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Ben Thinkin’ #1: The Forsaken Jesus, Fasting, and Capital Punishment

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[The Ben Thinkin’ series is a venue for answering questions my readers have submitted. I answer several questions in each post. If you would like to submit questions for future Ben Thinkin’ posts, please leave a comment at the end of the article.]

Ben Thinkin1. Knowing that God does not forsake the righteous (cf. Psalm 37:28), was Jesus wrong in asking, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Matt. 27:46), and if so, how could He be wrong?

Since He knew no sin (1 Pet. 2:21-22; Heb. 4:15), Jesus did not sin by asking His Father why He had forsaken Him. By asking the question, Jesus fulfilled an Old Testament prophecy about His death (Psalm 22:1). The entire psalm of Psalm 22 points to the sufferings of Christ. But why did Jesus ask God “why?,” knowing well in advance He would suffer such an excruciating death (cf. Matt. 20:28)? I can only speculate. Here are two possible answers:

First, Paul writes, “For our sake He made Him to be sin Who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21). Sin separates us from God (cf. Isa. 59:2), and Jesus became sin. Thus, there is a sense in which Christ was forsaken so we could be made righteous and not be forsaken by God (Psa. 37:28). This view, however, must not be taken so far that it minimizes the divinity of Christ.

Second, as our High Priest (cf. Heb. 2:17-18), it is possible that Jesus was identifying with the suffering of mankind. Sometimes even the most righteous men (Job 1:8) can feel as though God has forsaken them (Job. 30:20-21). Like David, we are tempted to cry, “Will You forget me forever?” (Psa. 13:1). Perhaps, at this solemn moment at Calvary, we see the precious Son of Man identifying with lost humanity. 

2. Do Christians have the responsibility to fast? If so, when and how should Christians fast? 

Though not specifically commanded today, the New Testament seems to take for granted the fact that followers of God would occasionally fast. Jesus said, “When you fast…” (Matt. 6:16), and then taught that fasting should be private and discrete (Matt. 6:16-18). Yet, in the same passage, Jesus implied that the Father would reward those who correctly engaged in the practice. Before being tempted by Satan, Jesus Himself fasted for 40 days (Matt. 4:1-2). The disciples did not fast when Jesus was with them (Matt. 9:14-15), but later did in His absence. In the early days of the Church, they sometimes fasted before making important decisions (cf. Acts 13:2; 14:23). Additionally, fasting was not necessarily limited to food (cf. 1 Cor. 7:1-5). 

In short, fasting is a voluntary matter for Christians, but it seems to have been expected by Christ. It is beneficial for times of sorrow (cf. 2 Sam. 1:12; 12:16; Neh. 1:4), in times of penitence (1 Sam. 7:6; Jo. 3:5), in times of devotion (Matt. 4:1-2; 1 Cor. 7:1-5), and in times of peril (Acts 13:2-3). Great care should be taken not to abuse the practice (cf. Matt. 6:16-18; Luke 18:9-14).

3. How can we harmonize capital punishment with the New Testament? 

God originally instituted capital punishment (Gen. 9:6), and the Mosaical Law commanded the death penalty for various crimes (Ex. 21:12, 16, 19; Lev. 20:10, 13; Deut; 13:5; 22:24). Some crimes warrant the death penalty (cf. Deut. 21:22), and Paul did not deny the state this right (Acts 25:10-11). In his epistle to the Church in Rome, Paul taught that governments are authorized by heaven to “bear the sword” and “bring wrath upon the one who practices evil” (Rom. 13:1-4). The sword was certainly viewed as an instrument of discipline and death. Of course, that governments are “established by God” (Rom. 13:1) means that the state is accountable to God’s authority and should not abuse this responsibility.

The principle of capital punishment is certainly in harmony with the New Testament. To claim that the death penalty is wrong in all instances would certainly be unbiblical. While Christians cannot rejoice in the death penalty, we must honor the government’s right to execute justice on the wicked.    

Have questions for a future Ben Thinkin’ post? Please leave them in the comments section below.

(Your comments are welcome and encouraged, even if they are in disagreement. However, please keep your comments relevant to the article. For my full comment policy, click here.)

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2 Responses to Ben Thinkin’ #1: The Forsaken Jesus, Fasting, and Capital Punishment

  1. lennie reagan March 24, 2014 at 5:44 PM #

    Great job, Ben, and a great forum for folks to ask questions they might have. I appreciate your work and taking the time to teach so we might grow in our knowledge and understanding of the Word of God.

  2. Anna Adams March 24, 2014 at 11:27 PM #

    Very good article. Could you write on how a Christian should ‘feel’

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