be done.

For this is why Jesus had come – to die. This was all part of God’s plan to heal the rift between God and man. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his one and only son, that whoever believes in him will not die, but have eternal life.”

Such was the love of the father, and to us perhaps even more remarkably, such was the love of our Lord Jesus Christ that he faced the agony, the loneliness, the rejection willingly for you and for me. This was the plan. We have to believe that, otherwise Jesus is just a victim, another martyr for a cause. At the time that Jesus was perfectly in the will of God, he was so alone.

Some of us know what it is to be alone. We know what it is to face the darkness. We experience God being distant and apparently uncaring. The cross of Jesus cries out that that is not true. We are loved. God is not distant he is personally involved.

Novelist Dorothy Sayers wrote:

“For whatever reason God chose to make man as he is – limited and suffering and subject to sorrows and death – He had the honesty and courage to take his own medicine. Whatever game he is playing with his creation, he has kept his own rules and played fair. He can exact nothing from man that he has not exacted from himself. He has himself gone through the whole of human experience, from the trivial irritations of family life and the cramping restrictions of hard work and lack of money to the worst horrors of pain and humiliation, defeat, despair and death. When he was a man he played the man. He was born in poverty and died in disgrace and thought it well worthwhile.”

That opening cry in this Psalm, echoed by Jesus reminds us that he does understand. He has been there, and that can bring us comfort in those times of darkness.

But it is not enough to walk away from Calvary, reassured that Jesus cares. Jesus did not go to the cross to show that he cared, that he was sympathetic. No this was all part of the plan. Jesus is a God-man with a mission. For all of the graphic suffering that is spelled out in this Psalm, there is a thread of hope running throughout and ultimately, surprisingly ending on a high note.

The Psalmist expresses his trust and his determination to declare the name of God. In spite of the darkness in his soul Jesus continued in trust, asking forgiveness for his executioners, expressing care for his mother, extending eternal life to a dying thief, committing his life into his Father’s hands and exclaiming loudly that he had completed the work he had come to do.

David says the story must be told. And so it is. And so it must be. As David ends “he has done it!” Jesus cries “It is finished”. Mission accomplished.

In the face of suffering, even in the shadow of death itself, the cross speaks loudly of God’s love. If the Christian gospel has nothing to say to the sick, the dying, the bereaved, then can there be anything worth saying at all? Jesus’ death on the cross says there is an answer.

When the dying thief asked Jesus to remember him, he did not comfort him by saying “Don’t worry I’m with you – I understand”. Rather he said “Today you’re going to be with me – in paradise. Jesus identifies with us in humanity and suffering and death, but through his death a criminal’s eternal destiny is transformed. And so it continues as David sings of those who seek God, and those future generations, yes even those of the 21st century, who through the cross experience the greatest salvation.

At the cross God took our sin and wrongdoing and put it on Jesus. He was punished for us. In a mirror image God takes hold of all the goodness and righteousness of Jesus and puts it onto us. We are forgiven. We were lost but now we are found. We were blind but now we see. We were dead but now we are alive forever.

That’s why the Father and son considered it worthwhile. That’s why David wants to praise God before all the people.

Now we sit at the foot of the cross once again, and our thoughts will continue to be focussed on Jesus’ suffering. As you listen to the cry of Jesus in the darkness, maybe all you can feel is the darkness too. Maybe you sense abandonment by God and you need to cry out with honesty. He is there for you.

Or perhaps as you look you can see the big picture. Jesus saw the big picture. That is why he came. That is why he was even prepared to consider facing such agony and despair.

Hebrews says “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning it’s shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart”.

Rejoice today in the forgiveness that Jesus made possible through his death. Keep going if the going is tough.

And if you have never recognised Jesus’ love for you, reach out and thank him today. Ask his forgiveness because remember, God took every wrong thing you have done and laid it on Jesus. In trusting him, God will surely forgive you and place all Jesus’ goodness on you. Your life will be transformed. May all of us today know what it is to have the prospect of knowing that one day we will be with Jesus in paradise, and that the assurance that wherever we are in life’s experience he will walk beside us.

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From → Christianity

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