Forsaken

“Forsaken” – it’s not a very pleasant word. It means to be deserted or abandoned. It is the epitome of loneliness. We’ve all experienced this to some extent or another. We all know what it’s like to be forsaken. To have friends that turn their back on us. We all know the feeling of someone who we love deserting us in some way. Maybe we have felt lonely and forsaken when a loved one has died.

Well, in the Gospel of Mark (chapters 14 and 15) is the story of someone being forsaken to such an extent that has never been experienced by anyone else in the history of the world. For us to understand what it means to be forsaken, there is no where else you need to look than to what happened to Christ in the days and hours that lead up to His crucifixion.

I’d like to walk us through some of the passages in Mark to look at the people around Jesus during His final days on earth. Where they there for Jesus? In what ways was Jesus forsaken?

In the beginning verses of chapter 14, we heard that the chief priests and scribes were seeking how to secretly arrest and kill Jesus. We may have heard this account so many times that we automatically think of the chief priest and scribe as an evil group. But, these were the religious ones of the day. They were the ones that spent their lives serving God and teaching others about God. And yet they desired to kill Jesus, God’s son. Jesus was clearly forsaken by the religious leaders of the day.

Then we read in verse 3 about the woman who came to Jesus when He was at the house of Simon the leper. She came and broke a container of very expensive ointment and poured it over Jesus’ head. Clearly, she was not forsaking Jesus, but out of a desire to demonstrate her love, she was unknowingly preparing Jesus’ body for His death and burial.

In verse 10 we read that one of the 12 disciples, those that were closest to Jesus, was deliberately seeking to betray Him for money. He went to those that wanted to kill Jesus and joined with them to help them in their mission. Jesus was forsaken by one of his closest companions.

And then in verse 27, Jesus tells His disciples that they will all fall away. One of the twelve disciples would deliberately betray Jesus and the other eleven would flee and abandon Him in His greatest time of need. These were Jesus’ closest friends and they would all abandon Him. They would forsake Him out of fear for their own lives.

While Jesus was grieved to the point of death in the garden, His closest friends fell asleep and would shortly thereafter fall away from Him.

The next group of people we encounter in verse 43 was a crowd with swords and clubs coming to arrest Jesus. This mob was sent by those that claimed to serve God, and it was led by one of Jesus’ own disciples. The crowds were forsaking Jesus. He had spent the last three years among these people, ministering, teaching and healing diseases. Jesus was forsaken by the people of Israel.

After His arrest, Jesus was brought before the High Priest. This was the priest that was appointed by God to enter the Holy of Holies in the temple on the Day of Atonement. The whole council brought false accusations against Jesus before the High Priest. And when Jesus confessed that He truly was the Son of God, the High Priest tore his clothes and called for Jesus’ death. The one in Israel that was viewed to be the closest to God forsook Jesus.

And then at the end of chapter 14, we heard of one of the most painful examples of Jesus being forsaken. Maybe it stands out as being so painful because we can relate so well to it. It was the denial of Peter. Of the 12 disciples, Peter was one of the closest to Jesus. And in Jesus’ darkest hours, Peter emphatically denies Jesus three times. None of Jesus’ friends are anywhere to be found, He was forsaken.

In the beginning of chapter 15 we heard about Jesus being delivered to Pilate. Since the Jews did not have the authority to crucify someone, they needed to convince the Roman ruler Pontius Pilate that Jesus was worthy of death. Pilate was able to discern that it was only out of jealousy that the Jews were calling for Jesus to be crucified. But, having more concern for his own position as governor, he gave in to their demands. First, he had Jesus whipped with a cat-of-nine-tails (nearly killing him as the skin and muscle in His back was torn) and them delivered him to be crucified. So, not only was Jesus forsaken by His own Jewish kinsmen, He was also forsaken by the Roman rulers of the day.

Then there were the Roman soldiers who were not content to simply put him to death, but went out of their way to mock Him and sought to make Him suffer as much as possible.  They put on him a purple robe and a crown of thorns while they mocked Him, spit on Him and hit him, and struck his head with a reed, no doubt causing the thorns to tear His scalp.

Next there is Simon of Cyrene. We don’t know much about him. But, similar to the woman who anointed Jesus with the costly ointment, Simon is not intending to forsake Jesus, but like the woman, he unwittingly becomes a part of the events that bring about the death of Christ. The woman anointed Jesus body for burial and Simon helps to carry Jesus’ cross up the hill of Golgotha. Even those that did not have animosity towards Jesus unintentionally only helped to bring about His suffering.

After being brought to Golgotha, Jesus was nailed to a cross to die.

Those that passed by Him hanging there only shook their heads at Him and mocked Him. And the thief  crucified next to Him somehow found the strength to revile Him as well.

Then we see the women that had ministered to Him over the previous 3 years including His mother, standing and watching from a distance. Helpless and confused, most likely not understanding what was really taking place. They could do nothing to help Him.

