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Old Testament: A witness of Christ, His work

PROVO, Utah — For faithful members of the Church of Jesus Christ during New Testament times, the only written testament of Jesus Christ available was the Old Testament, said Paul Y. Hoskisson Oct. 26.

"It is not therefore surprising that the New Testament, particularly Matthew, quoted frequently from the Old Testament and used its message to give weight, meaning and understanding to its own witness of Christ and His work," said the BYU associate dean of Religious Education during the 30th annual Sidney B. Sperry Symposium at BYU. "In my own personal scripture study I also have found the Old Testament to bear a faithful testimony of the Messiah, our Savior, and of His Gospel."

Brother Hoskisson offered the keynote address for the two-day symposium, during which presenters from BYU, BYU-Idaho, BYU-Hawaii, the Church Educational System, and the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies addressed the theme, "Covenants, Prophecies and Hymns of the Old Testament."

Symposium organizers hoped that the materials presented would complement the Church's 2002 gospel doctrine curriculum.

In his address, Brother Hoskisson noted that Psalm 22 contains one of the most powerful witnesses of the Messiah, of His work on the earth and of His accomplishments for the eternities.

To introduce this psalm, he began by quoting from the New Testament: "While on the cross, 'about the ninth hour, Jesus cried with a loud voice saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani,' which is Aramaic for 'My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?' "

Brother Hoskisson said most subsequent Christian readers of the text have believed simply that Christ was expressing His anguish during the process of crucifixion.

However, he added, Elder James E. Talmage, who served in the Quorum of the Twelve, explained the significance of Christ's anguished cry on the cross. "In the bitterest hour the dying Christ was alone, alone in the most terrible reality," quoted Brother Hoskisson. "That the supreme sacrifice of the Son might be consummated in all its fullness, the Father seems to have withdrawn the support of His immediate presence, leaving to the Savior of men the glory of complete victory over the forces of sin and death."

Then Brother Hoskisson suggested an additional explanation of what Christ was trying to convey with these words.

"Christ was attempting, one more time, to convince those on Golgotha that He was the Savior of the world, the promised Messiah," he said. "The words that He uttered on the cross, 'My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?' constitute the opening words of Psalm 22, a psalm that testifies most remarkably of Christ's mission."

Brother Hoskisson said that in general, Psalm 22 is a Messianic prophecy of unparalleled detail in both context and in doctrine. "Indeed," he said, "it is one of the most compelling prophecies in the Old Testament concerning the Messiah."

The first part of the psalm, verses 1-21, contain references to the events of the last 24 hours of Jesus' mortal life, especially details about the crucifixion. The second part of the psalm, verses 22-31, describe the result of Christ's atonement.

"Yet this psalm is an example of more than prophetic detail about Christ's crucifixion and atoning work," he said. "When Christ on the cross quoted the opening lines of Psalm 22, 'My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?' He was calling attention to this prophecy of His life, of His death, and of His work for the salvation of all mankind.

"Those who stood at the cross and who knew the psalm would have recognized it in details that were unfolding before their very eyes on Golgotha. Thus, His words would have been one more witness, to believer and nonbeliever alike, that the events they were witnessing were a fulfillment of prophecy. I believe that Christ, with tender compassion and consummate love, despite terrible suffering, was reaching out one more time to tell the House of Israel who He was and what His death would mean. For the Gospel of Matthew, these words on the cross became Christ's last testimony of Himself as the mortal Messiah, not only to those who personally witnessed the final act of the Atonement, but also to all those who would thereafter read Matthew's account.

"His testimony is powerful and true. The psalmist, in expressing his testimony has blessed us, the readers, with his sublime and poetic witness of the Messiah.

Additional coverage of the Sidney B. Sperry Symposium at BYU will be included in the 2002 Church News gospel doctrine special issue.