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"When God Is Distant"

by David Legge | Copyright © 2009 | All Rights Reserved | www.preachtheword.com

'Preach The Word'We're turning to Psalm 22 please, Psalm 22 please, and we'll read the whole Psalm. The subject and title that has been given to me is a very good one, 'When God Is Distant'.

Verse 1: "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? why art thou so far from helping me, and from the words of my roaring? O my God, I cry in the daytime, but thou hearest not; and in the night season, and am not silent. But thou art holy, O thou that inhabitest the praises of Israel. Our fathers trusted in thee: they trusted, and thou didst deliver them. They cried unto thee, and were delivered: they trusted in thee, and were not confounded. But I am a worm, and no man; a reproach of men, and despised of the people. All they that see me laugh me to scorn: they shoot out the lip, they shake the head, saying, He trusted on the LORD that he would deliver him: let him deliver him, seeing he delighted in him. But thou art he that took me out of the womb: thou didst make me hope when I was upon my mother's breasts. I was cast upon thee from the womb: thou art my God from my mother's belly. Be not far from me; for trouble is near; for there is none to help. Many bulls have compassed me: strong bulls of Bashan have beset me round. They gaped upon me with their mouths, as a ravening and a roaring lion. I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint: my heart is like wax; it is melted in the midst of my bowels. My strength is dried up like a potsherd; and my tongue cleaveth to my jaws; and thou hast brought me into the dust of death. For dogs have compassed me: the assembly of the wicked have inclosed me: they pierced my hands and my feet. I may tell", or count, "all my bones: they look and stare upon me. They part my garments among them, and cast lots upon my vesture. But be not thou far from me, O LORD: O my strength, haste thee to help me. Deliver my soul from the sword; my darling from the power of the dog. Save me from the lion's mouth: for thou hast heard me from the horns of the unicorns. I will declare thy name unto my brethren: in the midst of the congregation will I praise thee. Ye that fear the LORD, praise him; all ye the seed of Jacob, glorify him; and fear him, all ye the seed of Israel. For he hath not despised nor abhorred the affliction of the afflicted; neither hath he hid his face from him; but when he cried unto him, he heard. My praise shall be of thee in the great congregation: I will pay my vows before them that fear him. The meek shall eat and be satisfied: they shall praise the LORD that seek him: your heart shall live for ever. All the ends of the world shall remember and turn unto the LORD: and all the kindreds of the nations shall worship before thee. For the kingdom is the LORD'S: and he is the governor among the nations. All they that be fat upon earth shall eat and worship: all they that go down to the dust shall bow before him: and none can keep alive his own soul. A seed shall serve him; it shall be accounted to the Lord for a generation. They shall come, and shall declare his righteousness unto a people that shall be born, that he hath done this". Amen.

Whatever David may have been suffering, the suffering we read of here is multiplied by infinity to plumb the depths of a unique suffering beyond any man's...

Let us pray together please: Almighty God and Holy Father, we are very conscious that we are entering on to holy ground through the reading of this Psalm and the contemplation of the great work that was accomplished at Calvary. Father, we fear that we are going where angels fear to tread and cannot look into. Lord, we just pray that an apt reverence and carefulness would be ours as we look into the intimacy that was the transaction of Golgotha, between the Holy God of heaven and the Saviour of the world. Father, I need Your help, and we all need the help of the blessed Holy Spirit, the eternal Spirit who delivered Him there for our sins. O God, we long for a breath of Your Spirit upon us. Lord, do not be distant to us tonight, come very near, we pray. For those especially who need to sense Your nearness, O God, break through whatever barriers they might experience - Lord we pray that You will make Yourself real to them this evening. We long for the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ to be manifest in our midst. As we meditated last week on these words, we take them as our prayer: 'Let the words of our mouth, and the meditations of our heart, be acceptable in Thy sight O God, our Strength and our Redeemer'. Amen.

The 22nd Psalm is probably the most well-known of the Messianic Psalms. Immediately we are confronted with the crucifixion. Now, I hope you do know that Christ is in all the Scriptures. Last week, when we considered another Psalm, we saw how God is the God who wants to be seen and known. One of the ways in which we saw, the primary way He manifests and reveals Himself, is through the Holy Scriptures. We saw last week that the Bible is a revelation of God. If we want to know God's character we need the Bible - nature is not enough, though He is revealed in nature, we've got to have His inspired word. But, just as the Bible is a revelation of God, the Bible is also a revelation of Christ. Of course, our Lord Himself, to the Pharisees, exhorted them to search the Scriptures, 'for in them you think that you have eternal life, and they are they which testify of me'. So right away He was stating this fact, that the whole of the Bible, particularly the Old Testament which is what He was speaking of to them, it reveals His person, prophetically of course.

