Sermon Notes – Ps. Jim White
Sunday 14th April, 2019
We’ve been talking a lot since the beginning of the year about having solid, secure and firm foundations – and finding strength in Christ to face the issues of life that we all encounter in one way or another.
Here we are in April, and I’m pretty much still on the same theme. I don’t think it’s by accident!
The main scripture last week was “…be strong in the Lord and the power of His might.” It’s His strength – not our own – that empowers us to face the issues of life – and we receive it by grace and by faith.
When we really get it – that it’s not about us and it’s all about Him – everything takes on a whole new dimension.
But knowing the truth, knowing and believing that we stand on the Rock of Jesus Christ – and at the same time trying to deal with the challenges on an emotional level – can sometimes feel like two different things.
I’m sure God doesn’t expect us to deny our emotional responses… and this morning – as we enter into this Easter week, I believe there’s strength to be had as we delve a little deeper into the last moments of Jesus’ life on earth.
I know this is only Palm Sunday, but I’m heading straight into Good Friday.
In the moments when Jesus was weak and exhausted physically, and utterly drained emotionally, I believe we can draw even more courage and strength to face the difficult and painful circumstances that some of you are right in the middle of in your own life.
I’m hoping that not only will we have a fresh revelation of what Jesus went through – taking our place on the Cross of Calvary – but it will speak into our own humanity… and help us to push through our own feelings and questions…
There’s one kind of question that we’ve all asked at some point. Some of you are asking it right now… and that is: “Where are You God as I face the heartache, the pain, and the distress?” And if you’ve ever asked a similar question, then you’re in good company.
As I was reading through the Easter story again, thinking of course about next weekend, I stumbled across something I’ve read many times – but there’s a particular part of Jesus’ experience that I believe many of us can relate to – definitely not on the same level – but with a similar heart cry to God.
Mark 15:33-34, “Now when the sixth hour had come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour. And at the ninth hour (about 3 o’clock in the afternoon) Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?” which is translated, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”
This is such a difficult verse to comprehend. Has God the Father really forsaken Jesus His Son? How can God forsake Himself?
The word forsaken actually means to desert, to turn away from, to abandon. That’s pretty full on!
Mark gives us the original Aramaic – the actual language and words that Jesus would have spoken – and I think this is on purpose because he’s trying to reveal to us just how much Jesus is suffering… and even more than that, what He is experiencing in His soul… the desperate emotional and relational distress He is feeling deep on the inside – feeling so alone and abandoned.
Leading up to this point, Jesus had already been abandoned by those close to Him. Judas had betrayed Him, leading the authorities to where He could be found, for 30 pieces of silver. That didn’t end well for Judas.
His disciples fled and deserted Him. Peter denied Him three times before the people and the soldiers. And that was nearly the undoing of Peter. He hated himself for it.
The Roman soldiers scourged Him, forced Him to carry His own heavy cross through the streets of Jerusalem. He was spat upon, had thorns forced into his scalp, His hands and feet nailed to the cross. He was naked, beaten, violently physically abused, and tormented with verbal abuse and sarcastic mockery.
He had already experienced more abandonment than any one of us will ever know.
But the most painful feeling of being completely forsaken came as the sky darkened in middle of the day… everything went quiet, and after another three hours, Jesus cried out desperately to God, but God had turned His back.
There was no voice from heaven saying “this is My Beloved Son…” as had happened at His baptism. The heavens weren’t opening up with the Holy Spirit coming on Him like a dove. There was nothing. There was silence.
I’ll tell you an interesting fact here.
All of His earthly life, Jesus called God His Father, Abba, using terms of endearment and intimacy.
Even in the Garden of Gethsemane, the night before, as Jesus attempted to prepare Himself and face up to what was coming… the bible says He was deeply distressed… He actually had such an intense agony of spirit that His sweat became drops of blood. Imagine that!
And He said, (Mark 14:36), “Abba, Father, all things are possible for You. Take this cup away from Me; nevertheless, not what I will, but what You will.”
