[Below is the text of a sermon I preached at our church on Easter morning, 1st April 2018.]
My offering today is half sermon, half reflection. As I pondered and prayed about what to speak about a couple of weeks ago a phrase came to mind. I gave God the opportunity to change His mind but I kept coming back to this particular phrase.
We can get a little confused as we read the Bible because we subconsciously form the view that Jesus spoke English. And if you read the King James Version Jesus spoke perfect Elizabethan English. As I’m sure many people know, the New Testament was written in Greek. It was the business language of the day. It was the word currency in which people traded.
Yet it’s generally accepted that the language that Jesus and the disciples spoke was probably Aramaic. They would have been able to speak and understand Greek and Latin – being the official languages of the Roman Empire. And they would be fluent in Hebrew since their Scriptures were in Hebrew. But the language of the street in Judea and Galilee was Aramaic. Aramaic was, for them, what we may call their heart language.
Can I ask who here can speak more than one language (not including speaking in tongues)? What language do you think in, and what language do you dream in? That is often called your heart language because it is the language that resonates most with you. Colloquially it flows from your gut.
I have a sister-in-law who is Hungarian and despite the fact that she’s been in Australia for close to 40 years she thinks and dreams in Hungarian. Her English is fine, heavily accented, but perfectly adequate. Yet her heart language is Hungarian because it’s what goes on in here!
Within the New Testament there are at least eight different times when the writers leave their Greek and instead write in Aramaic directly (and often provide a translation). And on each occasion the speaker is responding deeply to an event or situation:
These are all occasions of deep emotion, of deep response coming from the heart and not the head. There are others but I’ll leave you to chase those up if you’re interested.
On the day of Jesus’ crucifixion each of Matthew, Mark and Luke record that there was darkness for three hours – from midday until 3:00pm. And Matthew records that there was an earthquake as well.
Some people describe the darkness as an eclipse, but for a solar eclipse to occur, the moon must come between the Sun and Earth. But Passover always occurs during a full moon when the Moon is on the opposite side of the Earth to the Sun.
Also the gospel writers tell us it was a darkness that lasted for 3 hours; whereas during a total solar eclipse the darkness lasts a matter of minutes, so it was supernatural.
The darkness and the earthquake are perhaps part of the whole creation groaning that Paul speaks of in Romans 8. It is a reflection of the anguish of creation at the suffering and death of its Creator.
In addition to the darkness and the earthquake the same three gospel writers record that the veil in the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. That would be equally worthy of an Easter reflection but it is the fourth event Matthew and Mark speak of that I want us to spend some time on. Reading from the New Living Translation:
At about three o’clock, Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” [Matthew 27:46, NLT]
This cry or shout of Jesus comes from the Psalms. It’s a direct quotation from Psalm 22 which is a prophecy that speaks directly about the coming Messiah. Psalm 22 moves from tragedy to glory – from vilification to vindication. It foreshadows and echoes the events of Easter and beyond! You may want to read through it this afternoon when you get home.
I want us to spend some time considering forsakeness.
I remember hearing a story a few years ago of a young boy who went on a scout camp. While he was away his parents moved house and didn’t tell him. He was forsaken. Many babies – particularly girls are forsaken in countries where they not valued and welcomed and love. Without seeking to be political, Barnaby Joyce’s wife and daughters would understand forsaking better than many this season.
But what was the nature or the character of the forsakeness that Jesus experienced?
In Psalm 22 David describes his forsakeness as a sense of silence and distance from God.
My God, my God! Why have you forsaken me? Why do you remain so distant? Why do you ignore my cries for help? Every day I call to you, my God, but you do not answer. Every night you hear my voice, but I find no relief. [Psalm 22:1-2, NLT]
David feel unsafe, unprotected, vulnerable and physically depleted.
My strength has dried up like sunbaked clay. My tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth. You have laid me in the dust and left me for dead. My enemies surround me like a pack of dogs; an evil gang closes in on me. They have pierced my hands and feet. I can count every bone in my body. My enemies stare at me and gloat. They divide my clothes among themselves and throw dice for my garments. O LORD, do not stay away! You are my strength; come quickly to my aid! [Psalm 22:15-19, NLT]
I think it’s safe to assume that Jesus experienced the same. He experienced that loss of communication and communion with His Father and the Holy Spirit that had been unbroken from eternity. And He certainly experienced significant physical injury and pain – sufficient to cause death within 24 hours of His arrest.
He knew He would be resurrected on the third day, so I think Jesus’ experience of forsakeness, whilst not permanent, was total and complete – physical, emotional and spiritual.
I want to dig a little deeper to consider the results and effects of the forsakeness that Jesus suffered from Gethsemane until his resurrection. Whole books have been written on this subject so in a couple of minutes we’re not even going to scratch the surface. We’re just trying to find the surface. Scripture highlights the work of the cross in so many ways:
Yet it was our weaknesses he carried; it was our sorrows that weighed him down. And we thought his troubles were a punishment from God for his own sins! But he was wounded and crushed for our sins. He was beaten that we might have peace. He was whipped, and we were healed! All of us have strayed away like sheep. We have left God’s paths to follow our own. Yet the LORD laid on him the guilt and sins of us all. [Isaiah 53:4-6, NLT]
Mark chapter 10 records Jesus’ words that the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and give His life as a ransom for many.
