A sermon based on Matthew 27:45-48
Sunday, April 9, 2017 – Palm Sunday
The crowds can quickly turn on a celebrity, can't they? You've seen it. Michael Vick, Bill Cosby, Brittany Spears, and of course, the Biebs. We've all seen it countless times: One minute they're on the top of the world. They're wildly successful and everyone loves them! They couldn't be more popular! But that fame quickly turns on them. And they move from famous to infamous. Soon, everyone abandons them, turns on them even. Of course, for most of them, it's by their own fault—some poor decision they made made them lose popularity.
Today begins Holy Week, that week we set aside to focus on that first Holy Week, where our Savior, Jesus, suffered was tried, and ultimately killed… that week where he willingly died to pay for our sins. And that week began with Palm Sunday, a day we celebrate today. On that day, as you know, the crowds held a parade in Jesus honor. He was incredibly popular! He was a celebrity among his people. But, soon they all abandoned him. And unlike it is with other celebrities, it was in no way his fault. But in the end, there was no one left to really help him in his greatest need. No one could help him.
Today we conclude our series on the spiritual and emotion wounds our Savior endured for us. And today we get the worst of them all: the wound of abandonment. It was the worst of them all because Jesus wasn't just abandoned by the crowds as he lost his popularity. He wasn't just abandoned by his disciples as they ran away scared. But he was abandoned in a way we can never imagine. He was abandoned by God the Father… He was abandoned to hell…
And thank God that he was! Because by that deepest and worst of wounds, we are healed! The text for our consideration this morning is found in Matthew 27:45-48…
45 From the sixth hour until the ninth hour darkness came over all the land. 46 About the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, "Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?"—which means, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"
47 When some of those standing there heard this, they said, "He's calling Elijah."
48 Immediately one of them ran and got a sponge. He filled it with wine vinegar, put it on a stick, and offered it to Jesus to drink. 49 The rest said, "Now leave him alone. Let's see if Elijah comes to save him."
Everyone abandoned Jesus. They sang their praises on Sunday. They waved their palm branches. They threw their coats on the ground for him to have a smooth ride. They shouted their hosannas and their alleluias. But where were they on Thursday? On Friday? None of them were with Jesus.
Now, most likely, the Palm Sunday crowd was oblivious to what was going on later that week. They were all asleep during Jesus late night arrest and early morning trials. And then they were busy with the holidays on Friday. With the Passover done, they would all be busy cleaning their house from top to bottom trying to get rid of every bit of yeast for the Feast of Unleavened Bread.
But what about the disciples? Where were they? Well, you know that they were hiding behind locked doors, scared to come out, lest they too be arrested and tried for treason to be executed like their master. They had totally abandoned Jesus.
Was there anyone left to stay by his side? The apostle John followed him to the cross, but could do nothing to help ease his suffering or pain except be there to care for Jesus' mother. His mother was there and a few women followed too, but they only watched. They couldn't help. And we're told that even that was "from a distance." (Matthew 27:55)
The only one who offered any help was a stranger who offered him wine vinegar on a sponge and stick, just enough to wet Jesus' tongue and lips to make his final proclamations. But that's the only help he received as he was tortured to death. And Mark's Gospel tells us that he too cynically said, "Now leave him alone. Let's see if Elijah comes to take him down." (Mark 15:36)
Yes, Jesus really was abandoned by everyone.
Now before you get too angry at those people, those crowds, those disciples… we should first take a look at ourselves. You see, we too have abandoned Jesus. We abandon him every time we sin. We forsake him when we would rather sleep or fish or be entertained than spend time with him.
Wouldn't you feel abandoned if your spouse or child or friend told you that they didn't want to spend time with you because they had more important things to do, but they would spend the minimum amount that you required of them just to keep you happy?
You know what it's like to be abandoned, at least on a small scale. Or at least you can imagine it, can't you? But can you imagine going through what Jesus did? All your friends turn their backs on you and leave you stranded when you need them most? Everyone hates you and makes fun of you at your worst and lowest moment in life? No one loves you or cares for you at all? How horrible what Jesus suffered! And he went to that cross because you and I have so often abandoned him.
