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Thursday, May 23, 2013

Did God Abandon Jesus? (Conclusion, Part II)

Many times throughout the Gospels we read of Jesus trying to prepare his disciples for his death. Naturally, this was very troubling to them, and the disciples tried to argue the point with Jesus. His response made little sense to the men.

“Now my soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour.” (Luke 12:27-28)

I appreciate that God’s Word didn’t leave out the emotional scene in the garden of Gethsemane. Otherwise, we could read this mighty declaration, knowing that Jesus was well aware of the situation, and think that Jesus didn’t seem to have the normal human emotions we would expect a man to have.

God let us see the humanity of Jesus in his struggle with what was ahead of him. God didn’t ignore the weakness of Jesus’ best friends, who really didn’t get it and when Jesus needed them most, they just went to sleep.

I love this account because it so graphically depicts the way I know I would have reacted. Had I known…and had they known…it is very likely that they wouldn’t have been able to doze off—not once but thrice! People normally can’t sleep at all when bad stuff is about to happen, right? They didn’t get it.

“Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then He said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.”

Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”

Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Couldn’t you men keep watch with me for one hour?” he asked Peter. “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

He went away a second time and prayed, “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.”

When He came back, He again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy. So He left them and went away once more and prayed the third time, saying the same thing.

Then He returned to the disciples and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Look, the hour has come, and the Son of Man is delivered into the hands of sinners. Rise! Let us go! Here comes my betrayer!” (Matthew 26:36-46)

Isn’t it interesting how the mother of Jesus, Mary, had the same response to the Angel who had just told her of the supernatural birth of Jesus? That is to say, regardless of how that would so totally change her own life, because it was according to the will of God, she agreed to walk through what was ahead.

Now, it was so close to the end of the life of Jesus, and He was saying the same thing to God. He didn’t really want to walk through the suffering of it all; but if there was, truly, no other way for His mission to be accomplished, Jesus was willing to submit to the Father’s will.

God didn’t save Jesus; it was the time for his mission to be completed. Instead, God strengthened Jesus and gave Him grace as the final test began. Jesus could dump his human form, rip off his robe to reveal the over-sized J on his tee shirt, and with a mighty, “Ta-Dah!” smite all of those who had come to arrest Him in the garden. He could have but He didn’t.

Yet, even when the pain reached an agonizing crescendo, Jesus didn’t choose to turn away from the reason he had come; Jesus endured it out of love for us. Jesus knew well that it was the only way we would ever have the connection with Father God restored.

But, Sojourner, what about the Scripture passage where Jesus is screaming out to God that He has forsaken Him? Doesn’t the Bible say that God will never forsake us, yet even His own Son felt like God had abandoned Him when He needed him the most? If God will do that to Jesus, how can we, mere mortals, ever trust God to not abandon us?

Here is the passage to which the comment refers. It’s found in Psalm 22 as well as this passage in Matthew.

“About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”) (Matthew 27:46)

The truth of the matter is that Father God cannot look upon sin. In the very moment that Jesus took all of the sins of the world--past, present and future—on His totally innocent body, Father God could not look at Him. For that moment in time, Jesus was completely alone on that cross and, indeed, it is the most human cry in the world to exclaim just how Jesus had felt right then.

Remember, though, this was a one-time deal. Jesus did it once and for all. God will never leave us; it is still only sin that will separate us from God.

Immediately after Jesus cried out in this agony, He had successfully completed His mission here on earth. What joy there must have been in Heaven!

“Later, knowing that everything had now been finished, and so that Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.” A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus’ lips. When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.” (John  19:28-30)

God had a plan, a perfect plan to bring to completion the sojourn of Jesus on earth. God saw that every last detail had been taken care of before Jesus breathed His last on that cross. ("...all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the Law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me" [Jesus], Luke 24:44.*)

It was Jesus’ choice to do it, to obey the Father to the end of the plan. He could have skipped out, called down legions of angels to stop it all and relieve the suffering. But, Jesus didn’t do that; Jesus finished the work God had given Him to do here. Jesus died at the appointed time, in the appointed way, that all of us for all time and in every culture would find salvation through the perfect sacrifice of Jesus. When Jesus said, “It is finished,” it was finished, once and for all.