You remember, after His resurrection, He walked alongside those two dejected disciples on the road to Emmaus, and we read that He began at Moses and all the prophets, expounding to them from all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself. You see, the Bible is a revelation of the Lord Jesus. We don't have time to look at all the aspects where that applies, but of course there are the great types of Scripture, representations that point before time to the Lord Jesus and His great works. You, I'm sure, are familiar with the feasts and the offerings - there are many pictures of the Lord Jesus and His work - and of course there are the more explicit prophesies concerning who He would be and what He would do. As you read on in that story, where the Lord Jesus walked with the two on the road to Emmaus, He expands even more, and He says later on: 'These are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me'. 'Then opened he their understanding, that they might understand the scriptures, And said unto them, Thus it is written, and thus it behoved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day'. He opened their understanding, because they didn't understand Scripture if they didn't see Him in it! That's the point! And, of course, He mentions the Psalms - and the Psalms that we have before us, Psalm 22, and then Psalm 23 and 24, sometimes have been called 'The Shepherd Psalms' because they are prophetic, Messianic Psalms that point us to the Lord Jesus Christ. In them, and in the rest of the Old Testament Scriptures, that adage is true: 'The new was in the old concealed, and the old is in the new revealed' - the Testaments, the new was in the old concealed, and the old is in the new revealed.

The reason why we love the Psalms is because they are very explicit in how they set forth human experience...

In the 22nd Psalm that we've read together this evening you have the Good Shepherd giving His life for the sheep. In Psalm 23 - I think you're due to study it in your next instalment from the Psalms - it sets forth the Great Shepherd who gives His life, and lives in resurrection power, for the sheep, and cares and tends for the sheep. That's what the writer to the Hebrews was thinking of when he said: 'The God of peace, who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd of the sheep' - and He is the Great Shepherd in Psalm 23. Then Psalm 24 sets forth for us the Chief Shepherd, and Peter spoke of that in his epistle when he said: 'When the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away'. You see in Psalm 24 that great glory: 'Lift up your heads, O ye gates; for the King of glory shall come in'. So Psalm 22 is the Psalm of the cross, Psalm 23 is the Psalm of the crook, and Psalm 24 is the Psalm of the crown.

Now I, if I took a poll this evening, I would vouch to say that we all love the Psalms. The reason why we love the Psalms is because they are very explicit in how they set forth human experience, how they document many of the trials, tribulations, the joys, the sorrows, the dilemmas, the confusions and frustrations of this life we live on Earth. As we read them, and enter into the very deep experiences, personal experiences of the Psalmist, we can identify with them. Let me just say: the Messianic Psalms are different. This has come very forcibly to me as I have studied this Psalm in particular. There is obviously, as you read the Messianic Psalms, more than mere human experience depicted for us. Now, whilst the Psalmist might have been motivated to take up his pen to express some personal experience through which he was presently passing, immediately as he writes it would appear that the Holy Spirit of God elevates him to a higher plane, where deeper experiences are beginning to be described. What we read of in this Psalm, and in all the Messianic Psalms, seems to go above and beyond any mere existence of a man.

In Psalm 22, whatever David may have been suffering, the suffering we read of here is multiplied by infinity to plumb the depths of a unique suffering beyond any man's. The only possible explanation of this is that this Psalm is prophecy, and all the Messianic Psalms are prophecy. But we've got Biblical grounds to say this, because when Peter preached at Pentecost in Acts chapter 2 and verse 30, Peter ascribed that well-known Messianic Psalm, Psalm 16, to come from the prophetic ministry of King David. Psalm 22 fits the same mould, as all the Messianic Psalms do. Now, to what extent David understood the full implications of the prophesies he was making in this Psalm is a great matter of discussion, but Peter in his Pentecost sermon indicates that David, perhaps, had a deeper awareness of what his Messianic Psalms meant than is often attributed to him, and many of the Old Testament prophets.

Whatever opposition David experienced in his life, he was never executed - there's something different about this Psalm...

