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TEXT: Matthew 27:46

SUBJECT: Henry on the Seven Sayings #4

      Tonight, with God’s blessing, we’ll move on in the Puritan study we began a few weeks ago.  It’s called Matthew Henry on the Seven Sayings.  Henry was an English pastor who died in 1714.  He’s best known to us for his great Commentary on the Whole Bible.  That’s the book we’re using to guide us.

      Our Lord Jesus Christ hung on the cross for six hours—from nine in the morning until three in the afternoon.  During that time, He spoke seven times, six of which are very much in character.

      The first three sayings and the last three are things we’d very much expect Him to say.  We’re not surprised that He prayed for His enemies, promised to save the penitent thief, or turned His mother’s care over to His most trusted disciple.  Because He was as human as you and I are, we’d expect Him to ask for a drink.  Because He lived in perfect obedience and trust, what would you expect Him to say at the end but what He did say: “It is finished” and “Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit”.  All these sayings are very much in character.

       But the one we just read is not.  Surely the holiest Man in the world would have the favor of God in His last hours and feel that favor.  If you read Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, you’ll see that nearly everyone who died for God’s glory also died with a powerful sense of His nearness and grace.  But the Lord does not.  His last hours are spent in alone.  He’s cut off from the sympathy of men and from the favor of God.  Both are painful, of course, but the latter is so bad that He cries out

“My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”

      Henry has a lot to say on this one.  But before expounding it, he tells us how to approach it.  This—I think—is the best thing he says here.  If you learn nothing else about it, learn this.

THE APPROACH

“Surely no sorrow was like that sorrow which extorted such a complaint from One who, being perfectly free from sin, could never be a terror to Himself; but the heart knows its own bitterness.  No wonder that such a complaint as this made the earth to quake and broke the rocks, for it is enough to make both the ears that hear it to tingle, and ought to be spoken of with great reverence”.

Everything in the Word of God demands your respect.  But some things are so mysterious or so appalling or so awesome that before you say a word about it, you ought to shudder in godly fear.  This is one of them.

      Bernard of Clarvaux was a fine theologian and a great poet.  Yet when thinking about the sufferings of His Savior, he didn’t know what to say or how to say it.  His hymn expresses the bewilderment he felt at majesty of God’s Son dying in his place,

“What language shall I borrow to thank Thee dearest Friend? For this Thy dying sorrow, Thy pity without end?”

      Everyone has suffered, some more than others.  But no one—not Joseph or Paul or even Job—has any idea of what our Lord suffered being forsaken by His Father.  Henry notes this and tells us to stand in awe of it.  Before we think about it or say anything about it, let us feel its solemnity.  And be humbled before it.

THE SOURCE

      Henry goes on to cite the source of our Lord’s cry and why He used it.

“He could have expressed Himself in His own words, but He fetched it from David…He borrowed this complaint from Psalm 22:1.

Did you know that?  No one was more eloquent that the Lord Jesus Christ.  Had He wanted to, He could have used original words to give vent to His pain.  But He doesn’t.  He quotes the Bible—words that were first spoken by David about his own sufferings and fear.

Why would the Lord do this?  Henry says He did it for two reasons:

“It is not probable (as some have thought) that He quoted the whole Psalm, yet here He hinted that the whole was to be applied to Him, and that David, by the Holy Spirit, spoke of Christ’s humiliation and exaltation”.

A bit later we learn that most people who heard the Lord thought He was calling for Elijah to rescue Him (for “God” and “Elijah” sound alike in Aramaic).  But, had they been listening more carefully, they would have recognized Psalm 22 and, after the resurrection, they would have understood that both parts of it were fulfilled in Jesus Christ.  That the Messiah must suffer and rise or go to His throne by way of the cross.  This would have greatly confirmed the faith of these Bible-believing Jews and made them know for sure that Jesus was the Son of God and the King of Israel.

      Henry’s second reason is this:

“He would teach us to use God’s Word in our prayers”.

   What prayers will the Lord answer?  According to I John 5:14, He answers the ones that are according to His will.  Now, where do you find the will of God?  You find it in the Bible.  If, therefore, you want to pray well—that is, according to God’s will—you’ll use the Bible to inform and to limit your prayers.  The Word informs your prayers by telling you what to pray for; it limits them by telling you what not to pray for.

