Posted by: stpowen | April 8, 2011

The Cry of Desolation

The Cry of Desolation

From a sermon first preached at Scott Drive Church, Exmouth.

Mark 15:34.  ‘And at the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?”  Which is translated, My God, My God, why have you forsaken Me?”

In this article I want to look at the very centre of our faith.  What is happening at the cross?  What does it signify?  What did it achieve?  What does it say about God and about us?  And particularly, what about this terrible cry of desolation?  What does that have to say to us?

As Pink points out, the word “forsaken” has a particularly bleak and melancholy sound to it.  Imagine a town or village forsaken by its inhabitants- What a lonely, desolate image!  How much worse to imagine the forsaking of a person:  a man forsaken by his friend; a woman forsaken by her husband; a child forsaken by its parents.  But a man forsaken by God- how much more terrible again, though the world does not esteem it so.  Yet for one who loves God, any break in fellowship is a terrible thing.  The Psalmist cried out, ‘As the deer pants for the water brooks, so pants my soul for You, O God.  My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.  When shall I come and appear before God?  My tears have been my food day and night, while they continually say to me, “Where is your God?”’ (Psalm 42:1-3).  Fellowship with God should be the greatest desire and sweetest pleasure of all Christians.  How terrible therefore if one should feel that God had turned His back on him, forsaken him!

Yet hear the Lord Jesus cry, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken Me?”  What can be the reason?  The first thing that we need to understand is that our Lord is quoting Scripture.  Those very words are found in Psalm 22:1.  A thousand years before the event, it was prophesied that the Christ would be forsaken by the father.  That Psalm 22 refers to Christ is proved by vs16-18.  They speak of the piercing of someone’s hands and feet and the dividing of his clothes.  In the light of Mark 15:24-25, of whom else can the Psalm be speaking?  More than thirty O.T. prophesies were fulfilled on the cross, three of them in those very verses.

But how can it be that God the Father should forsake God the Son?  We learn from the Scriptures that Father and Son had been together in perfect harmony before the foundation of the world (Prov 8:26-28, 30-31; John 17:5, 24).  It was of the Lord Jesus that the Father said,  “This is my beloved Son; in Him I am well pleased,” and the Lord Jesus declared, “The Father is always with Me” (John 16:32).  How can it be that the Father should forsake Him?

In answering this question, I want to look at four important facts that we can observe at the cross.

1. On the cross we observe the awful nature of sin, and the wages it pays.  At the cross we observe Man’s inhumanity to Man.  Here was one who had gone about doing good.  He gave sight to the blind, healing to the leper, food to the hungry; yet ordinary people could be persuaded to cry out, “Crucify Him!” and insist that a criminal be freed and the sinless one condemned.  It is interesting to observe that the pagan philosopher Plato declared that if ever an entirely perfect man should exist, people would put him to death at once, because he would show them up.

 ‘Why, what hath my Lord done?

What makes this rage and spite?

He made the lame to walk,

He gave the blind their sight.

Sweet injuries!  But they at these

Themselves displease and ‘gainst Him rise.

 And not content with merely killing him, the same ordinary people must mock him and rail against Him as He hangs upon the cross (Mark 15:29-30; Psalm 22:7-8).  Should we be surprised?  I think not.  Were there not ordinary, outwardly decent people living in Germany at the time of the War who became S.S. Officers or Commandants of Concentration camps and participated in the deaths of millions?  Could not ordinary people in Ruanda be persuaded to rise up against their neighbours and hack thousands of them to death with machetes?  Are not similar things going on at this very moment in the Congo?  Truly the heart of man, ‘Is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked. Who can know it?’  (Jer 17:9).

 The Bible tells us that sin separates us from God.  Almost the first act of Adam and Eve when they fell into sin was to hide themselves from God, and Cain, after he had murdered his brother decalred, “I shall be hidden from Your face!”  And sin has cursed the world.  Unbelieving people often ask Christians, “Where is your God of love in the midst of all the suffering and pain in the world?  I can’t see Him!  What about all these floods and earthquakes?  Why doesn’t God do something about them?”  I shall come back to this presently.  Suffice it to say for the moment that we need to understand that the world is not as it was made when God pronounced it, “Very good” (Gen 1:31).  It is fallen, because of sin (Gen 3:17), and in among the wonder and the beauty of it, there is ugliness and hardship, disease and death (cf. Rom 8:20ff).  ‘The wages of sin is death’ (Rom 6:23).  So when Christ suffers and dies upon the cross, He is paying the wages of sin- not His own, for He had none.  No, He was,  ‘In all points tempted [or ‘tested’] as we are, yet without sin’ (Heb 4:15).  He had no sins to answer for, but He answered for us:  ‘Who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree’ (2Peter 2:24).

