Good morning, everybody. I hope you are having a good morning on this spring morning, at least here in Texas. We’re getting some warm weather again. I don’t know if I can speak for everybody and hopefully we’re all adjusting to this time change. I am still figuring this out. So as we wake up and as we meet together to worship God, we are very honored and excited to hear from Dr. Brian.
Today I’m reading from the NIV. Psalm 23. The Lord is my shepherd. I shall not be in want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside quiet waters, restores my person. He guides me in paths of righteousness for his namesake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil for you or with me.
Your rod and your staff. They comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil, my cup overflows. Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life. And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
Thank you so much for that word. And we want to introduce Dr. Bill Bryan. I think for most people he does not need an introduction. I am really excited because he’s Old Testament along with myself. So I do get the choice of being extra excited about this. And the epic bookcase behind him. This is just going to be a wonderful time. But Dr. Bill Bryan, other than being one of our professors, he’s also one of the graduates from The B.H. Carroll, with his Ph.D. He also has a DMin from Northern Baptist Theological Seminary.
He has worked in multiple churches as pastor. I know he also was the former project manager for IBM. And, you know, just all around a brilliant person and a gift from God to the church and to our seminary. And so we are very excited to have Dr. Bryan with us this morning. And so we look forward to hearing what you have to say.
Dr. Bill Bryan
Thank you, Shannon, for that gracious and generous introduction and am pleased to be with you in chapel today. My brothers and sisters in ministry and learning. And I thought today I’d share with you some thoughts that I’ve shared with my church. When January 1st rolled around, I was thinking about New Year resolutions, and for my resolution I also challenged my church to join me that we would follow God wholeheartedly.
I was thinking about that Old Testament character, Caleb, Joshua and Caleb. Caleb was noted for wholeheartedly following God through the hard times and the good times and being blessed in the process. And so as a challenge myself and my church to think about that, we’ve begun to unpack that on Sundays. What does it mean to be a wholehearted follower of God?
And as we came to the Lenten season, I thought of Jesus certainly the quintessential example of a wholehearted follower of his father. And I’m used on the seven last sayings, or as they’re sometimes noted, the seven last words of Jesus from the Cross. This past week we looked at what I summarize in one word as forsaken. I think we can all resonate with that word.
We have many times in our journey though there are mountain top, joyous experiences, many of us have trudged through the valley of the shadow, even as Dr. Wolfe so beautifully read from the 23rd Psalm. We feel forsaken. We feel used up, thrown away. Even to the point that our anxiety grows to depression and perhaps even thinking of leaving ministry or leaving the church.
Perhaps you have been there. But I have felt overwhelming feelings at different points in my journey. And right now in the United States, Friends, there is an epidemic of anxiety and depression across all ages. We’re seeing it especially among our younger generations, even to the point that they despair of life and contemplate suicide or take action on that thought.
I don’t have to tell our friends in the counseling arena about this, nor any of the pastors. We deal with it all the time. Last week I looked at a resource for mental health America, the nation’s leading community based nonprofit for advocating mental health and wellness in America. And they have recently issued their 2023 key findings report. And in that report, they state that 20.78% of adults experience a mental illness.
That’s 50 million Americans and substance use disorder. Those in the U.S. not receiving treatment. 15.35%. 19 93.5 received no form of treatment or help whatsoever. Thoughts of suicide Almost 5%. 12 million Americans think of suicide each year. One in ten youths have what is known as a severe depression that impairs them in their function at home, at school, in life in general.
Half of adults with mental illness do not receive treatment. That’s 28 million people. Mostly because of the lack of funds. So we know that the problem exists. What do we do in the midst of our for sickness and depression? And I think today Jesus shares a word from the cross for us that shows that he, too felt those same feelings of being thrown away, used up, forsaken.
And he cried out from the cross in Matthew’s Gospel. Matthew Chapter 27 Beginning at verse 45 from noon until three in the afternoon, darkness came over all the land, about three in the afternoon. Jesus cried out in loud voice. Eli, Eli, lemme Zabadani, which means My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? When some of those standing there heard this, they said, He’s calling Elijah.
