Have you ever felt lonely? I mean REALLY lonely because, for some reason or other, you were cut off-totally separated-from your loved ones? Maybe you felt this way as a child the first time you went off to camp or as a teenager when you left home and moved into the freshman dorm your first year of college.You know, if we were to poll our troops in Iraq to see how many of them are experiencing that feeling-well I imagine ALL OF THEM would say “Yes!” because as they hunker down in fox holes or tents or armored troop carriers, they know they’re thousands of miles from home-unable contact their wives or husbands or children and they also know it may be several months before their painful separation is over.
In fact I think they must ALL constantly carry a deep ache of loneliness in their guts as they work to free the people of Iraq. Can you imagine what that must be like for them to be so isolated from their families?
I heard a report the other day that told of our soldiers in Iraq-grown men-battle-hardened warriors-going off in a corner to cry when mail call came and they received nothing. That one limited contact with home meant so much to them. They apparently live for that time of the week when they just might get a letter or a care package-something from home that makes them feel a little less cut off and when that time arrives and nothing comes its almost more than they can stand. I mean-enduring enemy artillery fire doesn’t seem to bother them near as much as the loneliness of being separated from their friends and families. Being cut off-feeling forsaken-is indeed a horrible thing.
Now, for the past few weeks we’ve been studying Jesus’ seven last words-spoken as He hung on the cross-and today we come to His 4th saying-a saying that shows us that Jesus understands the pain we experience when we are separated from our loved ones-for, there came a time that as He hung on that cross He was cut off-separated from His Father in Heaven. Take your Bibles and turn to Matthew 27:45-50 and follow along as I read.
45 – From the sixth hour until the ninth hour darkness came over all the land.
46 – About the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?” – which means, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”
47 – When some of those standing there heard this, they said, “He’s calling Elijah.”
48 – Immediately one of them ran and got a sponge. He filled it with wine vinegar, put it on a stick, and offered it to Jesus to drink.
49 – The rest said, “Now leave Him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to save Him.”
50 – And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, He gave up His Spirit.
Now, at first glance a casual reader of the crucifixion narrative might think that the events on Golgotha lasted no more than an hour-perhaps less. But a closer examination of the gospel writers’ accounts reveals that Jesus’ death took no less than six hours. It began at nine o’clock in the morning on that “good” Friday when His hands and feet were nailed to the wooden beams. And, then sometime during the next three hours-between 9AM until 12Noon-He uttered His first three statements. Do you remember what they were?”Father forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing”
“Today you shall be with Me in Paradise”
“Woman, behold your son!”
Well, not long after that third statement-at about noon-our text for today says that, “darkness fell over the whole land” and as it did an eerie silence surrounded the Place of the Skull. Now, understand, when Matthew talks about DARKNESS-he wasn’t saying that the skies got overcast or that there was an eclipse of the sun. No-there was nothing NATURAL about this darkness. The sun was actually obscured by a supernatural act of God-and this didn’t just affect Golgotha-the Bible says that this darkness fell over the WHOLE LAND! In other words, MIDNIGHT came at MIDDAY-and it was a DEEP DARKNESS-darker than even the darkest night. I don’t think you could see your hand in front of your face. I don’t think the stars or the moon were visible-it was as if the Light of the World had gone out! I imagine the soldiers scrambled to find torches to enable them to see so they could complete their gruesome duty. It was that dark! In fact I would say that darkness like this had not been seen in the world since the primeval day when Genesis says,
“the earth was without form and void and DARKNESS was upon the face of the earth.”
Well, this thick, eerie darkness lasted from noon until 3:00PM. Dr. R. G. Lee once commented on this by saying, “Usually a day has but ONE noon, ONE sundown, ONE night. But there came a day when dreadful things took place-dreadful happenings which made it a day whose darkness excelled ALL the darkness of all the dark days the world has ever known…a dread day with TWO nights.”