The verse in Hebrews 5 that follows the mention of Jesus learning obedience through his suffering, reads:

“And, once made perfect, He became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey Him.” (Hebrews 5:9)

Jesus did it; He lived a perfect life here on earth, with the help of His Father God. Jesus was the perfect sacrifice for us all.

Okay, Sojourner, I see what you’re saying, but it still seems like Jesus died too young. He’d only been in the ministry three years. Think of all the good Jesus could have done had He lived out the normal lifespan for the time? There were still a lot of sick people around, tormented folks to be delivered, and probably a lot more sermons left to preach, don’t you think?

This is exactly why the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, came! The work would carry on and on, but, that’s another story. It should be noted the Bible only records a small portion of what Jesus actually accomplished in those three years. In fact, the last verse in the Gospel of John lets us know he knew of a lot more stories that could have been told.

“Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.” (John 21:25)

Why did Jesus die so young? The main reason is quite simple: As with his cousin John the Baptist, Jesus had completed his mission on earth. The job was finished in accordance with all that was written about Him. In fact, there are 351 prophecies recorded in the Bible that are fulfilled in the life and death of Jesus. The link below will take you to one of the sites that will give you the full list and reference point, if you would like to check it out for yourself. Under that is another link, for the folks interested in the statistical probability that Jesus actually is the only man who could have been the Messiah.

When we started the search for the answer to the question: “Did God abandon Jesus?” I said that Jesus was eagerly awaited by many generations of the Jewish people, though the announcement that He would be born was not such a happy surprise to his unmarried parents. So, what happened that, instead of welcoming Jesus with the welcome arms of a long-awaited Redeemer, Jesus was hated and killed by those same leaders who had been preaching of the coming Messiah?

Well, just as we sometimes do when we are waiting for God to answer a prayer, especially over a long period of time, we have our own ideas of just how God will do it, just what the fulfillment will look like.

In fairness to the Jewish leaders, they had a good reason to miss the first coming of their Messiah. Isaiah mentioned His coming as a baby, born of a virgin, but the description of what would happen fell far short of what was happening in the life of Jesus.

“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever.” (Isaiah 9:6-7)

Wow, sounds like a wonderful time in which to live. The leaders expected the prophecy about the Messiah to be fulfilled just as it is written here. And, it will be, but first this conquering King needed to come as the Suffering Servant recorded in Isaiah Chapter Fifty-Three. The description and explanation of the life of Jesus are exactly what happened to Jesus. It wasn’t what they were watching for; it wasn’t what they wanted to see, so they missed it.

More than this, however, the ones who did miss it…and it wasn’t everyone, because the disciples were Jewish folks, did so in accordance with God’s will, too! God had blinded them to the truth in order that there would be a time for the Gentiles to come to Jesus. Otherwise, only the Jewish people would be saved; the rest of us would have lost out. (Check Romans Chapters 9, 10, and especially Chapter 11 for the Scriptural passages.)

God had a plan that would allow all of us entrance into relationship with father God. Jesus provided the sacrifice for all of us. Refusing to repent of sin is the only barrier between us and the Father God now. Jesus was born, lived and died—all for us—but, it is each of us, who must decide if we accept His perfect sacrifice and enter into that relationship with the Father.

God didn’t abandon Jesus, but sustained Him through every hard part of His mission, His sojourn. God will do the same for each of us as we surrender our will to His. Our journey will not be easy, but it is possible to complete at the appointed time. One day in the future, we will join John and Jesus in declaring, “It is finished.” What rejoicing there will be on that day for each of us as we cross the beautiful threshold into the Heavenly place prepared for us!

*Links mentioned above:

The story of Job is reported to be the very first book of the Bible that was made available to the people, not just passed on through oral tradition. Contained in this book is the story of a man who, though faithful to God and His laws, endured a great time of suffering in his life, specifically because of that stand for righteousness.

Next, we’ll take a look at the life of Job to see what in the world happened to the poor guy. Did God abandon him, even though Job tried to do everything he could to please God?

****Did God Abandon Job?...Next Post

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