MY GOD, MY GOD, WHY HAVE YOU ABANDONED ME?

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 27:46 (ESV).

“My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” Those terrifying words occur in two  Gospels — Matthew 27:46 and Mark 15:34 — as Jesus is hanging on the cross near death. It says, “About the ninth hours Jesus called out with a loud voice.” That alone is amazing. How did he have any strength to do it with a loud voice: “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?”or “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’”

So, why did He say it? The answer to the why was that He was forsaken. Habakkuk declared of God, “But you are pure and cannot stand the sight of evil….” (Habakkuk 1:13). God turned His back when Jesus was on the cross because He could not look upon sin, even perhaps especially His own Son. Just as Jesus said, God the Father had forsaken Him. He is bearing our sin and our judgment. The judgment was poured on Him rather than us.  Jesus chose to be separated from the Father so we might be reunited with God through Him. Jesus was forsaken by God so that we might be forgiven. Nothing can change that. Not your circumstances. Not your suffering. And not your sin.

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me” is somewhat of a rhetorical question in that Jesus was not looking for an answer.  Jesus isn’t curious, wondering how this is going to turn out. He knew how it would turn out. Jesus knew what He was doing, what would happen to Him, and why He was doing it. His Father had sent Him for this very purpose. And He came knowing all of this lay ahead.  John 18:4 says, “Jesus fully realized all that was going to happen to him, so he stepped forward to meet them. “Who are you looking for?” he asked.” He gave Himself up. He knew it was coming. He knew everything.

These words reveal the extent of God’s love for you and me. God continues to demonstrate His love for us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. “This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins” (1 John 4:10).

Not the nails but His wondrous love for each of us kept Jesus on the cross. Revelation 1:5, “and from Jesus Christ. He is the faithful witness to these things, the first to rise from the dead, and the ruler of all the kings of the world. All glory to him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by shedding his blood for us” (Ephesians 5:2).

God’s love is a powerful force, more comprehensive than any chasm between enemies, waiting longer than you would ever run from it, going deeper than you would ever fall from it, lifting you higher than you could ever go without it. And the good news is that this love is for all people.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How is Jesus’ death an act of love?
  2. What is the best way to respond to God’s love?
  3. What does this third word teach us about Jesus?

NOTES OF REFLECTION ON WORSHIP

Six days later Jesus took Peter and the two brothers, James and John, and led them up a high mountain to be alone. As the men watched, Jesus’ appearance was transformed so that his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as light. Suddenly, Moses and Elijah appeared and began talking with Jesus. Peter exclaimed, “Lord, it’s wonderful for us to be here! If you want, I’ll make three shelters as memorials —one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” But even as he spoke, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my dearly loved Son, who brings me great joy. Listen to him.” The disciples were terrified and fell face down on the ground. Then Jesus came over and touched them. “Get up,” he said. “Don’t be afraid.” And when they looked up, Moses and Elijah were gone, and they saw only Jesus.” Matthew 18:1-8.

There are many different definitions of what true worship is. Some believe that worship is the worship song that moves you on Sundays. Others believe worship is the amount of money you contribute to various ministries. Still, others see volunteering on Sundays as an act of worship. All those and others are acts or expressions of worship, but maybe John Piper has the best definition: “True worship is valuing or treasuring of God above all things.”

Why do we worship Jesus and not another, or for that matter, nothing at all? It’s a crucial question that people have pondered for centuries. The answer to that question was revealed on a mountaintop 2,000 years ago, and it’s still being revealed today. Matthew 17:1-9 tells the tale of Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration. The transfiguration of Jesus Christ was a unique display of His divine character and a glimpse of the glory that Jesus had before He came to earth in human form. Jesus is worthy of worship. He is worth all the praise you can give Him.

He is transcendent.  He is beyond us and greater than us in every way imaginable. We may think God might be like us… but better.  Maybe we believe an encounter with Jesus would be cool, like meeting Michael Jordan, Taylor Swift, or President Biden. But that is not the case. We will be shaken to the core when we see God in all his glory.  He is glorious in power and light and majesty and holiness. His brilliance and majesty are so beyond us that we won’t know what to do when confronted with Him, and we will fall apart. We will worship Him.

 The apostle Paul says that someday, everyone will worship Jesus. Philippians 2:10 says, “that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth.”

True worship acknowledges God and all His power and glory in everything we do.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What does the transfiguration mean?
  2. How would you have reacted if Jesus had chosen you to witness His transfiguration?

WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE A LIVING SACRIFICE

“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” – Romans 12:1- 2.

