Why are you so far from me ?April 2, 2015, More from this speaker 更多关于此讲员: Rev. Wong Siow Hwee (Psalm 22:1-21) For more of this sermon series 更多关于此讲道系列: Psalms
Preached at a Maundy Thursday service
Speaker: Rev. Wong Siow Hwee
Date: 2nd Apr 2015
Title: Why are you so far from me?
In Matthew 27: 45 From noon until three in the afternoon darkness came over all the land.46 About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lemasabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”). We may be very familiar with some of what Jesus said on the cross: his words to the bandits beside him, as well as the powerful proclamation that “it is finished”. This familiarity sometimes blinds us to another contrasting scenario, that in Matthew and also in Mark, the only recorded words of Jesus on the Cross are “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” If we were to just follow the narrative of Matthew and Mark alone, at the most pivotal point of the story, we might be deeply troubled by Jesus’ last words. It’s hard to imagine Jesus, the Son of God, forsaken by God himself. Uncomfortable with the notion, we may attempt to offer some explanations to soften the blow. Some might say that it is because Jesus “is bearing the Father’s wrath against the sin in the place of humanity. (Or perhaps) On the contrary, God is still identified with Jesus and is steadfastly watching him on the cross. But God is holding back from acting to deliver Jesus. In accepting the terrible pain of this moment of holding back, God carried human sin to the uttermost.”  Whichever explanation you might prefer, whenever I hear and think about these explanations, I’ve always felt that the best answer actually lies in Psalm 22. Simply because that’s the psalm that Jesus was referencing. I can imagine that for the Jews, the Psalms were like the favorite songs in your youth. The lyrics were embedded into your personal lingo because they were sung in your growing up years with deep connecting emotions. When Jesus used that phrase to express his feelings, he was also fully identifying with the meaning of that psalm. Just like if I were to tell you that the moon represents my heart, you might not want to ask Neil Armstrong for the meaning. You would know from the song made popular by Teresa Teng, that my feelings are true, that my love is true, and that’s how the moon represents my heart.
I’m proud to say that this year in Jubilee, we have purposefully set aside this time in our Maundy Thursday service and Easter Sunday service to study Psalm 22 in depth. You may have noticed that this is how we are slowly transforming the Word learning process in Jubilee. We don’t just deep fry store-bought fish nuggets and tell you to eat it and like it. These days, people like to sit in front of the sushi chef or at least look through the glass panel to see what’s going on in the kitchen. From a better vantage point, you can discern the freshness of the ingredients or feel the heat of the blow-torch or observe the skills of the knife-welder. All these add to the appreciation of the meal. Here in Jubilee, we want to do all that and maybe even a little more. Heck, we might even bring you to the fish market to show you how to select a good fish. Or even what sort of bait and rod you should use, so that you might do the fishing yourself.
And so we believe, that to fully understand the final moments of Jesus from the perspective of Matthew and Mark, we need to first understand Psalm 22. In Psalm 22, we discover a story of a man and his relationship with his God. This man might be King David himself, or might even be the personification of Israel. This man was a God-lover. Psalm 22: 9 Yet you brought me out of the womb; you made me trust in you, even at my mother’s breast. 10 From birth I was cast on you; from my mother’s womb you have been my God. The keyword in this relationship is “trust”, a word repeated many times throughout the Psalm. This man had a long and trusting relationship with his God. From birth till now, he had never wavered in his trust. It was also a personal relationship, if you would just note the usage of lots of ‘you’ and ‘I’. But even though it was a personal relationship, the trust was a justified and grounded one because it was rooted in the history of his ancestors. Psalm 22: 3 Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One; you are the one Israel praises. 4 In you our ancestors put their trust; they trusted and you delivered them. 5 To you they cried out and were saved; in you they trusted and were not put to shame. Note again the repeated use of the word ‘trust’. The psalmist based his trust on the proven record of God in the past. Trust and deliverance, trust and salvation, God was praised in the past for these very reasons. The psalmist inherited this faith and owned it as well. All his life, he trusted that God would be his strength, his deliverance and salvation.
If the story had ended like this, then this psalm would have been just like the praise and worship songs we sing every Sunday. God is to be praised, because his salvation works each and every time. So we only need to praise. The only struggle we have is perhaps how many times we need to repeat the chorus. But the story hasn’t ended. In fact, it is only just beginning. This is the moment where the life-long trust of the psalmist is put to the test. A novelist once said, “The furthest distance in the world is not the distance between life and death. It is not the distance between the ends of the earth. The furthest distance is when I’m standing before you, but you know not that I love you.” 张小娴的小说《荷包里的单人床》里有一段话：“世界上最遥远的距离，不是生与死的距离，不是天各一方，而是，我就站在你面前，你却不知道我爱你”。I wonder if that’s how the psalmist must have felt: an insurmountable distance between God and him. A distance that grew with every moment as long as there was no response from God. We all know the cry “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” But I think the killer line is the next phrase, “Why are you so far from saving me, so far from my cries of anguish? 2 My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, but I find no rest.” God feels so far away because his silence is like the empty echoes of deep space.
