The Lord’s Lament

The Lord’s Lament

Heavenly Father, we bless You and we praise You for the Passion of your Son, Jesus Christ. In it You have given salvation to us, You have made the Way of the Cross the way of eternal life. Help us to pick up our cross and follow in the footsteps of Jesus, that we too might share in His resurrected life, through Jesus Christ Who with You and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns now and forever, Amen.

At noon until about the ninth hour, darkness came over the land. At about the ninth hour, Jesus cried out with a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani, which is my God, my God, why have you forsaken me”?

In the Gospel of Matthew we only have this one sentence recorded of what Jesus uttered from the cross. Jesus was quoting Psalm 22 which begins with: “My God, My God why have you forsaken me?” Did Jesus recite the entire Psalm from the Cross or just this first line? There is no way to know. Interestingly, the last saying from the Cross “It is finished” sounds like the last line of Psalm 22: “He has done it.” Whether Jesus uttered the whole psalm or not, the first line says enough to convey the depth of spiritual lament of the Lord: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me”?

The first phrase, My God, reflects again the intimate relationship that God, the Father, has with God, the Son. Earlier on in the Gospel of Matthew 11:25, Jesus offered praise to His Heavenly Father.

“I thank you Father, Lord of Heaven and earth because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants. Yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father and no one knows the Son except the Father and no one knows Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal Him.”

Jesus and the Father are One, as John’s Gospel tells us in John 10:30. “No one comes to the Father except through the Son” (John 14:6) No one knows the Father, as Jesus says, unless He reveals the Father to them.

There’s a very intimate love that is between the Father and the Son and yet, here on the Cross, Jesus cries out to his Heavenly Father,

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

The cry reveals the abandonment of the Son from the Father. We are on the precipice of a Trinitarian mystery so we must be careful not to over-speak. How can the Father and the Son be one and yet there be this moment of abandonment of the Son by the Father? Can there possibly be a tear in the fabric of the relationship of the three divine Persons of the Trinity?

The words of Scripture often strain the limits of our ability to understand and comprehend. In a real and mysterious way, the Father forsook the Son. The spiritual agony of that moment is verbalized in Jesus’ prayer of lament from the Cross.

If Jesus prayed such honest prayers, then surely we are faithful in following His example. God knows our struggles. The incarnation shows us that Jesus became like us in every way, even to the point of death.

Some struggle with the thought of uttering honest prayers to God as if it is inappropriate or a sign of lack of faith. On the contrary, the Scriptures are filled with prayers of complaint, lament, and even anger voiced in prayer to God.

God wants your heart, not a façade. He knows when you are struggling. Through the indwelling Spirit He has placed in your heart, He hears the groans which words cannot express. (Romans 8:26-27) God already knows what you are feeling and how you are hurting. Go to Him with your most difficult questions, sorrows and struggles. Engage Him with your secret pain and your heart’s cry. Jesus did. He shows us the way to pray even in the midst of our darkest hours.

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ABANDONMENT: My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?

My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?

Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour. And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” And some of the bystanders, hearing it, said, “This man is calling Elijah.” –Matthew 27:45-47

The Problem of Evil

The most vexing question humans have ever asked is related to the origin of evil. It is often phrased as a logical conundrum:

If God is Loving and Good, all Powerful, and all Knowing, how is it possible that Evil exists. Why would God allow, or worse, create it in the first place?

Many solve this logical seeming contradiction by denying the sovereignty of God over His creation. Others deny God’s intervention in the created world, preferring instead to embrace a God whose creation is out of His ultimate control or some impersonal forces of light and darkness. Many secular-minded people have just given up on belief in God, period.

The problem of evil is a problem because there really is no good answer to the question of the origin of evil. We will forever be both intellectually and emotionally dissatisfied with answers when we contemplate human suffering, disease, natural disasters, tyrannical rulers, human holocausts and the like.

So when Jesus asks,

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

He is asking the universal unanswered question of human suffering: “Why?”

Whenever you or I ask that question the answers never seem to satisfy.

As a Chaplain at the St. Francis Hospital in Evanston, I ministered to a man sitting by the bedside of his wife who lay in a coma. He was grieving deeply. He shared that as he sat there he often had people who would come in and tell him what he called Platitudes. The examples he gave were: “Perhaps God is teaching you something.” or “This experience will help you grow.” “Maybe a greater good will come from this tragedy.” or “God must have needed her more.”

This man then said something I will never forget. He said, “Platitudes never make the person hearing them feel better, only the people uttering them.” That is so true. Much of the human suffering that we experience in life makes absolutely no sense. We are really uncomfortable with that! So we make up reasons to solve the emotional and intellectual gap in our minds and hearts caused by evil.