Maybe you would care to turn to Acts 2 for a moment just till I show you this - Acts chapter 2, and this is important, verse 29 - Peter says: 'Men and brethren, let me freely speak unto you of the patriarch David, that he is both dead and buried, and his sepulchre is with us unto this day. Therefore being a prophet', David, a prophet, 'and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him, that of the fruit of his loins, according to the flesh, he would raise up Christ to sit on his throne' - now this is important - 'He seeing this', David, as a prophet, seeing this, 'before spake of the resurrection of Christ, that his soul was not left in hell' - and that's him quoting Psalm 16 - 'that his soul was not left in hell, neither his flesh did see corruption'. So Peter says that David is a prophet, he foresaw Christ's resurrection. Now I agree with the Bible commentator who says that the intense suffering described here in Psalm 22 isn't that of a sick man in a bed, that's what some of the Psalms are about. It isn't that of a soldier in battle, like other Psalms. But it is very graphically the description of a criminal being executed. Whatever opposition David experienced in his life, he was never executed - there's something different about this Psalm.

Now, that being said, it's very easy for us now to delve into the great New Testament doctrines of the cross, particularly what it meant for Christ to be forsaken, and miss the possibility - and I would say the probability - that here, on a human level, in the Psalmist, is an Old Testament saint who felt forsaken of God. That's why he cries out: 'My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?'. Now, I believe if we can grasp the humanity of the Psalm in the Psalmist, not only will that help those of us who may be here tonight feeling distant from God for one reason or another, but it will also give us a greater appreciation of the abandonment that was the cross, when Christ cried out: 'My God, my God, why?'.

So, come with me, and let us look at these one by one. First of all, let's consider what Psalm 22 could have meant for David, the Psalmist. Now, as I said, this Psalm being Messianic, it is different, it is prophetic - but it is quite possible, and I indeed believe probable, that David felt at this moment in his life's experience forsaken of God. I believe that as you read the whole of the Psalms, you find that this is a recurring theme: forsakenness. First of all you encounter, if you were to look at Psalm 43 and verse 2, the Psalmist's sense of being forsaken, just like Psalm 22. In Psalm 43 he says: 'For thou art the God of my strength: why dost thou cast me off?', he felt cut off from God, 'Why go I mourning because of the oppression of the enemy?'. So there is this recurring theme of a sense of being distant from Almighty God. Then, at other times, the Psalmist sends up a prayer that he will not feel forsaken. A very well-known one is Psalm 27 verse 9: 'Hide not thy face far from me; put not thy servant away in anger: thou hast been my help; leave me not, neither forsake me, O God of my salvation'.

If we are honest, there are times in our pilgrimage where God seems distant...

So there were Psalmists who felt forsaken of God, others prayed that they would never feel forsaken of God, and then there's another theme of those who felt that the enemies of God were accusing the people of God of becoming forsaken of God. In Psalm 42, a very well-known one: 'I will say unto God my rock, Why hast thou forgotten me? why go I mourning because of the oppression of the enemy? As with a sword in my bones, mine enemies reproach me; while they say daily unto me, Where is thy God?'. The implication is, they're saying: 'Your God has forsaken you! He's given up on you!'. So you see that this is a recurring theme, and we might well ask: 'What's the reason for this occasional theme in the Psalms?', and I would answer that very simply: because occasionally in life we experience a sense of abandonment. If we are honest, there are times in our pilgrimage where God seems distant. Like the Psalmist in Psalm 22, our prayers and our deep desires and longings seem to be unanswered. The heavens seem to be brass, we're not getting through, we're not in touch, and we utter the cry: 'Why?'. The confusion of this question 'Why?' is caused by Scripture, the same Scripture that testifies that God will never forsake His people.

Now I want you to understand the mental dilemma of the Psalmist. The Psalmist knows the Scriptures - let me give you a few examples, 1 Samuel 12:22: 'The LORD will not forsake his people for his great name's sake'. Psalm 37:25, David says: 'I have been young, and now am old; yet have I not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread'. Again in the same Psalm: 'The LORD loveth judgment, and forsaketh not his saints; they are preserved for ever: but the seed of the wicked shall be cut off'. Our New Testament counterpart to that is the famous quoted verse, Hebrews 13:5: 'I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee'. So this question that comes from the heart of the Psalmist, 'Why?', is motivated by a confusion, because Scripture says that the righteous shall never be forsaken. So the paradox is so obvious: 'My God, You're my God - but if You're my God, why do I feel forsaken?'.