In contrast to the God who is far, the psalmist’s enemies are near. 11 Do not be far from me, for trouble is near and there is no one to help. And this powerful contrasting imagery is the gist of the story: God is far while troubles are near. These are the moments when we wonder if there was ever a true relationship between God and us. Maybe it was an unrequited love all along. We are like a mawkish 自作多情lover throwing oneself at God out of futile desperation. The psalmist uses three different animals to describe his enemies: bulls, lions and dogs. 12 Many bulls surround me; strong bulls of Bashan encircle me. 13 Roaring lions that tear their prey open their mouths wide against me. 16 Dogs surround me, a pack of villains encircles me. 20 Deliver me from the sword, my precious life from the power of the dogs. 21 Rescue me from the mouth of the lions; save me from the horns of the wild oxen. The power and ferocity of these animals is scary, but the true terror lies in the verbs: surround, encircle and opening their mouths. In contrast to the silence of God, the psalmist is trapped by his foes, and their words tear him apart. This is why the psalmist needs deliverance and rescue. His attackers and their mouths have formed a barrier separating him from God.
Again there are two imageries. First, the imagery of the enemies who mock and deride the psalmist’s faith. 7 All who see me mock me; they hurl insults, shaking their heads. 8 “He trusts in the Lord,” they say, “let the Lord rescue him. Let him deliver him, since he delights in him.” And the other, the imagery of the dumbstruck and speechless psalmist. My heart has turned to wax; it has melted within me. 15 My mouth is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth; you lay me in the dust of death. Indeed, what could he say? The proof of the pudding is in the eating. Something is only real and true only if it bears the testing. This psalm is powerful because it speaks plainly about the situation many God-lovers face. We have to be honest with the truth. The trust of our ancestors was proven true. The psalmist also did not hold back on his love of God. I believe many believers can also say the same. But the fact also remains that at this very moment, our troubles feel a lot nearer than God. And when questioned about the value of our trust, we have to admit the validity of their insults as well. We have to admit that it is not all just praise and worship. Often times, we have to lament to God: Why are you so far away?
Brothers and sisters, there is no shame in a lament. There may be good and valid reasons why God is far while our troubles are near. Sometimes we know, but other times we do not know. But if you have been faithful and trusting to God, then you have every right to cry out to God, just like the psalmist. This is why so much of the psalms are lament psalms. Life is not all just praise and worship. If I may derive a lesson from the psalmist, it is that he certainly felt that he was justified in his trust, and he yearned for an answer against his mockers. There is no shame in his lament. He continued to believe in his relationship with God even though it was tested to the very end. And that is how I interpret the cry of Jesus on the cross. Throughout the gospel of Matthew, it is a test of Jesus’ identity. Satan tested him. The religious authorities tested him. And even on the cross, they mocked his trust and questioned his relationship with God. Matthew 27: 42 “He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself! He’s the king of Israel! Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him.43 He trusts in God. Let God rescue him now if he wants him, for he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’” This is exactly the accusation posted to the psalmist.
When Jesus cried out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”, he felt exactly like the psalmist: his trust was true, his relationship was true, his identity as the Son of God is true. But his persecution was also true. The denials of the mockers were a lot nearer than the remoteness of God. His lament deserved an answer. This is why, only in Matthew and Mark, only in these two gospels where this painful lament is found, we read of this:
Matthew 27: 50 And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit. 51 At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split 52 and the tombs broke open. The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. 53 They came out of the tombs after Jesus’ resurrection and went into the holy city and appeared to many people. 54 When the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and all that had happened, they were terrified, and exclaimed, “Surely he was the Son of God!”
Tonight, as we come together to reflect on the death of Jesus Christ, let the imagery of the torn temple curtain stick in our minds. The barrier between the Holy of Holies and mankind has been torn apart. Like the parting of the Red Sea, there is the way, the truth and the life before our very eyes. In our Christian journey, I’m sure there will be many times we feel God is so far from us, especially during moments of troubles, when our faith and trust are being tested. The psalmist came to God in lament: My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from my cries of anguish? 2 My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, but I find no rest. Even Jesus felt that alienation, the distance from God. Then the temple curtain tore and that was God’s answer. God is no longer far from us. Nothing now separates us from God. Even the tombs broke open. Even the distance of death is bridged. To all the mockers and enemies who doubt God’s relationship with us, in Jesus Christ, we can now be certain. In the end, they too must exclaim, as the centurion to Jesus, “surely we are the sons and daughters of God.”
 Goldingay, Psalm 1-50, p 342
Psalm 22:1–21 (Listen)
To the choirmaster: according to The Doe of the Dawn. A Psalm of David.
22:1 My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?
2 O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer,
and by night, but I find no rest.
3 Yet you are holy,
enthroned on the praises of Israel.
4 In you our fathers trusted;
they trusted, and you delivered them.
5 To you they cried and were rescued;
in you they trusted and were not put to shame.
6 But I am a worm and not a man,
scorned by mankind and despised by the people.
7 All who see me mock me;
they make mouths at me; they wag their heads;
8 “He trusts in the LORD; let him deliver him;
let him rescue him, for he delights in him!”
9 Yet you are he who took me from the womb;
you made me trust you at my mother’s breasts.
10 On you was I cast from my birth,
and from my mother’s womb you have been my God.
11 Be not far from me,
for trouble is near,
and there is none to help.
12 Many bulls encompass me;
strong bulls of Bashan surround me;
13 they open wide their mouths at me,
like a ravening and roaring lion.
14 I am poured out like water,
and all my bones are out of joint;
my heart is like wax;
it is melted within my breast;
15 my strength is dried up like a potsherd,
and my tongue sticks to my jaws;
you lay me in the dust of death.
16 For dogs encompass me;
a company of evildoers encircles me;
they have pierced my hands and feet—
17 I can count all my bones—
they stare and gloat over me;
18 they divide my garments among them,
and for my clothing they cast lots.
19 But you, O LORD, do not be far off!
O you my help, come quickly to my aid!
20 Deliver my soul from the sword,
my precious life from the power of the dog!
21 Save me from the mouth of the lion!
You have rescued me from the horns of the wild oxen!