Robert Jeffress - When You Feel Abandoned By God
Hi, I'm Robert Jeffress and welcome again to Pathway to Victory. Have you ever noticed that suffering, and loneliness tend to be a package deal? When you're going through a tough time, it can often feel like you're facing the battle alone and that's exactly how Jesus felt in the hours before his death. Today we're going to look to our Savior's final moments on the cross. My message is titled, When You Feel Abandoned by God on today's special edition of Pathway to Victory.
We are entering into the most holy week on the Christian calendar in which we remember the death and the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Most preaching around this time of the year either centers on the adoration of Christ on palm Sunday, or on the resurrection of Christ the following Sunday. Fewer sermons deal with what happened on that Good Friday, the death of Jesus Christ. And if people do tackle that topic, preachers might center on the physical agony of the cross. No torture has been invented that was as severe as death by crucifixion.
But instead of talking about the physical horror, or even the theological significance of the death of Christ, I want to talk about something we don't often talk about and that is the emotional agony that Jesus experienced on the cross. It's a feeling you've probably had in your life as well, and it's described on in the final moments of Jesus life described in Matthew 27 beginning with verse 45, Matthew writes, "Now from the sixth hour," that would've been noon "Darkness fell upon all the land until the ninth hour," that is 3:00 P.M. "And it was about the ninth hour that Jesus cried out with a loud voice saying, eli, eli, lama sabachthani?" Which being translated says, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? And some of those who were standing there when they heard it began saying, this man is calling for Elijah. Immediately one of them ran and taking a sponge, he filled it with sour wine and put it on a reed and gave him a drink. But the rest of them said, let us see whether Elijah will come and save him. And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit".
Today for the few moments we have I want to concentrate on those words from the cross, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me"? Those words are the honest expression of a man who feels disappointed with, abandoned by God. Maybe you know that feeling as well. You've cried out for God to intervene in your situation, you're in a season of loneliness in your life, physical pain, emotional pain. You've asked God to intervene, but heaven remains silent. You begin to doubt God's goodness, or even God's existence. If you've ever felt that way before, today's message from the cross ought to be an encouragement to you.
More than 30 years ago I read a book entitled, "Disappointment with God" by Philip Yancey. I reread the book this week, and I don't agree with everything Yancey says in the book, but he was really the first person who introduced me to the idea that on the cross Jesus was fully God, absolutely, but he was also fully human and this was a human emotion that Jesus experienced. I want to expand on what Yancey has said by sharing with you four lessons of encouragement that come from the cross on that Friday afternoon. First of all, that Friday afternoon experience on the cross reminds us that life is unfair.
Most of us operate with this secret agreement we think we have with God. It's not written down anywhere, but we have it in our mind and that is the belief that if we do the best we can, we try to live a godly life, then God is going to spare us from any real horrible thing in life. And even if something bad happens to us, it's quickly going to be removed from us, we even misquote Bible verses to support that idea. Romans 8:28, "For all things work together for good to those who love God and are called according to his purpose". We think that means that if you look hard enough at bad things you can find some good in every bad thing that happens, there's a silver lining in every cloud. And even if that's not true, we think no matter how evil something is, that evil's going to be resolved, but the longer we live, we realize it's not true. There is no exemption from problems for godly people.
In "Disappointment with God," Yancey tells a story about a friend of his named Doug who gave up a lucrative career because he felt called to the ministry. Shortly after he made that decision, Doug's wife was diagnosed with breast cancer, but soon spread throughout her body. Doug had to take over many of the responsibilities for taking care of his family, and one evening he was driving his wife and 12 year old son when a drunk driver coming the opposite direction, swerved over the line and headlong crashed into Doug's car, leaving him with massive head injuries and permanent injuries. Somebody asked Doug how he reconciled his faith in God with a God who would treat him that way? And Doug said, "For me, the cross of Jesus Christ forever demolished the basic assumption that life will be fair".
Life is unfair, that's just reality. Secondly, the cross reminds us that God does not always deliver us out of our problems. He doesn't deliver us always out of our problems, again, we think, well maybe if something horrible happens there'll be a quick resolve to it like those one hour dramas on TV, something terrible happens, but the end of the 60 minutes everything is reconciled. The fact is God doesn't always deliver us from the evil things that happened to us. Jesus when he said, "My God, my God, why you forsaken me," he was actually quoting Psalm 22 that had been written a thousand years before Christ. In that Psalm, the first two verses David cried out, "My God, by God, why have you forsaken me? Far from my deliverance are the words of my groaning. O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer. And by night, but I have no rest".
David was struggling with a problem that Jesus had to wrestle with, Paul had to wrestle with and probably you have wrestled with as well, and that is unanswered prayer. We like to talk about the miraculous answers to prayers, that's what encourages everybody, makes everybody feel good. But I think if we were all honest today, we would say more of our prayers go unanswered than answered. We don't want to admit to it, but it's true. Why is that? Why do our prayers for deliverance rarely get answered?
In an essay on prayer, C.S. Lewis suggested that God treats new Christians with a special kind of kindness such as a parent dotes on a newborn. He quotes one experienced Christian who said, "I have seen many striking answers to prayer and more than one that I would call miraculous. But they usually come at the beginning of a person's life before conversion, or soon after conversion. As the Christian life proceeds those dramatic answers, tend to be rarer. The refusals too are not only more frequent, they become more unmistakable, more emphatic". In other words, Lewis is saying God's plan for us as Christians is to grow in such a way as we can be winged off the need for immediate answers to prayers that our faith deepens in God, so that like job said in the midst of his heartache, he said, though God slay me, yet will I continue to trust in him. That's the kind of mature faith God is trying to build in each of us.
