4th Sunday in Lent March 10, 2024


A Loss for Words

Mark 15:34

Scripture Readings

Isaiah 52:7-10
Galatians 4:21-31


171:1-4, 171:5-8, 171:9-12, 175

Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) (TLH) unless otherwise noted

Sermon Audio: https://podcasters.spotify.com/pod/show/ministrybymail

Prayer of the Day: Assist us mercifully with Your grace, Lord God of our salvation, that we may enter with joy upon the meditation of those mighty acts by which You have promised us life and immortality; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, world without end. Amen.

Grace and peace be to you from God our Father and the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

Our meditation is based on the passion narrative just read, namely Jesus’ cry of distress in His native tongue. You will see that your Savior endured pain and sorrow to the point of speechlessness in order to give voice to your Father’s saving love. Again, the evangelists record:

And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?” which is, being interpreted, “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” (KJV)

O Lamb of God, bless Thy Word that we may trust in Thee. Amen.

Of Jesus’ seven last words—the seven final utterances recorded across the four gospels during our Savior’s suffering and death—linguistically speaking, one phrase stands out from the rest: Eloi, eloi, lama sabachthani? And by stand out, I mean you might wonder exactly why it’s recorded here in a foreign language. Well, as everything in the Bible, it’s on purpose and loaded with meaning.

Of course, none of the Bible is originally in English. The New Testament is written in Greek, and the Old Testament in Classical Hebrew. But the utterance we consider this evening is recorded in a third language, Aramaic. Now, the Aramaic tongue is certainly close to Hebrew, sharing much vocabulary and common grammatical features, but not completely interchangeable, distinct in use and purpose.

You see, the Spirit of God caused the literature of the Old Testament to be penned in a high form of language, so to speak, one which no one walked around talking at the time of Jesus. And if someone did, it would be quoting a verse from those Scriptures. This is akin to how strange it might sound if I walked about day-to-day life talking in the same style, grammar, and vocabulary of our King James translation.

The language of classical Hebrew was formal speech, reserved for matters religious, legal, and regal. It was not the common parlance of discussing the weather, town gossip, not how you would instinctively express yourself in your more emotional moments.

Add to this, that Jesus used an even lower form of this Aramaic. He and His disciples, from the fishing community of Galilee, speaking in the style of the farthest northern reaches of Israel, with such a thick country accent it would have sounded like a speech impediment to the hoi polloi of Jerusalem. Thus, despite Peter’s efforts to blend in with the crowd, his drawl and jargon served as a clear giveaway to the motley crew huddled about the fire: Surely thou also art one of them; for thy speech bewrayeth thee. (Matthew 26:73)

Peter, try hard as he could to talk normal, couldn’t hide where he had grown up. As the saying goes, you can take the bumpkin out of the country, but you can’t take the country out of the bumpkin.

It is in this language, then, that which He had first cried out mommy and played with childhood friends, that Jesus mutters with His dying breaths.

In the other utterances of His Passion, Jesus musters up the strength to speak more formally.

To the women of Jerusalem mourning His path to Golgotha, the shame of bearing His own cross, He rebukes and redirects their emotional fervor in the formal preaching style He used throughout His public ministry: Daughters of Jerusalem, weep not for me, but weep for yourselves, and for your children. (Luke 23:28)

He makes plain to an anonymous Roman attendant, who knows maybe in Latin, how deeply parched His voice had grown in anguish: I thirst. (John 19:28)

And to the repentant thief crucified by His side, Jesus uses a strikingly Greek word for life after death in order to communicate beyond a shadow of doubt the heaven about to be his: Today shalt thou be with Me in Paradise. (Luke 23:43)

But by the end, Jesus’ strength no more, He can no longer get out the right words. Quoting the 22nd Psalm in the wrong language, My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?— not in classical Hebrew but in His common speech. He is in such agony and distress, He can’t even talk properly, so to speak, reverting to expressing its meaning in whatever words He can form.

Under the kind of duress where you yourself couldn’t get one of the most common memory passages out of your mouth, “For God so, God so loved, loved the world that He, that He gave” as if bumbling your way through the simplest of Gospel verses.