Now, who of us have not at some stage and asked the question: 'Why?'. Who of us have not said, or had said to us, 'Where is God now?'. Many old saints have called it 'The dark night of the soul', where a cold and frightening sense of being abandoned by God can come over our spirits. This happens, particularly, when we face pain, tragedy, trial - and this is a great question many believers and unbelievers struggle with: 'If God is there, why?'. For the believer: 'If God is my God, why?'.

This is a great question many believers and unbelievers struggle with: 'If God is there, why?'...

Elie Wiesel wrote a book called 'La Nuit', which means 'The Night', it was an autobiography, a memoir of his experience in Auschwitz. The story takes place in Buna, the concentration camp attached to Auschwitz. He tells the story, one of the stories, of a young Jewish boy who was hanged. Along with two adults, this boy was hanged by the SS in front of thousands of the inmates of the camp. Every one of the inmates were obliged to file past the three hanged bodies and had to look them straight in the face. Elie Wiesel says that the two adults were dead, but the child, being so light, was still alive. He writes, and I'm quoting him: 'For more than half an hour he stayed there, struggling between life and death, dying in slow agony under our eyes. We had to look at him full in the face, he was still alive when I passed in front of him - his tongue was still red, his eyes were not yet glazed. Behind me I heard a man asking', a Jewish man, ''Where is God now?''.  Elie Wiesel says: 'And I heard a voice within me answer him 'Where is He? He is here! He is hanging here on the gallows''. He finishes that story by saying: 'That night the soup tasted of corpses'.

Now I am almost sure that humanity has never faced anything like the Holocaust, and such tragic events, cataclysmic events in human history have caused people to ask: 'Where is God in the midst of all this?'. If your life is a cameo of pain, tragedy, perilous despair, you may have asked: 'Where is God?'. Maybe you have felt: 'God is dead to me', or 'God, I know You're there, I believe You're there, but You're distant', or 'If You're there You seem to be disinterested'. Now, whatever David's sufferings may or may not have been, what I want you to see is where the Holy Spirit led him. Where does the Holy Spirit lead us in all our pain, in our sin, in our guilt, in our shame and our despair? Well, the Holy Spirit leads us to the One who suffered the abandonment of God for us all. That answers any questions that we may have been abandoned. When the Holy Spirit leads us to Calvary, we see that God is not distant, God is not disinterested, God is not a detached Deity, God is not sadistically or impassively observing our pain from a distance and our agony. Yes, sometimes, through circumstances or simply by a withdrawing of a sense of God's presence, we might feel forsaken - but if this Psalm teaches us anything, even through David's experience, it tells us a loss of the sense of God's love is not a loss of that love itself.

Can I repeat that for some soul in the gathering tonight: a loss of the sense of God's love is not a loss of that love itself. The best thing you can do if you are this way, is to come with me tonight and, with the Holy Spirit, see the crucified God. What could Psalm 22 have meant for David? Well, we've touched on that, but let's come to how the Holy Spirit leads him - what did Psalm 22 mean for Jesus? Now whatever, as we've said, the prophet David understood about the cross, we are absolutely sure that the Lord Jesus, as He hanged on the cross, was consciously fulfilling these prophecies of Psalm 22. It would be very easy to skate over that - and we'll look at, perhaps, what verse 1 of Psalm 22 means: 'My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?'. But on a very elementary level, whatever Jesus meant, He certainly intended that the crowd should bring to their mind at that moment the whole of Psalm 22. His purpose in that was to prove that He was the fulfilment of it all - and I marvel at that! The mental competence and the calculated composure of the Lord Jesus Christ in the agony of Calvary is remarkable. He was in complete control!

Can I repeat that for some soul in the gathering tonight: a loss of the sense of God's love is not a loss of that love itself...

