Did God the Father Abandon Jesus on the Cross?

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

guest post by Russell Joyner

Why would Jesus say something that sounds so discouraging? In Jewish tradition, in a moment of great distress, one should pray.  When all looks hopeless, pray. When you can’t think of what to pray, then recite one of the pre-approved inspired prayers.

In first century Israel, In the middle of the afternoon, around three PM, Jews would stop for prayer.  Somebody was supposed to call together at least ten Jewish men (constituting a minyun / quorum), then lead out in a Hebrew prayer, preferably one memorized from Scripture.  Those who knew the prayer were supposed to corporately join in out loud.

Matthew 27:46 tells us “At about the ninth hour, Jesus cried out in a loud voice…” The ninth hour after sunrise is the time to offer the afternoon prayer.  Nobody else took the leadership to select one of the psalms to pray. So Jesus took the lead, and started the prayer. When 1st century Hebrews started reciting Scripture, they did not use the number references like we do (chapter and verse numbers).  The opening phrase also served as the title of the prayer. Jesus was inviting those standing around the foot of the cross to join him in one of the most dynamic petitions for deliverance ever written, very likely penned by King David himself.

Psalm 22 is a classic example of a “Prayer of Lament” (along with about two dozen in the Book of Psalms).  The Biblical lament expresses a desperate situation, but the whole point is to confess that the situation can be changed by the LORD.  The lament psalms raise a cry out of the depths, fully believing that God has the power to lift a person up, around or through the pit & to set the believer’s feet firmly upon the rock.  Therefore, these Biblical laments are ultimately expressions of praise; admitting circumstances are at their worst, yet praising God for his faithful presence & deliverance. Things may look bad, but my God is sufficient for me. In each case, the complaining lament is shown to be invalid as a truth statement within the prayer itself.  

Psalm 13:1   How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?

Psalm 13:5-6   But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation.  I will sing to the LORD, for he has been good to me.

Psalm 74:1   Why have you rejected us forever, O God? Why does your anger smolder against the sheep of your pasture?

Psalm 74:12   But you, O God, are my king from of old; you bring salvation upon the earth.

While the complaint truly springs from genuine human anguish, once the individual looks at the lamentable circumstances through God’s eyes, the logical fallacy becomes clear.

Psalm 22 opens up with this address & complaint: “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from me, so far from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, & am not silent.”

Some have taken that statement at face value, to conclude that God the Father did in fact forsake Jesus.  I must go wherever the evidence leads me, and the evidence leads me to say “NO”!

The evidence:

  1. The ultimate message of Psalm 22 was trust in Yahweh’s covenant faithfulness: God will deliver.
  2. The way God has revealed himself consistently throughout Scripture:
    • Immanuel literally means, “God With Us”
    • The name Yahweh can be translated, “I Am Faithfully Present”
    • Deuteronomy 31:6 – “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”
    • Psalm 94:14 – “I will not forsake my inheritance.”
  3. The opening lines of psalms were used as titles, therefore, mention of title invokes the whole prayer.
  4. Psalm 22:24 itself tells us  “For He has not despised or disdained the suffering of the afflicted one; he has not hidden his face from him, but has listened to his cry for help.”   The initial complaint is corrected by the forthtelling prophecy.
  5. New Testament confirmation:
    • Matthew 27 quotes four times from Psalm 22; Matthew understood the whole represented by the part.
    • “When he offered up prayers & petitions w/loud cries & tears to the one who could save him, He was heard” (Hebrews 5:7).

Jesus gave his life willingly.  He knew the ultimate message of Psalm 22 was trust in Yahweh’s faithfulness.  He also recognized the lament psalm for what it was: a prayer of praise in the midst of lamentable circumstances.  Not a hopeless lamentation.

The evidence & example of Christ leads us to be more willing to express ourselves to God openly without white-washing our problems.  The prayer closet is the place to freely and firmly make your complaint and appeal. When we are at our wit’s end, Psalm 22 can guide us in taking our problems to the LORD.  Don’t despair!

APPLICATION: Do not build your view of God on your feelings, but upon the WORD of God….The BIBLE.  The true & living God has revealed himself to us in the Scripture, that we might know him & obey him.

Activity: A Hunt for the Real Meaning of Easter

Here’s a simple and fun Easter egg hunt activity that involves all ages. You can use this at home, at church, or any other Easter event.

