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As we draw closer to Easter, our hearts become more and more aware of the things that this holiest of days means to us.
Today, I want to think about one word- forsaken.
This word looms large over the scene of the cross- as Jesus cries out to God “Why have you FORSAKEN me?” Let’s look at that very question today as we approach Easter- why did God forsake Jesus in that moment, and what does that really mean?
In these last moments of Jesus’ life, just before his death, Jesus cries out to God in pain- not so much from the physical pain he is going through, but the Spiritual pain he is experiencing because God has turned his face from Jesus.
But here’s what I find interesting- Jesus’ cry of “Eli Eli, lema sabachtani” is a direct quote of Scripture- the very words of Psalm 22. I cannot help but believe that this is completely intentional on Jesus’ part- that in the darkest of all of his moments he leans on the Words of the Bible- I believe as a model for us.
There are some major differences in Psl 22 and Jesus words, of course.
First of all, Psalm 22- traditionally understood as written by David- was written by a sinful man who was out of touch with God. David’s distance from God was the result of David’s own life choices, sinfulness, and shortcomings. God had not walked away, rather the sin in David’s life created a sense of distance between him and God.
We all have this same thing happen in our lives. We too can, and do, create distance between us and God by our actions and choices. When we choose the things of the world over Jesus we can allow distance to come between us and God.
I have had quite a few of these counseling sessions during my ministry. A person comes in and tells me that they are feeling far off from God. We go though a time of self observation. Astonishingly, it never seems to dawn on many of us that when we stop read the Scriptures, cut out prayer in our lives, or decline to come to church that we feel isolated from God! It seems hard for many of us to fathom that when we make choices that we know are sinful and wrong- it will cause a sense of lostness between us and God.
Husbands and wives- isn’t this the same in your marriages? If you told your spouse that you didn’t want them to do something and they did it anyway- wouldn’t it put a strain on your relationship? What if you all stopped talking, or sleeping in the same room- maybe even the same house- wouldn’t that increase the sense of brokenness in your home? Why do we act as if that same actions against God should be any different?
But distance from God is not just a result of rebellion- there is something else that causes distance from God; and I actually think this one is more often- complacency. Spiritually complacency can be a big factor in distance from God. Have you ever just gotten on a float, or floated on your back in a lake or a pool. It may not seem like there is any current or movement, but yet the longer you sit and float the more you move- inch by inch and moment by moment- even though you may not realize how much it has happened- by just going with the flow you are soon on the other side of the lake. Many times the distance between us and God is a result of the “floating” we do in this life when we are not actively chasing after Christ as we know we should.
But that is not the case for Jesus in today’s passage. He was sinless- no sin at all- completely perfect. The distance between him and God is not of his own doing, but his own willingness. Jesus takes on this distance for you and I. More on this in a bit...
There is some encouragement in David’s Psalm though- by the end of the song listen to what he is saying-
22 I will tell of your name to my brothers;
in the midst of the congregation I will praise you:
23 You who fear the LORD, praise him!
All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him,
and stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel!
27 All the ends of the earth shall remember
and turn to the LORD,
and all the families of the nations
shall worship before you.
28 For kingship belongs to the LORD,
and he rules over the nations.
In the midst of his trouble and pain, David turns again to the faithfulness of God. He comes back to the truth he knows and believes- that God is still on his throne!
Some of you have heard me say this in the midst of your painful situations and heartache- I am not concerned about your highest high; and I am not concerned about your lowest low- I am concerned about where you come back to; where your anchor is. As a pastor I know you are going to have days when your life to WAYYYY TO GOOD. Everything is right and perfect. And I know you are going to have some dark and depressing days when everything is a mess and you are feeling low. But those are just moments, just days, just seasons.
There is one more thought about feeling forsaken by God I want to tease out for a moment. This thought comes from Matthew Henry the famed Bible commentary writer. In his commentary on Psl 22 he notes that pain associated with being distant from God is even a sign of spiritual life!
Think of it; if you had no need, or no awareness of God- then there would be no pain or hurt in your heart when he is distant. There mere fact that you are aware of the distance of God and want to regain a connection with him in and of itself shows that you are spiritually alive and aware.
Please understand, I am not downplaying or trying to say these times are not devastating- they certainly are. However, there is a hope in these dark times, that even then we know Jesus in a way that calls us to fellowship again.
In fact, I might argue that without times of lost connection, many of us would never reach a level of spiritual maturity that Christ wants for us. The story of redemption reminds us that forsaken can be for his purpose.
But let’s get back to Jesus, shall we?
What is this turning of the back of God about, anyway? The cry of Jesus is that God had forsaken him- the word is roughly translated abandoned or deserted. But why? Why is this God’s reaction to the sacrifice of Jesus? What he is doing is good; what he is doing was God’s plan, right?
Well, consider what the Bible says
Hebrews 2:9 9 But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.
1 Peter 2:24 “24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed”
And probably the most impacting, in my opinion
2 Corinthians 5:21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
God turns from Jesus because in that moment he was sin- every mistake, every rebellion, every evil, every bit of darkness of this fallen world was laid up him and Jesus became those sins.
Think of this, the worst decision you have ever made- the sins that have lived in you- Jesus has not just forgiven them- he BECAME them.
"As to my sin, I hear its harsh accusings no more when I hear Jesus cry, 'Why hast thou forsaken me?' I know that I deserve the deepest hell at the hand of God's vengeance; but I am not afraid. He will never forsake me, for he forsook his Son on my behalf. I shall not suffer for my sin, for Jesus has suffered to the full in my place."
According to the Chicago Tribune, on June 22, 1997, parachute instructor Michael Costello, forty-two, of Mt.Dora, Florida, jumped out of an airplane at 12,000 feet altitude with a novice skydiver name Gareth Griffith, age twenty-one.
The novice would soon discover just how good his instructor was, for when the novice pulled his rip cord, his parachute failed. Plummeting to the ground they faced certain death.
But then the instructor did an amazing thing. Just before hitting the ground, the instructor rolled over so that he would hit the ground first and the novice would land on top of him. The instructor was killed instantly. The novice fractured his spine in the fall, but he was not paralyzed.
One man takes the place of another, takes the brunt for another. One substitutes himself to die so another may live. So it was at the cross, when Jesus died for our sins. (Choice Contemporary Stories and Illustrations, Baker Books, compiled by Craig Brian Larson, pg57).
Interesting isn’t it? If a man did such a thing we are talking medals of honor, parades, and front page news- but when we read of Jesus doing such things many are filled with skepticism and disbelief- that the Son of God would do such a thing.
But here is the truth- sin causes separation with God- and sin that has not been dealt with causes eternal separation with God. There is no way around that. So, this separation has to be dealt with, and for those who have placed their hope and trust in Christ- Jesus has dealt with that separation on your behalf= by placing himself in the void that sin left between you and God.
And all you have to do is trust in him. No need to fill that gap yourself. Just trust in his work on your behalf. This is the Gospel, that Jesus took your place, took you sin, and took the separation of God upon himself and dealt with it.
But there is one more connection here. Remember the way Jesus quoted Psl 22:1 as God turned his back? These are not the only words that Jesus spoke on the cross. No, in John’s telling of the crucifixion story we are told that when Jesus died he uttered three of the most powerful words the world has ever heard- IT IS FINISHED.
Now, check out the last verse words of Psl 22
31 they shall come and proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn,
that he has done it.
The Hebrew there is translated in some translations as HE HAS FINISHED IT. What an amazing connection- that as Jesus pays this price for us he quotes the first verse and with his last breath points us to the last.