As He exhorted the crowd, the Holy Spirit brings the crucifixion very forcibly before our view. If I need to remind you, this is before - when David wrote this Psalm - before crucifixion was popularised by the Romans as a form of execution. It was never a Jewish form of execution, so David was not aware of it - and yet he is prophesying it very accurately and graphically. So we see Christ here, that's what this Psalm is all about. Verse 1, we have this cry that we find in the gospel records: 'Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?', 'My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?'. In verse 2, 'O my God, I cry in the daytime, but thou hearest not; and in the night season, and am not silent' - and you see there the passing of day to night, and that happened so dramatically at Calvary where there was a darkness. We read in the Gospels, don't we, that from the sixth hour there was a darkness over all the land until the ninth hour - there it is. In verses 6 through to 8 we read of the ridicule of the people: 'I am a worm', you know what a worm is, a defenceless creature. It can be trodden on the ground by man and destroyed, treated as naught - that's what the Lord Jesus was made for us - 'and no man; a reproach of men, and despised of the people. All they that see me laugh me to scorn: they shoot out the lip, they shake the head, saying, He trusted on the LORD that he would deliver him: let him deliver him, seeing he delighted in him'. When we go to the Gospels, isn't that what we read of? 'And they that passed by railed on him, wagging their heads, and saying, Ah, thou that destroyest the temple, and buildest it in three days, Save thyself. If thou be the Son of God, come down from the cross. Likewise also the chief priests mocking him, with the scribes and elders, said, He saved others; himself he cannot save. If he be the King of Israel, let him now come down from the cross, and we will believe him. He trusted in God; let him deliver him now, if he will have him: for he said, I am the Son of God. The thieves also' - the thieves also! - 'which were crucified with him, cast the same in his teeth'. Yet we read that He said: 'Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do'.

Verses 9 and 10, you may not have seen this before, but he speaks of how God drew him forth from his mother's womb, how he fed upon his mother's breast, how he came from his mother's belly - and right at Calvary, you remember, there was an exchange where the Lord Jesus spoke to Mary, and said: 'Woman, behold thy son', and addressing John, He said to John, 'Behold, thy mother'. Here his mother is mentioned in this Psalm, and His mother is present and addressed at Calvary. In verses 11 through to 12 we see that there was no help offered Him. In verses 14 and 15 we read of His thirst, 'I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint: my heart is like wax; it is melted in the midst of my bowels. My strength is dried up like a potsherd; and my tongue cleaveth to my jaws; and thou hast brought me', led me, 'into the dust of death'. We read in John's gospel, don't we: 'After this', now this is important, 'After this, Jesus knowing' - knowing - 'that all things were now accomplished, that the scripture might be fulfilled, saith, I thirst'.

The mental competence and the calculated composure of the Lord Jesus Christ in the agony of Calvary is remarkable...

In verse 16 David says: 'Dogs' - and dogs are symbolic of Gentiles - 'Dogs have compassed me', the Romans, 'the assembly of the wicked have inclosed me: they pierced my hands and my feet' - before crucifixion, pierced hands and feet. Verse 17, the agony of bone dislocation, the victim of crucifixion experienced this. We've already read that he said 'All my bones are out of joint', in verse 17 he says: 'I will count all my bones: they look and stare upon me'. Verse 18: 'They part my garments among them, and cast lots upon my vesture'. We know from the gospel record that the soldiers said among themselves: 'Let us not rend his garment, but cast lots for it, whose it shall be: that the scriptures' - that the Scriptures, the gospel writer says - 'might be fulfilled, which saith, They parted my raiment among them, and for my vesture they did cast lots. These things therefore the soldiers did'. In verses 19 through to 21 the Lord Jesus is seen prophetically as addressing God: 'But be not thou far from me, O LORD: O my strength, haste thee to help me. Deliver my soul from the sword; my darling from the power of the dog' - and you know what that is, don't you? When He said: 'Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit'.

In verse 31 - there are other things we could say, but time doesn't allow us - in verse 31 the Psalm ends with this note: 'They shall come, and shall declare his righteousness unto a people that shall be born, that he hath done this'. Now that parallels in language the statement of the Lord Jesus: 'Tetelestai, it is finished', 'He hath done this' - that's what that means, 'It is finished'. We are presented with Calvary in this Psalm, and we're also presented - if we had time we could look at it - in verses 22 through to verse 26, the Resurrection is there. He's no longer on the cross, He's alive, He's in the midst of His people, He's leading them in praise in a mighty victory that God has won. We read of the New Testament explanation of that in Hebrews 2:11-12: 'For which cause he is not ashamed to call them brethren, Saying, I will declare thy name unto my brethren, in the midst of the church will I sing praise unto thee'. We read on of how Christ shares the blessings of Calvary with His church, verse 22, the congregation; with Israel, verse 23, Jacob; and with the whole world, verses 27 through to verse 31.

