In Good Hands

In Good Hands

How is it that Jesus could willfully and obediently make such a commendation of Himself to such a difficult and brutal plan from the Father? Because He knew with faith and certainty that in entrusting of Himself to His Father’s will and obedience, He was in good hands –

Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.

We are all familiar with the commercials from Allstate Insurance advertizing slogan “You’re in Good Hands with AllState.” The slogan has served the company well since 1950.

In the spring of 1950 the youngest daughter of Allstate general sales manager Davis W. Ellis was stricken with hepatitis a few days before she was to graduate from high school. Arriving home from work one night shortly after she had been hospitalized, a worried Ellis was greeted by reassuring words from his wife, who told him, “The hospital said not to worry. We’re in good hands with the doctor.”

Later that year, Ellis and a marketing team were locked in an all-day brainstorming session to develop a slogan for the company’s first major national advertising campaign. When the group was about to give up for the day, Ellis remembered the reassuring remarks. It was then and there the slogan was born. (PR Newswire)

What does it mean to be in good hands? Do you believe that you’re in good hands with your insurance company? When we say that kind of thing – and this is the gist of the commercial – it means something like: This company is a good place for you to put your trust.

When we talk about a person in this way – you’re in good hands with him – it means something like this person is going to look after you and take care of you. They’re going to take responsibility. They know what they are doing. They are an expert in their field. You’ll be safe with them. They have your best interest at heart. They are going to be there for you when it counts. You can trust them with your life.

We put our lives in the hands of so many people that are finite and fallen, so many institutions, so many organizations – we put our trust into the hands of so many human, frail, and sinful people, and indeed, we do that with some pretty important things. We trust the good hands of the surgeons and doctors with our bodies. We trust the advice of the financial planners. We trust the minds of our precious children with teachers. We trust realtors with the sale of our most significant assets, our homes.

Do you see God, the Father, as imminently trustworthy? Would you commit your spirit into good care of His hands?

Do you trust him completely even when He asks you to do something difficult? Do you trust yourself to His care when He calls you to a calling that would demand of you your very life? Will you trust Him with your spirit? Do you believe that you are in good hands with the Lord?

Jesus did, completely. He trusted the Father for something that will never be asked of any of us.

Now, we’re called to offer ourselves as living sacrifices to God, holy and pleasing in His sight. Our offering is of our lives in response to this sacrifice of Jesus, in light of His mercy and His grace. Is there something preventing you from fully committing your life to His hands? What would that be? Why do you not trust God with your life? Why do you not trust Him with your spirit?

He is good. He has done everything for you, so why would you trust people ahead of Him? Why would you trust your doctor before consulting the Great Healer? Why would you trust your financial planners before asking God what to do with your money? And why would you trust your teachers and your government ahead of God?

And yet, so many of us do. Not only do we fail to commend ourselves to the good hands of the One that is entirely trustworthy, the Lord, we also entrust our most precious jewels to sinful people who may inevitably trample those jewels under their feet?

What precious jewels do you need to entrust the Lord with today?

The Innocence of Jesus

The Innocence of Jesus

One of the main emphases in the Gospel of Luke is the innocence of Jesus. In the other gospels this really isn’t as prominent a theme, but Luke really picks up this theme and the way that he tells the story, he emphasizes this over and over again. In the dialogues with Pontius Pilate he’s always emphasizing – “I find no basis of any charge on this man.” I want to release Him. Let me let Him go. Pilate and Herod – neither one of them, it says, find any basis for any charge. Jesus is innocent, is what Luke is trying to get across. Remember when the thieves are talking with one another on the cross and the one thief is deriding – “Save yourself. You saved others. Save yourself.”

But then the other thief corrects him and he says: “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” (Luke 23:40-41)

Consider even the Centurion at the foot of the Cross. In Matthew’s and Mark’s Gospel – do you remember what the Centurion says – “Truly this man was…” was what? “The Son of God.”But Luke has him saying this – “Truly this man was innocent.” But, why? Why the emphasis on the innocence of Jesus for the Gospel writer Luke?

Reflect on the name Barabbas. It literally means “the father’s son.” Bar is the word for “son” – in both the Hebrew and Aramaic language. Abba means Father. Jesus is the Bar Abba. He is the Father’s Son. But there are two “Father’s Sons” in this story. One is guilty as a murderer, an insurrectionist and a violent man. The Other is innocent. And yet, there is an exchange that takes place with these two men and it is the very exchange that we receive because of the freewill offering of the Father’s Son.

