The One in Despair Still Trusts God
“He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he desires him. For he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’” And the robbers who were crucified with him also reviled him in the same way. 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?” Matthew 27:43-46
During his travels in the 1860s that would be documented in his book Roughing It, Mark Twain visited Mono Lake, a saltwater basin, just a few miles from Yosemite National Park. Twain called it, “lifeless, treeless, hideous desert... the loneliest place on earth.”
Though there are crowds looking on, as Jesus hangs upon the cross it is the loneliest place on the earth. The crowds simply cruelly cast their insults upon Him. The religious leaders mock Him with their biting words. His disciples have abandoned Him, save one. And His mother stands there, unable to leave His side, but also unable to bear the sight or His pain. This mother who cradled Him in her arms cannot lift a hand to help Him. And while Jesus looks upon her and speaks out of love and concern for her, her presence can bring Him no comfort. There is no relief here. Here on the cross, Jesus hangs alone. It is the loneliest place on earth.
But what makes it the loneliest place on the earth is not so much the absence of loved ones, but the absence of God the Father to act. King David once pondered, “Where can I go from your Spirit? Where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!” But here on the cross, the Father abandons the Son. Jesus cries out, “My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” In the great mystery that is the doctrine of God, the Father forsakes the Son and abandons Him on the cross. Jesus is in absolute despair. This is a place where no one has ever been before – a place where God the Father refuses to be mighty to save. God the Father looks on to the despair of His Son and He does not intervene. He does not come to His aid, yet.
The crowds love hearing Jesus cry out. That’s the reason for which they came! He trusts God! Let God rescue Him! But there would be no rescue. Just like we thought! See! We told you. He trusts in God and look where it got Him. He suffered and died. He was abandoned by God.
The crowds were right, in a sense. And that’s the irony. But in Jesus crying out in despair, He quotes another of David’s psalms, this time 22. My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? These are hopeless words. These are words of one who recognizes that no deliverance will come. These are the words of the defeated and dying man. At least that is what the crowds think. But Jesus is One on whose lips the Words of the Lord are always found. Even when He when He cries out in anguish and defeat, it is a cry of faith – for Yahweh is still My God and only one who believes the Word speaks the Word at a time such as this. Yes, Jesus is forsaken by God the Father at this moment. But that doesn’t mean that there is no rescue, just not here at the cross. But it is coming.
In His Pentecost sermon, Peter explained God’s plan so beautifully as He quoted once again from David’s psalms. In quoting Psalm 16, Peter explained that God did not abandon Jesus’ soul to grave or let His holy one see corruption. Oh yes, Jesus cried out in despair. It was a cry of utter anguish. It was a cry of pain and suffering that are unimaginable. But it was still a cry of faith from the One who trusted God. For Jesus didn’t just commend His living body on the cross to His Father in heaven, He even commends His cold, lifeless corpse to the Father. God the Father doesn’t abandon His beloved Son to the grave, but raises Him to life on the third day.
Prayer – O God, whose glory it is always to have mercy, be gracious to all who have gone astray from Your ways and bring them again with penitent hearts and steadfast faith to embrace and hold fast the unchangeable truth of Your Word; who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
Fraternally in Christ,
President Lee Hagan