5 04 2016

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Last week I had the privilege of sharing at the Good Friday Service held at The First United Methodist Church of Cape May Court House pastored by Ted Osler. Seven different Ministers shared a devotional based upon the seven last words of Jesus from the cross. I was given the assignment of the fourth word which comes from the Gospel of Mark. It reads, “At noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. And at three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, ‘Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?’ (which means ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”).

 Up to this point, the narrative of the crucifixion has focused mostly on the physical sufferings of Jesus: the flogging, the crown of thorns, and his immense suffering on the cross. Six hours have now passed since the nails were driven into our Lord’s hands and feet. The crowds have jeered, and don’t miss this key phrase: “Darkness has covered the land.” Now we know from the Scriptures: “God is light; in him there is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5). And now suddenly, the Father and the Son are in a moment when they knew they had to face our sin head on. This wasn’t just one sin or one person’s sin or one nation’s sin or one era’s sin! This was all of the sin of all mankind for all time! This was undeniably earth’s darkest moment when here resembled hell more than heaven. This was the moment that Jesus took on the darkness of sin head on, for all of us or else we would be stuck in a midnight mode forever. What is referred to as “The Dark Night of the Soul” wouldn’t just last a season but it would have been the standing we would be stuck in for all eternity!

 But now when the Light of God got stuck in the darkness of “Man’s Depravity” times a zillion, out of the depths of the soul of the Son of God comes this anguished cry from the experience of the God Man. Using the Scriptures as the best commentary for other Scripture, we discover in Hebrews 5:7-8: “During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered.” Here is one of those times. Whereas the Son of God is seen also as the Son of Man, fully God but also very human at the same time and knowing that nobody thrives in the dark, Jesus cries out to His Father in an Aramaic-tinged quotation from Psalm 22 and although Matthew and Mark both offer a translation for the benefit of Gentile readers, they clearly want us to hear the exact words that Jesus spoke.

 At his lowest point on this planet, the one who is the Word instinctively quoted the Word and from the Psalms, he expresses the anguish, the horror, the loneliness not now of his body, but of his tortured soul. If one man’s sin can literally drive a man or woman insane, what could the sin of all mankind do to the human side of anyone?

 Have you ever uttered the Words; “God where are you? You have abandoned me! You have left me to fend on my own!” And when are those words most likely to be uttered by your lips? Surely not when everything is sunny and rosy and happy but when you get stuck in the dark!  Now we know from Scripture intellectually speaking that God will never leave us or forsake us! Both Testaments give testimony to that truth in Deuteronomy 31:6 and Hebrews 13:5. Yet has that ever stopped you from asking the question in the midst of your distress, “God where are you?” We know from Scripture that this verse cannot mean that the eternal communion between the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit was broken. God could not and would not cease to be triune. Neither could it mean that the Father ceased to love the Son: especially not here, and not now! Nor again could it mean that the Holy Spirit had ceased to minister to the Son. He had come down upon him at his baptism not merely for one fleeting moment, but to remain on him (John 1:32) and he would be there to the very last as the eternal Spirit through whom the Son offered himself to God (Hebrews 9:14). But if ever there was given encouragement to us that as human beings it is that we don’t have to pretend to be happy and we don’t have to fake it when we are facing the intense darkness that living life will throw at us! If Jesus wasn’t exempt from the darkness, what makes us think we get a free pass to just skip the hard times of trial, suffering, persecution and pain?

 Look again at the statement of Jesus because even in the darkness God was, “My God,” and even when there was no visible sign of the Father’s presence and even when the personal pain obscured the precious promises, somewhere in the depths of the Savior’s soul there remained the assurance that even in the hell; Heaven was still holding him. The crowd had not stopped jeering. The demons had not stopped taunting. The pain had not abated. And as the Son sacrificed his perfect and sinless life, this time, no word came from heaven to remind him that he was God’s Son. No proclamation of assurance was given that Jesus was greatly loved. No dove came down to assure him of the Spirit’s presence and ministry. No angel came to strengthen him. No redeemed sinner bowed to thank him. And yet, even in that cry of degradation as this word from the cross is often called, Jesus makes it clear that when he feels nothing, he still calls God, His God! Jesus makes it clear where his trust is. Even when God felt a million miles away and darkness seemed to envelop the Savior, Jesus sang a song of praise. Our only hope is that even when we can’t feel squat, God still hangs on to us. No matter what, Jesus is saying that even when I can’t sense you as my Abba, or Daddy, you are still my Elohim; my God! 

 Public though the cry from the cross was, it expressed the intensely private anguish of a tension between the sin-bearing Son and his heavenly Father. And now Jesus tastes it in all its bitterness and the reality is infinitely worse than the prospect. Jesus’s mind is near the limits of its human endurance. We, sitting in the gallery of history, are sure of the outcome. He, suffering in human nature the fury of hell, is in the fire. He is standing where none has stood before or since. But in knowing the outcome of this the true Gospel story; we are assured that even when God seems a zillion miles away; Jesus did not surrender to the surrounding circumstances and neither should we. This means that we can vent our cries from the depths of a broken and battered heart. As a matter of fact, it is usually in those times that Christians have the greatest weapons at their disposal; we have access to the Throne of God! Soon I will begin my 20th year of pastoring the Lighthouse Church in Cape May County and I would be a phony if you thought that I didn’t have my bouts with dark times of depression and discouragement. The last few years of having my physical body betray what my soul and spirit still want to do have brought on many an interesting conversation between me and my Heavenly Father. I guarantee that if you overheard me, you might think I was ready to lose my faith and chuck it all away and yet God knows that in the times that I thought that he dumped me, he was actually teaching me that the true song of life is not found in the container but in the contents that still overflow in my soul and yours too!

 Just because things aren’t going right in your life doesn’t mean God has left you on your own!  We will finish the race and complete the course that God has called us heavenward to and because Jesus ran first, we can count on this to be true even when we feel dead last! Rest in this simple truth that those who trust in him will never be disappointed in this life or in the life to come.



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