The Father’s Son, in giving up of Himself to His Father’s will, substitutes Himself in the place of the other father’s son, the murderer, the violent, the angry—and you and me. He takes our place and bears the punishment that we justly deserve by dying on a Cross in our stead.

Indeed, this is precisely what God, the Father, had prophesized that His Son would be called to do in Isaiah, Chapter 53. “He was oppressed and afflicted, yet did not open His mouth. He was led away by oppression, by a perversion of justice He was taken away. And who can speak of His descendants for He was cut off from the land of the living? For the transgression, which is the sin of my people, He was stricken. He was assigned a grave with the wicked and with the rich in His death.”

Listen to this: Though He had done no violence nor was any deceit in His mouth…. In other words, though He was innocent, the prophet Isaiah says, it was the Lord’s will to crush Him, to cause Him suffering. Why? Because the Lord makes His life a guilt offering and for that reason He will see His offspring and prolong His days and in Him the will of Yahweh will prosper in His hand. Think again about what Jesus has said in his sixth last word from the Cross.

“Father, into your hand I commit My Spirit.”

Certainly, entrusting Himself to God meant that He was entrusting his Father to set things to right through this “perversion of justice.” He was trusting God the Father for ultimate vindication, as if to say, “I can go through with this because I know Abba Father will deal with it.”Jesus completely trusted the unjust scales and the unbalanced equation of the Cross knowing that somehow in the Divine economy all would be right, good, and correct.

Overlook an offence. Bear up under unjust suffering. Turn the other cheek. Go the extra mile. Love your enemies. Forgive those who trespass against you. Pray for those who persecute you. Jesus calls us to live the way that He lived. trusting God with the foolish way of love and forgiveness. There will be many times in this fallen world where the scales of justice will be unfairly tilted away from us. The call of the Christian is not just to passively accept it, but to see it as an opportunity to share in fellowship of Christ’s sufferings. All the while, we are taught to entrust ourselves to the justice of the One Who entrusted Himself:

But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God.  For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps.  He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth.

When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.

He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls. –1 Peter 2:20-25

It is never for another person to say, “Today is your day to suffer unjustly.” Such commitments are made with deep prayer between God and the Christian.

How are you being called today to love others in the exceptional way of Christ Jesus? Through your time of prayer ask God to show you the clear way though the inequities and injustices done to you in this life. The Lord knows your pain; He has been there too.

The Offering of Self

The Offering of Self

“Father into your hands I commit/commend my Spirit.” The verse is translated in different versions using both words. They are both instructive.

The Oxford Dictionary defines commit as “to bind (a person or an organization) to a certain course…,” and it defines commend as “to entrust someone or something to.”

Whenever we have a funeral service at the church followed by the interment of the body at the graveside or in the memorial garden, we go through two liturgical acts: the Commendation and the Committal. The Commendation is where we entrust our loved one and our grieving hearts to the Lord. The Committal is where we bind our loved one’s body to its final resting place in the ground or some other resting place.

The action of commendation and committal are both taking place on the Cross in Jesus’ prayer. In absolute faith, Jesus is entrusting Himself to the Father’s good hands. By entrusting Himself, He is also committing or binding Himself in mystical reunion with the Father. In commending Himself, He is committing himself.

Jesus’ dead, fleshly body would be committed to a stone-cold tomb.

Now there was a man named Joseph, from the Jewish town of Arimathea. He was a member of the council, a good and righteous man, who had not consented to their decision and action; and he was looking for the kingdom of God. This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then he took it down and wrapped it in a linen shroud and laid him in a tomb cut in stone, where no one had ever yet been laid. –Luke 23:50-53

But, in His prayer Jesus is not speaking of the commitment of His Body to a grave as we do in the funeral service. The focus of Jesus is on the continuance of His Life! He is committing His Spirit to reunion with the Father. The body of Jesus is mortal, but His spirit is not.

The same is true of us. Our bodies are mortal. No matter how committed we are to proper stewardship of the body, to keeping them healthy, strong and alive, they are finite, limited in use and doomed to fail us. However, we are more than mere bodies. We have a spiritual nature, given to us by God.

