Today I got to participate in my community’s Good Friday service. Each of our town’s pastors gave a five minute sermon, each of which focused on the response of a different person/group to the cross in Mark 15. I had the privilege of speaking on the response of the Father. It is the genius of Mark’s storytelling that he leaves us with the perspective of the eyewitnesses. Mark doesn’t take a break in the middle of the crucifixion to remind us of the bigger picture, or the theology of the cross. We experience the bleak despair of those who were there.
In the course of writing this I came across an interesting debate on whether Jesus was really forsaken by God, with some arguing Yes because of the outpouring of God’s punishment, and others arguing that the God the Son could not be truly forsaken by God the Father. Like most interesting theological debates, it wasn’t important enough for the sermon. If those sort of discussion interest you, go google it. Here is my reflection on Good Friday:
The Gospel, according to Mark, Chapter 15, verses 33 and 34.
At the sixth hour darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour. And at the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?”-which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
When some of those standing near heard this, they said, “Listen, he’s calling Elijah.” (ESV)
In the preceding passages we have seen the passion of Jesus from many eyes, but there is one exception. There is no prophetic voice to lift us to heaven and into the great throne room. God seems silent.
And this silence echoes the experiences of those watching Jesus. They do not know what God thinks of all of this. God seems silent.
So they wait to see if God will act. If Jesus is the Messiah, then surely God will vindicate him. If Jesus is the Messiah, then God will surely rescue him. Each step towards the cross brings a sort of agony. The agony of waiting, of wanting desperately to hope, and cruelly lashing out in despair.
Their misinterpretation of Jesus’ words, hearing “Elijah” instead of “Eloi” is surely intentional. Psalm 22 was well known, it was the centerpiece of the three Messianic Psalms. Almost all of the Jews there would have recognized the first line of the Psalm: My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” Those that knew Jesus might have realized that something strange was happening, since Jesus never addressed God as anything other than “Father.” Hearing the first line of the well known Psalm, they would have seen the Psalmist’s vision stretched out before them. For in Psalm 22, David predicted the mocking crowds, predicted the pierced hands and feet, predicted even the tossing of lots for Jesus’ clothes. And they would have known, that the Psalm ends with these words:
They shall come and proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn,
that he has done it.
And yet, in that three hour darkness, in the seeming silence of God, they are too afraid to hope.
They did not know what God thought of the events, and were too afraid to perceive his actions. But we know that just because God seems silent, does not mean that He is not at work. There on the cross, when God seemed absent, when God seemed silent, He was working His most powerful miracle.
Forsaken by God, Jesus fulfilled the will of God, which was spoken by the prophet Isaiah:
But he was wounded for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his stripes we are healed.
6 All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned every one to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.
There in that apparent silence, God was speaking the words of a new creation. And when Jesus’ work was finished, God looked at us, He looked at his new creation… and He saw that it was good.