The third truth that comes from the cross is this, God rarely explains the reason for our suffering. Now, Jesus was the exception, he was God. He understood why he came to earth. His purpose in coming wasn't to be a good example or a great teacher, he came to be the ransom, the sacrifice for our sins. Unfortunately, many of us don't understand God's reason for the heartache he brings into our life. Why doesn't God tell us like he told Jesus? Well, maybe God knows even if he told us it wouldn't lessen the pain. Another reason God doesn't explain is maybe he just realizes we can't understand. As finite human beings, at least in this world when you're attracted by time and space, it's sometimes impossible to understand an ammunition God and see what God sees.
There's a great analogy that's often used to explain the mystery of suffering, it's called the hunter. A hunter goes into the woods, and he sees a bear caught in a bear trap. The bear's in agony and the hunter feeling compassion for the bear wants to deliver him out of the trap, but the bear won't allow the hunter anywhere near him fearing he'll do him harm. And so the hunter not giving up takes a dart gun, and shoots the bear with darts filled with drugs. As the bear feels those darts entering his body, he's confident now that the hunter is up to no good. The bear's in a semiconscious and drug state. When the hunter approaches into the bear's horror, the hunter takes the bear's paw caught in the trap and actually pushes it further into the trap in order to release it.
But again, the bear doesn't understand, and he thinks now the hunter is trying to inflict as much pain as possible, but the bears arrived at it's decision, it's arrived at its conclusion prematurely. If it will wait just a little bit longer, it will see what the hunter is up to. You know, that's like us and God's dealings with us. Every dart of adversity that stings us, every push by the hunter deeper into the jaws of suffering convinces us that God is up to no good, he can't be trusted, but we make our judgment prematurely. We don't understand many times the specific reason God allows us to go through what we may be experiencing, but there's some truths we can hang on to even when we find ourself in the jaws of suffering. I want you to rot these three truths down, so that you can remember them.
Number one, God's purpose for our lives is good. Whatever you're going through right now, never forget that God's purpose for your life is good, not evil. Romans 8:28 does say "God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, and are called according to his purpose". The problem is we stop with that verse, and we limit good to a very superficial meaning. We think the good that all things we're working out together for are a full bank account, or a satisfying marriage, or a disaster proof life. No, no, the good God is causing everything in your life to work toward is found in verse 29, "For those whom God foreknew, he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, so that his Son would be the firstborn among many brethren".
God so loved his Son Jesus, he said, instead of just having one child I want to have many children. Men and women who look and act just like my Son Jesus and that's what he's doing in your life. He's not just saving you from hell, he is molding you, shaping you into the image of his Son. And everything that happens in your life is for that purpose.
And that leads to the second truth, God's purpose does require discomfort. Right now, God is molding, he is Hammering, he is shaping your life to resemble that of Jesus Christ. He is renovating your life if you will, renovating your heart and that's not always an easy process, sometimes it requires discomfort. And thirdly, God's purpose for our lives will be ultimately realized, ultimately understood. Occasionally we get a glimpse into the purpose of our suffering, Joseph did, remember the story? Joseph sold into slavery, falsely accused of rape, had so many problems, but at the end he saw how it worked and he said to his brothers when he was reunited with them, "As for you, you meant evil against me, but God used it for good to bring about this present circumstance to preserve many people alive".
But I want to suggest to you that's the exception, not the rule. Most of the time we live and die without seeing the purpose of what God is doing in our life, but it doesn't mean we won't ever see it. And 1 Peter 4:12-13, Peter writes, "Beloved don't be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you which has come upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you, but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing so that when at the revelation of his glory you may rejoice with exultation". When are you going to rejoice? When are you going to be filled with laughter as you look back over your life? Not now, it will be at the revelation of his glory the second coming of Christ, then it will all make sense.
But there's a final truth and that is for all Christians, all disappointment is temporary. For a Christian, all disappointment in God, all suffering is temporary. Look at verse 50 of Matthew 27, "And Jesus cried out with a loud voice and he yielded up his spirit". From a human perspective for the disciples, it was all over that Friday afternoon, their hope, their dream of a new kingdom and a new king to preside over that kingdom, those hopes were dashed. In the war between good and evil, evil had won hands down. But three days later everything changed, all suffering is temporary. Occasionally somebody will ask me, pastor what's the hardest thing you ever had to do in your ministry? I don't even have to think about the answer to that. It's an experience I had that is so seared into my consciousness, I'll never forget it.
It happened more than 20 years ago and it happened to be a palm Sunday just like this one today. We had finished the morning service. I went back home to eat lunch, and get ready for the evening choir presentation. And while I was home, I received a telephone call that a young couple at our church had been killed in an accident, traffic accident. They both were dead and they left two little girls behind at home and the family member who called me asked if I would go over to the house, and tell those two little girls what had happened to their parents. If I live to be a hundred, I'll never forget that experience of sitting there, and watching those little girls cry their eyes out realizing they would never see their parents in this life again.
What do you say to children? What do you say to anybody who goes through something like that? The only light that will eclipse that kind of darkness is light. The hope of the resurrection that comes from the one who said, "I am the resurrection and the life, he who believes in me though he were dead, yet shall he live again". There's some of you right now who are trapped in disappointment, loneliness, hurt. You feel like God has forgotten about you, you think that God has abandoned you. No, the Bible never diminishes, it never belittles the reality of suffering, but it does add one word, temporary. As Yancey writes, "What we feel now, we will not always feel. Our disappointment is in itself a sign, a longing, a hunger for something better. And faith is in the end, a kind of home sickness for a home we've never seen, but we have never once stop longing for".