Matthew 27:45-50 (Good Friday—The Crucified King)
“The King Forsaekn”
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT
April 18, 2014
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Our text is the Gospel lesson recorded in Matthew 27:
Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour. And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” And some of the bystanders, hearing it, said, “This man is calling Elijah.” And one of them at once ran and took a sponge, filled it with sour wine, and put it on a reed and gave it to Him to drink. But the others said, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to save Him.” And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up His spirit.
“My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?”
One can easily imagine that question on the lips of the Israelites in Egypt. God considered the Israelites His “firstborn son” (Exodus 4:22). But it often must have seemed to them that that they were no more privileged than the common orphan. They had been slaves in Egypt for 430 years. They lived under a cruel tyrant who made their life a living hell. They had to live in that strange land of Egypt, where people did strange things like worship nature and the environment, otherwise known as the sun-god, Amon-Ra. Or strange things like worshiping their political leader, otherwise known as Pharaoh, the King of Egypt. It was his strange and evil mind that came up with a dastardly “final solution” to the overwhelming male Israelite problem in his land: drown all their baby boys.
But the children of Israel were not forsaken. These were no orphans; they were God’s special and privileged children. Although they would often turn their backs on Him, the Lord would not forsake them.A boy would be born to them who wouldn’t go under the water. His name was Moses, whose name means, “drawn out of the water.” The water was supposed to be a tomb for him, but God made it a womb from which He would draw out for Israel a deliverer, a savior, who would take it to that hellish Pharaoh and his gods with ten plagues.
Plagues such as the ninth one, when God spread that pitch-black darkness over Egypt for three days, a darkness that could be felt in one’s bones, a darkness that immobilized them socompletely that no one even got out of their beds for three days. But in the midst of that hellish darkness, God’s firstborn son, Israel, had light.
Or plagues such as the tenth and final one, where every firstborn in the land was marked out to die—even Pharaoh’s son, the prince, whom the Egyptians also worshiped. But God did not forsake His firstborn. He told them to lift up a hyssop branch with lamb’s blood and paint their doorposts. God would look at the blood and be pleased, and pass over that house, sparing the Israelites. Out of the darkness of that night came the loudest cry that’s ever been heard as Pharaoh and the Egyptians were forsaken by their gods. Meanwhile, God gave His firstborn escape to freedom.
But those Israelites aren’t the only ones in Holy Scripture to be given such an exalted and privileged title as God’s “firstborn.” You bear that exalted title as well. In fact, the Holy Spirit has gathered you here together to be, as it says in Hebrews, God’s “assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven” (12:23). To our shame, we, like Israel, have been unfaithful firstborns. We, too, have turned our backs on the Lord and His Word. We have not always trusted in His promised care and we have lived as though we are orphans in this world. And time and again, we, have forsaken Him for substitute gods. Perhaps we don’t crassly worship the sun like the Egyptians did, but we live as though a flush bank account would be the sunshine of our lives. Perhaps we don’t bow down to our political leaders like the Egyptians did, but there we are again, bowing down to whatever will bring us popularity and “success.” Joshua’s threat to firstborn Israel is a threat for us as well: “If you forsake the Lord and serve foreign gods, then He will turn and do you harm and consume you, after having done you good” (Joshua 24:20).
Hear the threat of God’s Law and realize the magnitude of your sins, how you have forsaken the Lord and His Word. But then consider our test from the Passion according to St. Matthew, and rejoice. For the Spirit has gathered you here to hear how God follows through on that threat as He brings to our remembrance how He delivered His firstborn in Egypt.
On Golgotha, at the cross, the plagues were replayed again. There’s the ninth one again. But this time it was not three days of darkness in Egypt, but three hours of darkness throughout the world. This time there was no special area of light anywhere, but the cosmic darkness was total and complete.
And then there’s the tenth one. But this time it wasn’t a wicked king’s firstborn son who died. It was God’s innocent, faithful firstborn Son, Jesus Christ, the King of kings, given to bear all of people’s opposition to God and be struck down. This time has no blood-marked door to spare God’s firstborn, for Jesus came to be the blood-marked door that saves unfaithful firstborns like you and me. This time there was no loud cry of terror from Egyptian lips, but a loud cry of victory, as God’s faithful firstborn, Jesus, suffered the outer darkness of hell in our place, completed salvation, and yielded up the spirit, bringing sinners freedom and escape from God’s just anger. Hear how God followed through on His threat! God’s firstborn Son was damned and forsaken on the cross so that you might be saved and embraced by God’s mercy.
The Lord said through the pen of the psalmist, “I will make Him the firstborn, the highest of the kings of the earth” (Psalm 89:27). But for this to happen, God’s king not only had to be lifted up on a cross, He had to be lifted out of the three-day darkness of His grave in the resurrection and the ascension, enthroned at God’s right hand, that we might reign with Him. There Jesus is, the “firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth” (Revelation 1:5), the One who rules for the sake of His harassed and suffering assembly called the Church.
Unlike Israel, and us, Jesus was and is, the faithful firstborn. Note how He died in perfect control. He died voluntarily, for His desire was to do the will of the Father. What an example for faith! You heard Him cry, “My God, My God,” even though there is no earthly evidence that God the Father heard or was interested in His cries from cross as He bore our sins and suffered our hell. But in the midst of that horrific anguish and suffering, Jesus didn’t turn His back on His Father; He still addresses God with the personal, “My.” This is the same faith that has been credited to you in your Baptism, whereby He names you “My child” and the reason God looks upon you with such favor.
In order to save His firstborn Israel from Egypt, a deliverer was “drawn out of the water,” Moses. But on this Good Friday, we see how God delivered the whole world. God was pleased for your sake to immerse His firstborn Son into the sea of your sin and death that you might be drawn out of baptismal waters forgiven and alive with God’s Spirit, Who continues to perfectly make you alive in Christ. To save Israel in Egypt, a hyssop branch had to be covered in blood and lifted up to mark the doors. But on this Good Friday, we see a hyssop branch (Matthew calls it a “reed”) with sour wine being lifted to the lips of our “door,” Jesus Christ. It is His holy, precious blood that marks you as one redeemed by Christ the Crucified. And Pharaoh’s “final solution” to kill baby boys was no “solution” at all. It was pure evil. But on this Good Friday, we are again reminded of God’s “final solution” to the reign of sin, death, and the devil: the death of His only begotten Son, our Crucified King Jesus Christ, whose sacrifice is pure love directed at you. Amen.