In the first 11 chapters of Romans, Paul is telling the Christian community in Rome—and us as believers on the Emerald Coast how we should live.

But hearing the words living sacrifice seems a little weird in 2024. A living sacrifice must have sounded a little odd to those listening to Paul’s words in Biblical times as well.  They were used to bringing a live animal to the priest, who would kill the animal as the sacrifice, atoning for their sin. Paul is saying that we no longer have to bring a sacrifice; we become one. Offering ourselves as living sacrifices is to choose daily to lay down our desires and to live our lives honoring and obeying Him.  It is trusting in the perfect plans He has for us. In other words, we offer all the parts of our bodies- eyes, ears, lips, hands, feet, heart, mind, in service to Him.

God has given us resources, the Holy Spirit, and His word to achieve our goals. The Holy Spirit lives within to convict and guide us.  The more you know of Him, the greater His voice rings out.

To be a living sacrifice is to desire to belong entirely to Him.  He knows our human weakness will interfere with our best intentions, and we will fail. That’s when we trust in His grace, mercy, and forgiveness and begin anew.

“For my own part, I have never ceased to rejoice that God has appointed me to such an office. People talk of the sacrifice I have made in spending so much of my life in Africa. Is that a sacrifice which brings its own blest reward in healthful activity, the consciousness of doing good, peace of mind, and a bright hope of a glorious destiny hereafter? Away with the word sacrifice. Say rather it is a privilege. Anxiety, sickness, suffering, or danger, now and then, with a foregoing of the common conveniences and charities of this life, may make us pause, and cause the spirit to waver, and the soul to sink; but let this only be for a moment. All these are nothing when compared with the glory which shall be revealed in and for us. I never made a sacrifice.” – David Livingstone.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How would you explain what it means to be a living sacrifice? 
  2. Do you have any specific examples of how it would look for you to live your unique life as a living sacrifice?

I WAS EXPECTING A SMOOTHER RIDE

“Life is one bumpy road, full of potholes and sharp curves and more than a few dead ends.  Having faith doesn’t mean the road miraculously changes into a smooth one.  And faith isn’t like some road crew that comes along and fills in all the potholes or eases the curves or puts up barricades to keep you out of the dead ends.  Faith just means you bump along, get stuck in a pothole once in a while, take a curve too fast, or find yourself backing up after reaching a dead end.  With faith, you just know, deep in your heart and soul, that faith will get you to the end of the bumpy road and lead you safely back Home.” Delia Parr, Day by Day.

At one time, the sound barrier seemed like an unreachable goal. When a pilot came close to the speed of sound, the airplane began to shake so violently that it was feared it would disintegrate. Then, on October 14, 1947, Chuck Yeager stepped into an X-1 and made history.  Although it was a rough ride up to the sound barrier, after it was broken he found a smooth and quiet ride on the other side. As Christians, we are looking for a smooth and quiet ride but rarely find it.

Jesus says, “Follow me.” It sounds pretty simple. We can do that. But then we find it is a bumpy ride. Peter is an example of that. Jesus told Peter that he was the rock upon which the church would be built. But he denied he knew Jesus three times. Peter, like the rest of us, was probably not prepared for the bumps and curves and the speed of following Jesus. Jesus made it clear. Following Him will take the disciples places they never would have gone on their own. Following Jesus is going to be a wild and scary ride at times. Following Jesus is going to mean they have to give up the things they want and do the hard things that scare them or hurt them or just plain make them uncomfortable. Following Jesus can be anything but a smooth ride.

To follow Jesus, we have to leave our comfort zone. Jesus will take us out to find sick people who need someone to visit and care for them. Jesus is going to bring us to the place where children are neglected, abused, ignored, or not given a chance to grow up to be the people God wants them to be. Jesus is going to take us to places where people are adamant that they don’t need Jesus or annoying church people. We are going to meet people who are not grateful. We will meet people who mock us and yell at us or dismiss us as do-gooders. We are going to fail sometimes and be told to try again.

He will take you to uncomfortable, bumpy places if we are willing to follow. It is not smooth. It is not going to be fun all the time. Indeed, sometimes keeping up with Jesus will scare us and make us do things we would never do if it were up to us.

Andy Stanley said,” Following Jesus will make your life better and will make you better at life.” We believe following Jesus is the best life possible. He forgives our past, brings us joy, and becomes our hope for the future even with some bumps in the road.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Is your Christian journey bumpier than you thought it would be? Why?
  2. What can you do to enjoy the ride better?