Now, this two-night day should not have surprised the Jewish religious leaders because it had been foretold hundreds of years before by the Jewish prophet Amos, who wrote:
“And it shall come to pass in that day, saith the Lord God, that I will cause the SUN to go down at NOON and I will darken the earth on a clear day.” (Amos 8:9)
Well, when this darkness fell-all the jeering and mocking of Jesus understandably came to a stop. I don’t know about you but as I study the gospel accounts, it seems to me that the people in the crowd were pretty much frozen in their tracks by this sudden arrival of a starless night in the middle of the day. I mean, they seem to have just stood there-terrified for three hours-until Jesus uttered His fourth saying from the cross. All that could be heard during those hours was the labored breathing of Jesus and the two thieves-as they pushed themselves up and down-up and down-against the rough wood of their crosses. Can you picture that in your mind? -three hours of unearthly darkness and silence where no one dared say a thing. All they did was stand there and listen to these three men dying!
Then suddenly, at 3PM out of the depths of that darkness came the anguished voice of the abandoned Son of God. Now-most Biblical epic films have Jesus saying these words weakly-barely struggling to get them out but that’s not what the Bible says happened. No-God’s Word teaches that Jesus’ fourth cry from the cross was a THUNDERING cry! Look at verse 46. Matthew says that “Jesus cried out with a…LOUD voice…” You see, the translation “cried out” comes from a combination of two words. One means “to shout,” and it is prefixed with the word “up”- so it meant, “to shout/scream up.” In the Scriptures this particular combination of words is used to refer to a guttural scream-or a passionate, loud groan. Do you remember the words of Psalm 22-a clear prophecy of this moment? Verses 1-2 say, “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me? Far from My deliverance are the words of My GROANING.”
Now, a literal rendering of the word, “groaning” would be “roaring” like the deep, resonant roaring of a lion. Perhaps this is part of what inspired C. S. Lewis to picture the Christ as the lion, Aslan, in his Chronicles of Narnia! But if you can imagine the roar of a lion coming out of the darkness of the jungle you have a good idea of the picture that is painted here. I mean, Jesus’ 4th cry must have stirred the hearts of men and caused the hair to stand up on the backs of the necks of the soldiers!
And then, I also want you to note that this statement from the cross is first quoted exactly as Jesus would have said it-in Aramaic: “Eli, Eli, Lama Sabachthani” Now, why do you think the Holy Spirit inspired Matthew to preserve Jesus’ original language here? Charles Swindoll suggests that it’s because the language of Jesus’ birth captures our attention and helps us to see just how deep Jesus’ anguish was at that moment-how intense of a response this really was. I mean, have you ever known someone from another country-perhaps it was someone you worked with-and this person knew English but whenever he got emotional, whenever he was really sincerely moved about something…he would slip back into his native tongue? Well, maybe God has preserved Jesus’ words for us in His mother tongue, exactly as He said it so that as we read those words, we get a better understanding, of the true isolation of His soul-so that we understand better just how forsaken Jesus really was that day.
Well-what did that cry mean? What was Jesus saying when He said He was forsaken by God?
I mean, of all the words from the cross, this is surely the most difficult to understand. And if you feel baffled by what Jesus said, then you are not alone. Charles Haddon Spurgeon honestly admitted that he could not figure it out. It is said that Martin Luther, once vowed to wrestle with this text until he could explain it-no matter how long it took. He focused on it for days-going without food or sleep. Finally he stood to his feet and basically gave up-saying, “God forsaking God! Who can understand that?” Luther-as wise a theologian as we was-could not understand HOW God could leave His own Son in the lurch.
Well, I don’t think we can understand HOW…but I think we can understand WHY.
And I want to lead you to that understanding this morning by pointing out two things about this cry.
1. First of all, I want you to note that it was a cry of desperate SEPARATION.
You see, for the first time in all eternity, Jesus was separated from-forsaken by-His Father. Now-all His life Jesus had known what it was like to be forsaken. The members of His own family forsook Him for a while. People in His hometown turned against Him. His nation rejected Him. As John put it, “He came unto His own and His own received Him not.” Then, in his 6th chapter, John tells us of a time when many of Jesus’ followers, “turned and walked with Him no more.” Even His closest twelve disciples forsook Him in His hour of need and fled in panic.