 2. On the cross we see the absolute holiness and inflexible justice of God.  There are two things that we need to know about God that seem to be utterly forgotten by the professing Church today.

Firstly, He is holy;  utterly, utterly holy, totally separate from sin.  The very first thing that the Apostle John wants to tell us in his first letter, after speaking of his personal witness of our Lord on the earth, is the purity and holiness of God.  ‘This is the message which we have heard from Him and declare to you, that God is light and in Him there is no darkness at all’ (1John 1:5).  Therefore God can have no association with sin.  The prophet Habakkuk declares of Him, ‘You are of purer eyes than to behold evil, and cannot look upon wickedness’ (Hab 1:13).

 The second thing we need to know is that God is utterly righteous; He must judge and punish sin.  In Psalm 7:11, the Holy Spirit declares,  “God is a just judge…..”  I’m sure that every professing Christian will agree with that, but there’s more:  “……And God is angry with the wicked every day.”  God’s anger against sin is unrelenting and it is also righteous.  Sin must be paid for.  If, as you leave church today, you have the misfortune to bang into someone else’s car, then you and the other driver are going to survey the damage and you will think, even if you do not say, “Someone’s going to have to pay for this!”  And if you have caused the accident then you or your insurance company are indeed going to have to pay.  That is justice- the guilty party pays.  Even secular people agree with that principle.  People often become furious when guilty people are let off with a fine or a suspended sentence when they should have been sent to jail.  The Daily Mail is constantly fulminating against such things.  “Where’s the justice?” People ask when some poor child has been killed by a drunken driver who gets away with a driving ban and  a few months’ community service.  So it is right and proper that God should extract the full penalty for sin- death!  Eternal separation from God in hell.  ‘The soul who sins shall die’ (Ezek 18:4).

 If that were the whole story, then there would be no hope for any of us, because, ‘There is none righteous, no, not one’  (Rom 3:10).  We all deserve eternal punishment from God.  But, praise His name,  that is not the whole story:-

3.  On the cross we see God’s plan of Redemption.  God is not only holy and righteous, He is also love.  He does not want to punish sinners.  ‘”Do I have any pleasure at all that the wicked should die?” Says the LORD God, “And not that he should turn from his ways and live?……..For I have no pleasure in the death of one who dies,” says the LORD God, “Therefore turn and live!”’ (Ezek 18:23, 32).  2Sam 14:14 tells us that, ‘God devises ways so that a banished person does not remain estranged from Him.’  How can God be just and yet pardon guilty, hell-deserving sinners?

 Only through the Lord Jesus Christ.  He has taken upon Himself the debt for sin that we cannot pay.  He has taken the punishment that we deserve.  ‘….He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities;  the chastisement for our peace was upon Him’  (Isaiah 53:5).  The prophet Nahum asked (Nah 1:6), ‘Who can stand before [God’s] indignation?  And who can abide in the fierceness of His anger?’  Only the Lord Jesus Christ.  There on the cross, all our sins were laid upon His sinless shoulders.  ‘For [God] made Him whoi knew no sin to be sin for us’ (2Cor 5:21).  He was made the very epitome of sin and the Father, who cannot look upon sin, turned away.  As a sign of this, the sky was darkened and He hung there desolate and forsaken with the baying, jeering mob all around Him; the people mocking, the Pharisees gloating and even the other men on the cross reviling Him (Mark 15:32).  The Apostles’ Creed says, ‘He descended into hell.’  This is hell- pain, darkness and separation from God.  ‘These shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power’ (2Thes 1:9).  And Christ, the sinless, the innocent one suffered it all that we might be spared it.

He suffered anguish that we might know the joy of sins forgiven.

He was cast out that we might be brought in.

He was treated as an enemy that we might be welcomed as friends.

He surrendered to hell’s worst that we might attain heaven’s best.

He was stripped that we might be clothed with righteousness.

He was wounded that we might be healed.

He was made a shameful spectacle that we might inherit glory.

He endured darkness that we might experience eternal light.

He wept that all tears might be wiped from our eyes.

He groaned that we might sing songs of praise.

He endured all pain that we might know endless health.

He wore a crown of thorns that we might wear a crown of victory.

He bowed His head that we might lift up ours in heaven.

He died that we might live forever (1).

