Our Father Who Art In Hell
Tonight we are just days away from our observance of Good Friday, the day Jesus was crucified. Tonight, as has been our habit during these Wednesday evenings together this year, I want us to focus on a Psalm. Tonight, Psalm 22, and I want to suggest to you that that Psalm played a powerfully important role in what happened on the first Good Friday.
Let me suggest that you take your Bible and turn to Psalm 22. We’re going to do some work in the Psalm together, and then we’re going to work, a bit later on, on the screens. But the focus of our attention is going to be on this remarkable Psalm. Ah, but I want to come back to that later.
Good Friday. I think it is very important for us to recall precisely what happened on that Good Friday. Let me remind you of the way time was calculated in those days. The first hour of the day was 6:00 in the morning, and so always, whenever they spoke of time, they spoke of the first hour. That meant 6:00 in the morning. The third hour—you can follow along—was 9:00 in the morning. The sixth hour was high noon. The ninth hour was 3:00 in the afternoon. All of those times play an important part in what happened on Good Friday. At the first hour, Jesus was being “prepared”—that was the word they used—for the crucifixion. It is worth remembering that He was arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane, and then He was forcibly dragged from one end of Jerusalem to the other, being interrogated—harshly, maybe even violently—at places like the palace of Caiaphas or the headquarters of Pontius Pilate, or the palace of Herod, or again, the palatial quarters of Pontius Pilate. Back and forth, back and forth—always under force, all through the night with no sleep. The first hour He was handed to the soldiers and then He was horrifically beaten. The beatings the soldiers administered brought the victims always right to the point of death and then stopped. And then Jesus was forced to carry the heavy cross, through the narrow, winding streets of Jerusalem, out to the hill called Golgotha—the place of the skull; the place that we call Calvary.
The Bible tells us that Jesus was crucified at the third hour—9:00 in the morning. The spikes were driven through hands and feet. The first three words that Jesus spoke from the cross, He spoke during that first hour—from 9:00-10:00 in the morning. And then for five, long, hideously painful hours Jesus was silent. The Gospels tell us that at the sixth hour—Jesus had been on the cross for three hours—at the sixth hour, high noon, suddenly, a deep, black, inky, impenetrable darkness descended over the whole scene and remained until Jesus breathed His last. It was at the ninth hour, the Bible tells us—at 3:00 in the afternoon that Jesus spoke for the first time in five hours. He said: “My God, My God, why have You forsaken me?” Those words were spoken out of darkness. But while the words were spoken in darkness, the words actually speak of light. Some people say that God was not present on Calvary, that God abandoned His Son on the cross. I do not believe that to be true. I believe that God was there.
There is a magnificent painting that hangs in the National Gallery in Edinburgh, Scotland. It portrays Christ on the cross—a vivid portrayal, with His face twisted in agony. The background of the painting is dark, terribly dark. When you first look at the painting, all that you see is the shape and the figure of Christ on the cross. But then, if you gaze at the painting for a time, suddenly your eye begins to focus on the background—the deep, dark, swirling clouds that are in the background. And all of a sudden, you discover that the artist very subtly has used swirling clouds, black clouds, to portray another face—God’s face; even more twisted in agony than the face of the Christ on the cross. I believe that painting is accurate. I believe that God was there on Calvary. Now understand, please, God did not intervene on Calvary. God did not interrupt on Calvary. God did not intrude on the wicked ways that were being prosecuted on Calvary. God was there, but only there.
Do you remember, if you were here last Sunday, for example, that we looked at Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. And it is there in the Garden of Gethsemane that we are told that all of the world’s sin and all of your sin and all of my sin—all of it was poured into a single cup and God said to His Son in Gethsemane: “Drink this cup.” And Jesus said: “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me. Don’t make me drink this cup.” God said: “Drink the cup.” In that moment, as the Bible puts it: “For our sake, this One who knew no sin became sin.” In that moment, as the Bible puts it: “The Lord laid on Him the iniquity of us all.” In that moment in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus became sin, our sin, and the Bible tells us that the wages of sin is death, and therefore, Jesus who became our sin had to die in order to pay the price for our sin. And so God refused to intervene on Calvary. But God was there. And God, I believe, was in agony as He watched His only Son hang on that miserable cross from nine in the morning until shortly after three in the afternoon.