      How often do you use the Bible in your prayers?  It’s not that praying is the same thing as reciting memory verses, of course—it isn’t!  But surely the Lord must love to hear His own words spoken back to Him.  When used sincerely, they’re the best words you can use.

      Dr. Martin Luther found prayed this way.  Though he was a fine scholar and a great preacher and writer, he mostly studied the Bible to find things to pray for!  To him, there was no real difference between study and prayer.  When the Word gave a command, he prayed to keep it; when it gave a promise, he prayed to believe it; when it revealed Christ, he prayed to love Him.

      This might slow down your Bible reading.  But that’s the speed God wants you to read His Word.  Not plowing through enough chapters to finish it this year (or in two years or in six months or whatever your schedule is), but to read it at the speed of prayer, faith, love, and obedience.

      And so, the Lord’s prayer on the cross came right from the Bible, so that we would look for Him in all Scripture and so that we would use God’s Word to direct our prayers.

THE AGONY

      Henry goes on to the agony of this prayer,

“How He uttered it—with a loud voice which implies the extremity of His pain and anguish…This was the most grievous of His suffering.  He did not say, `Why am I scourged and why am I spit upon and why am I nailed to the cross?’  Nor did He say to His disciples, `Why have you forsaken Me?’  But when His Father stood at a distance, He cried out.  For this is what put wormwood and gall into the affliction and misery”.

It is impossible to exaggerate the sufferings of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Some may have suffered as much from the hands of men.  Think of the Christians tortured in the Inquisition or the Jews in the Holocaust or all kinds of people in the Soviet work camps—terrible suffering!

But, at the hands of God, no one outside of hell has ever suffered what our Lord Jesus Christ has!  The godforsaken man in the world is not godforsaken!  But our Lord was.  This was the heaviest blow, the only one He could not keep inside.  The Lord was a tough man—and not a complainer.  But this was so appalling, that even He cried out in agony.

THE MEANING

      What does it mean to be forsaken by God?  I hope no one here ever knows this by experience.  But it’s good to know it from the Bible.  Henry says it means three things:

“He delivered Him up to the hands of His enemies and did not rescue Him out of their hands.  He let loose the powers of darkness against Him and let them do their worst”.

Everyone has been mistreated—some in ways too awful to mention in public.  But our mistreatment is always limited by the mercy of God.  He permits us to suffer abuse, but He also checks the abuse.  He does this for every believer and every unbeliever, for that matter.  But He did not do it for His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.  He gave Him into the hands of men to do everything they wanted to do to Him—to His body, to His mind, to His spirit.  They were free—totally free to abuse the Lord Jesus Christ.

“He withdrew His approval of Christ.  When His soul was first troubled, a voice from heaven spoke to comfort Him.  When He was in His agony in the garden, an angel was sent to strengthen Him, but now, He had neither one nor the other.  God hid His face from Him”.

The Lord had always had His Father’s approval.  Until He went to the cross.  He lost it then, not because He was doing something wrong, of course, but because—on the cross—He was taking our place as people who don’t have the approval of God!  It is you and I who should have been forsaken by God.  But it is not you and I who suffer that fate, our the Man who stood in our place, the Lord Jesus Christ!

“He let out upon His soul His wrath against sin.  Christ was made sin for us, a curse for us”.

The sinner deserves two things: God’s back and God’s fist!  On the cross, our Lord took them both for us.  He was forsaken and punished.  The pleasures of God were taken from Him and the terrors of God seized upon His soul.  Not because He deserved either, but because we do.

FINAL THOUGHTS

      Some parts of the Bible you can breeze through without much thought or feeling.  But this is not one of them!  The Lord’s cry on the cross makes us:

1.      Feel the awfulness of sin.  If sin does this to the Lord Jesus Christ, it must be far worse than we think it is.

2.      Feel grateful to God.  What a Father we have, to turn His back on His dear Son for our salvation.

3.      Love the Lord Jesus Christ.  Would you die for your best friend?  Maybe you would.  But would you lose God for him?  You wouldn’t.  Yet our Lord did just that, for hours on the cross, He lost God so that you and I could find Him!

4.      Want to tell others about the Lord.  What a great and wonderful Savior we have!  I understand why others would be ashamed of their gods or their religions or their holy books and so on.  But with this kind of God, Savior, Bible, and religion, what have we got to be ashamed of—other than ourselves for being ashamed.

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