SELFLESS LOVE

“Standing near the cross were Jesus’ mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary (the wife of Clopas), and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother standing there beside the disciple he loved, he said to her, “Dear woman, here is your son.” – John 19:25-26.

You don’t have to look very far to see that our society is very self-centered, very “me-centered.” You also don’t have to look very far to see that we, as believers, struggle with being selfless as well. What does it mean to be selfless anyway? Does it mean to think of yourself less or does it mean something completely different? Well, according to Webster’s dictionary, to be selfless means having no concern for self: unselfish. So, it is not thinking about yourself less but completely removing yourself from the equation to care for others.

One particularly striking aspect of God’s love is selflessness. This particular characteristic of God is truly astounding. This selflessness will take you by surprise because it is not something that we, as humans, are used to. We don’t see it very often. We are always suspicious toward people because we know that the bottom line is ‘What’s in it for me?’ But it is not so with God. He honestly and simply just cares about you, with no strings attached.

If you were in the process of dying from crucifixion, you would be likely thinking about yourself and only about yourself. Yet, even as Jesus faced a grueling, agonizing death, He was still thinking about others. First, He asked God to forgive His persecutors. Then, Jesus turns His attention to His mother.  Jesus bears the weight of the entire world’s sins on His shoulders, and yet He takes one last opportunity to ensure His Mother is taken care of before He leaves this earth.

Jesus speaks these words to Mary, “Dear woman, here is your son,” referring to John, one of His disciples. Jesus was communicating, “Don’t worry about the future. I took care of you while I was alive. John is going to take care of you after I am gone.” Just as Jesus is leaving to prepare an eternal, heavenly home for His Mother, He also provides an earthly home for her before He dies.

In His greatest agony, He still loved His family selflessly. We should learn from what Jesus did on the cross for His Mother. We must take every opportunity to love those dearest to us while with them. We must selflessly love with the time we have been given. Family is a gift we must never take for granted.

God is love. We never need to question His motives in what He does or does not do. Everything He does is done out of His amazing love for sinful people. The more we learn to trust Him and not buck against Him, the more we will see how He is shaping us into the type of person we are intended to be.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What can we learn from “woman, here is your son?  What does this teach us about Jesus?
  2. How does this relate to love for and responsibility for our family? 

DEAR WOMAN, HERE IS YOUR SON

Standing near the cross were Jesus’ mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary (the wife of Clopas), and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother standing there beside the disciple he loved, he said to her, “Dear woman, here is your son.” And he said to this disciple, “Here is your mother.” And from then on this disciple took her into his home.” – John 19:25-27.

When you look at the final words of Jesus from the cross, you encounter some of the participants who were at Golgotha on that fateful day. They are a part of the story of understanding Jesus’ final words.   

In John 19:25-27, John says that three women were with Jesus at the cross. John tells us that they were Jesus’ mother, Mary, the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. As we read through this list, we immediately focus on Jesus’ mother, Mary. You have to wonder what Mary must have felt in those hours that Jesus hung on the cross. It had to be a mother’s worst nightmare. It must have been a ghastly, horrible thing for her to see. She had brought Him into the world and reared Him from childhood.  And now, as His bleeding form hung helplessly on the cross, all she could do was watch as His life slip away.

Compassion and love move Jesus to speak his third final word from the cross.  Jesus expresses his compassion and love for Mary with the words we see spoken to her and to the disciple He loved (John). He says to Mary, “Dear woman, here is your son,” and to John, “Here is your mother.” Understanding Jesus’ compassion for His mother and the reasoning for these words will allow us to see the compassion and love Jesus has for us.

Jesus’ words are something like a will expressed from the cross. He wants to ensure Mary is cared for and protected after His death. His pain from the cross was not too much to care about the needs of others, especially Mary, at this moment. His love for His mother and making sure she was cared for was more important than His own pain.

The Bible does not tell us but you can imagine that Mary walked away from Calvary in the grip of the strong, loving arm of John, You can imagine that she was no longer afraid. God does the same thing for each of us through Jesus Christ. Jesus tells us, “Give me your life, for if you give me your life, I will take care of you. No matter what battle you may have to fight, you cannot lose. Though bleeding, you will not be broken. Though weary, you will not be weak. Trials will not defeat you.

The same compassion for Mary that moved Jesus to action is apparent when we see how this type of care and compassion applies to how we are called to relate to each other today. These words let us know that family and church are places of community, friendship, and love where we are there for one another.

It’s all about love.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What do you think Mary is feeling while she is waiting at the cross for Jesus to die?
  2. What does this third word teach us about Jesus?

JESUS THE MASTER COMMUNICATOR

“…The large crowd listened to him with great delight.” – Mark 12:37.