Here’s the point. In Jesus’ deepest darkness, the light of God shone through. And that is the message of our faith—that when our own darkness of suffering and death descends in impenetrable blackness around us, in that moment, God is there. Mind you, that is not just my personal opinion. We as Christians know and believe that is true. That’s what makes the difference in the Christian life.
That is not just my opinion, but that has been demonstrated scientifically. I could point to several different studies, but let me give you just one. Not so long ago, a California university school of psychology engaged in a study that was framed as follows. They actually made a film of a man who was dying. With his permission, they filmed his dying experience; interviewed him along the way as he moved from one stage of dying toward another. No actors, no script, no set— just a camera trained on a man who was in the process of his dying. And the camera followed all the way through, so that ultimately, as you watched the finished product, you quite literally, watched a man die before your very eyes. They then took that film and showed it to a wide variety of groups and individuals. The individuals’ responses to the film were very carefully studied, analyzed and documented. The results of the study are quite startling—startling especially to those who conducted the study. The results of the study are that Christians, for the most part, had a radically different response to the film than did non-Christians. Documented: Christians, the vast majority of them, responded to the film with confidence and hope. The non-believers, for the most part, responded to the film with fear and anxiety. The reason that Christians have a measure of confidence and hope in the face of the awful darkness of death is because Christians know and believe that when the darkness is the deepest, God is there. That’s our faith.
And that brings me now to Psalm 22. When Jesus said from the cross: “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” Many people declare that to be a cry of separation from God. I do not believe that it was. In fact, I would actually go on to suggest that the opposite is true. When Jesus said: “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” … I believe that Jesus was quoting the first line of Psalm 22. Look at it: “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” And I believe that Jesus repeated that line on purpose. I believe that Jesus knew, which would have been true, that everybody assembled on Calvary that day would have known Psalm 22 by heart. You see, they memorized the Psalms in those days. The Psalms were the hymnbook of the people, and so they sang from the Psalms and they memorized the words. Everyone there would have known Psalm 22. And so Jesus, when He said: “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”, it would have been exactly like if I were to say to you right now: “Four score and seven years ago … Immediately, your mind would go on with the words of the Gettysburg Address. Or, if I were to say: “We hold these truths to be self-evident …”, you would immediately pick it up “… that God has created all men equal …” and so forth; the lines of the opening of the Declaration of Independence.
You see, when Jesus said: “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” immediately that would have triggered in the minds of everybody there a personal recitation of the lines of Psalm 22, one after another after another. Now why Psalm 22? Two reasons. One, Psalm 22 is an incredibly accurate prophecy of precisely what happened on Calvary. As a matter of fact, I would argue that Psalm 22 may, in fact, be the most accurate prophecy in all of the Old Testament. To prove that to you, I want you to join me right now in a little exercise. I’m going to walk us through some of the critical elements in Psalm 22. Remember, this Psalm was written hundreds of years before Calvary. And then I’m going to flip us over to the parallel passages in the New Testament which will show you precisely what actually happened on Calvary. So the Psalm predicts what happens hundreds of years later. Watch how this occurs. Now, follow along. First Psalm 22, verses 6-8: “But I am a worm and not human; scorned by others, and despised by the people. All who see me mock at me, they make mouths at me, they shake their heads; ‘Commit your cause to the Lord; let Him deliver—let Him rescue the One in whom He delights.’” That’s the Psalm written hundreds of years before Calvary.