Jesus was wrestling with what lay before Him – and yet He was ultimately submitted to the Father’s plan of salvation.. He was doing it out of love for every one of us – and obedience to the Father – willing to endure the torture and barbaric form of death that was set before Him.
And as He had always prayed – it was to His Father – His Abba – His Daddy…
But at that moment on the cross, as He was in agony, as He no doubt heard the demons laughing… and felt forsaken by everyone except a few faithful ones that loved Him, including His mother, Mary… He didn’t cry out Abba, Father… He cried out “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”
This shift in how He addresses God is heartbreaking. It comes out of a place of feeling utterly forsaken and alone. For that moment He is separated from that place of intimacy with His Father. And the expression, “My God, My God”, is no less honouring or respectful… but much more formal and than what He had ever said as a loving Son to an adoring Father.
And as much as we couldn’t possibly understand the fullness of what Jesus was going through – and what the Father was going through for that matter – we can turn to the Word of God to get a glimpse into this dark and isolated place…
I’m sharing this today because it speaks into an area of our own lives where we can feel alone, isolated, forsaken and abandoned – and that can rob us of our strength.
I’m sharing this because there was a tremendous exchange that took place at Calvary. Many things changed for us. And if we can grasp this properly, it will make a profound difference to how we experience and walk through our own journey.
This depth of abandonment is unique to Jesus. This is something we could never know or feel. But because He went through it – for us it means life!
And this is really why Jesus came to earth as one of us… He alone was without sin. He alone was God’s pure and righteous Son.
Because God is righteous and just, He couldn’t overlook sin. The cost of sin was death… but Jesus became the Lamb without spot or blemish – the sacrificial Lamb whose blood was shed on our behalf. He paid the price of death for you and for me.
And this leads us back into what happened to cause God the Father to turn away for that terrible moment just before Jesus died.
There’s a prophetic word in Habakkuk:
Habakkuk 1:13, “You are of purer eyes than to behold evil, And cannot look on wickedness…”
And when we get to the cross, it’s not any wickedness in Jesus that God isn’t able to look upon. It’s ours! It’s our wickedness!
Romans 4:25, it was Jesus, “who was delivered up because of our offences, and was raised because of our justification.”
2 Corinthians 5:21, “For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”
1 Peter 2:24, “who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness— by whose stripes you were healed.”
We need to get this… the reason that God the Father had to turn away from His own Son was because of our sin! Your sin! My Sin!
He who knew no sin became sin for us – taking on all of our transgressions.
Galatians 3:13, “Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us (for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree”
Jesus became the guilty one. He became the cursed one. But it should have been us on that cross.
This is why God turned His back. This is why Jesus felt forsaken. Because our sin – in fact the sin of the whole world was upon Jesus…
Can you just imagine every bit of the worlds wickedness, every lie, every murder, every bit of hatred, every crime, every curse, all the bitterness, greed, every bit of uncleanness… Jesus became all of that for you!
He Himself was pure. He was Holy. He was righteous.
But our sin caused Jesus to experience deep abandonment – heartbreaking separation – feeling deserted and totally alone. How could we ever imagine how He felt and what that moment was like? Even darkness came over the whole earth for those few hours in the middle of the day…
This is really a Good Friday message as I said. I’m just getting you ready…
Good Friday!!!! It wasn’t very good for Jesus.
But here’s the thing… for us it’s the greatest and most freeing day imaginable.
There were many exchanges that took place at Calvary.
He took death and gave us life.
He took our shame and gave us glory.
Jesus was punished that we might be forgiven.
He became the curse that we might be blessed.
He endured rejection that we would be accepted.
But get this! He was forsaken and abandoned so that we would become One with the Father… that we ourselves would never know abandonment from our Father in Heaven.
Jesus didn’t only feel abandoned on the cross – He was abandoned.
But you and I will never, ever be abandoned by God.
This is the whole point of my message this morning.
When you are going through whatever traumatic and painful and heartbreaking thing that this life throws at you – there’s one truth that you can hang on to and find tremendous courage and strength in – and that is the fact that you will never be forsaken in the middle of it.
In Hebrews 13:5 in the NKJV, it says simply, “…for He Himself has said, I will never leave you nor forsake you.”