The care and stewardship of our spirit is of much greater importance than the care of our physical well being. Our spirits are made for eternal life! This is why Paul writes to his young protégé Timothy:

…for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. –1 Timothy 4:8

Soul care begins with a commitment. Have you made the first commitment of completely and totally entrusting your spirit to the good hands of the Father and His covenantal love? Total surrender is difficult.

Trust comes hard for human beings, especially for those who have been hardened by the sufferings of this world. Total trust of the Father will then require your total commitment to union with Him, His Holy Spirit united in purpose and character with your Spirit. Today ask the Lord to renovate your heart beginning with commending and committing your life to God.

Hope on the Cross

Father, into your hands I commit My Spirit!

It was now about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour, while the sun’s light failed. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two.

Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” And having said this he breathed his last.

Now when the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God, saying, “Certainly this man was innocent!” And all the crowds that had assembled for this spectacle, when they saw what had taken place, returned home beating their breasts. And all his acquaintances and the women who had followed him from Galilee stood at a distance watching these things. –Luke 23:44-49

Hope on the Cross

Jesus sixth saying from the Cross is a prayer of surrender and trust. Jesus prayed:

Father, into your hands I commit my Spirit

His cry is found in Psalm 31:5: “Into your hands I commit my spirit, for you have redeemed me, O Lord, Faithful God.” Out of a place of deep distress of body and soul, the Psalmist prays in lament and petition: “Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am in distress; my eye is wasted from grief; my soul and my body also.” (Psalm 31:9) Out of the anguish of the Dark Night of the Soul, Psalmist’s Spirit is liberated to be completely and totally surrendered to steadfast Love of God.

Make your face shine on your servant;
save me in your steadfast love! –Psalm 31:16

Out of the depths of Spiritual Abandonment, God brings the soul of the believer to a place of surrender and Divine Reunion. The word translated in our English versions as “steadfast love” is the Hebrew word Chesed, (pronounced with a hard “h” from the back of the throat: khesed, or ẖesed). Teachers of the Old Testament have long recognized this as the primary posture of God toward humans, and the essential virtue to be emulated in our lives. The Jewish Rabbi Simlai expounded: “The Torah begins and ends with chesed.”

God is absolutely faithful and steadfast in His covenantal love toward His people. As Paul reflects on Divine Love in 1 Corinthians 13:7-8:

Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.

Out of the deep anguish of His soul, Jesus arrives at a place of absolute confidence in the Father’s steadfast love for Him. He places His total trust in a posture of surrender and absolute trust. Through the Cross, Jesus understood God to be imminently trustworthy and good—worthy of trust.

Though you may be going through a time of evil and difficulty, God remains steadfast in His love for you. The very sufferings that you are going through can and will be used by God to pour out His abundant love on you. This is why Paul encourages us to rejoice in our sufferings knowing the ultimate outcome for us in them:

Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. –Romans 5:3-8

The ultimate act of chesed, covenantal steadfast love, is in Jesus’ surrender unto death for you. Christ died for you. He absolutely surrendered His Spirit to His Father for your sake, so that you would absolutely surrender your Spirit for His sake.

The Dark Night of the Soul

The Dark Night of the Soul

As Jesus hangs there on the Cross the text tells us that darkness covered the land for three hours–that would be the hours of noon to 3:00 pm–the sixth to the ninth hour.

The significance of the darkness could be none other than that of judgment. The Day of the Lord had come. In Amos 8:9 we read:

“On that day, says the Lord God, I will make the sun go down at noon and darken the earth in broad daylight. I will turn your feasts into mourning and all your songs into lamentation. I will bring sackcloth on all loins and baldness on every head. I will make it like the mourning for an only son and the end of it like a bitter day.”

The darkness that had covered the land had come. The judgment of God against that age would all be leveled upon the Son of God, utterly forsaken. As Jesus bore the pain of the cross, we hear the cry of distress in His fleshly nature with “I thirst.” But when he cries,

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

we hear the cry of abandonment in His spiritual nature. Christian Mystics have long recognized the reality of both physical and spiritual deprivation in human journey toward full union with God.

