Point of Reference
by Fred Price
In his book, The Walk1, Adam Hamilton examines five essential disciplines practiced by people of note in scripture and by many more throughout roughly 2000 years of church history. 1. Worship, including daily prayer. 2. The study of God’s word. 3. Serving others. 4. Giving generously. 5. Witnessing by sharing our faith in word and deed.
Uniquely then, Mr. Hamilton examines the last utterances of Jesus to see if Jesus reinforced any of those disciplines from the cross. After all the torture and deprivation Jesus had suffered prior to his crucifixion and the agonizing, suffocating position of literally hanging from the cross, saying anything would be extremely difficult if not impossible. Still, Jesus labored to communicate 7 times to those around him as he slowly died.
First, Matthew and Mark record Jesus speaking, not to those around him but crying out in prayerful anguish to God; drawing on Psalm 22:1 to ask, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
We should not be surprised that 3of the last 7 statements Jesus uttered from the cross were fashioned as prayer, praying being seen throughout the gospels as an integral part of Jesus’ daily life. For instance, when ministering to the “multitudes”, he “…often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.” Luke 5:16 Contemplating important decisions, he at times “…went out to a mountainside… and spent the night praying to God.” Luke 6:12 He prayed before eating, in a boat, for the sick; he prayed privately and publicly – even praying for his enemies, on the night of his crucifixion he prayed for his disciples (John 17) and then intensely wrestling with his destiny, prayed for his Father’s will to be done in the garden of Gethsemane. ( Matthew 26:39)
In anguish and despair he cried out to a God who at that moment seemed conspicuous by his absence. (Or, at least for that short time, evil seemed to be “winning.”) The important lesson here being that even as Jesus felt momentarily separated from God, he still prayed.
Job equally displayed the raw emotion of a man facing tragedy, the Book of Lamentations records the overwhelming sorrow of a people – and a prophet – suffering at the hands of God for their sin, the Psalmist wrote a number of what has become known as “complaint psalms”; but in their sorrow and tragedy, they all turned to God. And as with David, Job and Lamentations, Jesus anguished question would not be the last of his prayers.
As to study, it should not be surprising that Jesus’ comprehension of his mission on earth was entirely shaped by his understanding of scripture. (Our Old Testament) Throughout the entirety of the Gospels, Jesus is shown citing and reciting scripture, interpreting it for his disciples and fulfilling it for all our sakes.
At his crucifixion, he prayed scripture, two of the three prayers he uttered coming directly from them. The second being, “Into your hands I commit my spirit.” Psalm 31:5 A prayer of absolute trust in God despite the circumstances. (Twentieth century Bible scholar William Barclay noting this verse from Psalm as a bed-time prayer Jewish mothers taught their children, much like the “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep.”, of modern times.) Our own study of scripture enabling us to draw from it the appropriate response to the opportunities and difficulties of our own lives.
Serving God and others was how Jesus understood life was to be lived, being the epitome of what it means to be a servant leader. (See Matthew 20:28) Donning the mantle of the “suffering servant” spoken of by the prophet Isaiah, Jesus willingly accepted God’s plan for him on the cross. More than one utterance from the cross characterizes the ideal of servanthood expected from his followers as well. Fighting through the excruciating pain, Jesus focused on John, the one disciple described in scripture as “beloved” by Jesus and his mother, both at his crucifixion; commending his mother to John’s safe keeping. In doing so, he modeled for us where our concern and service should start, at home; which we often forget or ignore the most. Mr. Hamilton writing, “Jesus’ death on the cross reminds us that he saw himself as a servant giving himself to redeem the world. But his words from the cross about his mother remind us that his care was not only for the world, but for his mother. They call us to continue to care for our parents, and like John, to care for those who aren’t our parents as though they were.”2 ( John 19:25-27)
Check back next week for more on how we can walk the walk with Jesus as well as talk the talk.
1Published by Abingdon Press
2 The Walk, Five Essential Practices of the Christian Life
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Fred Price - married (49 years), father of two grown children, grandfather of six.
Fred retired earlier this year after 42 years as a factory worker. He has always had a heart for young people and the challenges they face today. Over the years Fred has taught Discipleship Groups for High School and college students.
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