Friday, April 6, 2012

The Cry of Faith

Good Friday
Commemoration of Lucas Cranach and Albrecht Dürer, Artists
April 6, 2012
Perhaps the most misunderstood thing in Christianity is faith. And there is perhaps no better time to ponder what faith is than on the day we call Good Friday.

Faith we usually think of as something we do. We normally see it as something we must do. You must have faith. You must believe. If you don’t have enough faith then you won’t receive from God what you are asking.

These are the kinds of things you hear often from Christians and that you yourself may often say and think.

Nothing could be further from the truth. While it’s true that faith is something we do it’s not true that faith is something from us. We are not able to have faith on our own. If we have faith it is by the Holy Spirit creating faith in us.

And while we have faith our having faith is not something we sustain. The faith we have is sustained solely by the Holy Spirit, not by us.

Faith also is often thought of us as understanding or intellectually grasping doctrine. There is indeed an aspect to faith that understands and comprehends and is inseparably linked with rational assessment of actual events and doctrines.

But we are not saved because we understand. We do not stand in God’s favor because we assent to the things He has said and the things He has accomplished.

We are saved by God’s work, His power, His grace.

It’s true that we are saved by faith. The Bible is clear on that. It says those exact words, in fact. So it would be foolish to say that we are not saved by faith.

But here we go back to how we started and the upside-down understanding of faith we so often have. When the Bible says that we are saved by faith it is saying that we are saved by God and His work and His power. We are saved by the trust we have in Jesus Christ and who He is and what He has done, not by what we do.

When we think of this trust that we have as something we do or come up with we are undermining faith. We are going against what God has given us in giving us faith.

The trust we have in Him is not something we naturally have of ourselves. Trust in ourselves is. This is why Christ went to the cross. This is what Good Friday shows us. If we were saved by what we do then Jesus didn’t need to suffer and die on the cross.

He wasn’t nailed to the cross to show us the way, He was nailed to the cross to pay for the sin of the world.

In the Gospel account of the Passion of our Lord we heard this evening from Mark there were a lot of things said and done. There are two things in particular which bring into focus what faith is and why it is at the heart of who we are as Christians.

One statement is by Jesus as He hung on the cross and as His life was about to leave Him. The other statement is by a man who was standing there who we would never expect to believe in Jesus. It was the centurion.

We normally don’t think of Jesus as having faith. When we talk of having faith we are talking of having faith in God. Since Jesus is God it seems strange that He would have faith.

But Jesus’ statement on the cross to His Heavenly Father was a cry of faith. He cried out, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” This is an amazing statement coming from our Lord.

If you and I were to say this to God it would be seen as a sign of not having faith in Him. Jesus says it on the cross and it is the ultimate cry of faith. It could be thought of as the essence of what faith is. Part of this is because it comes from the mouth and the heart of Jesus Himself.

When you remember that faith is not something you produce but that God produces then you see that true faith you have does not have its center in you but in Christ.

When Christ therefore speaks in this way He is speaking in true and ultimate faith.

But how is that so when it seems He is decrying being forsaken by the Father? “My God, why have You forsaken Me?” Isn’t He showing a lack of faith?

What He is doing is expressing the greatest faith of all. On the one hand He is stating what is actually occurring in His Suffering and death on the cross. It is painful to think of the punishment and torture Jesus experienced from the hands of the Roman soldiers; not to mention the onslaught of persecution from the religious leaders and passers-by.

But Jesus didn’t willingly be handed over to be crucified to suffer in only this way. What ultimately was happening is that He was suffering at the hands of His Heavenly Father. This is infinitely more painful and saddening for us to consider, that the Justice of God was brought down upon Jesus, who is holy and good and without sin and not deserving of anything but the highest honor and glory.

Jesus’ cry of being forsaken by His Heavenly Father was not a cry of despair but of faith. It was the ultimate assent to what was happening. He willingly suffered this wrath and eternal punishment by His loving Father because He did it in our place, in order to save us from this eternal punishment.

We know this because the Scriptures time and again show us this is the work Jesus willingly desired to do. We know this also because of Jesus’ very careful words. They were not, “O God, why have You forsaken Me?”, but “My God, why have You forsaken Me?” Even in the suffering for eternal punishment at the hands of the Father, His Father was still His Father, His God.

This is the cry of faith. It is not Jesus on the cross assessing the situation rationally and coming to a conclusion. It is Christ on the cross crying out in faith. Fully one with the will of His Heavenly and eternal Father—His Father, His God.

It is the cry of faith, not a giving up or a rebuking but of a statement at one with the good and gracious will of His Heavenly Father that He be forsaken so that we may be at one with the Heavenly Father, who becomes our Father, our God, in His Son Jesus Christ.

How was it that the centurion who stood there, a man who likely was a pagan, a man who was heading up the team of soldiers that day in crucifixion detail, how was it that he stood there and cried out, “Truly this man was the Son of God”?

How it was is that it was a cry of faith. It’s not something he produced of his own power or will. It’s not something he rationally understood. It’s something he believed and trusted in because the Holy Spirit produced in him faith.

The object of the centurion’s faith was Jesus Christ, hanging there on the cross, dead. The object of our faith is Christ, the one who was crucified, suffering and dying for the sins of the world.

The object of Christ’s faith was God the Father. Because of His faith, because of His suffering and death, we are granted faith.

What a blessing to see that our faith is so much more than a rational understanding of this, that it is indeed a cry of faith, a joyous and firm trust that Jesus is the one who has accomplished everything we need for us to be children of God—our God, our Father. Amen.


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