- The Seven Words From the Cross -
THE WORD OF DESOLATION
Grace and Lenten peace be multiplied unto you in the knowledge of our crucified and risen Lord Jesus Christ, Amen. The text for this first of our midweek Lenten meditations comes from the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 27, verses 45 and 46, as follows:
Now from the sixth hour until the ninth hour there was darkness over all the land. And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, "Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?" that is, "My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?" So far our text.
In the Name of Jesus Christ, Who Himself was forsaken, that we need never be, Dear Fellow Redeemed,
Have you ever been troubled with a recurrent nightmare? It's frightening, isn't it? When I was a little boy, I had the same dream over and over again: I dreamt that the police would come to our house and arrest me by mistake, thinking I was some notorious criminal. Then I'd be in a courtroom, trying to explain that I didn't do anything, and that they had the wrong person. But no one would listen, and the judge would solemnly tell me that I had to go to jail.
I guess I must have dreamt that because, as a little boy, any kind of punishment frightened me, and going to jail was the worst kind of punishment I could imagine. I know now, of course, that there are much worse things that can happen to people. The sobering scene that confronts us tonight is nightmarish beyond even our power of imagination. A drama of death is being played out at Calvary. Though it's the middle of the afternoon, an eerie, otherworldly darkness has descended upon this skull-shaped hill. Above us, a Man is suffering a painful and drawn-out death, despite the fact that He is completely innocent of any wrongdoing. -Only this is no dream. It's really happening. Let's visit, once again, that hill of Calvary, and listen to another of our Savior's Words from the Cross- this one the heartrending
Word of Desolation:
"MY GOD, MY GOD, WHY HAVE YOU FORSAKEN ME?"
By the time Jesus speaks this word from the cross, He is entering the final stage of His suffering. This statement is directed upward, to His heavenly Father. It is the lonely cry of a Man who is in the last extremity of physical and spiritual agony.
Our text tells us that a deep darkness covered the land from the sixth hour to the ninth hour; that is, from noon till about three p.m. Since the Passover was always held at the full moon, we know this couldn't have been a natural eclipse of the sun. No, it was an eerie darkness, a very unnatural darkness, and why not? -Everything else about that scene was unnatural! A Man declared completely innocent - not once, but several times - even by the corrupt Roman governor, is nevertheless condemned to die! Instead of curses, He utters a prayer for His enemies. He refuses the offer of a pain-killing sedative, vinegar mixed with gall. And then, for three hours, this weird darkness descends. All very unnatural!
We have no word from Jesus during those three dark hours. He suffers in agonizing solitude, fulfilling the Old Testament prophesy of Isaiah, "I have trodden the winepress alone, and from the peoples no one was with Me." -- Isa 63:3. Perhaps it's a mercy that His tortured face is hidden from our eyes in the gloom, because if we could look at that face, we might find ourselves staring into the gaping jaws of hell itself!
In His agony, Jesus is compelled to cry out. A loud cry is wrenched from His tortured body, "My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?" It is, indeed, a voice from hell, because that's what Jesus is suffering at this point: the full punishment of hell for the sins of the world.
I want you to note that point carefully! I'm not exaggerating, and I'm not using poetic license when I say that Jesus suffered hell for our sins. For centuries, the false teachers of the Roman Catholic Church have stated that it is "intolerable wickedness" to say that the Son of God could have been subjected the torments of hell. But we do state exactly that. In fact, this is the very heart of the true Christian faith, and anyone who denies it is, in effect, locking himself out of heaven!
Because what is our hope of salvation? - We talked about this last week: our hope of salvation lies in the vicarious atonement of Christ - in the fact that the innocent Jesus substituted Himself for us guilty sinners, and bore the full punishment for our sins on the cross. Paul says that God "...made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him." -- 2 Cor 5:21. And what is the punishment for sin? Jesus suffered intense physical pain, but the punishment for sin is worse than that. Many people suffer intense pain. Jesus suffered physical death, but the punishment for sin is even worse than that. All people eventually experience physical death. No, the wages of sin is spiritual death, to be completely forsaken by God, to be banished from His presence in the torments of Hell. -That's what Jesus had to suffer in order to redeem us: the total God-forsakenness of hell - the hell we earned for ourselves by our sin!
In one of our most familiar Lenten hymns we sing:
"Ye who think of sin but lightly
Nor suppose the evil great
Here may view its nature rightly,
Here its guilt may estimate.
How true those words are! We so often underestimate our sins, we speak so easily of "free forgiveness," that we forget that, for Jesus, that forgiveness wasn't free at all. He had to pay a staggering cost to earn that forgiveness for us. Every sin you commit - each unkind word, each lustful thought, even the slightest misdeed! - inflicted an eternity's-worth of hellish torment on the soul of our Savior. "My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?" If Jesus hadn't said those words for us, we'd have been condemned to repeat them ourselves, forever, in eternal hellfire!
But He did say them. He did say them! And praise God that He did!
People say that "lightning never strikes twice in the same place." Folklore has it that, if you're caught outside in an electrical storm, the safest place you can be is right underneath the charred and smoking stump of a tree that's already been struck. I don't know if that's true or not. But I do know that the safest place for a guilty sinner to be is at the foot of Jesus' cross! Peter says, "For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God." -- 1 Pet 3:18. The terrible lightning of God's wrath over sin has already struck there at that cross. It struck once, with horrific force, and was completely expended on the body and soul of our Savior. It cannot strike again. It cannot strike us!
It was the darkest hour in the history of mankind, but what a bright future it opens for us! For the cross means nothing less than this: we cannot be punished for our sins! If you're like me, you may be plagued by periods of doubt and uneasiness because of your sins. Maybe you have a "skeleton in your closet" - a troubling sin in your background that no one knows about but you. Perhaps there's a particular sin that keeps coming back again and again, and makes you wonder, sometimes, whether you're really saved or not. If so, then stand beneath the cross with me tonight and ask yourself this: "Are my sins so great or so many that the blood of God's Son can't cover them? Is there any sin I've committed that Jesus did NOT pay for?" As we view the depth of His suffering tonight, we know that the answer is a resounding "NO!" In what is perhaps the most joyous and comforting passages in all of Scripture, the Apostle Paul says, "Who shall bring a charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us." -- Rom 8:33-34. Who can condemn you? No one! All your sins have been paid for, and the righteousness of Christ Himself is yours. Jesus has already prepared a place in heaven with your name on it. Now those are the facts. I suppose if you want to be miserable, you can pretend it's not so, but I really don't see the point. Do you?
I began this evening by talking about dreams. Maybe you never had the kind of recurrent nightmares that I had, but there's one experience I'm sure you have had. That's waking up from a nightmare and suddenly realizing with boundless relief -- that it was all just a dream. You know what I'm talking about - one moment you're gripped by terror. The next moment, your eyes are open, the morning sun is streaming through the window, and you're so happy and relieved you can't help but smile. Well, Jesus went through a real-life nightmare. Our nightmare - because it was our sins He was paying for. But now the nightmare is over, for Him and for us. The terror of sin, death and hell have vanished. The cheerful light of salvation is already shining in our hearts, and any moment now the full day of eternity will dawn! AMEN.
-Pastor Paul Naumann