I have a confession to make and it doesn’t have anything to do with coffee, bacon, or our special sponsor segment on VIM that my wife, Kara, has been trying to kill since its inception. *Side note: If you haven’t joined us for VIM you should really check it out and join us for the next one.
Here we go – My name is Jesse Birkey and I’m a deep thinker. Not really a full-fledged academic but I like uncovering topics that grab my attention. Maybe you can join me in that admittance and maybe you can’t. I find that I love to think deeply and pour over a passage or theology that challenges or supports my own, fleshing it out with a safe group of people that can help me understand if I’m onto something or just nuts.
Not everyone is like me and that’s okay. Many people have no interest in spending a lot of time on a topic, unpacking it in an attempt to gain further understanding and that’s a good thing. The world would be a pretty boring place if there wasn’t anyone to tell the deep thinkers to lighten up.
But no matter where we fall on the deep thinking scale there are certain passages and topics we all shove our heads into the sand, close our eyes, and hope they go away. We do this because we aren’t sure what else to do, because we think if it means what it says, we have to face issues we don’t want to. And here’s one of them:
About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli,Eli, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”). – Matthew 27:46
For a long time I had no idea what to do with this. I wondered how to understand a perfectly loving Father abandoning his son on the cross. For those who understand God through the lens of the Old Testament it’s troubling but acceptable because God is viewed through a harsh lens anyway. For those who understand God through the lens of Jesus it’s tough because we see that Jesus is the exact representation of the Father in every way and there is no abandoning or forsaking in his life and ministry. Furthermore, God is love and there is no abandoning or forsaking in love (1 Cor. 13).
I’ve listened to some pretty complex teachings on this subject but never really followed the reasoning or logic. I eventually just accepted that there were things I didn’t understand about the translation or interpretation of that passage. In short, I was missing a piece of the puzzle. And there are other passages I’ve come to the same conclusion on. I check everything against the life and ministry of Jesus and in doing that I can settle on what something can’t mean. But it doesn’t always help me know what it does mean.
But one day I found out the answer is actually pretty simple and the key is Psalm 22. I knew that Jesus quoted the Psalm on the cross but the problem was I never took the time to read it. Here’s how it starts:
My God, my God, why have You forsaken me? – Psalm 22:1a
Familiar, eh? It’s important do know what’s going on in this particular Psalm. David is having a crisis. He is entrenched in some kind of tragedy and feeling really bad about himself and his future. He opens the passage lamenting his deep anguish and goes on to put words to the torment ripping his heart in two. He’s frustrated, letting God know that he’s called out to him and received no answer. In my own words he says, “Hey, you answered our ancestors but you treat me like a worm, not a man. Everyone is laughing at me because I trusted you and they’re right because you haven’t helped me at all.” Ever felt that way? I have.
So David is having a really hard time feeling rejecting and abandoned and then verse 19 happens. It’s led by a beautiful word: But. I love that word in scripture because it so often separates what we perceive to be reality (lies) from what God says our reality is (truth).
In verse 19 David begins to remember who God really is. He recalls the times in the past in which God proved himself faithful and begins to gather himself around growing confidence that God is going to be faithful again.
His change of heart crescendos in verses 23-24:
You who fear the Lord [with awe-inspired reverence], praise Him! All you descendants of Jacob, honor Him. Fear Him [with submissive wonder], all you descendants of Israel. For He has not despised nor detested the suffering of the afflicted. Nor has He hidden His face from him; But when he cried to Him for help, He listened.
He goes on to put more words to the goodness of God and then finishes with the last part of verse 31, “It is finished.” What’s critical to understand is that David doesn’t end the Psalm like he begins it. He starts out asking why God has abandoned him but then shifts when remembering the truth that God has never abandoned him and never will. That God hasn’t turned his back on his suffering and will never hide his face from the affliction of his kids. In that moment David clearly sees that when the suffering and afflicted cry out, God hears and answers.
Fast forward to Jesus on the cross. When Jesus quotes the beginning of Psalm 22, he is lamenting the deepest cry of every heart that has ever, or will ever, live. Everyone has felt abandoned by God at some point and questioned his love and faithfulness. But Jesus wants us to remember the answer not just the lament. In our deepest anguish may we not be blinded by the lies of rejection and abandonment but come alive in the truth of perfect love. We’re accepted not rejected, loved not despised, and claimed instead of abandoned. He’s a good, good Father who will never close his eyes or cover his hears to our cries.
On the cross, in the midst of his torment, Jesus is shouting out the words of David for all who can hear AND understand. An emotionally charged attempt to show all of those gathered that the Father isn’t like what they thought he was like. An attempt to show us the same.
Jesus closes by quoting the last part of verse 31 – “It is finished.” In other words, that’s the final word on the love of God regarding the lies of rejection and abandonment. The central message of the cross is Perfect Love. On it, the full character of God was on display and Jesus wanted to make sure we understood how deep his love is even when circumstances want to tell us a different story.
Jesse and Kara Birkey
In less than two weeks you can Learn how to See In The Spirit with Jesse Birkey and Michael Van Vlymen, best-selling authors of, How To See In The Spirit, Angelic Visitations And Supernatural Encounters, and Life Resurrected.