Romans 3:25 tells us that God sent Jesus to take the punishment for our sins and to satisfy God’s anger against us.
2 Corinthians 5:19a offers an interesting perspective:
For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. [2 Corinthians 5:19a, NLT]
Galatians 3:13 indicates that Christ rescued us from the curse pronounced by the law by taking that curse upon himself when he hung on the cross.
Philippians 2 is an obvious inclusion:
Though he was God, he did not demand and cling to his rights as God. He made himself nothing; he took the humble position of a slave and appeared in human form. And in human form he obediently humbled himself even further by dying a criminal’s death on a cross. [Phil 2:6-8, NLT]
And I’ll also read 1Peter 2:24:
He personally carried away our sins in his own body on the cross so we can be dead to sin and live for what is right. You have been healed by his wounds! [1 Peter 2:24, NLT]
We see in these verses many ideas covered – of bearing our punishment, of being wounded and crushed, of bringing healing, of submission and humility, of suffering, of redemption via ransom, of bearing our sins, of reconciliation and restoration, of sacrifice and offering, of averting God’s anger, of bearing the curse of of the law, of rescuing us from the death and judgement that was upon us.
If ever we were to be reunited with God someone had to pay the price for our sin. A blemished sacrifice can never atone for sin. It could only ever be a perfect sacrifice and so it could only ever be the Son of God who could be that sacrifice.
I want to answer Jesus’ question that He cried out on the cross. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” The answer is extraordinarily simple but I don’t want to say it in a glib, throwaway fashion. Why did God forsake Jesus? For love’s sake. For you. For me.
1 John 4:10 puts it this way:
This is real love. It is not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins. [1 John 4:10, NLT]
Each of us is worth Jesus in His Father’s sight.
The death of Jesus is one of the three most important and astounding events that ever has or ever will occur on this earth. The first was Jesus’ birth. The second was Jesus’ death. And the third was Jesus’ resurrection. The birth and willing death of Jesus is a measure of God’s love. The resurrection is a measure of God’s power. We need both love and power.
Jesus was forsaken by God so we don’t have to be. If you remember only one thing from this reflection could I suggest that it may be that: Jesus was forsaken by God so we don’t have to be.
One basis for saying that is Hebrews 13:5b which is a quote from Deuteronomy 31:6 where God says, “I will never fail you. I will never forsake you.”
We may feel forsaken by God sometimes; but that is our decision, our choice. The Lord has promised to never fail us or forsake us, so if we think or feel that He has, then the choices are either that God’s promise is wrong or we are – and my money is on us being wrong.
We may not be aware of God’s presence, of His love or His concern for us. And, let’s face it, sometimes we do things that we would prefer God not see so we run, we hide, we live in guilt and shame. And yet our Father still waits for us to return.
He doesn’t forsake us, but we can forsake Him.
Jesus was forsaken by God so we don’t have to be. And that applies to all who believe in Jesus and trust in His Name and His work on that cross nearly 2,000 years ago.
As we draw near to a close this morning I’d like to read the words to a song we sing occasionally. You may want to close your eyes again as I read. [This is to reflect on rather than sing to]
How deep the Father’s love for us. How vast beyond all measure. That He should give His only Son. To make a wretch His treasure.
How great the pain of searing loss. The Father turns His face away. As wounds which mar the Chosen One. Bring many sons to glory.
Behold the man upon a cross. My sin upon His shoulders. Ashamed, I hear my mocking voice. Call out among the scoffers.
It was my sin that held Him there. Until it was accomplished. His dying breath has brought me life. I know that it is finished.
I will not boast in anything. No gifts, no power, no wisdom. But I will boast in Jesus Christ. His death and resurrection.
Why should I gain from His reward? I cannot give an answer. But this I know with all my heart. His wounds have paid my ransom.
[© Stuart Townend]
As we wrap up this Easter morning service let me finish with prayer:
Lord Jesus Christ, thank You that You were crushed for our iniquities.
Thank You that You were willing and able to become a curse for us so we may enjoy the blessing of Our Father God and, in turn be a blessing to others.
Thank You Lord Jesus that by your stripes we are healed.
Thank You Jesus that there is forgiveness available through the shedding of Your blood.
Thank you Lord that Your body was broken as you bore the wrath of God – that Your Father could become Our Father.
Thank you that You humbled Yourself even to death on a cross.
Thank You, Holy Spirit, that Jesus has been resurrected.
Thank you that Your same Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead is ready, willing, able and available to us today!
Thank you Heavenly Father that You love us from everlasting to everlasting.
We can barely comprehend the depth, the quality, the purity of Your love for us that would bring You to sacrifice Your Son for us.
Many in the world call it foolishness, but it is Your love and Your power that is our hope and our future.
We embrace Your Holy Spirit power.
We welcome Your love and Your holiness.
We grab hold of all You offer to us both in this life and the next.
If we have lost our first love for You, may it be rekindled and strengthened today!
Lord take us, use us, mould us into Your people, Your possession, Your chosen beloved ones to bring You praise and glory.
And we pray all these things in the name of the Father and the Son and Holy Spirit.