I recently finished reading a book about the street children of Kenya. It is estimated that there are around 300,000 children who are living on their own in Kenya; 60,000 in Nairobi alone. This book is a study of the children in the slums who live, sleep and beg on the streets in order to survive. Many are orphans but many are also there simply because they have been either abandoned or forsaken by their parents. Sometimes it is due to alcoholism or parents simply can’t afford to care for them. Some of you may know what it is like to have a trusted family member forsake you, ignore you or perhaps even abandon you. It hurts deeply to be forsaken.
Jesus understands what it means to be forsaken for he was forsaken by God his Father. On the cross Jesus cries, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” We feel pity when we see street children forsaken. However, as we see Jesus forsaken, we should not feel pity. We should rather fall on our knees in humble gratitude because in Jesus’ cry of being forsaken we see the tremendous gift that Jesus has given us. Let’s read Mark 15:33-36.
From noon until three in the afternoon, when the sun is at its brightest, God somehow blocked the sun so that it was completely dark for three hours while Jesus hung on the cross. We experienced the sun growing dark in August last year during the solar eclipse. It was fun to watch as streetlights came on and things took on a twilight look. It was entertaining; but this darkness must have been terrifying to the people.
You see, in the Old Testament, darkness symbolized something very ominous. When God was preparing to lead the Israelites out of the land of Egypt, he caused the plague of darkness as a symbol of God’s curse on Egypt. The prophet Amos used the picture of darkness to describe the day of judgment when God will judge and destroy all the evil in the world. In Amos 8:9, God declares, “In that day I will make the sun go down at noon and darken the earth in broad daylight.”
Darkness here symbolized God pouring out his judgment against sin and evil. In the early stages of World War 2, the Germans bombed London every night for 2 ½ months to try to press them into submission. As a result, there were strict blackout conditions so that the Germans could not see targets to bomb, but the bombs still fell into their darkness. These people felt the curse of war in the darkness as the bombs fell. The three hours of darkness symbolize God pouring out his judgment on Jesus.
II. Now let’s look at Jesus’ cry, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me.”
In this cry, Jesus feels God’s abandoning him because he took our sin upon himself. As Jesus hangs on the cross, he suffers as the greatest sinner that ever lived on earth for he takes on the sins of all the sinners of the world. In 2 Corinthians 5:21 Paul points this out powerfully when he writes, “God made him (that is Jesus) who had no sin to be sin for us.” Jesus not only took on our sins, he became sin itself! God cannot stand the presence of sin before him and since Jesus represents all the sin in the world, fellowship of the Son and the Father must be broken off.
It is this aspect of the crucifixion that is the worst Jesus has to suffer. Often when we think of Jesus dying on the cross, we think of the tremendous physical suffering he had to endure. The pain that Jesus must have felt and the slow death he experienced was terrible! But the Gospel writers don’t emphasize the physical pain of Jesus. Many Christian martyrs have suffered and died for their faith in Christ. In fact, many of these have physically suffered more than Jesus likely did. But these Christian martyrs all died knowing that God was there with them. As they died, they knew that they were dying for the Lord. Though the suffering was great, they could die with joy because God was with them. However, Jesus died being cut off from God.
As I said before, we know somewhat of the pain of alienation and separation. When in a marriage a husband abandons his wife, the pain is very great. Or when a child rejects her parents, there is tremendous pain. We know that such emotional pain can be far worse than physical pain. The pain Jesus had is being cut off from the Father, and the pain of this abandonment, is unbelievably great. Yet, in spite of God leaving Him, Jesus calls out, “My God,” trusting that God will not leave him forever as he descends into the pit of sin and hell. He also trusts that God will fulfill his plan of salvation through him taking our place.
The late Chuck Colson wrote of time when he was in prison for his actions in the Watergate cover-up in the mid-1970's. He writes:
“In 1975, after I was in prison seven months, I hit my low point. I learned that my son, in college, had been arrested for drug possession. He was in jail, and I couldn't reach out to him. I learned I was disbarred in one state. My dad, my closest friend, had died. My mother was alone. My wife was having difficulty managing things. The other three guys in Watergate, who were in prison with me, were released because they'd been sentenced by another judge.
Colson wrote, “That night, by my bunk, I got down on the dirty floor and said, ‘God, thank You, because now I know the truth.’” Jesus suffered and died to take the place of sinners and to save them! And how did the sinners respond?