  1. Using plastic Easter eggs, have the adults hide the eggs for the children – the more people you get involved the better, as you’ll see why in the next steps….
  2. Do NOT fill the eggs with candy. Instead, have each adult take one or more eggs and fill each one with a slip of paper with a Bible verse on it. Ideally, the Bible verses can be about the resurrection of Jesus (here is a link to a starter list of 15 verses you can use). It is best if each adult takes the time to look up and write out each verse by hand.
  3. Set the children loose to find the eggs.
  4. After all the eggs are found, have people forms intergenerational groups of 5-8 people each.
  5. Have the children read the verses out loud to the adults in the group and give time for the groups to discuss the verses together.
  6. Allow time for the group to pray together as well.
  7. Finally, have plenty of candy available for the children at the end, so they can still fill their baskets and bellies with the sweets!

What Cain and Jesus Share

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A stained glass depiction of the births of Cain and Abel. Germany, late 14th Century.

What?! You’re comparing Cain, the first murderer, to Jesus? How dare you!

Follow me here. I was writing a paper about ministry with children and I suddenly discovered in the Cain and Abel story something I had never seen before…

You probably already knew that Cain was the first child to be born (remember, Adam and Eve were created). But what Eve said upon his birth is pretty remarkable. She said something that leads us to conclude that Cain and Jesus were both gifts of God’s grace, each in a unique way.

Here’s the excerpt from my paper….

When we look at Scripture, the first children in the Bible were Cain and Abel. Their parents, Adam and Eve, had already been banished from the Garden of Eden due to their disobedience and sin towards God (Gen 3:16-24). In this new reality of paradise lost, Adam and Eve conceived their first child, Cain. Despite having a broken relationship with God, Eve proclaims, “With the help of the LORD I have brought forth a man” (Gen 4:1; italics mine). These are the first post-Edenic words spoken in Scripture, which I believe speaks to the significance of ministry with children. In this newly fallen world, our predecessor Eve viewed children as a gift from God. Even Cain’s name in Hebrew is a wordplay intended to sound like the word for “to bring forth” (Coppes 1980, 797-798). This means that God’s first gift of grace following our sin was a child. We turned from God, and the way he extended an offer of grace was through a baby.

Does that sound familiar? Thousands of years later, despite our sin, God gifted us all with the baby Jesus Christ as the ultimate gift of His grace.

This establishes the point that children are both a gift from God as well a means of God’s grace to adults (and other children, for that matter). Most adults in this world and in the church community understand that children are a gift, but how often do we view them as channels through which God extends His grace? When we view children in this way, we realize that as adults, we need children as much as they need us.

Citation:

Coppes, Leonard J. “Cain.” Theological wordbook of the old testament. Vol 2. R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer Jr., and Bruce K. Waltke eds. Chicago: Moody Press, 1980.

The Family Prayer Corner

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Yesterday, I worked together with my five-year old daughter to set up a little prayer station in our house. My wife and I got the idea from her school, which uses a lot of hands-on activities that teach kids about spirituality.

I’ve always been a little skeptical of creating ritualistic prayer spaces because I want kids to know that they can pray anywhere, anytime, all the time.

But, I went ahead and tried this prayer corner idea and I was amazed at how excited my daughter got about it. There was something tangible she could do and touch while she did something that is very deep, abstract, and invisible. Truth be told, my wife and I got excited about praying at the prayer station too. As adults, we often treat prayer as a perfunctory chore. But this prayer station helps touch the human senses in ways that provides concrete metaphors for unseen realities.

So far, it has done wonders for us in terms of reminding us to pray and as a gathering point for our family to joyfully pray together.

Here’s what we did:

  1. We got a glass plate and a miniature clear glass jar (like a small Mason jar).
  2. We found some smooth decorative rocks that we had in a drawer. For you, these could be any kind of rocks. We call them the “prayer rocks.”
  3. We placed the prayer rocks around the jar on the plate.
  4. We found a battery-powered votive candle (that you can get at any hobby/craft store) and placed it on one end of the plate.
  5. We explained the idea to our daughter and allowed her to to choose a spot in the house to put the prayer station.

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Here’s the way to use it:

  1. Whenever anyone wants to, they can go to the prayer station for as long or as short of a time they like. You can go alone or with someone else. It is always voluntary. And it should never be something we “show off” to look spiritual (Matthew 6:5-6).
  2. Light the votive candle.
  3. Grab a rock and say a prayer. There is nothing magical or spiritual in the rock. But it can help us focus and act as reminder that God hears our every little prayer. The rock can also be a symbol that God is our rock and our foundation. The prayer can be either silent or out loud. You can take whatever posture you like.
  4. Drop the prayer rock in the jar and stay as long as you like. There’s something about the sound of the glass bead rocks in the glass jar that adds a sort of song to the prayer.
  5. Turn off the votive candle.
  6. When the jar is full or the all the rocks are used up, re-set the rocks to the original position of being spread around the empty jar. Before you re-set it, take in the sight of the full jar as a reminder of all the prayers that God has heard and His faithfulness to answer.

