Because Of The Cross Of Christ

March 14, 2010
日本キリスト教団 頌栄教会牧師 清弘剛生 Pastor Takao Kiyohiro, Shoei Church, Church of Christ, Japan
Translator M.A.F., Indiana, USA
Mark 15:33-39

The Word Becomes A Stumbling Block

1. On the cross Jesus cried out, "Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?" This stands for "My God, my God, why did you forsake me?"

2. There is only one thing about this passage that is clear. It is that the people who had heard his cry were convinced that "This man was absolutely not the messiah" because the messiah whom they were expecting was to be a political liberator. The people were looking for a king with the power to liberate Israel from Roman control and to rebuild the nation. The sign that one was the messiah above all else was this kind of "power." Going back a few days before, when Jesus entered the capitol city of Jerusalem, the people welcomed Jesus in with wild enthusiasm. They accepted him believing him to be the messiah. Why? -- Because they saw a supernatural power in Jesus' activities and work. This One has the power. He has the power to liberate us. That's how they saw it. But now, powerless, Jesus is hanging on the cross. What's more, on top of all that, he is complaining, "My God, my God, why did you forsake me?" This whole story of the savior sent from God, the anointed messiah giving a loud cry to his grief and then his dying, sounded foolish and impossible to be true.

3. Though we're not Jews, to a degree as felt in our own stirred sensibilities, we can probably understand this. Generally speaking, people are respected for not stirring in the face of death and for dying calmly. They are admired by our saying, "They [went out] respectably at their last moments." We don't usually praise people who died complaining as they come to their last moments. When the claim is made that he was the messiah from God, it becomes even more difficult to believe it.

4. In that sense, the statement, "My God, my God, why did you forsake me?," is the kind of statement that [could] be the greatest stumbling block for doing missions in any time period. It is [potentially] the greatest hindrance, which could make it very difficult to believe that Jesus is the messiah. In spite of that, Mark left this statement written in [his] gospel account. What's more, he was wanting to communicate this to the future generations, as the actual words of Jesus, just as they were in the Aramaic that Jesus used to use. Why is that? We need to carefully think of the significance in this.

Why Did [You] Forsake [Me]?

5. With that then, first, I would like to have you open to the psalm in which the same statement is written that Jesus had spoken when on the cross. It is Psalm twenty-two. This is the prayer of a man while he is in pain. In that psalm we can get a glimpse of the situation he has been put in. "I am a worm, I cannot be called much of a man. Human garbage, the shame of the people. Everyone who sees me mocks me, they stick out their lips and shake their heads [at me]," (verses seven and eight). "The bulls swarm and surround me, ferocious bulls of Bashan press in upon me. They roar like lions when before their prey, there they are attacking me pointing their fangs [at me]," (verse fourteen). This is the situation this psalmist is put into.

6. We don't know the specifics. In any case, the people around him make him suffer. But, the deepest suffering for him is not the fact that these people are there. It is not the fact that someone has done something cruel. His deepest pain is the feeling that "He has been abandoned by God." [His] pain keeps on going, on and on. Even though he prays the situation does not improve at all. Amid all this he ends up not even understanding God's love. He ends up feeling only that he has long been forsaken [by God]. That's what [the text seems to] say. So, he cries out at the beginning, "My God, my God, why did you forsake me?"

7. When a person is able to believe that he or she is loved, then they can endure in suffering. When it is clear that one is loved by God, then one can endure. Characters like that often appear in the scriptures. It is not just something heard of in the scriptures either. When Blaise Pascal was in the midst of suffering due to sickness, the words that he prayed have been passed on as follows. "O Lord, I know only just one thing. It is that to obey you is good and to go against you is bad. And so, between all other things I don't know what is good or bad. Health and sickness, riches and poverty, between all the things in this passing world, I don't know what is beneficial to me. That is a judgment that exceeds the power of humans and angels and is hidden in the secret of your providence. I dare not worship that providence or try to search it out. Therefore, o Lord, please make me a person to be suited to your will no matter the hour. When I am sick like now, please cause me to worship you in the midst of my suffering." He prayed like this not because he thought he was being abandoned by God, but because he knew he was loved by God. Therefore, we find the words, "Please cause me to worship you in the midst of my suffering."