Isn't scripture wonderful? I don't know whether there is anyone here tonight who's not a believer, or maybe is a sceptical or doubting believer - but listen carefully to what I'm about to say. Biblical prophecy is the way in which God authenticates His message. Let me repeat that: biblical prophecy is the way in which God authenticates His message. I used to hear, when I was a young person, preachers say: 'This is God's word, because it says it's God's word' - and I thought to myself, 'Dear, dear, dear, how can you just accept that it's God's word because it says it's God's Word?'. What they really meant was that the Bible is self-authenticating, and God has put His own divine seal of inspiration on it by the fact that He has prophesied, to every jot and tittle of accuracy, the whole life and ministry of our Lord Jesus Christ. It authenticates the message, the message of the gospel, the message of the whole Bible, that Jesus Christ is the Saviour, the One who died for our sins and rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, and ascended unto heaven, and He is alive as our Saviour who has sent His Spirit - and we all can be saved if we believe in Him and Him alone!

We cannot know all there is to know about this scene, about this event, and about this cry of the Saviour...

But you know, we can't leave it there, because we must go back to verse 1. I believe, here in verse 1, this statement: 'My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?', is more than the Lord Jesus in actuality, in the fulfilment of this hanging on the cross, it's more than Him just calling to mind this Psalm to show He is fulfilling it. I believe what we have here is prophetically entering into the deepest sufferings of Christ that are more than merely physical.

Now let me, if you will allow me, give a warning here: we are on extremely holy ground, and we must behave accordingly. We cannot know all there is to know about this scene, about this event, and about this cry of the Saviour. I, this week, have heard and read many very inadequate and, I have to say, disturbing attempts to explain this cry: 'My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?'. Martin Luther, who was no mean intellect, summed the magnitude of this subject up in this statement: 'God forsaking God, who can understand it?'. How the Persons of the Godhead, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, related as our sins were laid on the Lord Jesus is a mystery. We need to learn the lesson, particularly here, that we do well to say what Scripture says, and no more and no less. The secret things belong unto God - and what this statement calls for above any explanation is reverential worship, awe, godly fear - not foolhardy and ignorant speculation.

But if we were to answer the question: what do we know about this forsaking of Christ? I think there are Biblical answers. Though the Lord Jesus is clearly prophetically here asking, 'Why?', He knew why - it's not because He didn't know the answer! In praise - and this is remarkable to me - verse 3, He is praising God, imagine this! In His darkest hour, there was never an hour like this, and He praises God - are you praising God in your dark hour? 'But thou', verse 3, 'art holy, O thou that inhabitest the praises of Israel'. Why have You forsaken me? The answer is: God is holy! I wonder has the church today forgotten that God is holy? It is this very holiness of God that prevents Him receiving sinners, and yet He has a heart of love and grace that pushes Him to bring them to Himself. The only way He can do it is, in His holiness, bringing Christ to this moment where He cries: 'Why have You forsaken me?'. Isaiah, he takes us beyond the physical cry, and he pulls back the curtains of Calvary, and he tells us what is going on here: 'He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the punishment of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all. It pleased the LORD to bruise him; he hath put him to grief: when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin'.

When the Lord Jesus cried: 'Why have You forsaken me?', I believe this is the sin offering, where Christ is suffering at the hands of God. The best explanation of this I can give is the New Testament, 2 Corinthians 5:21, Paul says: 'For God has made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin' - now be careful over terms, and I'm not being pedantic, everything in Scripture matters. It does not say, 'He became sin', He could not metamorphose and transmute in His holy nature into sin, He had to be made sin. God made Him sin, in other words He counted Him as being guilty, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him. Peter said: 'Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed'. Paul, in Galatians, said: 'He made a curse for us: for cursed is every one that hangs upon a tree'. In Romans 8, Paul again says that: 'what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh' - not in sinful flesh, not in the likeness of flesh, but in the likeness of sinful flesh - 'and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh'.

David only felt forsaken, you only feel forsaken - but He was forsaken. For if He only felt forsaken, we can only feel saved - but because He was forsaken, we may be saved!

Now, do you understand? 'My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?' - what was happening? God was condemning our sin in Jesus! For our sakes, Christ in some way was forsaken of God, that we might never be forsaken. Now, though David and others might have felt forsaken, and you might be in the meeting tonight and you have felt forsaken, and you have felt God is distant, can I tell you tonight: David only felt forsaken, you only feel forsaken - but He was forsaken. For if He only felt forsaken, we can only feel saved - but because He was forsaken, we may be saved! This transaction appears to have happened in those three hours of darkness from the sixth to the ninth hour, after which the veil of the Temple was torn in two from top to bottom, signifying that man could now come to God.

