March 30, 2018

Psalm 22
John 18-19

“God Has Done It”

We have four Gospels, and each of the Evangelists tells the story of Jesus in their own way. We don’t have to choose which one “got it right” but we receive the richness of the Christian tradition from them, recognizing that God speaks to us and shows us truth through each of their accounts.

On Passion Sunday, I reflected on Mark’s telling of the story. That’s the version in which Jesus quotes from Psalm 22 when he is dying on the cross. In a moment of physical, emotional, and spiritual pain, he cries out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” We hear his agony and despair as he experiences the horror of crucifixion, and there is the suggestion that he is actually cut off from God.

But Psalm 22 is not only a psalm of lament or despair. If you read a little more than the first line, as we did this morning, you will hear the psalmist express lament, call for help from God, and remember God’s faithfulness and love.

If, in Mark’s account of the gospel, we noticed Jesus’ connection to the lament of the psalmist as he cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”, in John’s account that we heard today, we might notice his connection to the psalmist’s expressions of hope and trust in God.

After crying out desperately, the psalmist reminds himself of his ancestors, saying “In you our ancestors trusted, and you delivered them. To you they cried, and were saved; in you they trusted, and were not put to shame.”

Then, after lamenting his situation some more with words that are echoed in Jesus’ story: “they divide my clothes among themselves, and for my clothing they cast lots” the psalmist again calls for God’s help and declares his trust. He says, “I will tell of your name to my brothers and sisters; in the midst of the congregation I will praise you.”

He continues, “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.”

 And the last two verses really stood out to me: “future generations will be told about the Lord, and proclaim his deliverance to a people yet unborn, saying that he has done it.”

“God has done it.” That’s the line that really struck me. “God has done it.”

For the psalmist, he’s talking about what God has not yet done, but what he hopes, and expects, and trusts that God is about to do. Just as God has done it for his ancestors, just as God has helped him in the past, he believes that God is going to come quickly to help him and deliver him from his enemies.

Even in the midst of his agony, his trouble, with bulls encircling him, his bones out of joint, his mouth dried up, his hands and feet shriveled, and dogs all around… the psalmist holds on to the hope that God will deliver him and future generations will rejoice and declare that “God has done it!”

It’s that kind of confidence and trust in God that we see in Jesus when John is telling the story. One commentator describes John’s Jesus as “supremely confident, in control of even the most sordid events leading to his end…”

“The tone is set with his proclamation in chapter twelve. Jesus declares, ‘The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.’ Then he approaches the last meal with his disciples, knowing ‘that his hour had come to depart from this world’ (13:1). Judas does not slip away from the meal to accomplish his betrayal; Jesus deliberately sends him (13:27).

“After the meal, John reports a lengthy farewell discourse, but no prayers of agony in the garden. When the soldiers come for the arrest, Jesus is not identified by Judas’ kiss but steps forward, magisterially announcing, ‘I am he’ – whereupon they draw back and fall to the ground (18:6). Jesus is not silent before Pilate, but speaks to him of a superior ‘kingdom… not from this world’ (18:36). Jesus carries his own cross to Golgotha (19:17) and does not even stumble under its weight.

“He looks down upon his mother and the beloved disciple from the cross, assuring their future care for one another in the hour when he might seem to be the one in deeper need of caring (19:26-27).

John records no cry of dereliction, but rather a climactic declaration: ‘It is finished’ (19:30), a verdict of accomplishment and completion.

“God has done it!” Jesus seems to declare as he dies. But what has been accomplished? What great work has been completed in his dying on a cross?

When I reflect on Psalm 22 and John’s account of the Passion of Jesus, I hear the words “God has done it!” and “It is finished,” and I am assured that Jesus chose to do all that was necessary to reconcile us to God, to restore our relationship with the God who made us and who loves us.

With a full awareness that we human beings are people who sin – who betray, who abandon, who hurt, and who kill – Jesus determined to love us anyway. To forgive us, and call us to love one another as he has loved us.

And even though our sin led to his own death on a cross, Jesus knew that sin and evil would not have the last word. God’s power and love would triumph over death and he would be raised on the third day.

And even though it would cost him everything – his whole life – Jesus knew that his dying and rising would announce God’s power and love to the whole world… not only to his friends, or to the Jews, or to the people of his time, but to all of us in every land and every time.

The way John’s Gospel tells the story, Jesus is a wonderful model of what it looks like to have faith in God. He walks forward with confidence into all the trouble and trials that human beings can send his way, and he never seems to doubt that God is going to get him through it, and he’s going to be fine in the end.

Maybe you know someone with faith like that. You know, the kind of Christian who keeps going through personal tragedy, family challenges, church conflicts, financial struggles, illness, injury, or grief, and never seems to lose their strength, their hope, their confidence in God’s power to save and bring victory in the end.

But not many of us can muster that kind of perfectly consistent faith that never gives up no matter what our circumstances. In fact, even when it looks like someone you know has that kind of faith, I wonder if that’s just the part of themselves that they’re allowing other people to see. I wonder if deep inside, or in the privacy of their own home, or with a trusted friend they might share that they also struggle with despair or doubt when evil seems all around and hope is hard to grasp.

In the section on “Faith,” our Presbyterian statement of Christian belief (called Living Faith) it also speaks of doubt.

    We are not always certain that God is with us.
    At times God calls us to live in this world
    without experiencing the divine presence,
    often discerning God’s nearness only as we look back…

     Since we are to love God with our minds, as well as our hearts,
the working through of doubt is part of our growth in faith.
    The church includes many who struggle with doubt.
    Jesus accepted the man who prayed: “Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.”

But let’s return to Jesus again. As I said at the beginning of this sermon, we have four Gospels and they each present a different view of Jesus. John’s Jesus is a model of perfect faith. Mark’s Jesus struggles with the physical, emotional, and spiritual pain that he is experiencing, and cries out from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

I don’t think we have to pick a Jesus to believe in and follow. I think that both of those pictures of Jesus are true. Jesus experienced pain, and separation from God, perhaps doubt, and definitely despair. And Jesus also knew that God would triumph in the end.

He chose to walk the path of suffering because he was confident that it would accomplish God’s good purpose in the end – that his decision to give himself fully for the world would embody God’s steadfast and perfect love, and that when he was raised up he would draw all people to God.

So, even within the person of Jesus, faith and doubt hold together. Despair and hope are intermingled. Uncertainty and trust exist side-by-side. And so it is in our minds and hearts also. We are in good company with the author of Psalm 22 and with Jesus himself.

On Good Friday, we come face-to-face with the evil that exists in the world, within human beings, within our own hearts. If we ponder not only the death of Jesus, but also the ways that people in our world today continue to be crucified by hatred, violence, racism, or indifference, we might potentially become overwhelmed by our grief and sadness, and prone to dwell in our doubt.

Living Faith continues:
Though the strength of our faith may vary
and in many ways be assailed and weakened,
yet we may find assurance in Christ
through confidence in his word,
the sacraments of his church,
and the work of his Spirit.

 May God’s Spirit strengthen and keep us until we gather again on Sunday morning.