But listen to what the Amplified Bible says, just in case that isn’t clear enough:
Hebrews 13:5 (Amplified), “for He has said, “ I will never [under any circumstances] desert you [nor give you up nor leave you without support, nor will I in any degree leave you helpless], nor will I forsake or let you down or relax My hold on you [assuredly not]!”
That pretty much covers it!
The Passion says, “I will not loosen My grip on your life.”
For some of you right now – and perhaps for all of us – this is the most incredible promise. This is why we can be secure, and strong, and be unshakeable in a world where everything that can be shaken is being shaken.
We need this truth to be established in our hearts… and when your emotions begin to bring the question to your lips – “Where are you God?” – let it be settled in your spirit that He is always with you… always holding on to you. It’s that truth that will cause you to walk through anything.
It reminds me of Psalm 23… particularly as the Passion Translation conveys it:
Psalm 23:4, “Lord, even when your path takes me through the valley of deepest darkness, fear will never conquer me, for you already have! You remain close to me and lead me through it all the way. Your authority is my strength and my peace. The comfort of your love takes away my fear. I’ll never be lonely, for you are near.”
Has the Lord fully conquered your heart? Overridden and overtaken every other feeling of abandonment and fear? Loneliness and isolation?
Have you settled within yourself that He will never let go of His grip upon your life?
Do you realise that you have a Saviour – a Redeemer – who fully understands everything you are going through? He has experienced and walked through the depths of darkness – the rejection – the pain – the loneliness – the heartache Himself…
He is fully divine, but has also experienced life being fully human.
The other questions we need to ask ourselves as we contemplate all of this, is have we really had a revelation of our own sin? Or have we underestimated just how sinful we are? Because this is why many aren’t able to even seek salvation, because they think they are pretty much good people – and why would they need a Saviour?
The other thing we can do is underestimate how holy and righteous and pure God actually is! And how abhorrent sin really is to Him. Do we try and lower His standards according to our assumptions? The Heavenly beings that surround God’s throne don’t sing out day and night – “Holy, Holy Holy is the Lord God Almighty…” for no reason.
It’s so important that these truths are planted deeply within us… because feelings come and go.
I just want to finish with the very familiar story of Mother Theresa.
But what may not be so familiar for some, is the long season later in her life, where she felt a sense of emptiness spiritually.
In her early days, Mother Theresa was passionate in her relationship with God. She had a very close and intimate prayer life. She even testified to hearing the audible voice of God.
But then there was nothing. For the next 50 years of her life she felt a distance from God. At one point, she wrote in one of her many letters, “In my soul, I feel just that terrible pain of loss – of God not wanting me – of God not being God – of God not really existing.”
Many people, when they have read her published letters, have asked, how could she have continued on as a religious leader in her ministry, feeling the way she did?
Writers have explained that the letters don’t actually mean that she had abandoned God – or that God had abandoned her. As she continued to minister to the poor, it was done from the foundation of a relationship she still very much believed in, even though she didn’t feel His closeness as she once did.
And so she drew upon the memories of the precious and real times that she did have earlier on.
As time went on, the questioning of God’s presence faded. She continued to live by faith. She actually began to identify with the sense of abandonment that Jesus Himself felt on the cross. And she turned those feelings towards the abandonment that the poor in Calcutta also experienced. God used her life to a His glory!
I wonder how deeply Mother Theresa carried the truth and the promise that Jesus said He would never leave her nor forsake her! I wonder how much she stood firmly upon the revelation that He would never loosen His grip on her life! It was most likely her trust in His Word that carried her though.
We have the Holy Spirit as our witness to the truth. We know the great exchange that took place at Calvary.
This morning, I encourage you to be filled in your inner most being, as much as is possible, with the depth of the meaning that the Cross carries for you. Jesus experienced abandonment so that you never have to.
When you face your most difficult times, remember, Jesus is right with you. He will never, ever, ever leave you nor forsake you. Not under any circumstances. Never will He release His grip upon you and leave you helpless. As the Amplified Bible says – Assuredly not!