Immediately one of them ran and got a sponge, filled it with wine vinegar, put it on a staff and offered it to Jesus to drink. And the rest said, Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to save him. Jesus spoke these words after an agonizing 3 hours on the cross. He was near to his last breath and he spoke from his heart language.
I believe, as do that Jesus spoke multiple languages, of course, Hebrew, the variant that was more common among the Jews after the Babylonian captivity, Aramaic, and certainly Greek, and perhaps even Latin. The languages of their conquerors. But in these last agonizing words, he went back to his heart language. Aramaic, Those strange sounding words. Illy Lemma, Zabadani. My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
And Matthew and Mark both record these words exactly as Jesus spoke them, for they are the last words that these two gospel writers record from the cross. What do these words mean? Certainly, Jesus was the sinless one and He took on himself. Our sins. We can’t imagine the anguish, the suffering, the despair, the depression, literally that dark night of the soul as the earth itself became darkened in the darkness with Jesus who bore our sins.
His suffering was not only physical on the cross. We often focus on that, but the spiritual suffering, the emotional and the mental anguish was truly overwhelming. And when he spoke these words, he was speaking from his heart. In the midst of that dark valley of the shadow of death, on the cusp of death itself. Some heard these words as a cry of forsaken and desperation as the father turned away from the sun.
This is the common belief about the meaning of these words. One I don’t share because we think of God in three persons Father, son and Spirit in the persons that He comes to us, manifests and expresses himself. We must not forget that behind that there is one God. Jesus was fully God and fully man. And I don’t believe that God can turn God’s back on Himself.
I don’t think that these were a cry of despair as the father turned away from the sun. Those at the cross, as we read in the text, believed that he was calling out to Elijah. Matthew records the words as Eli and Mark as Eloy. Both forms could be translated as they are by the gospel writers as my God, but they could also be heard as a call to Elijah, the one prophesied in the final chapter of Malachi that would come before the great and dreadful day of the Lord.
And so many heard it as a cry, a desperate cry to Elijah for release from his suffering. Certainly Jesus could have called 10,000 angels. He had made the choice in Gethsemani the night before to face the cross. He didn’t have to face it, but he said, Father, not my will, but your will be done. So I don’t believe that it was a cry for help or a cry for release from his suffering.
Others, through the centuries, heard this and interpreted it as the point when God left Jesus, when the Spirit of God that had come on Him supposedly at his baptism, departed from his human body there on the cross. This group became known as the ascetics that Jesus either only seemed to be human, it was God, or more likely was God, just appeared to be human, but not both.
And certainly in our doctrine, we affirm and the church has affirmed since the Council of Nicaea in 325 that Jesus is fully God and fully man of one nature and essence with God. And so I don’t believe this abandonment theory or this cry of abandonment is what Jesus was doing. So what do these words mean if they’re not abandoned, if they’re not a cry for help, if they’re not anguish at the father turning away friends, I believe these are words of victory.
And you say, how could this be a victory? If I were to say to you, oh, say, can you see what would come to mind? Certainly you would think of our national anthem. Or if I were say to you the words Fourscore and seven years ago, perhaps those familiar with American history would think of the words of the Gettysburg Address delivered by Lincoln on that battlefield.
I believe here that Jesus quoted Scripture. In fact, you might even see that reference in your study Bible in the column or the notes below that this is really a quotation of Scripture, and it comes from the Psalms, Psalm 22, just one back from where Dr. Wolf read this morning. Psalm 22 one begins with the same words Jesus said from the cross.
My God, my God, why you forsaken me? And throughout the first 24 verses of that song, we hear the anguish of the sufferer. This, we believe, to be a messianic psalm and certainly right words to be in the mouth of Jesus. Jesus near the end of life, gasping for breath as he pressed himself up to to catch a lung full of air, perhaps was unable to quote the entire passage.
But he quoted this first verse, and traditionally among the Jewish rabbis, to quote the first verse of the passage, invoke the whole passage. And so I believe that Jesus was invoked, invoking the whole of Psalm 20 to these familiar verses. We’re reminded that the song was cried out in Jesus, claimed these words as his own. I am a worm, not a man scorned by everyone.
