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~ Praying with Christ on the Cross ~

(This is a continuation of the previous Weekly Reflection, “Praying with Christ in Gethsemane.")

Much ado has been made about Jesus’ final seven utterances while hanging on the cross, the subject of many sermons around the Good Friday observances. Mini-theologies even developed around the “Why have you forsaken me?” cry of Christ, explaining that God had to turn His eyes away from Christ because He couldn’t look upon sin, since Christ was “made sin for us.” It might sound like good exegesis, but it simply and blatantly ignores the multitude of Scripture references to God’s very conscious gaze upon and assessment of sin, His wrath, pain and indignation at sin and the consequent forgiveness of it...and how He even converses with the devil himself, the embodiment of evil. “Where can I hide from you?...even if I make my bed in the depths, you are there” so declares Psalm 139. Of course, God is all-knowing and all-present, infinite...there isn’t a place where He is not, including sinful environments. And, “where sin abounds, grace abounds even more.”

I don’t believe the Father took His eyes off Jesus ever, not for one microsecond. Neither are we ever hidden from His gaze, in sin or in grace.

Even those mundane, physical sounding words of Jesus, “I thirst,” were declared by the apostle John to be a prayer from the psalter: “After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished (ended), said in fulfillment of the Scripture, ‘I thirst’” (John 19:28, Amplified Bible). The Scripture to which John was referring is Psalm 69:21: “They gave me also gall [poisonous and bitter] for my food, and in my thirst they gave me vinegar (a soured wine) to drink” (AB). “A vessel (bowl) full of vinegar (a sour wine) was placed there. So they put a sponge soaked in the vinegar on [a stalk, reed] of hyssop and held it to His mouth” (John 19:29, AB). Christ still thirsts in our poor, imprisoned, afflicted and persecuted.

We do know Jesus prayed the psalms, as did His contemporaries. His first and last sentences on the cross are the first and last sentences of the great passion psalm, #22: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? (v. 1)...he has done it [it is finished]” (v 31).

Is it too bold or presumptuous to suggest Jesus prayed that entire psalm while hanging on the cross? Is it wisdom to deny that He did? No doubt Jesus was very conscious of Psalm 22. Let’s follow it through...

“But I am a worm, and no man; I am the scorn of men, and despised by the people” (Psalm 22:6, AB). “And those who passed by spoke reproachfully and abusively and jeered at Him, wagging their heads...And the robbers who were crucified with Him also abused and reproached and made sport of Him in the same way” (Matthew 27:39, 44, AB). Christ is still scorned and despised by most of the people on this earth today, in name and in actions of violence and neglect toward each other.

“All who see me laugh at me and mock me; they shoot out the lip, they shake the head, saying, ‘He trusted and rolled himself on the Lord, that He would deliver him. Let Him deliver him, seeing that He delights in him!’” (Ps. 22:7-8, AB). “He trusts in God; let God deliver Him now, if He cares for Him and will have Him, for He said, ‘I am the Son of God’” (Matthew 27:43, AB). People still mock the Christ in others, saying "Why isn't your God taking away all this suffering and hardship?"

“For [like a pack of] dogs they have encompassed me; a company of evildoers has encircled me, they pierced my hands and my feet” (Ps. 22:16, AB). “And again another Scripture says, ‘They shall look on Him Whom they have pierced [Zech. 12:10]’” (John 19:37, AB). Many today look and turn away and dismiss the wounded Christ among us. Many more don't even recognize Him Whom they have pierced again and again.

“They part my clothing among them and cast lots for my raiment (a long, shirt-like garment, a seamless undertunic)” (Ps. 22:18, AB). “Then the soldiers when they had crucified Jesus took His garments and made four parts, one share for each soldier, and also the tunic [the long shirt-like under-garment]. But the tunic was seamless, woven from the top throughout. So they said to one another, ‘Let us not tear it, but let us cast lots to decide whose it shall be.’ This was to fulfill the Scripture, ‘They parted My garments among them, and for My clothing they cast lots.’ So the soldiers did these things” (John 19:23-24, AB). Many in the body of Christ today continue to be exploited and stripped naked of the dignity, respect and livelihood due children of the Most High.

“I will declare Your name to my brethren; in the midst of the congregation will I praise You” (Ps. 22:22, AB). “Jesus said to her, ‘Do not cling to Me for I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to My brethren and tell them, I am ascending to My Father and your Father, and to My God and your God’” (John 20:17, AB). “For both He Who sanctified – making men holy – and those who are sanctified all have one [Father]. For this reason He is not ashamed to call them brethren, for He says, ‘I will declare Your [the Father’s] name to My brethren; in the midst of the (worshipping) congregation I will sing hymns of praise to You’” (Hebrews 2:11-12, AB). This is our calling and service to Christ in others.

“’Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out. But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.’ He said this to show the kind of death he was going to die. The crowd spoke up, ‘We have heard from the Law that the Christ will remain forever, so how can you say, ‘The Son of Man must be lifted up’? Who is this Son of Man?’” (John 12:31-34, NIV). The Psalms, again, speak in response: “The Lord has sworn and will not revoke or change it: You are a priest forever, after the manner and order of Melchizedek” (Ps. 110:4, AB, see also Hebrews 5:10, 7:11, 15, 21).

Given the Scripture rubrics and the apostle John’s confirmation that Jesus’ words from the cross were spoken “in fulfillment of the Scriptures” and prayed from the Scriptures, we can be confident that Jesus was prayerfully conscious of Psalm 22 as well as the entire psalter.

Jesus’ lifting “up from the earth” to “draw [call] all men [people] to myself” is a definitive reference to His crucifixion, as confirmed by the apostle John: “He said this to show the kind of death he was going to die.” We can also glean from Scripture an additional meaning, that Christ will call us to Him upon another lifting up from the earth, His ascension. He said that must be necessary in order for His Holy Spirit to be infused throughout the earth: “Do not cling to Me [here], for I have not yet ascended to My Father and your Father.” “It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you, but if I go, I will send him to you” (John 16:7, NIV).

Take some time this week to spend an hour in solitude. Visualize yourself alongside of Mary and John and the others at the feet of Jesus hanging on the cross. The need for imagining ends there, for there is no need to imagine what Jesus was pondering and praying. As He put Himself in our place, we can put ourselves in His place on that cross, for that is our place. All that keeps us separated from the Father was nailed to and bled from that cross in the Christ. In His place, our place, we pray Psalm 22 slowly, deliberately, conscious of every phrase and the passion infused in them. We feel the passion. We feel the forsakenness and the “it is done” and all in between. We feel the unity in Him and the transformation through Him. We learn to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, strength and soul..."

John S. Hilkevich, Ph.D.
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