The cry of Jesus from the Cross teaches us that the problem of suffering does not make sense at all! It leaves us with a huge hole of an unanswered question: “Why?!?” There is no good answer. Jesus affirms our human limitations in that from the Cross.

Do you know someone in your life who is struggling? How do you minister to them in the midst of their pain? One thing you can do is be an intercessor with their heart’s questions. Rather than giving them pious platitudes to make you feel more comfortable, sit with them in the mystery of their problems.

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Thirsty for Living Water

Thirsty for Living Water

In the Gospel of John, we see the idea of thirsting way before Jesus utters those words –that word– “I thirst.”

When Jesus went to a well that is called Jacob’s well, a Samaritan woman was there. The text tells us that He sat down by the well and that He was tired as one would imagine. He was also thirsty because He asked a woman for a cup of water. When the Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?”

The disciples had gone into town to buy food; that is not what he wanted. He wanted something to drink. When they came with the food, He told them: “I don’t need that, because I have food to eat that you don’t know about.” They wondered: who brought Him the food?

No, what Jesus wanted was something to drink. He asked the Samaritan woman for this drink and she was surprised by it. She said, “You’re a Jew and I’m a Samaritan woman? How can you ask me for a drink?” For she knew that Jews did not associate with Samaritans. Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and Who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked Him and He would have given you living water.”

The woman said: “Sir, you have to nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob who gave us the well and drank from it himself as did his sons and flocks and herds?”

And Jesus answered:

“Look, I’m not talking about the water that’s in this well. I’m talking about another kind of water. Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst.”

The question that I want to ask you is whether you thirst? What are you thirsty for? Do you thirst for more out of life than what this world has to offer? Do you thirst in the midst of its struggles?

Jesus shared our earthly thirsts for the water from the wells of this world. The One who got tired and needed a drink of water from the Samaritan woman has a drink to offer us that is not a cup of wrath, but a cup of mercy and grace and eternal life.

It is a cup which, if we will thirst for it and long for it, Jesus promises that we will never thirst again It is Living Water. A little bit further on in John 6:35, we find Jesus picking up the theme of Living Water again. He says, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry and he who believes in me will never be thirsty.” Never be thirsty! Do you believe that Jesus Christ died for your sins on the Cross? Have you put your faith in Him as your Lord? Have you confessed with your mouth that Jesus Christ is Lord and believe in your heart that He raised you from the dead?

Jesus promises that whoever believes in Him will never thirst. A little bit further on, He picks up the theme one more time. In John 7:37, on the last and greatest day of the Feast of Preparation He announces with a loud voice: “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink.” Whoever believes in Him as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within Him. Jesus clarifies His words: by this He meant the Spirit Whom those who believed in Him were to receive. “Whoever is thirsty, let him come to me.”

“I thirst.” Do you know what? I thirst. I thirst for what God is promising here. I thirst for it for our church, I thirst for it for my family. I want it personally. I want eternal life. I want to be filled up, so full that it overflows from my life out to other people’s lives. Do you thirst like that? Do you say “I thirst?” Say it out loud to the Lord in a prayer from distress, or longing:

I thirst. I thirst. I thirst for you Jesus. The Sacred Scriptures speak about thirsting for righteousness, thirsting for His holiness, thirsting to know Him, thirsting and desiring with all of our being to be like Him, to be faithful to Him, to somehow obtain eternal life. “I thirst.”

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Take this Cup

Take this Cup

On the night before Jesus passion, Jesus entered into the Garden of Gethsemane located on the Mount of Olives overlooking the city of Jerusalem and the Temple of the Lord. A “gethsemane” was a massive stone press used to crush the olives harvested on the hillside in order to extract olive oil. So, the Garden of Gethsemane was a place of crushing, only that night it would be the Son of God who would be crushed under the pressure. Jesus entered into a time of deep prayer and interaction with God the Father. Here is how the scene is described in Luke’s gospel:

And he came out and went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives, and the disciples followed him. 40 And when he came to the place, he said to them, “Pray that you may not enter into temptation.” And he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed, saying, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.”  And there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him. And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground. –Luke 22:39-44

“Father, if you are willing remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” What is the cup of which Jesus is praying? It is none other than the cup of divine judgment.

He thirsted not for it; and yet from this point He surrendered to fulfilling the Father’s will.

Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him; 
he has put him to grief
–Isaiah 53:10

In distress and grief, Jesus cries:

I thirst.

