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Tuesday, April 5, 2011

"Love That Questions" or "Loved, Yet Forsaken?"

Pastor Shim's sermon from April 3, 2011
Matthew 27:45-56, Hebrews 2:14-18)
"Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend." Martin Luther King, Jr. Suffering might put us in a place to seek God as our only hope–Jesus on the cross teaches us that truth!
On September 11, 2001, as ironworker Frank Silecchia was helping to recover bodies, he noticed two steel beams in the shape of a cross standing upright in the middle of all the debris. Appointing himself as the curator of that striking symbol of God's love, he often took heartbroken visitors to see it. Many of them found comfort in the silent testimony to the Divine Presence in the worst of tragedies. One day when journalist Barbara Walters came with tearful friends who lost a son in the catastrophe, Frank simply led them to the cross. The answer to the world's terrible pain and evil is not a philosophical argument or a theological treatise. The all-sufficient answer is Calvary's cross, where in fathomless grace Jesus, the incarnate God, took upon Himself the burden of our sins and bore them in His own body on the tree, that we might live for righteousness (1 Peter 2:24). If you have not been led to Calvary's cross, let me take you there. He died for you and then rose again. Believe in Him and you will be saved (1 Corinthians 1:21).-Vernon Grounds
The three synoptic Gospels, Matthew, Mark and Luke, included Jesus’ agonized cry on the cross, "Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?" Which means in Aramaic, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" Jesus questioned his Father’s absence in His agonizing pain, yet the relationship remained intact and intimate, because following that, Jesus called out to God, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” And having said this He breathed his last (Luke 23:46). There is no despair here. It is the confident submission of His soul into His Father’s hands for restoration and glorification. When some of those standing there heard him say this, they said, “He’s calling Elijah.” One of them offered a sponge soaked in wine vinegar to Jesus. They said, “Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to save him.”
The whole land was covered with darkness from noon to three o'clock, a contrast to bright starlight at Jesus’ birth. The curtain of the temple tore in two from top to bottom between the Holy of Holies and the rest of the temple, symbolic of Jesus providing direct access to the Father instead of having to go through a priest. The light shone again after three hours of darkness, then Jesus questioned, “Why am I forsaken?”
Bystanders misunderstood him; they thought he called to Elijah for help. One person showed compassion, offering Jesus sour wine, a painkiller, to drink. Jesus refused it. They said, “Leave Him alone. Let’s see whether Elijah will come and save Him.”
The soldiers were terrified by the earthquake, the darkness, and the rest that happened. They exclaimed, “Surely this was God's son.”
How are we to interpret Jesus’ cry, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" I confess with Krummachar, “My soul trembles at the idea of approaching the unfathomable depth of suffering, from whence the cry “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani,” proceeded. How much rather would I lie prostrate on my face in silence before this awful incident, than write or speak upon it.” - "Seven Words of the Cross" by H. Lockyer.
The biggest little word in the dictionary is “why.” Martin Luther, having spent days pondering the profound saying of Jesus, "My God, my God, why have You forsaken Me?" concluded in amazement, “God forsaken of God. Who can understand it?” Nobody yet, but we can fall on our knees to thank God for loving us and sending Jesus as our Savoir.
Why did Jesus quote Psalm 22:1? Because it was perfectly applicable to his condition; it was a cry for help. It was a cry to seek an answer, and it was a cry of hope and commitment. “My God, my God, Why?" Jesus was burdened by all of the sin of humanity’s past, present, and future. “God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians.5:21). Jesus redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us: “For it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree” (Gallations. 3:13). Just stop and think what God did in Jesus to save you! Jesus was suffered pain that was real pain! We ought to see how evil sin is from God’s point of view, for God to subject his Son to such an agonizing pain and death. We should never minimize Jesus’ pain.
Jesus prayed to His Father in the Garden of Gethsemane for the cup of suffering to pass. “Father, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22:42). “And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground” (Luke 22:44). The assurances on which men and women of God in the Old Testament times rested in faith were not for him. “A righteous man may have many troubles, but the Lord delivers him from them all” (Psalms 34:19). But for Jesus no deliverance appeared. Why? The reason is given in Hebrews 5:1-9, “During the days of Jesus' life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save Him from death, and He was heard because of His reverent submission. Although He was a son, He learned obedience from what He suffered and, once made perfect, He became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.” Jesus did not avoid the cup of suffering; He died on the cross of Calvary for us so that we might have eternal life, not eternal hell! Thank God for loving us with such an incredible love. “God demonstrated his own love for us in this; while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).
What does Jesus teach us about trusting God during panic and suffering? To acknowledge our pain and cry for help, is not a lack of faith. God invites us to call him. “Call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you will honor Me" (Psalm 50:15). Jesus called on His Father for deliverance, but deliverance for him was to go through death to victory. God honored His Son by raising Him from death. Trust God even when He seems nowhere to be found. Jesus said “‘Father, into Your hands I commend my spirit.’ When He had said this, He breathed His last” (Luke 23:46). This is a death of victory, not of despair!
Here is the precious thing: Jesus passed through the uttermost abyss and then the light broke. If we too cling to God, even when there seems to be no God, desperately and invincibly clutching the remnants of our faith, quite certainly the dawn will break and we will win through. The victor is the man who refuses to believe that God has forgotten him, even when every fiber of his being feels that he is forsaken. The victor is the man who will never let go of his faith, even when he feels that its last grounds are gone. The victor is the man who has been beaten to the depths and still holds on to God, for that is. It’s not the dying for a faith that is so hard; 'tis the living up to it that is difficult.” - William Makepeace Thackeray
Christ died for us, because we could not save ourselves. Living for Him is our gratitude!
Pastor Shim Habte, Willows United Methodist Church, 544 N. Shasta St., Willows, CA (530-934-3190)
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