I want you to read this some time at your leisure, before those three hours the Lord Jesus addressed God as His Father, and after those three hours He said: 'Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit' - but during those hours He cried: 'My God', because He had taken a different position. He had taken the place of the sin bearer before the Holy God of Heaven. I don't know all there is to know about those three hours, the significance of it is too deep for me - and, I hope I don't need to tell you, too deep for you. Yet even in the midst of it, God was still His God, and He could say: 'My God'. But I know this much: whatever it meant for every soul to suffer an eternal hell was compressed into three hours, and laid upon the eternal Son of God. Anne Ross Cousin captured it as well as any when she said:

'Jehovah bade His sword awake;
O Christ, it woke 'gainst Thee!'

But can I finish with this one: what does Psalm 22 mean for me? We've seen what it could have meant for David, and what it meant for Jesus, but what does it mean for you? Really what I'm asking you is: what does the Christ of the cross mean to you? Sad to say, for most people, He means nothing. He says to them: 'Is it nothing to you, all ye that pass by? behold, and see if there be any sorrow like unto my sorrow, which is done unto me, wherewith the LORD hath afflicted me in the day of his fierce anger'.

'Nothing to me, love so painful?
Nothing to me, that I see
He, the wrath of God Almighty,
Drained of every drop for me?'

You know, I would encourage you to read this Psalm again when you go home, and as you read it, read it like this - punctuate each statement with these two words: 'For me'. 'My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?', for me, 'Why art thou so far from helping me, and from the words of my roaring?', for me. This Psalm, beginning with the forsaken cry, and ending with 'It is finished', is all 'for me'. Because He was forsaken, I will never be forsaken! Verses 4 and 5 say that the patriarchs and the fathers were never forsaken by God, their believing cries for help never went unanswered - in spite of their sin and their waywardness, God never forsook them. It was like that before the cross, and it's been like that after the cross - that sentence was reserved for One and only One, the Lamb of God.

If God feels distant, and if you feel forsaken, whatever your problems this evening: would you get to the foot of the cross?

Dear one tonight, if God feels distant, and if you feel forsaken, whatever your problems this evening: would you get to the foot of the cross? Centuries ago on the south coast of China, high on a hill overlooking the harbour at Macao, Portuguese settlers built an enormous cathedral. They believed that it would weather time, and they placed upon the front wall of this cathedral a massive bronze cross that stood high into the sky. Not too many years later a typhoon came, and God's fingerwork swept away a man's handiwork, and all of that cathedral was pushed into the ocean and down the hill as debris - except for the front wall with the bronze cross that remained intact. Centuries after that Typhoon there was a shipwreck out beyond the harbour, and some died and a few lived. One of the men that was hanging on to the wreckage from the ship, moving up and down on the crest of the ocean as the swells were moving, was very disorientated and frightened. He didn't know which way the land was, and as he would come up on the swell of the water he would spot that cross - tiny from that distance. His name was Sir John Bowring, and when he made it to land, he lived to tell the story. He wrote these words:

'In the cross of Christ I glory,
Towering o'er the wrecks of time;
All the light of sacred story
Gathers round its head sublime'

And the last stanza reads thus:

'When the woes of life o'ertake me,
Hopes deceive, and fears annoy,
Never shall the cross forsake me,
Lo! it glows with peace and joy'.

I think the group's going to lead us in the singing of a song, but before they do let us just pray for a moment: Father, I hope this evening that I have not been an obstacle or a hindrance to the Holy Spirit in His desire to bring us to Calvary via this Psalm. Lord, it would be just beautiful if every soul gathered here, in a spiritual sense, be gathered round the foot of the cross, being happy to take its shadow - but also feel the comfort of the fact that You are not distant, You are not disinterested, but You have entered into our deepest sorrows and sins. You entered into our separation in Christ, and Father we pray that the One who is now alive, resurrected, and ascended, the Great High Priest of our profession who is touched with the feelings of all our infirmities, will give comfort to aching, broken, sinful hearts tonight through the cross. Amen.

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Transcribed by:
Andrew Watkins,
Preach The Word.
August 2009
www.preachtheword.com

This sermon was delivered at Scrabo Hall, Newtownards, Northern Ireland, by David Legge. It was transcribed from the recording titled "When God Is Distant" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.

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