From the Cross, Jesus thirsts for a cup to drink. The cup that completes the Father’s will. He thirsted for His own death, for only in His death would the sins of the world be forgiven. The Lord’s will for His Son was to bear the judgment for the sins of the world on His body and in His flesh.

…when his soul makes an offering for guilt –Isaiah 53:11

In drinking the cup of judgment, Jesus’ soul makes an offering for guilt, redemption accomplished. In drinking the cup of God’s wrath, He drank it to its dregs. He drank it till it was dry. In this moment, He thirsted for God’s wrath and His judgment to be borne on His body, so that we would not have to drink the cup of God’s judgment and wrath. Think about that. He drained the cup–empty–on the Cross so that we would not have to drink it.

More than that, though, Jesus thirsted not only for His death and to finish the work of the Cross, but He thirsted for the life that God had in front of Him. God the Father promised that though His soul was to suffer death in a crushing judgment for the sin of humanity, that though He must die, He would be raised from the dead; He would see the light of life:

…he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand.
Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; 
by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant,
make many to be accounted righteous,
and he shall bear their iniquities.
 Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many,
and he shall divide the spoil with the strong… –Isaiah 53:10-12

The prophet Isaiah revealed over four hundred years before the coming of the Messiah that even though the Messiah would suffer death, on the other side of that “crushing” would be life, victory and divided spoils. The writer of Hebrews again says it was for the joy that was set before Him that He endured the Cross. Jesus thirsted for the three days that would come after this, the empty tomb, the resurrected life. He longed to see it.

He yearned and thirsted for resurrected life as He was agonizing in death on the Cross.

It was for the joy and abundance of life that was set before Him that He endured the scorn of the Cross all the way to its bitter end. That’s why the writer of Hebrews encourages us to thirst for the resurrection so that we too might endure suffering and temptation – no matter what.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.
—Hebrews 12:1-4

Whatever suffering is brought before us, whatever trials, whatever tribulations, we must thirst for the joy that is set before us in the resurrected and eternal life so that we can persevere in faith and in faithfulness all the way to the end.

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Can you drink this Cup?

Can you drink this Cup?

Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came up to him with her sons, and kneeling before him she asked him for something. And he said to her, “What do you want?” She said to him, “Say that these two sons of mine are to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.” Jesus answered, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?” They said to him, “We are able.” –Matthew 20:20-22

Jesus said to them “You don’t know what you’re asking. Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?”

Now, what cup do James and John have in mind? Why, the cup of victory, the cup of reward, the cup of prestige, power and position; basically, the cup that says: vindication in this life. Our enemies will be vanquished! The Messiah will triumph over them. We will put Him up on top. Yes, Jesus, we can drink that cup of victory! Absolutely, we can drink that cup!

Jesus said to them, “You will drink my cup, but to sit at my right hand and at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.” –Matthew 20:23

Who in fact drank the cup alongside Jesus on His right and left? Two bandits were crucified with Him on His right and His left. As Jesus indicated later on in their lives James and John would also suffer for the Gospel. Indeed, they would share in the cup of Jesus Christ through their death as martyrs for the faith, but that is not the way that they first envisioned.

The Apostles originally believed that they would be drinking the cup of victory, but the significance of Jesus’ death means that there will be no earthly vindication and no victory in this life. This age has been judged by God, the Father.

Those who would set themselves up as conquering kings in this age will be brought low and humbled in the Kingdom of God. Faithful Christians have been continually surprised when the powers and governments of this world let them down by corruption. Even the institutions of the Church become corrupted as people seek position, power and prestige as methods for propagating their own worldly agendas.

No, this age and all its governances and institutions must incur the judgment and wrath of God. That is the cup which Jesus is asking God the Father “…if it be possible for it to be passed from me, not my will, but Yours.” – the cup of judgment. Jesus would go on to teach James and John:

“You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” –Matthew 20:25-28

The people of this world look to authority, law and power to solve the problems of the day. They fight for prominence and position. Even those who claim the name of Christ can often be no different than James and John. The world says, “It’s push come to shove!”, “It’s who you know!” and “Claw your way to the top!” Jesus taught the Way of the Kingdom; God’s Kingdom subversively transforms society through humility, love and self-sacrificial service.

Jesus’ way to greatness is paradoxical and true: the first will be last, and the last will be first. Consider that the greatest leaders our world has ever known have more often than not been the most humble. Humble does not mean wishy-washy, it is true to the character of Christ. The most powerful people to shape the world for good are the tireless and selfless servants of others.

Who are the people in your life that inspire you the most? Have you been seeking the world’s path to greatness or the kingdom of God’s path? How can you emulate the humility of Jesus in your daily life today by serving rather than seeking to be served?

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