Friday, April 3, 2015

It is Finished: The Death of the Messiah

The Death of Jesus

When it was noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. At three o’clock Jesus cried out with a loud voice, 

Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?’ which means: 

‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ 

When some of the bystanders heard it, they said, ‘Listen, he is calling for Elijah.’ And someone ran, filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a stick, and gave it to him to drink, saying, ‘Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down.’  

Then Jesus gave a loud cry and breathed his last. 

And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. Now when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, ‘Truly this man was the Son of God!’ - Mark 15:33-39

It is finished. 

The Messiah dies. 

In the last lines of this verse, the Roman Centurion watches as Jesus breathes his last breath and exclaims the first profession of faith: "Truly, this man was the son of God."

But his words mislead us. What about this death makes it so clear that the broken body on the cross was the Son of God? There is nothing that should lead tell us that this death was different than any other. It is just as horrible, just as gruesome, just as heartbreaking. 

But maybe that was the point. 

If we take the Roman Centurion's words literally, then we have watched the most grim example of child abuse done for our sake.

I cannot abide this. 

I cannot abide that God, a loving Father, would require such sacrifice of his only son. 

I cannot abide that God, the God of Moses and Abraham, David and Elijah, would ignore Jesus' petition from the cross as he gasps, "My God, My God! Why have you forsaken me?" 

Except that these words have been spoken before. 

Psalm 22 begins with the same words: 

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? 
     Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning? 
O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer;
     and by night, but find no rest.

The Psalmist wrote these words. It is Jesus who recalls them, who recites the opening lines of the song of his heart. The song of his life. The song of his death. 

Do not be far from me, for trouble is near and there is no one to help. 
   Many bulls encircle me, strong bulls of Bashan surround me; 
They open wide their mouths at me, like a ravening and roaring lion. 
   I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; 
My heart is like wax; it is melted within my breast; 
   My mouth is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to my jaws; 
        you lay me in the dust of death. 
For dogs are all around me; a company of evildoers encircles me. 
     My hands and feet have shriveled; 
I can count all my bones. 
     They stare and gloat over me; 
They divide my clothes among themselves, and for my clothing, they cast lots. (Ps. 22:11-18)

Jesus speaks these words, in the moments before his death, not because God has forsaken him, but because God has remembered him. 

The reason for this suffering, the reason for this death, is not because God has asked the greatest sacrifice of his only Son for our sake. 

No, it is God in Christ who has suffered this brutal death. 

God is not apart from Christ on the cross. 

God is Christ on the cross. 

God suffered that we might not suffer alone. 

When Jesus utters this Psalm, he points us not to how it begins, but to how it ends: 

From the horns of the wild oxen you have rescued me. 
I will tell of your name to my brothers and sisters;
in the midst of the congregation, I will praise you: 
You who fear the Lord, praise him!
All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him; 
stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel!
For he did not despise or abhor the affliction of the afflicted; 
The Lord did not hide his face from me, but heard when I cried to him. -Ps. 22, v. 21-24

This is not a death of a son, atoning for the sins of all human history. 

This is the act of a Loving God, working in the world to redeem it. 

Jesus' death was not divine punishment, but the death of God Incarnate who suffered and died, as well.  

Let us wait and see and hope what God shall do, since even our suffering is shared. 

Even our suffering is sacred. 

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