There was not a single person in the world that was really there for Jesus. From the time of His arrest, Jesus was alone. Consider how much we need each other and rely on each other especially when we are suffering. Jesus suffered beyond our comprehension, and He went through all that intense suffering alone.

But, as unfathomable as it is for us to understand the pain of being forsaken by everyone around Him, that was not the full extent of Jesus’ being forsaken. Jesus was not only a man, but He was also the Son of God. He was fully man and fully God. He had been in perfect union and fellowship with God the Father and God the Holy Spirit for all of eternity. So, surely, Jesus was not completely alone in His suffering. At least His Father was there for Him, right?

At the very pinnacle of Christ’s suffering, we hear Him cry out something that causes even the greatest theologians to be perplexed. Jesus cries out in verse 34, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”. Whatever is implied (or not implied) in this cry of Jesus as to His relationship with God the Father, it is clear that not only does the Father not help to relieve the suffering of Jesus, but ultimately, the Father is the one who is prescribing the suffering.

You see, Jesus was not suffering simply as the result of the evil plans of sinful man. Later, the Apostle Peter would declare that Jesus suffered and died, that he was delivered up according to the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God. And Jesus was completely aware that He was suffering according to the plan of His Father. In chapter 14:27, Jesus quoted Zechariah who had prophesied that God would “strike down the shepherd, and the sheep would be scattered”. Though it was sinful man who had forsaken Jesus, the suffering was ultimately planned and determined by His own Father. In Isaiah 53 we read the sobering declaration that it was the will of the Father to crush His Son.

So, He was forsaken by His friends only to receive the wrath of His Father. The thought of this was what caused Jesus’ soul to be sorrowful to the point of death when He prayed in the garden asking that the cup of the Father’s wrath might pass from Him.

So, yes, Jesus knew more than anyone what it meant to be alone and forsaken. The question we must ask at this point is, WHY? Because, unlike every human being that has ever existed, Jesus never once sinned. He was perfect in every way. He always did what pleased God the Father. And so, if He was perfect and always did what pleased the Father, why would the Father cause Him to be forsaken and suffer and die on the cross? Jesus was not being punished because He sinned or because the Father hated Him.

To understand why Jesus suffered and died the way He did, I’d like to draw our attention to another character in Mark’s account — namely the centurion. Likely, this was the Roman soldier that oversaw Christ’s crucifixion and was set to guard Jesus so that no one would take Him down, to ensure that He hung there until He was dead. But, in Mark 15:39, it says that when the centurion saw the way that Jesus had breathed His last breath, he declared “Truly this man was the Son of God”. What an incredibly strange statement to be made by this Roman soldier. Up to this point, the centurion was simply carrying out orders to crucify Jesus without concern or reservation. But, suddenly at the moment that Jesus died was dramatically changed and convinced that the one they had just crucified was the Son of God.

I believe that what took place with the centurion was the fulfillment of a prophecy that Jesus made to the crowds when He had come into Jerusalem. Jesus knew what would happen to Him and said “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself”.

Jesus died on the cross so that he could draw people like the centurion to Himself. Jesus died on the cross for us.

Like the centurion, all of us have sinned against God. We may not have been the ones driving the nails into Jesus hands and feet, but we are all just as guilty as the ones that killed Jesus. God is a holy and perfect and just God. And so, He must punish us for our sins. The just punishment for our sins is what the Bible refers to as hell, eternal torment and separation from God. That’s how serious our sin is. Our sin against God is no small matter that can simply be overlooked or ignored. Contrary to popular belief, God will not receive us into heaven based on our terms, based on our own assessment that we’re a pretty good person.

God cannot tolerate any sin in His presence. In other words, for us to enter to heaven, we must be perfect. But, none of us are. If we are honest with ourselves, we are far from it. And no matter how many good works we may do, they do not remove the stain that sin has made. But, God loved us and desired that we would be able to spend all of eternity with Him. And yet, God could not simply draw us to Himself without first dealing with our sin. This is why Jesus was forsaken and suffered the way that He did. He was suffering in our place. He was suffering, not for His own sins, but for our sins. And the seriousness of our sin is seen in the magnitude of His suffering.

So, what do we do? What does God require of us? Surely, we must do something to receive the forgiveness of our sins. No. There is nothing we can do. Christ did it all. All we can do is to look to Jesus and believe that He suffered and died in our place. There is no punishment left for those that look to Him. If we look to Him in faith, we will have eternal life.

So, by faith, do you see Him? Do you see Him alone before His accusers without a single friend by His side? Do you see Him being mocked and spit at? Do you see Him being whipped as the flesh is torn from His back? Do you see him with the crown of thorns being smashed into His head?

Do you, by faith, see Christ hanging on the cross receiving the wrath of God, not for His own sins, but for yours and mine?

If you do, this is indeed a very Good Friday!  And, praise God, Jesus proved that he accomplished what he came to do, when he rose from the dead just three days later…

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