They heard what Jesus said and turned Jesus’ cry of anguish into a cruel joke. They said that Jesus was calling Elijah for help. Many Jews believed that Elijah could be called to help them in times of need. They also believed that Elijah would be the one who would come and announce the coming of the Messiah. They are saying that Jesus is clearly not the messiah for Elijah did not announce Jesus’ coming; moreover, Elijah will not come to help him at this point either.
One person perhaps felt some pity on Jesus and offered him something to drink. This was a common drink for soldiers as well as common laborers. It was the best thirst quencher available; perhaps like a sports drink. But the words spoken after Jesus receives the wine certainly are mocking: “Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to take him down.” Obviously no one expected that Elijah would come down and help Jesus. To these people, Jesus was no more than a man who resisted and criticized the Jewish religion that was very dear to these people. So Jesus is rejected and mocked by the people he came to save. He is physically suffering the horrors of crucifixion. But above all, he is suffering being separated from his own Father. And so in anguish he cries out, “My God, my God, WHY have you forsaken me?”
IV. What is our response to this suffering cry of Jesus?
Our first response comes from one word in the question of Jesus, “Why?” Jesus cried out “why” but he already knew why. It was because of us and our sin that Jesus had to suffer. Therefore, when we hear the cry, “why,” we should fall to our knees and confess that it was for our sin and rebellion that Jesus had to suffer this. To the question of “why” we should simply say, “It was me!” Then confess the sins of our lives in humility to God. But then let’s also lift our voices in a song of praise and thanksgiving! Because of what Jesus endured, we don’t have to be afraid of being abandoned to the pain and torment of hell. Jesus was forsaken so that we won’t be forsaken by God.
But believing and trusting in Jesus is the key response on our part. If we only marvel at the love of Jesus and wonder at the suffering that he endured, but do not believe, it means nothing. If we only feel sorry for Jesus, it is not enough. If we only admit it was our sins that killed Jesus, it is not enough. We must believe that Jesus’ death on the cross was for us and that in that death, our sins are completely forgiven by God. Only then, will we be confident that the intense suffering that Jesus endured by being separated from God will never be suffered by us. Instead of the terrors of hell, we will experience the glories and joys of heaven.
But we must also strive to get rid of the sin that nailed Jesus to the cross. Think of the things you do in your life that are offensive to God. We know that it was because of these things that Jesus had to die. If our love for Jesus is as great as we want it to be, we should be doing all we can to stop doing the things that nailed him to the cross.
The problem is that we don’t honestly want to stop doing these things. Charles Spurgeon says that often we treat our sins as something that we “roll under our tongue as a sweet morsel.” It’s like sweets or junk food that isn’t good for us. There is something addictive about the sin in our lives that makes us both detest it and yearn for it at the same time.
Perhaps a way to break the cycle is to look at Jesus’ agony on the cross when we think of a particular sin that we love to savor. As we begin to think of that sin, think of Jesus suffering the agony of being cut off from God because of that particular sin in our life. Thinking of Jesus having to die for the sin we are so anxious to savor may be one thing we can do to learn to abhor the sins we love to do.
Now there are all kinds of sins that we could list here. There are sins of greed, selfishness and putting others down. There are the inner struggles of sexual sins or other struggles. You know the sins that you struggle with in your lives; I know my own. When they tempt us, let’s hold them up to the cross and see Jesus descending into the pit of hell for us because of that sin. We must do this because sin that is not cut off can end up strangling us.
Christ’s death has cut the power of sin. The “creepers” of sin still cling, but sin’s power is severed by Christ, and gradually, sin’s grip dries up and falls away.” Let the Holy Spirit work in us to cut away the sin that can slowly strangle us.
Finally, let’s live every part of our lives with profound gratitude. Jesus has suffered the torments of hell so that we won’t have to. Do we shrug our shoulders and say “thanks” and just keep on going as usual? Or do we commit ourselves fully to the kingdom of Christ? We must show Jesus how much we love him for what he has done for us. How? Jesus says, “If you love me, keep my commandments.” If you want to show love to Jesus, do what Jesus wants you to do. Become more and more of a disciple and follower of Jesus Christ. Jesus suffered greatly for us! What are we doing to show our gratitude to him?