Eli, Eli, Lama Sabachthani
Good Friday Sermon| Rev. Rolf Preus| April 6, 2007
And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” that is, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46)
People look for justice but cannot find it. They pray for peace but the wars go on. There is no apparent solution. Justice is an ideal that is simply unobtainable. Peace is no more than a prayer. Men offer solutions and gain their loyal followings. In time their solutions are seen as useless. Injustice remains. Violence destroys peace.
There will never be perfect justice in this world. Corrupt politicians aren’t corrupt because they are politicians. They are corrupt because of their corrupt and sinful nature with which they were born. While it is true that some kinds of government are better than others, no human government can administer perfect justice.
Even if God were to send angels down from heaven to govern us so that perfect justice could be administered, there would still be no peace on earth. The reason is that war, crime, rebellion, fighting, and every other form of violence in this world is not a reaction against systemic injustice. It is rather the reflection of the sin deep within our hearts. The reason we don’t have justice is the same reason we don’t have peace. We are sinners. We can neither govern ourselves nor submit to government in such a way as to secure that ever illusive peace and justice that every new generation of idealists think is just around the corner if only their kind of people were to gain power in this world.
And yet while ivory tower dreamers pine after what they cannot have or experience in this life, the definitive act of justice that has secured everlasting peace has already taken place. It stands at the center of all human history. Justice was done. Peace was established. It looks like the very worst miscarriage of justice. It looks like meaningless violence. Appearances can be deceiving. In fact, when our Lord Jesus Christ was crucified, justice and peace were done perfectly and permanently.
“Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” Every Jew would recognize those words, for they introduced Psalm 22. This psalm was written by David and was used by the Old Testament church in her worship. It sounds like the cry of David or perhaps of others who suffered and wondered why. “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” Of course, it was, in the mouths of Christians, a rhetorical cry not to be taken literally, for surely God cannot forsake his children. After all, David also wrote Psalm 27 where we read, “Do not leave me nor forsake me, O God of my salvation. When my father and my mother forsake me, then the LORD will take care of me.” (Psalm 27:10) When David authored Psalm 22, he was not writing about himself or his own troubles, but was describing the suffering of the promised Savior. Notice the clarity of the prediction that God gave David to write. Several hundred years before death by crucifixion was invented, David wrote these words of the suffering Savior, “They pierced my hands and my feet.” Surely David could not have known the implications of what he was inspired by the Holy Spirit to write. But we do. Jesus was nailed to the cross. His hands and his feet were pierced by nails. They cast lots for his clothing. They mocked him. And throughout this seemingly tragic episode of cruel injustice and wanton violence, God was doing justice and making peace.
Tell me, ye who hear Him groaning,
Was there ever grief like His?
Friends through fear His cause disowning,
Foes insulting His distress;
Many hands were raised to wound Him,
None would interpose to save;
But the deepest stroke that pierced Him
Was the stroke that Justice gave.
But consider the cost of justice! Look at the price of peace! There was only one way for the injustice of mankind to be replaced by the justice of God. God himself had to become a man and do it. He had to do justice, and he did. That is not so hard for folks to see. In fact, many of the political idealists will point to Jesus as one of their own, because they can see that the man yearned for justice and always did what was right. He cared about the poor and the dispossessed, yet he did not advocate violence against the state. He spoke the truth to power and he did so without flinching from the cost. The righteous life of Jesus is something that everyone with a conscience must admire.
But where we turn our heads away and avert our eyes is as we see this just man suffering as if he were the unjust man. It is precisely where justice is done that those who say they want justice turn away in horror at the cost of it all. But don’t turn away. Look at him, and listen to him cry out, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” See what is happening here! Don’t look away. Who is this man hanging on the cross asking such a question? Who is this man who is forsaken by God? He is you. No, not you personally, but you by representation. That is, he is taking your place. See yourself up there, facing justice. See yourself up there paying for all of your sins, every one of them, even the ones you cannot remember. Believe me, he remembered them all. He bore them all. He was forsaken in his suffering because of those sins of yours that you did. Those sins called for divine retribution and there on the cross it was meted out.
“My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” He spoke to his God, not to another’s God. The Father and the Son are one, and while the Son is God, in his humanity he calls the Father, “My God.” Yet it is in his full deity and in his full humanity that he is forsaken. I cannot understand this. I barely know how to say this. But I do know this. God forsook God. God forsook his dearly beloved Son, and he forsook him because he did not want to forsake you.
Every evil thing you have ever done and every evil thing that anyone has ever done to you was placed on Jesus as the holy God turned his face away from him and there forsook him. God who loved his Son and taught the whole world to honor him had laid on him the world’s sin and in Jesus he punished that sin by forsaking Jesus as the representative, the substitute, of all humanity.
No justice, no peace. Truer words were never spoken. Only where Jesus meets the demands of justice for us, in our stead, is God at peace with us. And he is. He holds nothing against us. In Christ – that is, in him, and through him, and for his sake – God is at peace with us. God’s anger against us has already been poured out on Jesus. Jesus has been forsaken. God cannot forsake those who put their trust in Jesus. For Jesus has already been forsaken. He has already removed God’s anger. He has already achieved peace. He has already met the demands of divine justice fully, finally, and for everyone.
My God, My God, why have you forsaken me? Christians sometimes ask this question but it is always a false question. It was true only for Christ. It cannot be so for his Christians. Christians do doubt and their doubts can become severe at times. The doubts originate in the sinful heart that cannot learn to trust in God. The doubts cannot be removed by will power. They can only be removed by God’s power, and that power is in the gospel. The gospel is not a message of what God wants you to do to make peace with him. The gospel is the message that God has already made peace with you and me and the whole world when he forsook his Son on the cross. There, justice produced peace.
Modern theology has little use for the bloody, sacrificial death of Jesus. That God would pour out his divine wrath upon his innocent Son! That God would require that bloody sacrifice for the forgiveness of our sins! This continues to cause deep distress among the religious elite that lives in a world without such brutal requirements. The preaching of the cross will always offend the religious sensibilities of the wise.
This is why we set aside all our human wisdom and find true justice and everlasting peace where God forsook his Son in our place. For there is a divine logic we may apply in our every need. When in our repentance we find no inner peace; when we confess our sins to God but those sins still accuse us and we begin to wonder if God has left us or forgotten us, here is the logic on which we rest our souls and find true peace: God forsook Jesus in my place. Therefore, he will never forsake me.