The 16th Century Spanish, Roman Catholic poet and mystic St. John of the Cross wrote a poem entitled, “The Dark Night of the Soul”. From his prologue, he describes the content of the poem as“describing the method followed by the soul in its journey upon the spiritual road to the attainment of the perfect union of love with God, to the extent that is possible in this life.” The poem is divided into two books: the first book addresses the distress of the senses; the second speaks to abandonment of the spirit.

The Dark Night of physical distress has the sanctifying effect of helping the soul detach from its dependency to the world by purifying the senses from the controlling effects of pride, avarice, luxury, gluttony, anger, envy and laziness. The physical and spiritual manifestations of these are hindrances and blocks to union with the Lord. As the Scripture teaches, “Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.” God transfers the longing of the flesh and the senses to the Spirit. The thirst for earthly water is transfigured into a thirst for Living Water.

The Dark Night of spiritual abandonment has another sanctifying purpose in our lives: to liberate from the troublesome states that beguile the soul, such as depression, anxiety, grief and other forms of despondency. One way to think about it is the necessary step in early childhood of working through separation anxiety. Though a parent physically leaves a child’s presence, the child must learn to trust and be secure in the parent’s love despite the absence.

The same is true of the maturing relationship with God. The soul of fallen man must learn to trust and obey the Lord even during times of the spiritual absence of God’s presence. Times of physical distress can actually be rich times of spiritual feeling and experience. Mature faith is steadfast in times of spiritual distress—when there are no feelings of God’s presence or experience of His love.

St. John of the Cross describes the Spiritual Dark Night:

But what the sorrowful soul feels most in this condition is its clear perception, as it thinks, that God has abandoned it, and, in His abhorrence of it, has flung it into darkness; it is a grave and piteous grief for it to believe that God has forsaken it.

Jesus underwent both the physical and the spiritual Dark Night of the Soul. The experience of the sorrowful soul can drive the faithful to deeper longing and surrender in preparation for full union with the pure flame of Divine love. All dross of attachment to the “old man,” both physical and spiritual, must be burned off and refined in order that the New Creation might emerge.

It is meet, then, that the soul be first of all brought into emptiness and poverty of spirit and purged from all help, consolation and natural apprehension with respect to all things, both above and below. In this way, being empty, it is able indeed to be poor in spirit and freed from the old man, in order to live that new and blessed life which is attained by means of this night, and which is the state of union with God.

The prophet Isaiah promised the Messiah that through the spiritual suffering new light of true life would break forth from the darkness—that “out of the anguish of his soul he shall see the light of life and be satisfied.” (Isaiah 53:11) Those who would be followers of Jesus and walk in the Way of the Cross daily will find themselves in the sensual and spiritual Dark Night of the Soul. The experience of the Night is painful, excruciatingly so at times, but it produces in us its desired effect—glorious resurrection life powered by the pure love of God. St. John called it the Happy Night.

Perhaps you have been through a Dark Night of the Soul, perhaps you are in one now. The Lord works his greatest acts of redemption and renewal in the valley of the Shadow of Death. St. John described the process of Spiritual Growth through the formation of the Dark Night as a mystic ladder of Divine Love. He gives ten steps on the ladder. One might consider them as a growth process that reorients the soul of the faithful Christian as it is formed by periods of Distress and Abandonment.

Ten Steps of the Mystic Ladder of Divine Love

The first step of love causes the soul to languish, and this to its advantage.

The second step causes the soul to seek God without ceasing.

The third step of the ladder of love is that which causes the soul to work and gives it fervor so that it fails not.

The fourth step of this ladder of love is that whereby there is caused in the soul an habitual suffering because of the Beloved, yet without weariness.

The fifth step of this ladder of love makes the soul to desire and long for God impatiently.

On the sixth step the soul runs swiftly to God and touches Him again and again; and it runs without fainting by reason of its hope.

The seventh step of this ladder makes the soul to become vehement in its boldness.

The eighth step of love causes the soul to seize Him and hold Him fast without letting Him go, even as the Bride says, after this manner: ‘I found Him Whom my heart and soul love; I held Him and I will not let Him go.’

The ninth step of love makes the soul to burn with sweetness.

The tenth and last step of this secret ladder of love causes the soul to become wholly assimilated to God, by reason of the clear and immediate1vision of God which it then possesses; when, having ascended in this life to the ninth step, it goes forth from the flesh.