So Jesus knew what it was like to be abandoned-forsaken.
But up until this point Jesus had always had GOD! When trouble came, He would slip away to the mountainside to pray. He would talk with God for hours in these impromptu retreats and God would talk with Him. When others turned away-when others forsook Him, Jesus could always steal away to this tender, healing, reassuring fellowship with God. But now, as He hung there on the cross, even THIS was gone! God had forsaken His Son. He had separated Himself from Jesus.
In the book BEVIS, a story is told of a drizzling overcast day. Probably out of boredom the boy Bevis is thumbing his way through a large book. He comes across a painting of the crucifixion and gazes at the scene for a moment. He begins to turn the page, but then stops and looks back again. He looks at the crosses, the people standing beneath them, and then at the spikes in the hands and feet, and the expression on the face of the man on the middle cross. Then Bevis sets his jaw, and as he pressed down the next page he declares, “If God had been there, they would not have done that to You.” Well, Jesus’ own words of anguish tell us that in a very real sense, God was not there for He had turned His face away from His Son.
You know, some have read this text and said that Jesus was not REALLY forsaken by God-that Jesus only felt that way or that He was just quoting Psalm 22…that His experience on the cross INSPIRED Him to recite this verse He had learned as a child. But I would disagree with this interpretation. You see, Jesus-God in the flesh-had inspired David to write this Psalm hundreds of years earlier. So, He inspired the Psalm-not the other way around. Jesus WAS indeed forsaken by His Father.
One thing that helps us to see this is the different way that Jesus addressed God in this moment. I mean, He spoke to His Father three times from the Cross. Two of those times, Jesus called Him, “Father” but not this time. No, here Jesus calls Him “God.” It’s as if you were to walk up to your father and address Him as “Mister” rather than “Dad” or “Daddy.” So there IS a separation-an alienation here. God has forsaken-DESERTED-His Son. This word that we translate “forsaken” is the same word Paul used in 2 Timothy 4:10 when he said, “Do your best to come to me quickly, for Demas, because he loved the world, has DESERTED me.” It’s a word that means to be abandoned, to be neglected, to be banished, to run away from-to be totally separated.
Now, why would this happen? I mean, why would our loving God forsake His Son? Didn’t David say in Psalm 37:25, “I have never seen the RIGHTEOUS forsaken?” Well, he DID say that-but you see, for the first time in His life, Jesus was not righteous. He was not pure and sinless. And this caused God to turn His back on Him. This made it impossible for our loving but Holy God to look at Him. As 2 Corinthians 5:21 says, “God made Him-Jesus-Who had no sin to BE sin for us.” 1 Peter 2:24 puts it this way, “He Himself-Jesus-bore our sins in His body on the tree.” So, what has happened is this: all the sins of all humanity have been gathered into one huge pile of evil and somehow that pile has been laid on Jesus Christ-all the lusting, all the idolatry, all the materialism, all the witchcraft, all the hatred, all the envying, murder, drunkenness, child abuse, all the prejudice-every sinful thought-every selfish sin of omission. ALL OF IT!
I mean try to imagine in your mind every sinful act that has ever been or ever will be committed and distill all that into a huge smoking vat of poisonous brew with a putrefying odor, a mass of filth so horrible…so revolting…that you can’t help but cover your nose with a handkerchief and look away. I mean it makes you nauseated and your eyes water!
Well, if you can imagine that then you BEGIN to get a fair idea of the revulsion that was in the holy heart of God that day. I mean on the first Good Friday, that one spot on Golgotha was the most hated square foot of area in God’s universe. No wonder He looked away from His Son! You see God is holy-and a holy God must judge and cannot tolerate sin-even if that sin is on His own Son. The fact is God-by His very nature-cannot dwell in the presence of sin.
Do you remember the words spoken to Adam in the Garden of Eden? God said, “If you eat of this fruit you will die!” And what happened when Adam and Eve disobeyed-sinned? God immediately BANISHED them from the garden. Why? Because God and sin cannot dwell together in the same place. It’s like trying to mix oil and water, or trying to push two magnets together at the same pole. God-by His nature-cannot intermingle with sin.
