Lenten Devotions 2015: When you feel abandoned…

Jesus Christ clearly warned his followers: “In this world you will have trouble” (John 16: 33). So, today, if you or someone you know is suffering to the extent of feeling abandoned, you should not be surprised at all. Instead, we need to find encouragement from Jesus Christ who himself suffered for us. That’s why he hastened to add: “But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16: 33). How is Jesus able to encourage those who are suffering today and feel dejected? Is it through some lofty ideal or philosophical thought? Is it through a best-seller, self-help book that he penned? Absolutely not. And that is the main difference between him and many gurus of this world: unlike others, Jesus personally suffered dejection. He came out victorious from his sufferings, pain, and abandonment to show us that we, too, could overcome.
Psalmist David composed this song centuries before Jesus walked on this earth:

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from saving me, so far from my cries of anguish?
My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, but I find no rest…” (Psalm 22: 1-2).

We immediately recognize these words because Jesus used them as he hung on the cross of Calvary. Whatever Psalmist David was personally going through when composing it, he was also prophetically describing the coming Suffering Servant, Jesus Christ. Jesus would have read and memorized this song during his life on earth for it came so readily to his lips when he suffered on that cursed cross for you and me. When Jesus went through this rejection by his own people and was abandoned by his own disciples, it was something that he was expecting and was prepared for. However, when he realized the unbearable burden of sins laid on him at the cross, he could not take this anymore. The sins of the world brought a momentary separation between him and God the Father, which was unbearable for Jesus who had lived in a constant fellowship with God. Hence, in such an agonizing separation, Jesus cried out in a loud voice:

Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”) (Matthew 27: 46).

Nevertheless, let’s thank God that it was not Jesus’ last cry from the cross. He did not die with the feeling of abandonment on Calvary. If that was the case, you and I had no hope and no salvation. However, Jesus quickly gained back his belief that God is holy, and that holy God was his Father who would not leave him forever. That is why, the last words on Jesus’ lips were the words of love, hope and absolute confidence before he breathed his last:

“Father, into your hands I commit my spirit” (Luke 23: 46).

He knew that the greatest pain he would face on this earth was the abandonment from his Father God, so that God could assure the world that he would never abandon his people. So, my friend, if you are in pain and feeling like King David in Psalm 22— cheer up. Even when you feel God is silent or so far away from you, you can be confident that He is with you and will never abandon you. Amen.

Lenten Reflection 2012: Retreating into the wilderness with Jesus, Day 14.

Day 14, Thursday, March 8, 2012

 Matthew 4 states, “Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil” (Matthew 4:1 RSV, also see Mark 1:13, Luke 4:1-2). Exploring the temptations of Jesus Christ in the wilderness is very rewarding. The three most trusted tools with which Jesus confronted the temptations were fasting, prayer, and the Word of God. The Lenten season helps us grow in all three of these disciplines. But the nature of Jesus’ temptations also teaches us strategies to resist the temptations in our wilderness experience.

 In the first two temptations (see Matthew 4: 3, 5-6; Luke 4:3, 6-7), the devil provoked Jesus to prove to him and to the world that He indeed was the “Son of God.” In the first temptation, the challenge was: “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread,” and in the second one: “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down…” If Jesus was the Son of God then He didn’t need bread to survive and if He threw Himself down, He will not be physically injured. The gospels remind us Jesus’ full humanity by stating that He indeed was very hungry. But the devil asked Him to prove His divinity. Jesus didn’t fall for this trick but instead reminded the devil of His humanity. Just before Jesus was led into the wilderness, He had heard the affirming words of His Father about His divinity. He has been growing in intimacy with His Father during His solitary time of prayer and fasting. Thus, Jesus was sure of His divine identity when the devil tempted Him to doubt it. He tried to bring thoughts of distrust at one of the most vulnerable times in Jesus’ life. When the devil tried to bring doubts about the voice of God, Jesus simply replied by the certainty of the Word of God: “It is written.” It meant that whatever you may say, devil, I am sure of the finality of the Word of God and of the assurance of my Father.

As followers of Christ, we too, are many times led into similar situations where the devil creeps in with doubts at our vulnerable moments. He tries to raise doubts about the authenticity of God’s Word and His promises. He may tempt us to prove something to him and/or to the world around us. In such situations, we too need to respond with “It is written.” However, we can do so only when we have read, learned, and tested the Word of God to be true in our own lives. Remember, the devil also knows the Word of God, and he knows it better than most Christians! We cannot fool him, but we certainly can defeat him by saying and doing things that show our trust in God, His Word, and in His promises made for us. Amen.