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If you try this, I would encourage you to put your own spin or family personality on this station. Also, though we haven’t added the following yet, I think it would be helpful to have some prayers on hand nearby in a drawer if someone wants to pray a pre-written prayer (either from Scripture or a good prayer book). You could also frame the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13) and place it at the prayer station.

This could also easily be turned into a Worship Response Station for large groups at church or at camp. You could set up tables with small rocks all over them. Have the kids say a prayer and then place (not throw 🙂 the rocks in a wooden bowl or a similar type of container.

I still firmly believe in prayer as something we can do anywhere and anytime (John 4:21-24). But even Jesus spoke of the prayer closet (Matthew 6:6) and he himself had the Garden of Gethsemane (“Jesus went out as usual to the Mount of Olives” – Luke 22:39). So why not create a Gethsemane in our homes for our families, the very foundational place of spiritual growth for our children?

Want more ideas for crafts and stations for children’s ministry in the church and in the home? Sign up for my free monthly e-newsletter here.

The Role of the Children’s Pastor

I’m reading a great book on ministry with children right now called Children Matter by Scottie May, Beth Posterski, Catherine Stonehouse, and Linda Cannell (Grand Rapids: Eerdman’s, 2005).

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Here is a quote that made me stop in my tracks:

“Our responsibility is to create an environment in which the child can learn about and enter into God’s story, respond to the Holy Spirit, and experience the presence and leading of God” (Children Matter, p. 34).

Read that again. This is super important for Children’s Pastors/Ministers/Leaders. Notice that is does not say that we are the ones with all the knowledge to pass down to the children. We are not the ones with all the answers and the ability to make a child’s faith grow.

Our job is to make space for God to do what He does.

Our job is to point towards God.

Our job is to walk together in faith with these kids, set the stage for God’s works of grace, and get out of the way.

Jesus himself commands us not to “hinder” the children, but instead to simply let them come to Him (Matt 19:14).

I know this sounds abstract, so I will give one practical example to explain what I mean by this. One thing that I have found to be a perfect way to “make space” for kids to encounter God organically is something called Worship Response Stations. These are tactile, exploratory stations that give kids opportunities to connect with God in creative ways after a music and teaching time in worship.

I have an entire other post about Worship Response Stations that you can read here.

What are some ways that you as a leader make space for kids to encounter God?
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Is Jesus Our Superhero?

A metaphor thWonderworldComics3at some people use for describing Jesus Christ is that he is our superhero. But, I feel that the metaphor (like most) breaks down here – and so much so that I am uncomfortable saying that Jesus is my superhero (and teaching kids the like).

Here’s why: I believe that Jesus is beyond the category of superheroes. He alone is God (John 1:14). To call him a superhero is to limit him to a man-made box that likens him to our understanding of superheroes in popular culture.

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. – John 1:14

Furthermore, I think the metaphor is backwards. Instead of “Jesus is my superhero,” the aim of superheroes is that most are written to be godlike or to have supernatural powers. So it is not Jesus trying to be like them. It is them trying to be like Jesus.

In fact, I believe that the story of God’s salvation history is the greatest story ever told. I also believe that it is historically true. Comic book authors write about the struggle between good and evil and the godlike characters who wage battles using superhuman powers. If there is anything compelling or attractive about these comic book narratives, I believe it is because we are naturally drawn to themes that resemble the greatest story ever told (the Bible), not the other way around. I believe we are drawn because we are wired (by God) to yearn for the deepest realities of finding redemption from darkness in Him.

Granted, most comic book writers are not trying to write about characters who want to be Jesus.  The comic book universe is a fictional fantasy world. Jesus, we believe, is a true historical person. And that is another huge difference that makes this metaphor break down even more…

When you mix fantasy with reality, especially with children, you can potentially cause a blurred line between the two. I think fantasy and fiction (and comics, for that matter) are great literary genres and we should encourage kids to enjoy great literature, whether textual or graphic/visual.

I would rather keep these two worlds (truth and fiction) separate so as not to make children think that Jesus is “limited” to the superhero status of comic worlds. Likewise, I don’t want kids to think that Spiderman is their divine savior.