The “Why” Question

The “Why” Question

Strangely, when Jesus asks the same question so often in our heart’s cry, there is a divine answer in reply.

It is not an answer to the question of why evil was allowed in the first. Rather in this climactic moment of Satan’s seeming victory over the Son of God, evil is resoundingly defeated. Why? In that very moment the power of Evil is once and for all thwarted and striped of its hold on humanity through the power of law, sin and the consequential fear of the grave.

In C.S. Lewis’s “Chronicles of Narnia”, Aslan the Lion who is a type for Jesus is put to death on a stone table of sacrifice by the evil White Witch. The darkest moment of the story is in Aslan’s death:

“At that moment they heard from behind them a loud noise—a great cracking, deafening noise as if a giant had broken a giant’s plate… The Stone Table was broken into two pieces by a great crack that ran down it from end to end; and there was no Aslan.”

…and there was no Aslan. In the moment where Satan seemingly wins, evil resoundingly loses. The risen Aslan explains what his death means:

“It means,” said Aslan, “that though the Witch knew the Deep Magic, there is a magic deeper still which she did not know. Her knowledge goes back only to the dawn of time. But if she could have looked a little further back, into the stillness and the darkness before Time dawned, she would have read there a different incantation. She would have known that when a willing victim who had committed no treachery was killed in a traitor’s stead, the Table would crack and Death itself would start working backward.”

Somehow, as Jesus was utterly forsaken by the Father on the cross in dying abandonment, the archenemy of God and humanity was suffering a withering defeat—magic deeper still. With the crucifixion of the Son of God , death itself would start working backward.

Now, every time the Good News is preached we hear the answer to Jesus “Why” question uttered on the Cross. We can know with certainty and clarity the reason why God the Father utterly forsook His Son, Jesus.

God has removed Evil’s powerful reign over humanity.

And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.  He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him. –Colossians 2:14-15

Are you struggling with the problem of evil in your own life? Have you ever wondered if God has abandoned you? You may never receive the answer you are seeking related to the personal “Why” questions in the midst of suffering and pain. The Good News is that you can know why Jesus suffered abandonment.

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

John 3:16 answers why: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” Why was Jesus God forsaken? Because, God so loved you. Mysteriously, that makes all the difference with our questions.

Elijah, the Rescuer of the Righteous

Elijah, the Rescuer of the Righteous

The four Gospels were originally written in the common language of the Roman Empire, Greek. However, Jesus would have spoken the common language used in Israel at the time, Aramaic. While we typically have Jesus words translated to us, in the case of this cry from the Cross we have the original. He said:

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

In the Gospel of Matthew, the original Aramaic is also quoted “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?”

At least one of the reasons the Gospels provide the saying of Jesus without translation is because when people heard those first words, Eli, Eli, they thought “Oh, He’s calling out to Elijah”. Eli, Eli, sounds like Elijah, Elijah.

When some of those standing there heard this, they said, “He’s calling Elijah.”

Immediately one of them ran and got a sponge. He filled it with wine vinegar, put it on a staff, and offered it to Jesus to drink. The rest said, “Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to save him.”
–Matthew 27:47-49

Indeed, Elijah was the one who was known as the rescuer of the righteous. Elijah was one of the last remaining righteous prophets of God in a season when all of Israel had become corrupt. Not unlike during the days of Jesus, the very administration of the Temple and the Jewish government were all conspiring against the Anointed One of God. Elijah lamented to the Lord:

“I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.” –1 Kings 19:14

The kings of Israel were sending their soldiers against the prophet of God. Elijah, though – this is very interesting – Elijah never died.

Elijah was one of the two people we find in Scripture – Enoch being the other one – who was literally transported into the heavenly realms by the chariot Throne of God. In the presence and sight of his successor Elisha, the Lord took him right up into the heavenly realms without death.

Some people who were there underneath the Cross thought that by calling out to Elijah, Jesus was asking God to swoop down with His chariots and rescue Him off the Cross if He truly was a prophet like Elijah.

The people of this world are often looking for some dramatic sign of God’s power and reality before placing faith in him. Yet God chooses the foolish things of the world to shame the wise. In some of the most difficult and dark moments, God does amazing and powerful things. While a dramatic rescue by Elijah would have been a sight to see, it would have completely nullified the victory being won by the Cross.

