Now from the sixth hour darkness fell upon all the land until the ninth hour. And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, "ELI, ELI, LAMA SABACHTHANI?" that is, "MY GOD, MY GOD, WHY HAST THOU FORSAKEN ME?"
My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
Tonight we come to the foot of Golgotha. Tonight we look at the cross, not empty in victory, nor empty to declare the completed work of Christ. Tonight we want to look at the crucifix — the cross with the broken body of our Savior hanging on it. We want to consider what our Lord did for us. We want to measure its depth and severity. We want to understand our sins in all of their horrible power and evil, and come to know the true riches of forgiveness and life. To do that we need to meditate on the sufferings — called the passion of our Lord.
I cannot imagine what it is like to have nails driven through the palms of my hands. I can only imagine that it hurt a great deal. I have had someone stomp on my foot, on the instep, that tender part above the arch. The pain was blinding. Still I cannot conceive of what it must have felt like to have a huge spike driven through His feet and into that cross.
It is just within my imagination to guess what it might have been like when they covered His face and punched Him. Then they laughed and asked Him to tell them who hit Him. I think I can conjure up what it is to have someone make fun of you, mocking you in your time of pain and helplessness. I have never experienced it to anywhere near the degree that Jesus did. But I can kind of imagine.
I have been lashed, although nothing in my experience has prepared me to conceive of what the thirty-nine lashes with a cat-o-nine-tails might have felt like. Historians tell me that men often died during the beating from the shock and pain of it. The scourge had bits of rock and metal and bone tied into the lashes to bruise and cut and tear the flesh as the victim was beaten. What a horrible thing, and then, at the end of a day of other beatings and torture and no sleep such as Jesus had. But what our text tonight describes goes way beyond anything I can even begin to imagine. "Only Jesus Would Take Our Place in Hell"
That is what our text describes, you know. Jesus took our place in the torments of Hell. The agonies of Hell are more than just the burning pain of the body. I suspect that those pains alone would be enough to drive a sane man out of His mind. Imagine being on fire, fully conscious and aware of every sensation. You have probably burned yourself. Picture that pain, all over your body, growing more intense as the moments pass, as burns do. Imagine a pain everywhere, inside and out, eyes and nose and mouth. Your fingers, your legs, your back, pain everywhere, so that it hurts to touch and it hurts not to touch. I have tried to imagine it at times and it makes me shiver with horror.
Now try to understand that all of that torment is not the worst part of hell. It is there, and real, and unrelenting, but it is not the worst of it. The worst of it is the separation from God. You see, even on our worst days, we live and move and have our being in the presence of God. He is the source of life, and hope, and health, and every good thing. We are not fully conscious of Him, and yet we utterly depend on Him. It is just as we are not conscious of the air we breathe, unless it gets cold or too hot, or begins to disappear. Our lives are filled with goodness and comfort and peace by Him. Every form and experience of well-being is from Him.
Although we cannot begin to imagine what it would mean or how it might even be possible, Hell's greatest torment is separation from God. That torment is coupled with the gnawing certainty that we could have avoided it, that our presence in Hell is our fault. That is what Jesus referred to so often when he said, There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
Jesus endured that torment for us. He bore the cruelest pains -- physically and mentally and spiritually. And He bore pains that He alone is equipped to feel. We cannot imagine them, but He is God. He is fully aware and fully in tune with what those benefits are. He endured their loss for us, for our sake, for our salvation. He endured their loss in eternity, since He is both True God and True Man and therefore not only a creature of time and of this world, but also the One who exits in eternity. Whatever He endured, He endured in eternity, where there is no time and no limit.
Jesus bore the pains of hell for you for eternity. Only Jesus would do such a thing. But even more remarkable and striking is the fact that He who IS God was forsaken by God. So as Jesus endured the unimaginable for us, He was forsaken by God the Father to bear His torments -- our torments -- alone. His earthly friends and disciples had deserted Him and now His heavenly Father abandoned Him, leaving Him utterly alone. I cannot imagine what that sort of pain that is, what that sort of identity crisis must be like. But Jesus bore it for you and for me because of our sins.
That is why we call this day Good Friday. It is good for us that Jesus bore this torment and not us. He saved us from it all. And only Jesus would take our place in hell. St. Paul talks about this in Romans, chapter 5, For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.
Jesus said it this way, Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends. How much greater must that love need be to die in this way, and to bear our sins and their punishments on the cross? And while He was suffering torments that you and I cannot imagine, and which, because of Him, we, who believe, will never experience, He was careful to fulfill Scriptures and to point our attention to the Scriptures so that we might not miss what was really happening there.
The cry of Jesus from the cross was genuine and heart-felt. It had to be. The physical pain was enormous. He had just come through a night of torture and beatings. He hung by nails driven through His hands. He had nails driven through the most sensitive part of His feet. He dared not put any pressure on those feet, except when His weight had so stretched the chest muscles that He could not exhale to take a fresh breath of air. Then He had to stand up on that brutal nail. He would pant and breathe, and try to ease the pain in shoulders that had borne His weight and hands that burned with infection and with the pain of a spike, maybe a half an inch in diameter driven through them.
When the pain in His feet became too great again, he would fall back onto His arms to begin the tormenting process over again. That was the Physical agony He endured when He cried out those famous words. There was the sorrow and the loneliness of the cross, and His abandonment by God to bear our pains and the just punishment of our sins. But He chose His words from Scripture, to express that awful agony. He chose the words which begin Psalm 22, My God, My God, Why hast Thou forsaken Me? He chose those words so that those who stood around could clearly see that all that had been prophesied by David nearly a thousand years before was unfolding before them in this tortured man.
He cried out in Hebrew, so that the youngest son of the Commandments — that is the meaning of the words bar Mitzvah — so that from the newest young man to the faith of his fathers unto the eldest of the children of Israel could identify what was happening on that cross. He cried out for you, too. Psalm 22 also says, You who fear the LORD, praise Him; All you descendants of Jacob, glorify Him, And stand in awe of Him, all you descendants of Israel. For He has not despised nor abhorred the affliction of the afflicted; Neither has He hidden His face from him; But when he cried to Him for help, He heard.
We are the descendants of Israel, spiritually. We are the ones of whom Jesus did not despise the afflictions. He did not hide His face from us, although we deserved it and our plight was due to our own sins, but Jesus went to the cross to suffer not only cruel torture, but all that we by our sins have deserved. When we cried to the Lord, He heard. And even before we cried.
Many religions claim saviors, but none have a Savior like Jesus Christ. Almost every religion has a God of some sort. But none has a God who humbles Himself to bear the pains of His people; pains brought on them by His own justice, which fell upon His people because of their own conduct, pains He endured in order to save them. None of them have a Savior who endures such torment with such grace and humility. He did not cry out. He did not curse. He did not rumble and threaten and lecture. He simply suffered -- enduring everything we have earned by our sins. None of them has a Savior who died for the life of those who hate Him so that He can offer to them peace and forgiveness and eternal life -- and claim them as His own by grace. No one else knows a God of grace who takes their place. Only Jesus would take our place in Hell. Only Jesus.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
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