For you are great and do marvelous deeds; you alone are God. Psalm 86:10

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The Gifts of the Wise Men – Children’s Ministry Lesson

Rembrandt - Adoration of the Magi (Holland, 17th century)
Rembrandt – Adoration of the Magi (Holland, 17th century)

Yesterday, I taught on the wise men from the Christmas story in Matthew 2. I always love teaching on this part of the Christmas story because there is so much more in the text than we usually learn from a simple nativity scene.

Here are three things that might help as you assemble your lesson if you’re teaching this story…..

First of all, the wise men probably arrived in Bethlehem sometime between when Jesus was two months old and two years old. The text says that they came from the East (probably anywhere from Iraq to India) after the baby was born, first to Jerusalem, then to Bethlehem (Matthew 2:1). The travel time alone is at least two months. So the idea that they came at the same time as the angels and the shepherds (like most nativity scenes show) is a faulty amalgamation of the Matthew narrative and the Luke narrative with no regard to the historical timeline. Jesus was probably two years or younger at this time because Herod wanted to kill all baby boys two and under when he found out he had been outwitted by the wise men, who never reported back to Herod about the whereabouts of the child (Matthew 2:16).

Secondly, we don’t know how many wise men there were. The text simply says that there were wise men from the East (Matthew 2:1). So there could have been two or five hundred (or thousands). We get the number three from the number of gifts they brought – gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

Thirdly, I love showing the kids some modern day examples of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. These were practical baby shower gifts. The gold was simply money that they could use for travel, lodging, baby needs, etc. The frankincense was a type of incense one could burn as an act of worship/offering at the temple – something Mary and Joseph would certainly want to do upon the birth of their new baby. And the myrrh was a healing aloe – perfect for baby rashes, cuts, and bruises.

So as modern day examples, I show the kids some gold colored coins (the US presidential dollar coins are perfect for this), candles for the frankincense, and aloe/lotion for the myrrh. Then I juggle all three things (naturally). After all, Mary and Joseph did have a lot to juggle as new parents 🙂

Merry Christmas.

Is the Holy Land Really Holy?

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Sarah, Kezzie (on my back out of view), myself, and some random guy behind us :). We’re standing in front of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the Old City of Jerusalem (the most likely historical location of the crucifixion, burial, and resurrection of Christ).

This is a question I have pondered for some time now, especially since recently visiting Israel. You would think that all the fighting over the Levant throughout history would make this land pretty unholy. Another way of looking at it is to say the land is fought over so often because too many mutually exclusive groups render the land so holy.

“Holy” means “sacred” or “set apart”, most often referring to the divine. My dilemma as a Christian visiting the “Holy” Land and calling it such is that I wonder if we “over-holy” these geographical locations.

Let me say up front that I do believe that the land we currently call Israel and Palestine will play some sort of special role in the unfolding of last things (eschatology). Just read the beautiful prophecy about the river of life flowing from Jerusalem to the Dead Sea in Ezekiel 47 to see what I mean.

But that does not mean I think the land should be militarily taken in order to help hasten the end times (the Crusaders tried that centuries ago and their campaigns were NOT the Church’s brightest moments in history). On the contrary, I believe that according to Jesus, we live in a time where the locality of God’s divine presence is juxtapositioned differently than the times of the Old Testament.

Here are the words of Jesus himself to the Samaritan woman in John 4:

“Woman,” Jesus replied, “believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth” (John 4:21-24 NIV).

Christians flock to the Holy Land, and have done so for centuries. I believe it is a trip well worth the time and resources. But what I get out of it is not feeling closer to God because I feel like the land gets me closer to Him. God is omnipresent, and His “temple” is no longer a bricks and mortar place on some mountain, but rather the hearts of people around the world – from every tribe, tongue, and nation.

So I do not think the land of Israel/Palestine is any more holy than Fargo, North Dakota. God is holy, and we can worship God and connect with Him anywhere and everywhere, including Israel.

What I do get out of visiting Israel as a Christian is a deeper appreciation for the historical settings of the Bible and Middle Eastern history. That in turn helps me to read the Bible in color rather than just black and white, which in turn does help me connect with God in devotion and relationship. It helps me understand the culture/faith of Judaism, which is the root of Christianity (by the way, Christianity can also be called the Jewish Messianic Movement). And it helps me better understand the various people groups who currently live in the Middle East and how they interrelate with one another.

So I would recommend visiting the land of the Bible. But don’t expect God to pop out of the earth while you’re over there. You don’t have to travel that far to find God in your life. He’s at work in your own city. Visit the land of the Bible and let it deepen your understanding of history and today, thus drawing you closer to God in that particular way.