Sunday, April 14, 2013

A Year with Easter on my Mind

Anyone who has read any of my blog posts from last year can probably discern that 2012 was a hard and emotionally tring year for me.  Throughout most of my struggles and sorrows of that year, however, the one particular passage of Scripture sustained me more than any other was Psalm 22.  Before 2012, my mind rarely associated that psalm with Easter, but now it's become one of the most important points of reference for when I think about the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

I suppose I have to credit my newfound appreciation for Psalm 22 to a brief comment made by Russell D. Moore on his Cross & the Jukebox session on Johnny Cash.  Moore referenced the importance of Jesus' quotation of Psalm 22:1 ("my God, my God, why have you forsaken me?") as some of his final words upon the Cross (and somehow Moore tied the whole thing together beautifully with Johnny Cash's own life story). As terrible a picture of suffering as Psalm 22 paints in its first twenty verses, it nevertheless concludes with an abundance of praises toward God for His goodness and salvation.  And the pivotal point of the psalm occurs at verse 21, where the psalmist confesses to God that "You have heard me!" (the Hebrew word is often translated as "rescue" but "heard" is the literal sense).  The same concept is again present in verse 24: "He has listened to his cry for help."  David, whose name is attached to this psalm, trusted in God to deliver him out of his afflictions, as did many generations of the people of Israel.  But when Jesus on the Cross identified himself with Psalm 22, He didn't have only verse 1 in mind but verse 21 as well.  Jesus knew that His Father had heard his cries and that, even though God's presence appeared to be far away at the time, the Father would not ultimately abandon His Son to death and decay.  And in the great resurrection event of that first Easter Sunday, God the Father proved that He had heard the cries of God the Son and had answered the Holy One with decisive vindication.

Over the past year, I have realized that the only reason why any of us are able to praise God in spite of whatever tough times we might be going through is because Jesus Christ has identified Himself with us in our sin and suffering.  God the Father gave our Lord the victory that is now reserved for those of us who trust in Christ alone for salvation.  God the Father was pleased to accept righteous suffering of Christ as an all-sufficient substitute for sinners like me.  And in the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, those who have trusted in Christ have assurance that God will raise them up from the depths of suffering and the grave (in the words of 1 Corinthians 15:20-21).

On April 11 of last year (three days after Easter Sunday of 2012), I led a Wednesday night Bible study on Psalm 22 with two of our church ladies both in their eighties.  I got pressed for time and only made it through half of the chapter.  A few months later, I got a another opportunity to lead a Wednesday night study, and I again repeated the lesson and made it through the entire psalm.  I don't know how much of a lasting impression it left on the folks at the study, but it the psalm sure did leave a great impact on me.  I began to yearn for the opportunity to transition my study notes into a more proper sermon outline, and when my Granny's health began to fail again during late Spring I began to consider the idea of using Psalm 22 as the biblical anchor for her funeral sermon which my family requested I deliver upon her eventual passing.  Ultimately, the personal burden proved to be too weighty for me to find a way to do full justice to Psalm 22, so I instead choose Hebrews 4:14-16 (Christ being our high priest who is able to sympathize fully with our human weaknesses) to be the biblical centrifuge of my Granny's eulogy.

This year, my home church back in Camden invited me to deliver the sermons for their Easter services.  I only had about a week's time of preparation, but I realized I\it was the perfect opportunity to prepare that much desired sermon on Psalm 22.  I didn't make any personal reference to my Granny's suffering in my actual sermon but that reality has always been on my mind.  Throughout Jesus' earthly ministry, He showed compassion to sinful and suffering people bringing them temporary healing.  But in Jesus' sacrificial death on the Cross, He identified himself absolutely with the very worst of the human condition.  All the terrible pain that my Granny suffered prior to her death last year was nailed to that Cross alongside Jesus. I don't know what sort of tribulation might await me in my future, but all that stuff unknown to me at this time was also nailed to that Cross alongside Jesus.  The consequences of sin will ultimately drag all flesh into the grave, but praise God that in the resurrection of Jesus Christ on that first Easter Sunday, we have blessed assurance that God has heard us, and He has promised to raise us again.

Even though 2012 held a lot of tough times for my family, it's good to know that even when God's presence seems far away and the troubles of the present seem very near, God has promised that He has not hidden His face from his people.  He has proved his faithfulness to us in the cross and the empty tomb.  And that's why I've had Easter on my mind all year long.

I haven't figured out the proper way to stream audio via Blogspot interface, but my Easter 2013 sermon can be downloaded here if anyone is interested:
"The Cross, the God-Forsaken, and the Empty Tomb" Psalm 22