Alphabet Gospel

“I ate.”
Jesus — King, Lord, Master, now on earth
upon Himself a
world —
yet, risen, brings us to

Focus on the Cross – Psalm 22 (Psalms Project)

Do you have struggles or pain today? Do you wonder where God is in the midst of it all? Has He forsaken this world? Today is Good Friday, and it is a good day to face these questions.

The disciples of Jesus recorded seven sayings of Jesus from the cross. Probably the most famous is “my God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” While there are some staggering theological implications in this cry, it is foremost Jesus quoting from Psalm 22. One thousand years before the crucifixion, David wrote this psalm that so vividly describes it. As the gospel writers recognized, it is one of the clearest evidences of fulfilled prophecy from the Old Testament. While David certainly could have experienced some of the anguish depicted here, its description moves beyond the events of his life and points forward to the cross. Watch how its focus unfolds and challenges us to a new focus.

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning?
my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer;
and by night, but find no rest.

Yet you are holy,
enthroned on the praises of Israel.
In you our ancestors trusted;
they trusted, and you delivered them.
To you they cried, and were saved;
in you they trusted, and were not put to shame.

David starts focused on himself and his pain and suffering. He feels forsaken by a silent God and restless. Have you been there? Have you wondered where God is in the midst of your pain?

David quickly moves to his knowledge about God. He addresses God directly assuming He is listening. God is holy; He is present in worship. He has answered His people in the past. Their trust was not in vain. However, David is not yet accepting this truth for himself.

But I am a worm, and not human;
scorned by others, and despised by the people.
All who see me mock at me;
they make mouths at me, they shake their heads;
“Commit your cause to the Lord; let him deliver—
let him rescue the one in whom he delights!”

Here is where it gets so interesting! At the cross, this is precisely fulfilled by the people, the thieves crucified with Jesus and even the religious leaders. The leaders quote this section of the psalm as a taunt to Jesus on the cross. (see Matt 27:38-44) They miss the irony of how Jesus is going to exactly fulfill the rest of the psalm. The focus doesn’t stay on despair, but moves to trust.

Yet it was you who took me from the womb;
you kept me safe on my mother’s breast.
On you I was cast from my birth,
and since my mother bore me you have been my God.
Do not be far from me,
for trouble is near
and there is no one to help.

David’s focus has now moved off his own anguish to his personal experience with God. In his own life, he has been able to trust God. He calls on God to do what He has so often done before. Are you so aware of God’s work in your life that you will trust Him to do it again? Even when the circumstances are extreme? Listen…

Many bulls encircle me,
strong bulls of Bashan surround me;
they open wide their mouths at me,
like a ravening and roaring lion.

I am poured out like water,
and all my bones are out of joint;
my heart is like wax;
it is melted within my breast;
my mouth is dried up like a potsherd,
and my tongue sticks to my jaws;
you lay me in the dust of death.

For dogs are all around me;
a company of evildoers encircles me.
My hands and feet have shriveled;
I can count all my bones.
They stare and gloat over me;
they divide my clothes among themselves,
and for my clothing they cast lots.

Was there ever anyone who experienced this more than Jesus on the cross? Surrounded by evil doers, tortured and disfigured, physically drained and dry, despairing to the point of death, an object of ridicule. Where would your focus go? What would your cry be?

But you, O Lord, do not be far away!
O my help, come quickly to my aid!
Deliver my soul from the sword,
my life from the power of the dog!
Save me from the mouth of the lion!
From the horns of the wild oxen you have rescued me.

The last phrase is actually a one word exclamation: you-have-rescued-me! God’s saving power has come. After such a deliverance, it is surely time for a rest and some private gratitude, right? This is where the whole psalm turns and challenges our normal selfish focus, even after God has acted.

I will tell of your name to my brothers and sisters;
in the midst of the congregation I will praise you:
You who fear the Lord, praise him!
All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him;
stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel!
For he did not despise or abhor
the affliction of the afflicted;
he did not hide his face from me,
but heard when I cried to him.

From you comes my praise in the great congregation;
my vows I will pay before those who fear him.
The poor shall eat and be satisfied;
those who seek him shall praise the Lord.
May your hearts live forever!

Not only is David declaring the praise of God in front of everyone; he prepares a meal for the poor as a demonstration of his gratitude. This is not limited to David, though. Hebrews 2:12 quotes this part of Psalm 22 as being fulfilled in Jesus. He is the one declaring the praises of the Father to his brothers and sisters. Jesus did not focus on His own suffering. He chose it as a fulfillment of God’s greatest plan – the plan to offer salvation to all. Somehow David glimpses this in the triumphant conclusion to Psalm 22:

All the ends of the earth shall remember
and turn to the Lord;
and all the families of the nations
shall worship before him.
For dominion belongs to the Lord,
and he rules over the nations.