Paul writes of the Jewish insistence on signs from God through mighty acts of intervention:

For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe.  Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength. –1 Corinthians 1:21-25

Satan once accused Job only believing in the LORD because of the Lord’s blessing. However, the faithful like Job have continually shown throughout history that they will glorify God even in the midst of the most difficult of circumstances.

Here is the true spirit of Elijah. Elijah never forsook God even when all others had rebelled and worshiped the false god, Baal, and abandoned the Lord and His prophet. Yet, God revealed to Elijah that He always has His faithful people. The Lord said to Elijah, “Yet I reserve seven thousand in Israel—all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and whose mouths have not kissed him.” (1 Kings 19:18)

God’s strength is made perfect through your weakness. In the times of seeming abandonment, God is doing His most profound soul work in your life. The very difficulties of the fallen world are all worked into His plan of restoration and redemption. Nothing will be wasted, not even your worst experiences. God is working all things for your good. (Romans 8:28) Even the darkest sufferings caused by your enemies, evil and death, even their worst attacks on you, you will be redeemed to create the character of Christ in you.

The Lonely Garden of the Father’s Will

The Lonely Garden of the Father’s Will

When Jesus was in the Garden of Gethsemane, He prayed to His Heavenly Father: “If there be any other way, make it possible.” And yet, Jesus submitted obediently to His Father’s will and took the cup that the Father would have for Him. As Jesus wrestled with the most agonizing submission of His life, all of his disciples failed to support Him. Three times he asked them for support through intercessory prayer.

“My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.” And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.”

And he came to the disciples and found them sleeping. And he said to Peter, “So, could you not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

Again, for the second time, he went away and prayed, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.” And again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy. So, leaving them again, he went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words again.

Then he came to the disciples and said to them, “Sleep and take your rest later on. See, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. –Matthew 26:38-45

Three times his closest friends and confidantes failed Him because of their own weakness and flesh. He desperately pleaded with them to sit with Him, to watch and pray with Him. But, they were overcome by sleep.

At His most desperate hour, Jesus was left to wrestle in agony with the will of His Father—all alone. The feelings of abandonment would be compounded on the Cross when he asked:

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

The will of God can be a lonely personal fulfillment. There are times where we may even question whether God is with us. If Jesus asked that, so might we. At the end of the Apostle Paul’s life, he was facing the certain moment of his own martyrdom for the sake of the Gospel and the Name of Jesus. Paul discovered the lonely garden of the Father’s will:

At my first defense no one came to stand by me, but all deserted me. May it not be charged against them! –2 Timothy 4:16

Notice the word “all”—“all deserted me.” Faithfulness to God’s call is often a lonely, lonely business. However, Paul lived faithfully on this side of the Cross of his Lord. While his human confidantes and friends abandoned him in his time of need, Paul knew that because of Jesus sufferings of abandonment, He would never abandon His people in their darkest hour. That is why Paul goes on to write:

But the Lord stood by me and strengthened me, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. So I was rescued from the lion’s mouth. The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed and bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom. –2 Timothy 4:17-18

Because Jesus was God forsaken on our behalf, God says to you “I will never leave or forsake you.” Even though we may feel times of distance from the Lord, or moments where the experience of His presence is lacking, He is always with his faithful people. The Cross guarantees this reality. No one put this truth more beautifully than the Apostle Paul:

What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?  He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written:

“For your sake we face death all day long;
we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Nothing can separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus your Lord. Nothing!

The Cross proves it!

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The Lord’s Lament

The Lord’s Lament

Heavenly Father, we bless You and we praise You for the Passion of your Son, Jesus Christ. In it You have given salvation to us, You have made the Way of the Cross the way of eternal life. Help us to pick up our cross and follow in the footsteps of Jesus, that we too might share in His resurrected life, through Jesus Christ Who with You and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns now and forever, Amen.

At noon until about the ninth hour, darkness came over the land. At about the ninth hour, Jesus cried out with a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani, which is my God, my God, why have you forsaken me”?

In the Gospel of Matthew we only have this one sentence recorded of what Jesus uttered from the cross. Jesus was quoting Psalm 22 which begins with: “My God, My God why have you forsaken me?” Did Jesus recite the entire Psalm from the Cross or just this first line? There is no way to know. Interestingly, the last saying from the Cross “It is finished” sounds like the last line of Psalm 22: “He has done it.” Whether Jesus uttered the whole psalm or not, the first line says enough to convey the depth of spiritual lament of the Lord: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me”?