Despised. They mock me, they hurl insults. They say, Let the Lord rescue him. We’re hearing these things as we read the narrative of the crucifixion. Verse 14 of Psalm 22 All my bones are out of joy. My mouth is dried up like a postured verse. 16 dogs surround me. They pierce my hands, my feet. Verse 18, They divide my flows among them and cast lots for my garments.
And then a turn a bit adverse. 20. As the sufferer cries out. Deliver me from the sword, rescue me from the mouth of lions. Verse 22 I will declare your name to my people. I will praise you. And then the major turn at verse 24, for he has not despised or scorned the suffering of the afflicted. One He has not hidden his face from him, but has listened to his cry for help.
And the one who listens certainly is God, the father. Hearing those words of Jesus, Jesus was about to make that turn. Through death into resurrection. We know that the story does not end with the death of Jesus on the cross. But it is concluded three days later in the glory of resurrection that we look forward to celebrating in just a few weeks.
The rest of Psalm 22 paints that picture of victory. The poor will eat and be satisfied. Those who seek the Lord will praise Him. That’s verse 26. All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the Lord. All the families of the nations will bow down before him, for dominion belongs to the Lord and He rules over the nations.
All the rich of the Earth will feast and worship. All who go down to the dust will kneel before him. Those who cannot keep themselves alive. Posterity will serve him. Future generations will be told about the Lord. They will proclaim His righteousness, declaring to a people yet unborn. He has done it. And that’s where it ends in victory.
As Jesus cried these words from the cross, He proclaimed. He has done it. Soon, he would say at the end in John’s gospel, it is finished. This is penultimate to that cry. But it proclaims that through this valley of the shadow of death, through this suffering vicariously on the cross of Calvary, Jesus was winning a victory not only for Himself in resurrection life, but for all those who would believe in him, the nations, the psalmist writes, Not just for the Jews, but God is the God of the nations.
God is the God who brings His righteousness and justice to the nations. Friends. That’s you and me, That’s all. Who have believed, do believe or ever will believe. As this good news is proclaimed to all people through the Gospel of Christ, Jesus. Jesus knows our physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, physical suffering. We have a savior who is acquainted with every grief that we know in life.
And so when we feel frustration, when we feel used up, thrown away, despairing even of life itself, we can turn first to Jesus, who brings that renewal of life and resurrection. But we also need to turn to others who love us and care for us. A medical professional, a trusted friend, a counselor. One of the statistics that I didn’t share at the end of that report was that there are only one.
There’s only one counselor for 350 people in the United States. So I’m so thankful for our friends in the counseling program and our counselors and service our pastors, because there’s a desperate need from desperate people for someone who is willing to listen and care. Certainly Jesus listens and cares, but he works through the hands and feet and the ears and the encouraging words of those who serve him and go to those in their times of desperation.
And so, in conclusion, thinking about whole heartedly following God, what do we learn from this site? A wholehearted follower of God brings his or her despair and darkness to the Lord to find His help and hope and also shares that help and hope with others in their time of despair. Thank God we have a savior who was not defeated on the cross, but won the victory for you and for me.
Praise God. Thank you for listening to me this morning. I’ve enjoyed sharing with you from my heart about whole heartedly following God.
Thank you, Dr. Brian. There’s no way to say the depths of how much we can appreciate a word like that, especially, like you said, this is just part of our culture right now. We are suffering and mental health is on the rise. So with that, let’s bring this to the Lord. Lord, again, we thank you for the victory that you give us in Christ, Lord.
We thank you that you understand our suffering, that you know where we are. Even in the darkest nights of our soul. We thank you for suffering along with us, but also being that anchor of hope in the promises that you’ve given us to restore our lives and bring us through these dark nights. So, Lord, we ask you to be with us, to encourage us and help us be an encouragement to those around us today.
Again, we thank you for Dr. Brian and we ask that you just bless him today and be with us all as we continue on through our work day and through our school day. And it’s your name that I pray. Amen.