To him, indeed, shall all who sleep in the earth bow down;
before him shall bow all who go down to the dust,
and I shall live for him.
Posterity will serve him;
future generations will be told about the Lord,
and proclaim his deliverance to a people yet unborn,
saying that he has done it.

To all nations and generations, Jesus has proclaimed deliverance. He has proclaimed it from the cross. God has not truly forsaken us or forsaken the world. His arms are still stretched wide for all who will raise their focus off of their own pain and embrace this One who bore all our pains. It is finished! He has done it! Will you focus on Him today?

My own poem for Good Friday, “We Call it Good?

Why is Good Friday Good?

On the surface, it seems strange to celebrate the death of Jesus. But that is not the end of the story. This poem is about the seeming paradox of Good Friday:

We Call it Good?

Questioning, it is the Friday my Lord dies
and we call it “good?”

Conspiring, the religious leaders pay for His betrayal
and we call it “good?”

Betraying with a kiss, one of His own accepts their offer
and we call it “good?”

Scattering fearfully, the rest of his followers desert Him
and we call it “good?”

Dragging Him from trial to trial, the religious leaders break their own laws
and we call it “good?”

Accusing, false witnesses speak against Him
and we call it “good?”

Accepting, He stands silent
and we call it “good?”

Asking, the crowd chooses a murderer to be freed in His place
and we call it “good?”

Washing his hands of it, the governor sentences the Healer to death
and we call it “good?”

Mocking, spitting, and scourging, the soldiers delight to abuse
and we call it “good?”

Struggling, He carries the plank of His execution until exhausted
and we call it “good?”

Numbering Him among the worst of criminals, He is taken outside the city
and we call it “good?”

Nailing Him to a cross, the soldiers hoist Him high
and we call it “good?”

Scoffing, “Come down, and we will believe!” shouts the crowd
and we call it “good?”

Agonizing on the cross, He is thirsty, torn, and bleeding
and we call it “good?”

Crying out, He is forsaken by God
and we call it “good?”

Breathing His last is the One who breathed life
and we call it “good?”

Darkening, the sky turns black at noon
and we call it “good?”

Loving, He was mocked, forsaken and executed – just for me
and for you
and for all

Forgiving those who executed Him
Taking the wrath which I am rightly due
Declaring, “it is finished!”
Dying willingly as a man, yet He is God
Rising so that I might have life

Living for Him is my choice now.
And yours.
Answering, it is Good Friday!

I Hate Easter

I hate Easter. When I walk into the Easter section of a store like Target or Walmart, I see plastic eggs, candy and sugared marshmallows, stuffed bunnies, and pastel “spring” items. There are no crosses, no empty tombs, and nothing about the resurrection. Then there are the egg hunts, except when parents are so aggressive fighting for fake eggs and cheap candy that the whole thing has to be canceled. What are we doing? We have lost the whole meaning of Easter.

Easter also brings out the annual attacks on Jesus, Christians, and the church. This year it is Andrew Sullivan’s cover story in Newsweek, “Christianity in Crisis“. He would argue that he defends the “historical” Jesus, but he can’t attack His bride (the church) without attacking Him. However, the original Easter was an attack on Jesus, too, so maybe this is “appropriate.”

Easter, or as I prefer, Resurrection Day, is about Jesus (God in the flesh) rising from the dead. It is a remembrance of the central truth of Christianity. If there is no resurrection, Christianity is worse than a farce. Paul summed it up in I Corinthians 15:16-19:

” For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins.  Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished.  If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied.” NASB

The resurrection is literally true. The whole New Testament testifies to this central fact. If it could be proven false, there would be no Christianity. Skeptics like Frank Morison and Lee Strobel set out to disprove it, but ended up as believers. The evidence really is overwhelming.

So, yes, I hate the plastic substitutes we call “Easter,” but I love the Jesus who died for me and rose from the dead.

In our family, we try to keep to the true meaning of the Easter season. In our nightly devotions we read through Mark’s account of Jesus’ last week before the crucifixion. We put a cross in our yard for the week leading up to Easter. On Good Friday, we drape it with black cloth and read about the crucifixion with our children. Then, early on Easter morning, we take off the black and drape it with glorious white as we read about the resurrection.  What does your family do to emphasize the true meaning of Resurrection Sunday?