When we read about Jesus in the New Testament, we tend to view Him through the lens of Savior and Lord, the long-awaited Messiah. And rightly so. But how often do we view Him as the master communicator? The Bible uses many words to describe God’s communication skills. He answers, asks, assures, calls, commands, directs, explains, instructs, mentions, orders, promises, responds, reveals, etc.

Jesus is the master of communication. He also was the greatest evangelist of all time. He modeled how to engage people with the message of the gospel. His style is assertive, honest, humble, transparent, and direct to the heart of all. The Bible says of Jesus, “…The large crowd listened to him with great delight” (Mark 12:37).

Jesus carefully and sensitively crafted His communication to accommodate the nature and life situation of the people with whom He talked. Jesus knew people. John says, “But Jesus didn’t trust them, because he knew all about people. No one needed to tell him about human nature, for he knew what was in each person’s heart.” (John 2:24-25). Jesus knew people’s life situation, their internal and external factors, and the forces that shaped them. He used this knowledge of people to communicate effectively.

The Gospels give us several instances of large crowds who followed Jesus into remote areas to hear Him. We read of Zaccheus climbing a tree and a paralyzed man going through the roof because of the crowds of people attracted to Jesus. That is because He spoke about the things in life that mattered – about God and how to know Him. Jesus did not just talk to crowds, however. In many cases, He had personal, one-on-one conversations that engaged the other person(s).

We can learn much from Jesus on how we communicate with others. A starting point for Christians who want to communicate more effectively is to consider how our conversations reflect the love of Christ. When others hear us communicating or conversing, are they seeing and hearing Jesus?

Paul says in Colossians 4:5-6 “Live wisely among those who are not believers, and make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be gracious and attractive so that you will have the right response for everyone.”

It is our job, as Christians, especially Christian leaders, to set an example in how we communicate. This takes practice… it usually does not come naturally to us. The first place we should look to learn how to communicate more effectively is by looking at Jesus and emulating His approach.

Discussion Questions:

  1. We should follow Jesus’ examples of how he spoke to others, and how he interacted and communicated with others while He was here on earth. How do we do that?
  2. How Christ-like is your communication? Are you able to patiently lead others to answers? Do you feel the need to speak up, or are you able to stay silent sometimes?

THE PERSON IN THE MIRROR

“Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.” – Romans 12:2.

Have you ever experienced a house of mirrors? A house of mirrors is a traditional attraction at fun fairs, carnivals, and amusement parks. It is a maze-like puzzle made out of a myriad of mirrors that are often distorted because of different curves, convex or concave in the glass to give the participants unusual and confusing reflections. In one mirror, you’re short and stubby, and in the next, long and lanky. In most cases, you are looking at a distorted view of yourself. The question is, are we looking into the mirror today and getting a distorted look at who God created us to be?

You look into the mirror and see the average person in school, the person who never seemed good enough on the job. You look into the mirror of life and see failure rather than success. Our image in the mirror will never be perfect. Perfection is never the goal when following Jesus. The more we strive for perfection, the more we fall short. But rather than sticking our heads in the sand, we should seek to become more and more like Jesus Christ.

The person in the mirror has flaws. This can be expected. What should not be expected is when we use the reality of our shortcomings and imperfections as an excuse for why we could never be more like Jesus. Jesus desires us to change and be more like Him every day. He wants that effort. Not so we can get into Heaven and act self-righteous but because we are His living example. We are the Jesus they see. Romans 12:2 exhorts and instructs us, “Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.”

It’s no mystery we are flawed, but we have the Holy Spirit to help us become more like Jesus. This is what 2 Corinthians 3:18 instructs us to do, saying, “And we all, with unveiled face, continually seeing as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are progressively being transformed into His image from [one degree of] glory to [even more] glory, which comes from the Lord, [who is] the Spirit” (AMP).

Paul said that when we look into the mirror as a believer, we aren’t supposed to see ourselves any longer but see the glory of the Lord. That means we are to see who and what Jesus Christ has made us to be in Him when we accept Him as Savior and Lord.

 Only by seeing Jesus in the scriptures can we have any real and permanent change. Next time you read the word, do your best to see Jesus’s glory instead of your shortcomings. The more of Him we see the more like Him we will become.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Is it possible to see Jesus when you look in the mirror?
  2. What practical steps can you take to be more like Jesus this week? 

JESUS IS MORE THAN A MAN

“In the beginning the Word already existed.The Word was with God, and the Word was God. He existed in the beginning with God. God created everything through him, and nothing was created except through him. The Word gave life to everything that was created, and his life brought light to everyone.” John 1:1-4.

