“Why?” (Matthew 27:11-50)

Good Friday
April 7, 2023

“Why?” (Matthew 27:11-50)

Why? That is the question of the day here on this Good Friday. We hear the question raised twice in our Gospel account. First, when the crowd is demanding that Jesus be crucified, Pontius Pilate asks, “Why, what evil has he done?” And then second, when Jesus is crucified, he himself asks, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” These “why” questions are understandable, since none of this makes any sense–until we know the real reason for the “Why?”

This whole entire episode–the trials, the beatings, the crucifixion: Why? Why did this take place? Why should Jesus, of all people, have to endure such suffering? As Pilate asks the crowd, “Why, what evil has he done?” The answer, of course, is none. Jesus did no evil. He committed no crime. He did nothing to warrant such mistreatment and punishment. No, nothing but goodness and righteousness could be seen in the life of Jesus.

So then, why? We can explain it, I suppose, in human terms. The Jewish religious leaders were jealous of all the attention Jesus was getting. They felt threatened by him–his unmasking their hypocrisy, his stripping away their works-righteousness, and the threat he posed to the religious industry they had built up for themselves. That’s why they were out to get him. That’s the “why” from the perspective of the Jewish religious leaders.

Then how about Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor? After all, he could see through the jealousy of the Jews when they brought Jesus to him. He could see that Jesus was no criminal; he was not leading any political revolt against Rome. But at the same time, Pilate wanted to keep the peace. He wanted to maintain order. The turmoil that this whole Jesus controversy was stirring up needed to be settled down in a hurry before it got out of control. The Jews were even suggesting that if Pilate didn’t put Jesus to death, they may have to report him to Caesar: “Caesar, there was this rebel king in our midst, and your guy Pilate didn’t do anything about it!” So finally Pilate washed his hands of the mess and gave in to the demands of the crowd. Jesus would be crucified.

So we can see the reason why from the perspective of the Jewish leaders and Pilate. But we still have left unanswered the bigger “why” question: Why, from God’s perspective? After all, this is God’s own Son! His dearly beloved Son, with whom God said he was well pleased. Jesus is God’s Son, who came to do the Father’s will. And he did it perfectly. So why did God let this happen?

Make no mistake, it is God who is in control of these events. Not the Jews, not Pilate. But God. The unusual darkness is a sign that God is in control. “From the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour.” This was no natural eclipse. This was a sign in the heavens. Darkness does not normally come at the sixth hour of the day–at 12:00, high noon–right at the zenith of the light of day. And the darkness lasted for three hours, right until the time of Jesus’ death. Deep darkness. The darkness of God, shutting the heavens on this Jesus on the cross. It was like a wall went up between God and Jesus.

Jesus cries out: “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” The words are Aramaic, the language of that day. They mean, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” These words were prophesied centuries earlier in Psalm 22. These words are now spoken in their full meaning by the one for whom they were written, the ultimate righteous sufferer. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Jesus himself is asking the “why” question. Why? For what reason? Why is this happening? What purpose is being served?

God has forsaken Jesus. He has abandoned his own Son. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Jesus cries out in a loud voice, but it is not loud enough. The heavens have turned to brass. God turns a deaf ear to the cry of his own Son. God has left him alone there on that cross, abandoned, forsaken.

Why? The answer to the “why” question is spelled out for us all over Scripture. Isaiah 53 had prophesied a suffering servant who would bear these sufferings for our sake: “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned–every one–to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” This prophecy was written 700 years before Christ, yet it describes perfectly why Christ suffered so: He did it for us.

St. Paul spells out the answer to the “why” question in 2 Corinthians 5: “For our sake God made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” Jesus, who had no sin of his own, took our sin into himself, in such a way that he became the living–and dying–embodiment of sin. It was like all the sin in the whole world, for all time, was gathered up and placed into his body. Jesus was the embodiment of sin there on the cross, and therefore God must turn away from him.

But look, that is actually good news for you! All your sin has been taken away from you! Jesus bore it for you. He took your sin to himself and took it to the cross. There the penalty has been paid; there the sentence has been served. For you, by Jesus, in your place. That’s the “why.” That’s the purpose. “So that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” In Christ we are accounted righteous before God. Our sin is replaced by his righteousness.

Paul puts it this way in Galatians 3: “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us.” The curse of death and separation from God, God’s judgment against sinners–we were the ones whom God should have forsaken. That is the curse we deserve under the law. But Christ has freed us from the curse by becoming the curse for us. Jesus became sin, Jesus became the curse, there on the cross. Now the curse and the sin and the death and the judgment–all of these have been taken away. That is what is so good about Good Friday.

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” That’s the big question, isn’t it, the “why” question. And the answer is this: Jesus was forsaken so that we would be forgiven. He was abandoned so that we would be absolved. Jesus endured the darkness so that we would see the light. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Dear friends, the big “why” question has a big “wow” answer! And the result we will see on Sunday.

Published in: on April 7, 2023 at 12:19 pm  Leave a Comment  
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