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Be Gracious to Me! / Good Friday

Psalm 41:10

But You, O Lord, be gracious to me, and raise me up, that I may repay them!

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ! Amen. For the midweek preaching in Lent, we have focused upon Psalm 41, written by David, written concerning our Christ. Although it was written many years before the birth of our Lord, Psalm 41 speaks history concerning Jesus:

During the days of His humiliation, Jesus “went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him”. Thus, fulfilling David’s words from Psalm 41: “Blessed is the one who considers the poor” “he is called blessed in the land”.

Jesus was welcomed and loved by the Galilean crowds but not by the Jerusalem leaders. Many prominent men opposed Him, hated Him, and conspired against Him. This all took place according to what David had prophesied in Psalm 41: “My enemies say of me in malice, ‘When will he die, and his name perish?’” “They imagine the worst for me”.

Psalm 41 could also see the Lord’s betrayer, Judas Iscariot, coming. The Psalm said in our Lord’s voice, and our Lord even quoted the psalm on the night He was betrayed: “Even my close friend in whom I trusted, who ate my bread, has lifted his heel against me”.

Tonight’s Gospel brings us to the death of our Lord and to these prophetic words from Psalm 41: “But You, O Lord, be gracious to me, and raise me up, that I may repay them!”

When the Scriptures speak about “lifting up,” or “raising up,” as they do in this psalm, the first thing that often comes to mind is God’s miraculous power of resurrection, by which He makes the dead to be alive again. Just like it is written in an earlier psalm, Psalm 40, “He drew me up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure” (Psalm 40:2). To this Paul added, “[God] raised us up with Him and seated us with Him in the heavenly places”.

Sometimes when the Scriptures speak about “raising up,” they’re NOT talking about life, but about death. In particular, “raising up” can be a reference to our Lord’s death on His cross. Throughout John’s Gospel, for example, Jesus repeatedly used “lifting up” and “raising up” in reference to His cross and death.

Remember when Jesus said to Nicodemus in the third chapter of John, “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up”. Those words didn’t speak about the Resurrection but, rather, His death on the cross: in the same way that the bronze serpent was raised up on a pole for the healing of the rebellious people of Israel, so Jesus was likewise suspended above the earth “for the healing of the nations”.

Jesus said a similar thing in the eighth chapter of John: “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am He”. There again, the “lifting up” or “raising up” of which our Lord spoke was a reference to His crucifixion. This lifting was in keeping with the words of the prophet Isaiah:

He shall be high and lifted up. His appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance, and His form beyond that of the children of mankind, so shall He sprinkle many nations.

What happened when Jesus was lifted up from the earth and suspended upon His cross? Jesus explained in John chapter 12: “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to Myself”, once again speaking about His death for the sins of the world.

“But You, O Lord, be gracious to Me, and raise Me up.” Here in Psalm 41, as in those other passages, the reference to “raising up” is not so much a reference to the Resurrection as it is to His death on the cross. “Raise me up, that I may repay them.”

For what purpose was our Lord therefore lifted up, according to this Psalm? “That I may repay them!” Repay whom? Here is an amazing thing: Jesus wanted to be raised up on His cross in order to repay those who plotted evil against Him; to repay those who spoke evil concerning Him; to repay those who imagined the worst for Him and said, “in malice, ‘When will He die, and His name perish?’”.

This is a strange way of speaking! God has worked His vengeance against His enemies in a manner that is totally unlike all the ways that we humans like to work our vengeance. For example:

When Jesus told His parable of the tenants, even His enemies knew that the master of the house would be within his rights to “put those wretches to a miserable death and let out the vineyard to other tenants”.

Like the kings of the earth, you and I also use revenge against those who have wronged us. Even little children understand the idea of payback; adults are usually able to work their revenge more subtly, or more disastrously. That’s why we have such familiar sayings as “The sweet taste of revenge” and “Revenge is a dish best served cold” and “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.”

Not so with God! Where we humans prefer to work our vengeance in acts against others, the Lord of hosts preferred to execute judgment against His Son. Our God was so adamant about cleansing the sin of the entire world, so preoccupied with your salvation, that even the vengeance He sought against His enemies was self-inflicted: “But You, O Lord, . . . raise Me up that I may repay them!” In answer to that prayer, God the Father lifted up His Son to death, “even death on a cross”.

The death of Jesus our God was indeed divine vengeance over every enemy, including death itself. The death of Jesus was therefore NOT the triumph of His enemies over Him. When the soldiers at the cross saw the earthquake and what took place, “they were filled with awe and said, ‘Truly this was the Son of God!’”. This happened in keeping with David’s prophecy in Psalm 41, written in the voice of Jesus, “By this I know that You delight in me: my enemy will not shout in triumph over me.” Even though the enemies of God enjoyed the sight of His death, their enjoyment was short lived.

We must therefore be exceedingly careful and mindfully faithful, when we think of our enemies. Jesus died. All vengeance was worked by God upon the cross. That is why our heavenly Father now graciously forbids us to seek vengeance. Our acts of revenge are nothing less than denials of the Christ and His death!

You were joined by Baptism to the death of Christ, according to the words of Paul: “I have been crucified with Christ”. Again, Paul famously said, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death?”. Because Psalm 41 speaks about Jesus, it also speaks about you. Therefore, these words are your words: “But You, O Lord, be gracious to me, and raise me up, that I may repay them!”

What do those words mean when you and I pray them? They mean that we, along with Jesus, have already been raised up on the cross. We, like Jesus, already have our losses and injustices avenged in His blood. In the death of Christ, all vengeance has been worked by God. When we seek revenge upon our enemies, our desire for revenge becomes a denial of the cross and a rejection of the atonement.

That’s why God said, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay”.

That’s why Jesus taught us, “Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also”.

Shall the Lord our God work vengeance for us on the Last Day when Christ Jesus our Lord returns to judge both the living and the dead? Yes, and Amen! That is why there are Christian martyrs who, even now, plead with God for His victorious return, that He might avenge their blood.

We do NOT need to think of our Lord’s vengeance on the Last Day as something separate from His cross. The Last Day, rather, is the culmination and the full flowering of that which was completely worked for us upon the cross. The blood of God’s saints shall one day be avenged because Jesus was raised up on the cross to work God’s vengeance. The death of God’s saints is precious in His sight because Jesus of Nazareth “bowed His head and gave up His spirit” (John 19:30). Every injustice you have suffered, along with every injustice you have ever perpetrated finds its fulfillment and satisfaction in these words: “O Lord, be gracious to me, and raise me up, that I may repay them!”