And you and I know this firsthand, because our own experience has shown us that when we sin we isolate ourselves from God. I mean-when you do something you know God doesn’t want you to do-how do you feel? Do you feel like praying? Do you feel like God is close-right there with you when you knowingly sin? No-of course not-when we sin, we feel alone-isolated-because sin separates us from God. Well multiply that feeling by billions and billions of times and you begin to understand why Jesus cried out loudly in great desperation,
“Where are You God? I can’t feel Your presence any longer!”
But you know, to really understand what’s going on here we need to go back to the Old Testament. You see, what occurred on the cross is actually a re-enactment of what happened in Leviticus 16. Take your Bibles and turn there with me.
Let me give you the context.
Instructions were given here in Leviticus to Aaron and the children of Israel as to how to offer animal sacrifices for the sins of the people. There were 3 animals involved. Verses 11-14 talk about a bull that was to be offered for the sins of the high priest and instructions were given as to how that sacrifice was to be made. Then there were also two goats. The first was to be offered as a sin offering for the people and there are instructions there in Leviticus as to how that was to occur. But then there was a 2nd goat-and it was called the SCAPEGOAT. Look at verses 20-22:
“When Aaron has finished making atonement for the Most Holy Place, the Tent of Meeting and the altar, he shall bring forward the live goat. He is to lay both hands on the head of the live goat and confess over it all the wickedness and rebellion of the Israelites-all their sins-and put them on the goat’s head. He shall send the goat AWAY into the desert in the care of a man appointed for the task. The goat will carry on itself all their sins to a solitary place; and the man shall release it in the desert.”
Now do you understand what this says? The priest was to place his hands on the head of the goat and say, “Upon you I place all the sins of all the children of Israel. All the adultery, all the lying, all the lusting…all the sin is placed on you.” And then in a symbolic gesture to show that God does not want sin to be amidst His people, what did they do with that goat? They took it to a solitary place. They took it to the edge of the desert-far enough away that it would not wander back to camp. One man was appointed to take that scapegoat out there and release it.
Now, all this text in Leviticus is-is a commentary written 1500 years before the cross, teaching us what is about to happen at Golgotha. Like the rest of the Old Testament, it is intended to prepare us to understand what has happened on the cross. I mean, the children of Israel rehearsed what Jesus is doing here for 1500 years so that they would understand. It was to be a tutor to them to help them comprehend what happened on the cross…for, what ACTUALLY happened was this. God Himself laid His hands on Jesus’ head and when He did, all the sins of all mankind were literally placed on Jesus. He is the One, eternal Scapegoat because once and for all, all the sins of eternity were placed on Him. And as He cried out, “My God, My God why have you forsaken me?” Jesus WAS all alone-like that goat out in the solitary place-separated from God for the first time in His life.
You know, the truth is Jesus went through Hell on the cross-because the essence of Hell is to be cut off from God. 2 Thessalonians 1:9 talks about people in Hell and says, “They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the PRESENCE of the Lord.” Well, that’s what Jesus is experiencing here. He’s been shut out from His Father’s presence.
Max Lucado has written a story to illustrate this. In it he invites us to imagine that we have several children and one of them contracts a disease-some unusual disease. And the doctor tells us that the only way we can keep the rest of our family from contracting this disease is to put our sick little son in an isolated room, and never let our children or anyone see him again. So, with your heart breaking you carry your child, and you put him in that isolated, lonely hospital room.
And you walk out and you close the door. As you walk away you can hear him crying, “Mommy, Daddy, where are you?” As you walk down the steps you can hear him screaming out the window, “Mommy, Daddy, where are you?!” But you steel yourself and leave him isolated. You leave him alone. You leave him separated. I mean, your heart is breaking but the truth is you can save him or your children and you choose to save your children at his expense.
You see, this is WHY Jesus cried, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” It was an agonizing cry of separation and loneliness.
2. …but it was more than that. It was also a cry of SUBSTITUTION.