 You see, there is a second part to the verse quoted just now.  ‘He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him’ (2Cor 5:21).  Just as our sins were laid upon Him, so His perfect righteousness and obedience are credited to us who believe.    This is complete salvation.  When God, the Judge of all the earth, looks at Christians, He doesn’t see fallible sinners, struggling and all-too-often failing to keep His laws (Rom 7:14ff); He sees us as clad in the perfect robe of righteousness wrought for us by our Saviour (compare Isaiah 64:6 with 61:10) (2).

 This is most important.  The doctrine of Substitutionary Atonement (that is, Christ dying on the cross as our Substitute) is absolutely fundamental to the Christian faith.  Readers may be aware that it has come under attack in recent times, not least in the works of Steve Chalke.  Chalke is infamous for his statement that Substitutionary Atonement is akin to ‘cosmic child abuse.’  According to him, God has no problem forgiving sin anyway and the cross is there simply to show us how much Christ loves us.  This is slightly crazy.  It is rather like someone telling you, “I love you so much that I’m going to throw myself off the Golden Gate Bridge for you!”  You might reply, “Well that’s remarkable, but why would that tell me how much you love me?”  But if that same person saw you struggling in the waters of San Francisco Bay without any hope of rescue and dived in to save you, then it would make some sense.

 There are two other potential errors that are thrown up by Chalke’s writings.  No one should imagine for one moment that the Lord Jesus was an unwilling victim of the Father.  “Therefore My Father loves Me, because I lay down My life that I may take it up again.  No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself” (John 10:17-18).  Nor should we suppose that by dying on the cross the Lord Jesus extracted from the Father a salvation that He was reluctant to give.  ‘In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins’ (1John 4:10).  It is true, and gloriously so, that the Father gave the Son.  It is equally true and equally glorious that the Son gave Himself willingly.  Let us not find conflict where none exists.

 4. On the Cross we see the Love of God.  You see, Christ’s sufferings were not in vain.  After the three hours of darkness, at the ninth hour, the sun came through again; atonement had been made, justice had been satisfied, and Mark tells us that Jesus, ‘Cried out with a loud voice’ (Mark 15:37).  John tells us what that cry was:  “It is finished!” (John 19:30); “It is done!”  The sins of His people had been paid for.   ‘And though the LORD makes His life a guilt offering, He will see His offspring (or ‘seed’) and prolong His days, and the will of the LORD will prosper in His hand.  After the suffering of His soul, He will see the light of life and be satisfied;  by His knowledge My righteous servant will justify many, and He will bear their iniquities’ (Isaiah 53:10-11, NIV).

 So when people ask us, where is the love of God in the world, we must tell them that they are looking in the wrong place.  In the world we see the might, the wisdom and the provision of God, but it is on the cross that we see His love.  It is there that we must bid people look, and if they look sincerely, they will surely find it (Deut 4:29; Isaiah 45:22; Zech 12:10; John 3:14-15).  ‘He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also give us all things?’ (Rom 8:32).

 ‘Looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God’ (Heb 12:2).  The joy set before Him was that of redeeming His people, but now He is no longer on the cross, but reigning in heaven, and He tells us, ‘Everything is ready.  Come to the wedding banquet’ (Matt 22:4, NIV); the price is paid.  But the Bible also says something else.  ‘How shall we escape if we ignore such a great salvation?’ (Heb 2:3).  The Lord Jesus Christ is not just a lifestyle accessory, an optional extra that you can add to your life or not as you please.    Not at all!  ‘Of how much worse punishment , do you suppose, will he be thought worthy who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, counted the blood of the covenant by which He was sanctified a common thing, and insulted the Spirit of Grace?’ (Heb 10:29).  It’s not a matter of life or death; it’s much more important than that.  If Christ does not pay for your sins, then you must pay for them yourself, and though you spend an eternity in hell, you will still not have paid in full.  ‘See that you do not refuse Him who speaks.’  Christ is speaking to you now through His word.  He bids you repent and trust in Him for salvation (Mark  1:15).  Will you not hear?

 Christ calls to you, “Look to Me and be saved all you ends of the earth!” (Isaiah 45).  Look to Him!  See Him bleeding and dying, alone and forsaken on the cross and believe that it was for you that He suffered.  Turn from your sins, turn from your old life and come to Christ for salvation.  ‘And the Spirit and the bride say, “Come!”  And let Him who hears say, “Come!”  And let him who thirsts come Whoever desires let him take the water of life freely’ (Rev 22:17).

 

Notes.

(1)  Taken from a Puritan prayer in The Valley of Vision, ed. Arthur Bennet (Banner of Truth, 1975.  ISBN.0 85151 228 3).

(2)  As Judge, God sees no sin in Christians.  As Father, of course, He is well aware of our failings and will, in love, chastise us for them for our own good (Heb 12:3-11).    

 

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