And for it, we deserve to be abandoned by God. We deserve hell. People joke about hell, "Well, at least all my friends will be there." But hell is nothing to joke about. And that "joke" isn't even funny. First of all, if hell is the place of torment the Bible describes it to be, it would intensify one's suffering to know that their friends and those they love are being tormented too. And not only that, but hell is not a place where the tormented will comfort each other. Each person will be so miserable, focused solely on their own suffering, that they won't care about anyone else. They will truly be all alone. It will be a place of total loneliness; an eternity of solitary confinement.
There's no question in my mind that that abandonment, that loneliness is what I deserve. That's what we all deserve. But we'll never know it. We'll never experience it. We'll never get the abandonment we deserve because Jesus didn't get what he deserved but was abandoned in our place.
Yes, Jesus was abandoned by everyone. And I do mean everyone. Far worse than being abandoned by the Palm Sunday crowds, by the government that should have defended the innocent, by his own dearly loved friends… was the abandonment he endured on the cross.
There, in a way we can never understand, Jesus, God in the flesh, was forsaken by God the Father.
About the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, "Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?"—which means, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"
Though he is himself God, Jesus was forsaken, abandoned by God. When the Father looked at his once beloved Son, all he saw in Jesus now, was rape and murder, incest and pedophilia, drunkenness and abuse, laziness and selfishness, your self-centered attitude and mine. And disgusted by what he saw, by the sin that Jesus became, by your sin and mine, God the Father turned his back on God the Son.
And God the Son endured the complete abandonment by the Father, his own solitary confinement of hell as he hung there on the cross. That is the worse wound inflicted on Jesus—so far removed from the festivities of Palm Sunday.
Now, even the sun in the sky abandoned Jesus as it refused to shine as if ashamed to look on the object of God's wrath. So darkness covered the land for the three hours of Jesus hellish torment. From the sixth hour until the ninth hour darkness came over all the land.
Can you imagine what Jesus went through? No. You can't. It's beyond anything we will ever understand. …And thank God for that! Because the only way we could ever really understand hell would be to endure it. And we won't ever do that because Jesus was abandoned to rescue us. He became sin—our sin—to take it all away. It was completely burned up, totally consumed, by God's wrath.
But you know the rest of the story… If not (spoiler alert!) he didn't stay dead! He didn't stay abandoned.
Sometimes celebrities can make a comeback after doing time in prison or getting out of rehab. They can recreate themselves (figuratively speaking), relaunch their careers, and find themselves back on top again. Far greater than any other celebrity, Jesus comeback was the best! He came back from the dead.
After Jesus' resurrection from the dead, the Apostle Peter quoted Psalm 16 in his Pentecost sermon. He said, "My heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will live in hope, because you will not abandon me to the grave…" And Peter explained, "[David] spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to the grave… God has raised this Jesus to life!"
And thank God that he did! Because Jesus' resurrection is the proof that his crucifixion worked. We are forgiven. Every sin you have ever committed, every sin you ever will, is completely paid for! It's as if you never committed it, but Jesus did and he already went through hell and back (literally) to make it go away. It's erased! Completely gone! We are justified—that is it's just as if I'd never sinned and never will! And the same is true for you! And so, being sinless in God's sight, we will never be abandoned by him—even if everyone else forsakes us.
After he gave his disciples the Great Commission, Jesus promised his disciples of all time (that includes you and me, by the way), "Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age." (Matthew 28:20) And again in the book of Hebrews (13:5) he promised, "Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you."
So, even if you should be abandoned by your friends who stab you in the back… Even if you should be abandoned by your spouse in a nasty divorce… Even if you should be abandoned by your parents or your kids in a sad family falling out… Nevertheless, you're not alone. You're never alone. The one who was abandoned to hell to rescue you promises to be with you forever and for always.