Note: This post was originally used as a sermonette for Freedom Life Church’s Good Friday service. The topic of the night was the Seven Last Words of Christ. I was asked to speak on one of Christ’s sayings that depict his vulnerability, his humanity, and anguish in the face of unimaginable horror enacted upon his body on crucifixion day some two thousand years ago.
Our Lord, The Crucified Christ
Two Thousand Years Ago…
Last week, Jesus entered the small village of Bethpage on a donkey. Those present welcomed him with opened arms, waving palm branches, saluting Jesus as the next best thing; as the long-awaited Messiah sent to oust the oppressive Roman Empire and restore Israel to its former Davidic glory.
Jesus then spends his week focused on a series of adventurous events, cursing fig trees, and sharing parables about children, tenants, wedding feasts, virgins, and talents.
He encourages religious leaders to pay their taxes. He expounds on the realities of the resurrection to men who deny the possibility of an afterlife.
He issues seven woes, public condemnations levied against the corrupt religious leaders of his day. He speaks fondly of Jerusalem, weeping over her as if the city were a helpless orphan, and then proceeds to prophesy its imminent destruction. He spoke authoritatively about his second coming, the end of the world, and the final judgment.
Jesus then disappears from the limelight to a more private setting in the home of Simon, a former leper who Jesus had healed earlier in his ministry, and in that house, he is honored and anointed by Mary, who pours a priceless balm over his head, to his disciples’ bewilderment.
One of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, the treasurer, plots against him, and in return, Jesus washes Judas’ feet and then feeds him a satiating Passover meal.
The Lord’s Supper is instituted, promises of fealty and loyalty to Jesus are made by Peter, only to be broken hours later. Judas Iscariot is possessed by the devil to finalize his betrayal of our Lord. Jesus then leaves Simon’s home and settles in Gethsemane where he wars with the spiritual world in prayer, and struggles with thoughts of discouragement, at the horrors to come.
Judas arrives with armed men in tow, a kiss is exchanged between the Rabbi and the traitor, and in return, Jesus calls him “friend.”
An arrest takes place, a beating, mockery, spit, and harassment follows Jesus as he is dragged into a kangaroo court in the residence of Caiaphas, the high priest. He is then tossed at the feet of the Romans, and a demand for his execution is made before Pilate. Pilate resists and tosses Jesus to Herod where he is humiliated further, and once done, they send him back to Pilate where he is flogged with a lead-tipped whip in hopes of appeasing the bloodlust of the Pharisees. A choice is made, Barabbas goes free, and Jesus is forced to carry his cross to Golgotha where he is to be crucified.
After hours upon hours of suffering, beatings, floggings, abandonment, nakedness, hunger, thirst, and pain, Jesus now hangs on the cross, the shame of his day, for all to see.
It is here, upon unimaginable pain and horror, after hanging on the cross for at least three hours, Jesus experiences debilitating loneliness, however minute, however indecipherable to us it may seem, he feels, under the weight of asphyxiation and impending doom, isolated from the joy of the presence of the Father, his heart is given to absolute destitution.
“My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”
Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?
The Hebrew-Chaldee pronunciation exclaimed by Jesus from the cross was the first few words of the twenty-second Psalm, a song of David. Both David and Christ had exclaimed that which simmered in their hearts in a time of utmost desperation in the face of insurmountable odds. In a moment of utmost anguish, Jesus utters words only those familiar with the local language would understand. Some presumed he was calling out to Elijah, the prophet, or perhaps, Jesus’s throat was so dry and his body so weak that his words were unintelligible to those present at the foot of the cross.
“Why?” Jesus asks from the cross. “To what end? For what reason?” Was he deserted and left to feel so helpless and vulnerable to the mercilessness of man? Jesus’s humanity was in full view for all to see.
Dualists, Gnostics, and Manichaeans would have us believe that Jesus was a spirit who worked through the motions of a man, who only resembled a human being on the cross, thus making him unaffected by the cruelty of a crucifixion. But the gospel narratives inform us that he bled, he wept, he felt pain, and here, at this particular moment, after hours of torture and excruciating pain, he felt anguish. He was under severe physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual duress.
“We have here, however, the purely human feeling that arises from a natural but momentary quailing before the agonies of death, and which was in every respect similar to that which had been experienced by the author of the psalm. The combination of profound mental anguish, in consequence of entire abandonment by men, with the well-nigh intolerable pangs of dissolution, was all the more natural and inevitable in the case of One whose feelings were so deep, tender, and real, whose moral consciousness was so pure, and whose love was so intense.” – Heinrich Meyer
“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tested in every way as we are, yet without sin.” – Hebrews 4:15
Our Lord, the crucified Christ, demonstrates to his audience then and us now the frailty and fragility of his human nature on the cross, reminding us that we are free to express our hearts to God in the most honest ways possible because he understands our brokenness.
David uttered the words, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” And God rescued him from his enemies.
Jesus uttered the words, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” And on the third day, he rose from the tomb, resplendent and triumphant, as Christ eternal, King of the Jews, King of kings, and Lord of lords.
Jesus teaches us from the cross that we must not be weary nor afraid of approaching him with our brokenness for He hears us.