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Jesus’s words on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46), open four windows into what was happening in these hours of darkness. My prayer for today is that as you look through these windows you will be changed by what you see.
Window #1: Sin
Through this window, I want you to see what sin is and learn to hate it.
Letting go of sin is hard because something in it attracts us. Repentance is difficult because part of us enjoys our sin. Sometimes, even when confess our sins, there’s some desire to return to them. How can we learn to hate our sins, so that we do not keep going back to them again and again?
How can you get to the point where you really change? The law won’t get you there. The law can tell you what sin is, but it cannot make you hate it. In fact, the law can actually provoke sin.
Everyone who has children knows about this. Give a child a rule and he or she will see it as an invitation, “When the commandment came, sin sprang to life” (Romans 7:9).
Morality can tell you what sin is, but it cannot teach you to hate it. So, how can I learn to loathe sin so that I really turn from it? Listen to these words of Richard Sibbes:
If you would… see the most ugly colors of sin, then see it in Christ upon the cross, see… how bitter a thing it was… forcing Him to… send forth strong cries to His Father, “My God, my God why have you forsaken me.” [i]
That indulgent greed, that cherished pride, that settled envy, that secret lust, that subtle lie, that grumbling, that fault-finding, that deception—look at it now!
Look at what that sin cost and learn to hate it at the cross. This is what my sin did to my Savior. Look at how Christ was forsaken for your sin. Now, what sin is there you cannot forsake on account of him?
Window #2: Hell
Through this window, I want you to see what hell is and learn to flee it.
Artists and poets have speculated over the centuries about hell (Dante’s Inferno, etc.), but the clearest revelation of hell is given at the cross. Hell has six dimensions and Christ experienced all of them on the cross. Let me remind you of them briefly:
1. He is in conscious suffering
2. He is in blackest darkness (2 Peter 2:17)
3. He is surrounded by demonic powers
4. He is bearing sin
5. He is under judgment
6. He is separated from the love of God (2 Thessalonians 1:9)
That is hell.
I’m telling you about hell because I do not want you to know what that is like, ever. Christ endured this on the cross so that you would never know what it is like. It is beyond what anyone here can begin to imagine.
When some others talk about hell, their discussion is all about whether or not hell exists. When people say, “There is no hell,” I ask, “Then, what was this about? Why did the cross, the darkness, the forsakenness and the guilt-bearing happen?”
The reason it happened is that there is wrath, forsakenness, darkness, and there is hell. Hell is as real as the cross. All of this was poured out on Jesus. He absorbed it in himself in order to save you from it. Richard Sibbes says:
Whatsoever was done to Christ… shall be done to all that are out[side] of him. [ii]
That is why you must come to him and be in him because you cannot be saved without him.
Window #3: Love
Through this window, I want you to see what love is and learn to enjoy it.
You say, “That sounds like an incredible jump—from hell to love.” Keep in mind, however, that the mercy of God and the justice of God meet at the cross.
Sometimes I hear Christians say, “I know Jesus died for my sins, but I don’t feel God loves me.” I want to say, “Slow down.” Before he created the universe, God the Father had you in view and planned for you in love.
Before you were born, God the Son took your flesh, He lived a perfect life and he went to the cross for you. Your sins were laid on him and he entered into your hell. He was shut out from the Father’s love for you and in the dark he cried out, “My God, my God why have you forsaken me?”
He was there for you and you don’t think that he loves you? I want you to see this love and learn to enjoy it. You’ll never see it more clearly than at the cross.
How can I enjoy this?
Jesus is not on the cross now. He is risen and exalted at the right hand of the Father. His suffering is over. His triumph is complete.
God’s righteous judgment for sin fell on Jesus. He absorbed it and drained it. He exhausted it and came through it. Here’s where you rejoice. Christian, hell burned itself out on Jesus, as far as you’re concerned. Christ was not overcome. He triumphed over hell for you on the cross.
At the end of these three hours of darkness, the light returned. Then he said, “It is finished,” and he gave into death. There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
Window #4: Faith
Through this final window, I want yo to see what faith is and learn to use it.
In the darkness, your Savior says, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Think about this: The Father’s love is, at this moment, beyond his reach. He has been shut out from it, and yet he says, “My God, my God…” Robert Murray M’Cheyne says:
These words show the greatest faith that ever was in this world. Faith is believing the word of God, not because we see it to be true, or feel it to be true, but because God has said it. [iii]
This is important for our faith. God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5). That’s his promise. But there will be dark times in your life when you cannot feel the love or presence of God. When these times come, you need to know Jesus has been there.
Look at the darkness he was in when he said, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” and you’ll see that you have a Savior to whom you can come in the darkest moments of your life.
When you feel God is nowhere near you, he’s been there! Your Savior has a tenderness towards you that no one else in the world could ever have for you.
On the cross, Christ said, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” so that today, with worship and wonder, you can say, “My God, my God, why have you accepted me—with all my sin and all my failure?”
And the answer is—you are accepted because he was forsaken. You are righteous, because he bore your sin. You will enter his heaven because he endured your hell. Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift.
Photo Credit: Unsplash
[This article was adapted from Pastor Colin’s sermon, “The Day God Turned His Face Away,” from his series, 7 Words from the Cross]
[i] Richard Sibbes, “The Works of R.S., Vol. 1,” p. 354, Banner of Truth, 1973 http://www.amazon.com/Works-Richard-Sibbes-Sibbes–1/dp/0851511694/
[iii] Robert Murray M’Cheyne, “Sermons of R.M.M.” p. 44, Banner of Truth, 1961 http://www.amazon.com/Sermons-Robert-Murray-MCheyne/dp/B0007J4TCY/
[iv] C. H. Spurgeon sermon, “Our Lord’s Solemn Enquiry,” #3507, Apr. 13, 1916 http://www.spurgeongems.org/vols61-63/chs3507.pdf