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JESUS WAS FORSAKEN FOR US

Matthew 27:27-27:61
Key Verse: 27:46

Many people think Easter is about Jesus’ resurrection. But resurrection means nothing unless it is preceded by death. In Matthew’s account of Jesus’ death, I think the key word is “forsaken”. What does “forsaken” mean? To forsake means to quit; to abandon entirely; to leave; to desert. We forsake someone we think is despicable and unworthy of love or even of forgiveness. As human beings—social creatures—our goal in life is to avoid being forsaken. Our standards of success and happiness are tied up with acceptance into exclusive groups and relationships. There is no worse feeling than to be rejected and forsaken. Even when a complete stranger displays some coldness towards me, I feel hurt. Paradoxically enough, in today’s individualistic society, people try to shed this collectivistic mentality, and say, “Be yourself! It doesn’t matter what other people say!” They try to cast off the chains of fear of forsakenness. But underlying this is an acknowledgment of the overwhelming power of fear of forsakenness. Where can real security in life come from? This passage teaches us the fundamental truth: Jesus was forsaken so that we do not have to be.

I. THE PEOPLE TRIED NOT TO BE FORSAKEN

Matthew describes the mockery of 4 different groups of people: the soldiers, the passers

by, the religious leaders, and the robbers who were crucified with him. Each of these groups can represent a contemporary group of people, and their typical responses to Jesus, and we can see that they acted in the way they did in order to avoid being forsaken.

The soldiers were likely Roman gentiles. They had probably never even heard of Jesus before, let alone interacted with him. Let’s look at how the soldiers responded. Verses 28-30 say, “They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, and then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on his head. They put a staff in his right hand and knelt in front of him and mocked him. ‘Hail, king of the Jews!’ they said. They spit on him, and took the staff and struck him on the head again and again.”

We might wonder, “How could any human being be so cruel towards another human being?” This is a question that I, as a Peace and Conflict Studies student, struggle to answer. In my program, we look at such cases as the Rwandan Genocide, and wonder, how one group of people could so heartlessly and violently massacre another group. The answer that the UofT professor Leann Fuji came up with was group dynamics. According to Tajfel’s Social Identity Theory, individuals feel a need to find self-worth and security of self-esteem in group membership. The soldiers gathered in a large group around Jesus, and, together, they beat him and mocked him. If any one of the soldiers stepped out of their group role, and protested, they would have been forsaken by their fellow group members. They played their part, in order to avoid being forsaken.

Matthew’s description of the crucifixion is a good description of their attitude toward Jesus, “When they had crucified him, they divided up his clothes by casting lots.” Jesus’ crucifixion for them was not a big deal at all; it was just like a preface to a sentence. In this sentence, the main clause is not Jesus’ crucifixion, but “they divided up his clothes by casting lots.” The soldiers’ main concern was not Jesus and his crucifixion, but his clothes and having fun! They were a lot more interested in their own benefit. They forsook Jesus in attempt to avoid being forsaken themselves.

Verses 37-44 describe the mockery heaped on Jesus as he was on the cross. Look at verse

39, “Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads and saying, “You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! Come down from the cross, if you are the Son of God!” Now it seems that to mock Jesus was the established norm. He was officially a criminal, on the cross. So those who passed by poked fun at him freely.

The religious’ leaders were the intellectuals of their day. They had a lot of biblical

knowledge, and had developed critical thinking skills. So, their mockery of Jesus was very intellectually sound. “He saved others, but he can’t save himself! He’s the King of Israel! Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. He trusts in God. Let God rescue him now if he wants him, for he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’” The religious leaders’ mockery demonstrates the limits of human wisdom and understanding. They were logically correct. In order to avoid being forsaken by their fellow scholars and leaders, and to avoid looking like a fool, they ganged up intellectually on Jesus. Also, as individuals, they could not forsake their own logic and so could not understand the wisdom and purpose of God. The Bible says that the wisdom of man is like foolishness to God.

Finally, the robbers who were crucified with Jesus also heaped insults on him. The

robbers received the same punishment as Jesus, with the difference that they deserved the crucifixion. But they did not consider Jesus above them. Rather, they gave into peer pressure, following the logic of the religious leaders, and the norms set by the crowd and the soldiers. Even they, at the end of their lives, struggled not to be forsaken.

II. JESUS WAS FORSAKEN BY GOD

In all these peoples’ attempts to avoid being forsaken by others, Jesus was the forsaken object. But he silently endured the soldiers’ beating, and their mockery, along with the heaped insults of the passers-by, the religious leaders, and even the criminals who were crucified with him. And Matthew’s simple and dry writing style seems to try to show that this suffering was not really the big deal for Jesus. Jesus did not open his mouth to say a single word in self-defense or in protest. But, suddenly, there was a change. Verse 45 says that from the 6th hour to the 9th hour, darkness came over all the land. This is the brightest time of day, from approximately 12 PM- 3 PM. This change is symbolic of the change which Jesus felt internally and mentally. About the 9th hour, he cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?”—which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

Jesus could endure being forsaken by all the world because he knew that he was not forsaken by God. But being forsaken by God was unbearable for him. When I feel like I’ve disappointed my parents, I become overwhelmingly sad and guilty. How much Jesus must have been crushed when his Father God—his very point of life—forsook him! We learned that in Gethsemane, Jesus prayed, “Yet not as I will, but as you will.” Jesus loved God so much and wanted to please him so much that he surrendered his own will in order to do God’s will. Jesus was perfect, sinless, and God’s son. He’s the very person who should have been most loved, glorified and praised by God! It seems like God should have forsaken those soldiers who had struck Jesus on the head again and again and gambled for his clothing; or he should have forsaken the religious leaders who stubbornly held onto their own logic, refusing to accept Jesus. How, and why did God forsake Jesus?

