Bruce, in the movie Bruce Almighty, challenges God one night on a bridge after he has lost his job, had a fight with his girlfriend, Grace, and had a car accident. He yells to God,
Fine, the gloves are off pawl, let me see a little wrath. Smite me O Mighty Smiter. You're the one who should be fired. The only one around here not doing his job is YOU!!! ANSWER ME!!!
In reading the crucifixion stories, it appears that if anyone could have an issue with God, it would have been Jesus. One of the lines we read from Jesus on the cross is "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?" Today we are going to talk about Jesus' crucifixion and what it means to suffer.
Oftentimes scholars have doubt about what really happened in Jesus' life. In the last 24 hours, some have questioned the trials of Jesus and claimed they are not "historically accurate. Some question the burial and resurrection stories, but one thing that scholars believe is historically accurate is the crucifixion of Jesus. Not only do all four gospels record this event, but other 1st century non Christian's documents attest to it as well.
We also have pretty good historical evidence of what a "crucifixion" was like in the 1st century Roman Empire.
In the reading I have done, here are some of the characteristics of a crucifixion. Some of this sounds graphic, but I think it will point to the realities of what Jesus went through.
- Crucifixions were done in a public place, like a hillside or near a well traveled road as a means of bringing fear to those who were ruled by Rome
- Generally, crucifixion was used as punishment for people leading revolts against Rome.
- Normally those crucified were mocked
- Before someone as crucified, they would be scourged with a "cat-o-nine-tails" This was a whip with nine lashes with rocks on the end.
- Nails were sometimes used and driven through the wrists and ankles. Sometimes those crucified were tied to the pole.
- Oftentimes those being crucified did carry the beam they were nailed to.
- Crosses were both made like a "T" or a "t"
- Lots of scholars believe that death happened by suffocation because those on the cross could no longer pull themselves up to breath.
- Oftentimes those crucified where done so in the nude to add further insult.
Notice now, the story of Jesus' crucifixion as recorded in Mark's gospel.
16 The soldiers led Jesus away into the palace (that is, the Praetorium) and called together the whole company of soldiers. 17 They put a purple robe on him, then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on him. 18 And they began to call out to him, "Hail, king of the Jews!" 19 Again and again they struck him on the head with a staff and spit on him. Falling on their knees, they paid homage to him. 20 And when they had mocked him, they took off the purple robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him out to crucify him.
21 A certain man from Cyrene, Simon, the father of Alexander and Rufus, was passing by on his way in from the country, and they forced him to carry the cross. 22 They brought Jesus to the place called Golgotha (which means "the place of the skull"). 23 Then they offered him wine mixed with myrrh, but he did not take it. 24 And they crucified him. Dividing up his clothes, they cast lots to see what each would get.
25 It was nine in the morning when they crucified him. 26 The written notice of the charge against him read: THE KING OF THE JEWS. 27 -28 They crucified two rebels with him, one on his right and one on his left. 29 Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads and saying, "So! You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, 30 come down from the cross and save yourself!"
31 In the same way the chief priests and the teachers of the law mocked him among themselves. "He saved others," they said, "but he can't save himself! 32 Let this Messiah, this king of Israel, come down now from the cross, that we may see and believe." Those crucified with him also heaped insults on him.
33 At noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. 34 And at three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, "Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?" (which means "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"). [a]
35 When some of those standing near heard this, they said, "Listen, he's calling Elijah."
36 Someone ran, filled a sponge with wine vinegar, put it on a staff, and offered it to Jesus to drink. "Now leave him alone. Let's see if Elijah comes to take him down," he said.
37 With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last.
40 Some women were watching from a distance. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joseph, [c] and Salome. 41 In Galilee these women had followed him and cared for his needs. Many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem were also there.
When we compare the different gospel accounts, we get some extra details that will help put the picture together. Matthew adds one detail that when Jesus was crucified, some people who were dead came out of their tombs. Luke adds a couple details. When Jesus was on his way to the cross, he tells the woman not to mourn for him. He also has a dialogue with one of the criminals on the cross and tells him that today you will be with me in paradise. Instead of saying "My My God, why have you forsaken me, he says, "Into your hands I commend my spirit." In John's gospel, Jesus actually says two things not recorded in the other gospels. First, he says that he is thirsty and then he cries, "It is finished."
Jesus has been in Jerusalem for about a week now. When he arrived, he was riding on the back of a donkey while people put palm branches down in front of him. They sang, "Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!", as he went by. What a contrast between this passage and the text we are looking at. Our text picks us with Jesus being mocked by Roman solders. His own people have just shouted, "Crucify him, crucify him. They exchanged the life of Jesus for the life of a criminal named Barabbas. Jesus has been betrayed by one of his closest friends and his other friends vanished into the night when he was arrested. Life does not getting any more unfair than that.
The two criminals who were crucified beside Jesus hurled insults at him. These two men were being crucified justly and had been rejected and sent out to die for their crimes were mocking Jesus. Not only was Jesus dying an undeserved death, but he was even rejected by criminals. Our text tells us that the chief priests and the teachers of the law were also mocking Jesus.
After these things happen, our text tells us that Jesus cries out in a loud voice, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me." This is the first line from Psalm 22. The connections between Jesus' crucifixion and Psalm 22 are quite remarkable.
We don't know for sure why Jesus utters these words. Some have suggested that Jesus, with the weight of sin and death upon him, shouted out to God this line in Psalm 22 because he felt abandoned by God in this moment.
Dietrich Bonheoffer makes a great comment in his book called, "Life Together" about praying the psalms. He sees the psalms as prayer that Jesus prayed and they come from Jesus' heart. While on the cross, Jesus prayed Psalm 22 from the depths of his heart as he was being crucified. So to, when we feel like God should be fired, we can cry out in our pain the prayer from Jesus' heart, "My God My God, why are you forsaken me?" Jesus, suffering from a horrible death, humiliation, and abandonment, allows us to have the freedom to shout out to God from our hearts.
Another theory about Jesus' line from Psalm 22 is to suggest that Jesus is much more calculated than just shouting out to God. It is suggested that Jesus, seeing Psalm 22 being fulfilled quotes from the opening line as a way of telling who he is. It is clear from the context of the crucifixion story that those around him immediately understood that he meant more than just the first line. They pick up on the thirsty part and offer him something to drink.
If this is the case, then Jesus also had Psalm 22:24 in mind, which says, "For he has not despised or disdained the suffering of the afflicted one; he has not hidden his face from him, but has listened to his cry for help."
Jesus was making the statement that now I am suffering and although it appears as if nobody will rescue me, God is by my side and this suffering will be redeemed.
Whichever way you look at the interpretation of this text, the message is still clear. The cross, although horrible, was God's way of bringing hope to the world. The cross was God's way of redeeming suffering and God will redeem the suffering in our life as well.
After the September 11th attack of 2001, an article by Jerry Walls appeared in The Asbury Herald, by Jerry Walls entitled, "Wiping Away Our Tears." In the article he says,
Suffering a tragedy are a part of life. Turning our backs on God will not change that. Those who turn their backs on God in the face of tragedy still have the tragedy to deal with. They will still grow old, their bodies will die. Their loved ones may still be stuck with cancer or die in an automobile accident. The only difference is that they have given up on the best reason to hope that such tragedies can be redeemed.
If God can use the crucifixion of Jesus to redeem the world, God can take any tragedy, any event of suffering, rejection, and the like, to redeem our lives. Giving up believing in God in the face of suffering leaves no hope that the situation can be redeemed. Believing in God in the face of suffering will bring redemption God will wipe away the tears. So, don't fire God just yet.