Now, flip over to Mark 15:16-20. “Then the soldiers led Him into the courtyard of the palace (that is, the governor’s headquarters); and they called together the whole cohort. And they clothed Him in a purple cloak; and after twisting some thorns into a crown, they put it on Him. And they began saluting Him, ‘Hail, King of the Jews!’ They struck His head with a reed, spat upon Him, and knelt down in homage to Him. After mocking Him, they stripped Him of the purple cloak and put His own clothes on Him. Then they led Him out to crucify Him.” And then Matthew 27, beginning at verse 38: “Then two bandits were crucified with Him, one on His right and one on His left. Those who passed by derided Him, shaking their heads and saying, ‘You who would destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.’ In the same way the chief priests also, along with the scribes and elders, were mocking Him saying, ‘He saved others; He cannot save Himself. He is the King of Israel; let Him come down from the cross now, and we will believe in Him. He trusts in God; let God deliver Him now, if He wants to; for He said, ‘I am God’s Son.’ The bandits who were crucified with Him also taunted Him in the same way.” Amazing! Hundreds of years before, Psalms 22 describes almost precisely what happened later on Calvary.
And then Psalm 22, verses 14 and 15: “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; My mouth is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to my jaws; You lay me in the dust of death.” Hundreds of years before Calvary. And then John 19, verse 28: “After this, when Jesus knew that all was now finished, He said (in order to fulfill the Scripture), ‘I am thirsty.’ A jar full of sour wine was standing there. So they put a sponge full of the wine on a branch of hyssop and held it to His mouth. When Jesus had received the wine, He said, ‘It is finished.’ Then He bowed His head and gave up His spirit.” Psalm 22:16-18: “For dogs are all around me; a company of evil-doers encircles me. My hands and feet have shriveled; I can count all my bones. They stare and gloat over me; they divide my clothes among themselves and for my clothing they cast lots.” Hundreds of years before Calvary.
And then listen to what actually happened: “Since it was the day of Preparation, the Jews did not want the bodies left on the cross during the Sabbath, especially because that Sabbath was a day of great solemnity. So they asked Pilate to have the legs of the crucified men broken and the bodies removed. Then the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first and of the other who had been crucified with Him. But when they came to Jesus and saw that He was already dead, they did not break His legs. Instead, one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and at once blood and water came out. (He who saw this has testified so that you also may believe. His testimony is true, and he knows that he tells the truth.) These things occurred so that the Scripture might be fulfilled,‘None of His bones shall be broken.’ And again another passage of Scripture says: ‘They will look on the One whom they have pierced.’”
And then earlier in John 19: “When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took His clothes and divided them into four parts, one for each soldier. They also took his tunic; now the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece from the top. So they said to one another, ‘Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it to see who will get it.’ This was to fulfill what the Scripture says: ‘They divided my clothes among themselves, and for my clothing they cast lots. ’ And that is what the soldiers did. Meanwhile, standing near the cross of Jesus were His mother, and His mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.”
Amazing. One after another in Psalm 22, the events of Calvary are spelled out, only to be fulfilled all those years later. And so I think that one of the reasons that Jesus said: “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” was to call attention to that Psalm, to ask them to remember that which was happening was, in fact, predicted by the Word of God as early as hundreds of years before.
But there was a second reason. You need to understand that for all of the rather gruesome picture portrayed in Psalm 22, it actually is not a Psalm of despair. It is actually a Psalm of triumph and victory in the face of suffering and death. Just look at the way the Psalm ends, beginning at verse 27: “All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord, (remember please, that the people on Calvary would have known the words of this Psalm, they would have worked their way through the verses until they came to this triumphant conclusion) and all the families of the nations shall worship before Him. For dominion belongs to the Lord and He rules over the nations. To Him, indeed, shall all who sleep in the earth bow down. Before Him shall bow all who go down to the dust, and I shall live for Him. Posterity will serve Him; future generations will be told about the Lord, and proclaim His deliverance to a people yet unborn—saying that He has done it.”
The Resurrection. Future generations will know that God is victorious even in the face of death. That is our faith—that even when the darkness seems to be triumphant, the power of God prevails. After death comes resurrection.
That’s all I want to say. That’s all I know to say, I guess, except, I want to say and I want to ask you to work hard to understand what I am saying when I say it: Once on a green hillside in Galilee, Jesus taught His disciples to pray, “Our Father who art in heaven”. That was good. But do you understand what I mean when I say that once on a dark hillside called Calvary, Jesus taught us that we can also pray: “Our Father who art in hell.” When the darkness is the deepest, the light of God shines through. I think that’s the message of Psalm 22, and I think that’s what Jesus was saying when He said from the cross: “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”