8. So, put the opposite way, when a person cannot believe the love of God, he or she is attacked by an unbearable suffering. The suffering of the psalmist in Psalm twenty-two can be found exactly in that regard. Jesus too had experienced a suffering specifically like that of this psalmist. Jesus was forsaken by men and women. He was betrayed by a person he loved. He was ridiculed by others. He was made fun of. He was insulted. He was beaten up. He was whipped. He was nailed upon a cross. But, the most unbearable suffering for Jesus was at that point when he had to say, "Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?"

Becoming A Curse For Us

9. Thus, when we open Psalm twenty-two, the figure of the man suffering there overlaps with the figure of Jesus. But, there is a decisive difference between the psalmist in Psalm twenty-two and Jesus. Psalm twenty-two starts out with "My God, my God, why did you forsake me?" But, he was not actually forsaken by God, nor was he found guilty and destroyed. So, the ending to it concludes with words of trust in God. "[My] descendants will serve you. The generation to come will be told of the Lord, they will make known to a people yet [unborn] the works of grace you have accomplished for us," (Psalm 22:31-32). He realizes that he has not been abandoned by God. As a matter of fact, God did not abandon him.

10. Nevertheless though, Jesus' situation is different. How is it different? Today during the second reading we read The Epistle To The Galatian Disciples. In chapter three and verse thirteen [the epistle] reads as follows. "Christ became a curse for us, and redeemed us from the curse of the law," (Galatians 3:13).

11. In saying, "he became a curse" it means he "became an accursed and condemned man." When a person becomes accursed, it means, to put it another way, to be forsaken by God. It means he was utterly and completely abandoned by God. The cry of Jesus, "Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?," is not a statement that his faith had become weak. He was actually cursed. He was condemned. He was abandoned. He was forsaken by the beloved Father in heaven. For what reason? The scripture teaches that it was so that he would "redeem us from the curse." In other words, it means [he became accursed] so that we would never be forsaken by God.

12. When the many different things that happen [happen to us], there are certainly times when we feel like "I have been forsaken by God, haven't I!?" There are times we want to cry out, "Why have I been forsaken?!" But, please think with me about this. Can we honestly cry out like that? Isn't it rather that we really deserve to be gotten rid of because of our true natures?

13. We can see this too when we think about close relationships between people. The majority of what we think, say, and do is hidden from the view of others. Even if everything was exposed to certain people, would those people still love you? When everything is brought out to the open, will they still love you? Instead, wouldn't they stop being civil, become scornful, and leave you flat out? Considering that a holy God knows us all, how much more then would it be justifiable [for God to act against us], even if we were abandoned, even if we were condemned and destroyed?

14. But, God has not had any intention of abandoning us. Knowing all of us, knowing how defiled by sin this world is, he has still loved this world all the more. He has loved us in spite of that, has forgiven us, and has been willing to accept us. Therefore, he has placed upon Christ all of our sins, the sins of this world, which must be judged, and he judged Christ, he abandoned Christ. In the first reading Isaiah chapter fifty-three was read, and it is written as follows in that text. "We, a flock of sheep, have strayed from the path, we have gone into many different directions. All of our sins, the Lord has put upon his shoulders," (Isaiah 53:6). What is written in the book of Isaiah was fulfilled in Jesus Christ, which is, that cry [of his]. "Eloi, eloi, lama sabachthani!? (My God, my God, why did you forsake me?). By judging his only son, God stretched out his hands of love to us. Though we were defiled by sin, and should have rightfullly been forsaken, he stretched out his hands of love to us.

15. Thus, we too grasp a hold of those hands. Christ became a curse on our behalf. Believing that, we grasp a hold of God's hands of love. And because Christ was abandoned in our place, I will absolutely never be abandoned. Believing that, we will live. No matter how hard it gets, no matter how much suffering there is, I will not be abandoned, I will be loved by God, I will be forgiven by God, and by believing that I will live. And because I will not be abandoned by God, I will live by believing that ultimately I will be totally delivered and saved.

16. Grasping a hold of our beloved God's hands in that way, someone will be baptized today. Taking into account the physical condition of some others, they will be baptized a little later on. Today, believing that [he] is loved by God, he will begin to live anew and afresh. Today, we can see in this situation, yes right now, at this time, at this place, God's hands of love reaching right in.