If you would, just for a minute, close your eyes and picture God. What did you see? Did you imagine a roaring lion? You probably watched Narnia too many times. Did you imagine Morgan Freeman than you watched Bruce or Evan Almighty too many times? Or maybe you pictured God as a Baptist, Presbyterian, Catholic, or Methodist. Most people would say they saw Jesus.  Who is Jesus Christ? Opinions vary.

Twenty centuries have come and gone, His birth divides history in two eras on our calendar. One day of every week is set aside in remembrance of Him. And our two most important holidays celebrate His birth and resurrection. His empty cross has become the symbol of victory over sin and death. His life has furnished the theme for more songs, books, poems, and paintings than any other person or historical event. Thousands of colleges, hospitals, orphanages, and other institutions were founded to honor Him.

He did not come merely to preach a Gospel; He is that Gospel. He did not come to shed light; He said, “I am the light.” He did not come merely to name a shepherd; He said: “I am the shepherd.” He did not come only to point the way; He stated, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.”  We’re not just talking about someone who lived on earth, but the eternal Son of God. People know that Jesus lived on earth in Israel for 33 years. But John reminds us in chapter 1 of John that even before the beginning of what we know is time, Jesus, the Word, was eternally God. At no time did Jesus ever cease to be God. Although He was made fully human, the Lord Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God, became man without ceasing to be God.

Philippians 2:6-11 says, “Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges he took the humble position of a slave, and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross. Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor and gave him the name above all other names, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue declare that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

Have you ever thought that God is this big, impersonal force out there, and we can’t know Him? As believers in Jesus, we know that’s not true. We know God is a knowable God, a personable God, and He chose to be known by the Word coming to the earth, taking on the form of a servant, and being hung on a cross. Jesus proved who He was ultimately in His resurrection. He defeated the grave and sin and Satan. He also proves who He is today by changing people’s lives.  He chose to make himself known to us in that way. If we want to know what God is like, we look at Jesus in the Scriptures.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How is Jesus’ life proof that He is God? How does His death prove He was more than a man?
  2. What would you tell somebody who believes Jesus was just a great moral teacher and nothing more?

TODAY YOU WILL BE WITH ME IN PARADISE

“And Jesus replied, “I assure you, today you will be with me in paradise.” – Luke 23:43.

Luke 23:43 contains some of the most powerful and beautiful words in all of the Bible. Those words, spoken by Jesus as He’s hanging on a cross, as He’s being mocked, as He’s being killed in the most cruel form imaginable in that day. There were two criminals crucified on either side of Jesus, with one of them taunting Him.

But there came a point when one thief’s heart was utterly changed. As he studied Jesus, suffering all that abuse so patiently—never reviling or insulting His tormentors—the thief began to see that this Man on the center cross was indeed who He claimed to be. The proof of his repentance is seen in his immediate change of behavior, as his words to Jesus indicate. He says to Jesus, “… remember me when you come into your Kingdom.” Jesus replies, “today you will be with me in paradise.”

This was significant because it represented what Jesus was doing in that moment. He was dying for the sins and sinners of this world. He did not have to do this, but His entire purpose in coming to earth was to not only love us, not only to show empathy to us by taking on human flesh but to die for us to free us from our sin.

We are not told specifically what this criminal did, but whatever it was, it was worthy of the most severe punishment. But even a terrible crime that the authorities determined to be worthy of death could be forgiven by Jesus.

“Today you will be with me in paradise.” Today, not in the future, but as soon as you breathe your last breath, you will be with Me in paradise. Jesus’ words to the dying thief conveyed an unqualified promise of full forgiveness, covering every evil deed he had ever done.  He wasn’t expected to atone for his sins, do penance, or perform any ritual. But instead, his forgiveness was full and free and immediate.

That was all Jesus said to him. But it was all the thief needed to hear. He was still suffering unspeakable physical torment, but for the first time in his life, he was free from the burden of his sin. The Savior, at his side, was bearing that sin for him. And the thief was now clothed in Christ’s perfect righteousness.

Think about that for a moment. Because of what Jesus has done on the cross, when those who believe in Him die on this earth, that day, that moment, you will be with Jesus in heaven.  Luke 23:43 shows the confidence we can have in Jesus even after our last breath. So no matter what happens today or tomorrow or next month or next year or ten years from now or 50 years from now, whenever it is when we breathe our last breath, in that moment, on that day, we will be with Him in paradise.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What can we learn from the repentant thief?
  2. What does it mean for us today?