If we understand God as the epitome of justice and truth, the only way that God could have forsaken Jesus is if, at that moment, there was something heaped on him that made him truly despicable. What could be so big and terrible that it covered over Jesus’ perfectness and blamelessness, and even over God’s love for his son? This big and terrible thing was the sins of the soldiers; the sins of the passers-by; the sins of the religious leaders, and of the robbers crucified with Jesus. This was the burden of the sins of the whole world, accumulated and placed on Jesus. It was my sin, and your sin—every sin that will ever be committed. The sin problem of the world is so big that a truly just God could not simply ignore it. We are like the soldiers who care about our own gain; like the passers-by who tolerate mockery of Jesus; like the religious leaders who proudly and intellectually critique him; and like the robbers who forsook Jesus in order to follow the crowd. But on the cross, God’s justice converged with God’s love—God’s love for his son and for all people of the world. How agonizing it must have been for God, to see his own son suffer like this! He had his own son bear the burden of the sins of the world, and put the physical, mental, and spiritual punishment due of sin on Jesus. This seems too much for one person to bear. No one could bear the sins of the world—on top of their own sins—except for Jesus, who was sinless.

When Jesus knew that he was forsaken by God, he had a choice to make. He could have come down from the cross then, and could have avoided death. Jesus’ death was different from the death of a martyr. A martyr dies, gladly giving up all he has in this world because he has his hope in God. But in Jesus’ case, he experienced forsakenness by God, and yet was willing to die. On the cross, the love of God, and the love of Jesus for mankind was one and the same. Jesus bore this physical, mental, and spiritual anguish until the very end. And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit.

How do we know this is evidence of God’s love? Let’s read verse 51a, “At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom…” The curtain of the temple was a special curtain which separated normal people from God. No one could enter the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, except for the high priest, once per year. No ordinary citizen was allowed to go beyond the curtain—this represented a complete blockage from God. The reason being that normal people were considered too sinful to be allowed in the presence of a holy God.

But when Jesus died, the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom! Jesus did not just bear the agony of the sins of the world for nothing. God did not just make him meaninglessly suffer. No, he had a purpose. Jesus knew that this was God’s will: Jesus bore the sins of the world in the place of the sinners of the world. Even when Jesus was forsaken by man and by his own Father God, he stayed on the cross until the death in order not to forsake us, and so that we might not be forsaken by God. When Jesus bore the physical pain, the psychological difficulties, and the spiritual agony of separation from God until his death, Jesus paid the ultimate price of all sin. And in doing so, he paid the price for all sin, once for all. . Because of Jesus’ death, the old sinners became as blameless and as lovely and as pleasing to God as Jesus, himself. Because of Jesus, I can have full security and assurance in God. To truly understand and believe Jesus’ suffering on the cross, and separation from God is a logical impossibility—until I accept that this God is a just and loving God. He is a God who bore the anguish of forsaking his beautiful son once and for all. He did it so that he would never have to do it again.

Romans 8 says, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?” When we consider the great agony of Jesus forsaken by God, and the great agony of God forsaking Jesus, we can claim, with certainty, “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,…will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Lately, I’ve been struggling over the question of collectivistic vs. individualistic

conceptualizations of identity. All my life, particularly in middle school and high school, I was so thirsty to be accepted by the “cool kids”. I was constantly searching for more “cool” friends, never satisfied with the friends I had, and in doing so, I forsook God. But Genesis 1:31 says, “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.” I was so moved by this knowledge that God would never forsake me, because he had created me and I was very good to him—even before I had accomplished anything. I realize now, more deeply, that not being forsaken by other people, or even by my family members is not the meaning of life. I want my life to be a submission to God’s will—the will of my Creator God--whether or not it means rejection by the world. Where can such strength come from? Jesus lived a life truly and completely for God’s will. He was not tied down with fears of being forsaken by anyone because he had full security in God’s love.

Through Jesus’ cry, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” I could understand how great a sacrifice Jesus made for me by dying on the cross, and how great a sacrifice God made to forsake his own son! I repent of my lack of thankfulness toward God for his great love for me. I forsook him, searching for acceptance from others. And so, I was blind to the only true source of love—the love of God in Christ Jesus. When Jesus died, the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom—he gave me entry into the most exclusive and perfect love relationship! What love of God that he forsook Jesus in order not to forsake me! How wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ! I want to spend my life to more and more know this love of Christ, and to be filled with it. And I can follow in Jesus’ footsteps and live for God’s will, because Jesus died, forsaken in my place. With this certainty, I can truly seek and live God’s will for me.

III. KEEPING WATCH OF JESUS

Maybe we do not feel emotionally roused right now, as we read about Jesus’ crucifixion and death. But even the callous soldiers were moved as they kept watch of Jesus. The centurion, and those with him who were guarding and watching Jesus confessed, “Surely he was the Son of God!” Joseph of Arimathea was also changed. He no longer feared being forsaken by the world, or by Pilate. He boldly declared himself a disciple of Jesus, and went to Pilate, asking for Jesus’ body—even though Jesus was a criminal. We could see that he was changed to live before God, because he had the security of knowing he would never be forsaken by God. I pray that as we write our testimonies, we can keep watch on the cross of Jesus, until we can understand the real meaning of Jesus’ death, not simply as a sad story or a moment in history, but as the beginning of our lives in God.

Let’s pray: Dear heavenly Father, thank you for your love for us, demonstrated through Jesus on the cross. Lord, you forsook Jesus in order not to forsake us. And Jesus bore such forsakenness in order not to forsake us. Father, help us to fully and deeply realize your love. Help us to make Jesus the foundation of our lives, so that we can live lives that truly please you and fulfill your will. I pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.

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