Friday, December 19, 2014

The Cry of the Suffering Christ by W. J. Hocking (Part 3)

The Sufferer and His God

Let us bear clearly in mind that in this Psalm we hear the words of Christ Himself addressed to God. Most of us are familiar with the bitter cry which forms the forefront of the Psalm and provides the keynote to its pervading theme. We read, “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” Here the pathetic words occur prophetically. In the Gospels they are found historically. Matthew and Mark record that the Lord uttered them upon the cross. In the depths of His anguish, the Lord used the words, having the fullest sense of their profound significance and also the knowledge that the prophecies of Psalm 22 were being fulfilled in Himself. At the due moment He had appeared in the world for the putting away of sin by the sacrifice of Himself. In this work, the Blessed One stood alone the God-forsaken One. This awful experience He Himself proclaimed aloud that whosoever would might hear “Eli, Eli, lama sabacthani?” As so often, those who heard did not understand His speech. They said, “Let be, let us see whether Elias will come to save Him.” That this crucified One should thus address God in heaven was beyond their comprehension. The fact is that therein lies the central truth of the propitiation which Christ made for our sins and for the whole world.

This occasion is, I believe, the first time that we read in the Gospels of our Lord using the words, “My God,” when addressing Him. The Son was constantly in communion with the Father, hearing His word and doing His commandments. In converse with His Father, we read of Him answering and saying, “I praise Thee, Father, Lord of the heaven and of the earth, that Thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent and hast revealed them unto babes. Yea, Father, for thus has it been well-pleasing in Thy sight” (Matt. 11:25, 26).

This communion of the Son with the Father was unbroken, not only during His public ministry when He was preaching the gospel to the poor, healing the sick, and doing His multitudinous deeds of mercy among men, but also, as you will remember, during that solemn midnight hour in Gethsemane. There the Lord was alone, apart from His disciples, prostrate upon the ground, and His sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground. Yet in this agony of anticipation, the Blessed One was not altogether alone. As He said to His disciples earlier that night, Ye “shall leave Me alone; and yet I am not alone, for the Father is with Me” (John 16:32). Throughout His “strong crying and tears,” communion with the Father was unbroken. “Abba, Father,” He cried. “O My Father, if it be possible . . . .” “O My Father, if Thou be willing, remove this cup from Me: nevertheless not My will, but Thine, be done.” Knowing fully what the Father's will had decreed for the morrow, the obedient Son acquiesced in Gethsemane as He had always done. The cup which My Father has given Me, shall I not drink it?

But here the Lord is speaking from the cross. It is now not “My Father” as in the garden, but “My God.” The question of sin has arisen, and God, Who is Judge of all, is the appropriate name of address. God is the righteous governor of the world. His nature is opposed to sin, and His essence demands the punishment of sin. There can be no communion between holiness and unholiness, between light and darkness. And there, Him Who knew no sin God had made sin for us. In the consciousness of sin-bearing, and of being “made a curse for us,” He exclaimed, “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?”

So our Lord in the midst of His suffering for sin confessed Himself forsaken by His God, but still addressed Him as “My God.” This relationship of Jesus subsisted from His earliest infancy. In this very Psalm, He declares, “Thou art My God from My mother's belly” (ver. 10). From the manger in Bethlehem right onwards He the perfect and blessed Man, recognised God as the One Whom He obeyed and on Whom He depended. But here it was a time of noontide darkness, and there was an immeasurable difference. His God in Whom He trusted had forsaken Him! and Why?

Christ had come into the world to take the place of the unholy and unrighteous under the judgment of the Righteous and Holy God. He Himself was the Holy One. “That Holy Thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God,” the angel said to Mary (Luke 1:35). The very demons in Capernaum said to Him, “I know Thee Who Thou art: the Holy One of God.” And what charge did Peter lay against the Jews after Pentecost? “Ye denied the Holy One and the Just” (Acts 3:14). It was the fact that the Lord Jesus had been presented to His people as the Holy One. And when the apostle referred to the resurrection of Jesus (Acts 2:27), quoting from Psalm 16:10, he said, “Neither wilt Thou suffer Thine Holy One to see corruption.”

But here Christ, the Holy One, acknowledges His God as the Holy One: “O My God, I cry in the daytime, but Thou hearest not . . . but Thou art holy, O Thou that inhabitest the praises of Israel.” What is the explanation? The Holy One was the sin-bearer. The Just One stood in the place of the unjust. “He bare our sins in His own body on the tree.” Oh, deepest of all deepest depths! Oh, profoundest of all unravelled mysteries that this should be! The human heart stands still in silent awe before the impenetrable veil for ever screening from mortal gaze the Saviour in that dread hour. One only was there in the darkness and in the shadow of death. He alone can speak of it. He has spoken. His words are before us. “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken ME?”

We cannot understand this cry of anguish wrung from the heart of Christ, nor fathom its import. Apart from its interpretation, however, we possess the truth and blessedness of the fact through the ministrations of the Holy Spirit. Our faith lays hold of this poignant utterance of the suffering Christ. It tells us of the price paid for our redemption. It measures for us the value of the sacrifice made upon the cross for our sins and for the glory of God in respect of them. The Holy Christ was forsaken by the Holy God!

Hence, the more we meditate upon this great cry in the presence of the Lord from Whose lips it came, the more we learn of His atoning work. Then He was standing where He had never stood before beneath the weight of our guilt and of God's wrath against it. During His life of ministry, He was not bearing our sins, as some wrongly imagine. It was upon the tree that He bore our sins in His own body, as Peter tells us. There He suffered for us, for our forgiveness, for our redemption, that we might be brought to God, that the blessings of God in all their fulness might flow unhinderedly into our souls.

But there is another aspect of the work of atonement that we must never forget. Because of man's sin God's glory was at stake. God's eternal attribute of justice was in question. Was God the Holy One Who abhorred sin? or was He One Who would favour sin and overlook its due penalty? The Lord Jesus supplies the answer in His Person, and upon the cross He upheld the immutable holiness of God. There He declared in the ears of the universe, “Thou art holy, O Thou that inhabitest the praises of Israel,” witnessing to that holiness by the confession of His own abandonment.

The Holy Sufferer had been made sin and was deserted, left alone because of it. In His agony Christ called aloud to His God. “My God, My God,” He said. The repetition means much — deep emotion, pressing need. When Abraham stood at the altar on which Isaac lay bound, holding aloft the knife to slay his only son, the angel of Jehovah called, Abraham, Abraham. Twice the father's name was called from heaven. There was urgent need for the patriarch to hearken. Not a moment must be lost. More urgent still was the cry of the blessed Lord. He was in the depths of His anguish, submerged beneath the waves of divine wrath against sin; and the cry rang out in the desolate waste, “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?”

These are the words of the beloved Son of God, the Only-begotten of the Father, God manifest in flesh. Let us ponder over them and brood upon them, again and again. Let them penetrate our inmost souls. To do so purifies the spirit and enlightens the heart. We behold fresh visions of the grandeur of God's grace, and we glory more and more in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. We see more and more of the light and love of God in Him Who stood alone in that dread place of darkness and curse. And we adore more fervently Him Who loved and endured to the end, never even when abandoned by Him losing touch with His God, calling Him “MY God” in the confidence that He would be heard for His piety (Heb. 5:7).

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