2 Corinthians 5:14 puts it this way. “For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that One died FOR ALL.” In other words, this cry reminds us that Jesus was our substitute.
He died for us. He died in our place. You and me-the ones that SHOULD have been on that cross were NOT-and the One Who SHOULD NOT have been there WAS! As 1 Corinthians 15:3 says, “Christ died-FOR OUR SINS.” And as Galatians 3:13 says, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse FOR US, for it is written: ‘Cursed is everyone who is hung upon a tree.'”
Christian comedian and singer Mark Lowery tells of a time, when he was a little boy and his mother took him and his older brother to the movies. The film they went to see was KING OF KINGS-that great Biblical epic of Jesus’ life and death and resurrection. Mark said that as a small boy he was completely enthralled as the Bible literally came to life in front of him on the big silver screen. He “saw” Jesus walk on water and heal the sick and raise the dead and feed the 5,000. He couldn’t take his eyes off it all. For him it was as if he was looking back in time and was actually seeing Jesus’ life and ministry unfold before his eyes. He was thrilled and amazed!
But then Jesus was arrested and beaten and nailed to a cross and when that happened Mark said he stood up in his seat and yelled, “NOOOOOO! STOP IT! STOP IT! NOOOOO!” At this point, his big brother pulled him back down and said, “Shut up Mark, or we’ll all go to hell.”
Well Mark’s brother was right-Jesus suffered the hell of being cut off from God so we wouldn’t have to. He was our Substitute. As Isaiah 53 says: “He was pierced for OUR transgressions. He was crushed for OUR iniquities. The punishment that brought US peace was upon Him and by His wounds we are healed.”
You see, the truth is, on the Cross Jesus did for us what we couldn’t do for ourselves. He was a pure offering-He had no sin-so He was able to carry ours.
And Christ did that. He offered Himself as a sacrifice for our sins, ONCE AND FOR ALL!
Never again would the priest have to make sacrifices in the temple. Never again would blood have to be shed for the forgiveness of sins. Christ was God’s one, final, acceptable sacrifice. And, having made that sacrifice, Christ opened the way for us to know God intimately. His being FORSAKEN by God meant we would be ACCEPTED by God. God the Father forsook His Son, so that He would never have to forsake us. And, you know, in once sentence, that is the answer to Jesus’ question, “My God, My God, Why have You forsaken Me?” You see, God the Father forsook His only Son once for all that He night NEVER have to forsake us-His adopted sons and daughters. Because of the Cross God Himself has said to you and me, “I will NEVER desert you, nor will I EVER forsake You.” (Hebrews 13:5)
So Jesus was our Substitute. He went through darkness so that we might have light. Jesus was cursed so that we might be blessed. He was condemned so that we might be able to say, “Therefore there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1) He suffered hell for us so that we can enjoy Heaven with Him. Arthur Pink writes, “Jesus entered that awful darkness that I might walk in the Light; He drank the cup of woe that I might drink the cup of joy; He was forsaken that I might be forgiven.”
I think the bottom line of what I’m trying to say this morning, is that Jesus said those words so that you wouldn’t have to. Jesus cried out, “My God, My God why have you forsaken me” so that those very words would never have to be spoken by you. And you know, I think that is the greatest thing about being a Christian-I am never forsaken by God. I am never alone. He is always with me. I can say with the psalmist, “Where can I go from Your Spirit, [Father God]? Where can I flee from Your presence? If I go up to the heavens, You are there. If I make my bed in the depths, You are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there Your hand will guide me, Your right hand will hold me fast….such knowledge is too wonderful for me!” (Psalm 139) No matter where I go-even if I were to go to Iraq-God would be with me. He is indeed “an EVER-PRESENT help” (Psalm 46)-because of Christ death on the cross in my place.
If you’re here and are not a Christian, I urge you to become one today. Claim Jesus as your Substitute! Pray and ask God to forgive you of your sins-based on what Jesus has done on your behalf and then invite Him into your heart and life! Don’t leave this sanctuary alone this morning! If you have other public decisions to make I invite you to come forward now as we stand and sing to share them with me. Won’t you come as God leads?