It was an experience akin to every shocking moment which has left you speechless, stuttering and stammering. Like the times you’ve felt at a loss for words yourself, at least left without the strength or focus to speak good and proper grammar.

Except with you and me, it’s not just a loss of formality we show forth, but wholly improper language, even vulgar. Like in the trying situations God places you in to be a source of strength, where you wish you knew the right thing to say, but under pressure mutter a meaningless, “It’ll be ok,” rather than anything of real spiritual substance to the more stressful moments, where you’re apt not to talk appropriately at all.

Or depending on the group of friends with whom you’re huddled, the way you speak begins to subtly morph and change to match the tone of conversation, until you end up saying shameful things yourself. Like Peter, who did his best to sound like his pals around the fire, not just by hiding his accent, but by denying his faith.

Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani? With these words Jesus puts on no air of formality, uses bare vernacular, and exhibits raw emotion to reveal how He knows your every experience, each instance your mouth has been left no strength but to let out what bears down on your heart.

It is the same experience, yet at the same time so completely different.

As the Scriptures make clear:For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are… yet without sin. (Hebrews 4:15)

His sinlessness being the righteousness which imbues His boorish words with the power to save: Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?

Remember, it’s the Evangelists Matthew and Mark who explain to you the meaning, My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me? To most bystanders, unfamiliar with His Galilean tongue in the first place, stammered in the throes of death, sputtered through the blood dripping down His face across His lips, why His drawl, slur, and dialect would have been barely intelligible, as those of the Jerusalem elite who spoke so properly make clear, “What’s He even saying now? Calling out for Elijah or something?”

No, speaking His heart, from His gut, in such agony and distress, there is nothing more appropriate than His rendering of the 22nd Psalm, for He is the sole and very fulfillment, the Son of God forsaken in our place, suffering the hell you deserve exposed, out in the open.

And it doesn’t matter the language. He’s not talking to the bystanders. He’s not even talking to His God; the Father is, as this Psalm verse is fulfilled on the bitter cross, indeed nowhere to be found. Jesus muttering to Himself, expressing how in anguish, He is completely alone.

As Isaiah prophesied: He was oppressed, and He was afflicted, yet He opened not His mouth. (Isaiah 53:7)

So silent through it all, He only speaks seven times.

And those few times He did, only to make clear how it was all for you, and in the end, at a loss for words, for your Savior endured pain and sorrow to the point of speechlessness in order to give voice, give perfect expression, to your Father’s boundless grace.

Not just His words, the way He spoke, impressing upon you how all our iniquity had become His, all of which makes His final utterance pregnant with life. For no matter whether it was bellowed or whispered, who heard it or not, what language or dialect Jesus chose to use, your God hears this one and fully approves: It is finished!

One brief sentence, summed up in the New Testament in but one word, lest you miss one jot or tittle of its meaning.

That we whose coarse language reveals our sin, might find in Jesus’ weakest stammer the perfect forgiveness of your God. Jesus’ loss of words covers for all of your lack of the right thing to say. In His silence, your eternal peace. And in His lowly way of talking, a Savior committed to use whatever language needed to speak plainly with you and make His saving love known.

Trusting Him who was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin, that He knows your every condition, every experience, and what it does to you, confident to speak with Him just as boldly and freely as He speaks with you. And thus find comfort that the pain of heart you can barely verbalize, He interprets with perfect compassion.

When at a complete loss for words, He knows what you can’t say. When no one else listens, He does. He does not just listen, He answers.

There are no proper words needed other than faith in His words. For from such faith flows the ability to repeat in your most trying experiences the simplest of phrases you hear this season of Lent: “Thy kingdom come… Thy will be done… Lord, remember me…

All this is foolish talk to the world. The kind of language only the thoroughly uneducated likes of you and me still turn to in this modern age. The babble of country bumpkins, some might claim. But according to God’s standard of truth, divine wisdom indeed. Heavenly conversation. Words of life.

For the same Gospel which carries you through each breathless moment will be your stay up to and past your last breath, until you get to hear Him speak yourself, Jesus speak your name just as plainly as you say His.

Now the peace that passeth all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

—Pastor Timothy T. Daub

Prince of Peace Lutheran Church
Hecla, SD

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