The first phrase, My God, reflects again the intimate relationship that God, the Father, has with God, the Son. Earlier on in the Gospel of Matthew 11:25, Jesus offered praise to His Heavenly Father.

“I thank you Father, Lord of Heaven and earth because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants. Yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father and no one knows the Son except the Father and no one knows Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal Him.”

Jesus and the Father are One, as John’s Gospel tells us in John 10:30. “No one comes to the Father except through the Son” (John 14:6) No one knows the Father, as Jesus says, unless He reveals the Father to them.

There’s a very intimate love that is between the Father and the Son and yet, here on the Cross, Jesus cries out to his Heavenly Father,

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

The cry reveals the abandonment of the Son from the Father. We are on the precipice of a Trinitarian mystery so we must be careful not to over-speak. How can the Father and the Son be one and yet there be this moment of abandonment of the Son by the Father? Can there possibly be a tear in the fabric of the relationship of the three divine Persons of the Trinity?

The words of Scripture often strain the limits of our ability to understand and comprehend. In a real and mysterious way, the Father forsook the Son. The spiritual agony of that moment is verbalized in Jesus’ prayer of lament from the Cross.

If Jesus prayed such honest prayers, then surely we are faithful in following His example. God knows our struggles. The incarnation shows us that Jesus became like us in every way, even to the point of death.

Some struggle with the thought of uttering honest prayers to God as if it is inappropriate or a sign of lack of faith. On the contrary, the Scriptures are filled with prayers of complaint, lament, and even anger voiced in prayer to God.

God wants your heart, not a façade. He knows when you are struggling. Through the indwelling Spirit He has placed in your heart, He hears the groans which words cannot express. (Romans 8:26-27) God already knows what you are feeling and how you are hurting. Go to Him with your most difficult questions, sorrows and struggles. Engage Him with your secret pain and your heart’s cry. Jesus did. He shows us the way to pray even in the midst of our darkest hours.

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ABANDONMENT: My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?

My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?

Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour. And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” And some of the bystanders, hearing it, said, “This man is calling Elijah.” –Matthew 27:45-47

The Problem of Evil

The most vexing question humans have ever asked is related to the origin of evil. It is often phrased as a logical conundrum:

If God is Loving and Good, all Powerful, and all Knowing, how is it possible that Evil exists. Why would God allow, or worse, create it in the first place?

Many solve this logical seeming contradiction by denying the sovereignty of God over His creation. Others deny God’s intervention in the created world, preferring instead to embrace a God whose creation is out of His ultimate control or some impersonal forces of light and darkness. Many secular-minded people have just given up on belief in God, period.

The problem of evil is a problem because there really is no good answer to the question of the origin of evil. We will forever be both intellectually and emotionally dissatisfied with answers when we contemplate human suffering, disease, natural disasters, tyrannical rulers, human holocausts and the like.

So when Jesus asks,

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

He is asking the universal unanswered question of human suffering: “Why?”

Whenever you or I ask that question the answers never seem to satisfy.

As a Chaplain at the St. Francis Hospital in Evanston, I ministered to a man sitting by the bedside of his wife who lay in a coma. He was grieving deeply. He shared that as he sat there he often had people who would come in and tell him what he called Platitudes. The examples he gave were: “Perhaps God is teaching you something.” or “This experience will help you grow.” “Maybe a greater good will come from this tragedy.” or “God must have needed her more.”

This man then said something I will never forget. He said, “Platitudes never make the person hearing them feel better, only the people uttering them.” That is so true. Much of the human suffering that we experience in life makes absolutely no sense. We are really uncomfortable with that! So we make up reasons to solve the emotional and intellectual gap in our minds and hearts caused by evil.

The cry of Jesus from the Cross teaches us that the problem of suffering does not make sense at all! It leaves us with a huge hole of an unanswered question: “Why?!?” There is no good answer. Jesus affirms our human limitations in that from the Cross.

Do you know someone in your life who is struggling? How do you minister to them in the midst of their pain? One thing you can do is be an intercessor with their heart’s questions. Rather than giving them pious platitudes to make you feel more comfortable, sit with them in the mystery of their problems.

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