We’d rather not think about how painful it is when we are forsaken.
Hesham Shehab: Forsaken
Sermon text preached by Rev. Hesham Shehab
Friday, April 2, 2021
Grace and Peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Have you ever felt forsaken and lonely in your life and that all people around you believe that you are worthless or dispensable?
In 1987, one night, amid skirmishes among local militias in Beirut, I had to walk home from college, where I was doing my graduate studies, sometimes dodging bullets. It was pitch dark, but I was born there and I knew my way without the street lights that were destroyed by the frequent street gun battles and shelling. While I was turning the key to open the gate to our building where the family lived, I heard a commanding voice and a gun muzzle in my back. A militia man arrested me, and ordered me to go with him.
The bearded militia man led me to the makeshift headquarters of Hizbollah. The militia had squatted on a building that was once a movie house in the best neighborhood in Beirut, that was once dubbed the Paris of the Middle East.
Another militia man hogtied me, hands and feet tied together behind my back with a rope, and tied that rope to a loop in the ceiling. That militia started to slap me and cuss at me.
Victims of kidnapping in Lebanon like me who were deemed dispensable were found on garbage dumps with their throats slit or disappeared for ever. I was alone, helplessly facing my executioners. I was forsaken.
We cringe when hearing stories like these. We’d rather not think about how painful it is when we are forsaken.
Today, for just a few minutes, we are going focus on Jesus being unwanted, left behind, bullied, and left alone on a little hill outside of Jerusalem. Isaiah had predicted it, “He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief, and as one from whom men hide their faces, he was despised.” The portrait before us is one of darkness. Jesus was forsaken.
- First, Jesus was forsaken by his people, the people of Israel. Five days after they shouted “Hosanna, blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord,” they cried out, “Crucify him, crucify him.”
- Secondly, Jesus was forsaken by the religious establishment of his day. Priests, scribes, and Pharisees initiated, insisted on, and carried out his public execution.
- Third, and perhaps worse than that, his friends abandoned him. His good buddies ran away when the soldiers came on the scene. Peter denied that he had ever been associated with him. Judas betrayed him with a sign of affection. Even John watched at a distance.
- The list of forsakenness goes on and on. The light of the sun deserted him, as total darkness ruled from high noon to 3 p.m. To add insult to injury, even justice abandons Christ. He hangs on a cross, though innocent of all crimes. A Roman governor declares him not guilty and in the same moment washes his hands. A wicked king Herod has to acquit Jesus of the charges against him, and yet there he hangs.
- Jesus doesn’t question any of that. He knew what was coming and that all of his days had been getting him ready for this day. Up until this point on the cross, he had been taking care of people, but now he cries out with one question for his Father. First, he had pleaded with his father to forgive those who were nailing him to the cross, for they really didn’t know what they were doing. His second crossword was a promise to one sinner who was repenting that in fact paradise was on the way. “Truly I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” I believe that was the most astounding Gospel declaration in the history of mankind, not to forget also God’s grace when he gave a ram to Abraham for Isaac.
A third crossword was making sure John would take care of his mom. But now he asks for what purpose His Father had to forsake him?
- As darkness covered the entire earth, Jesus tasted the very judgment of a righteous God. In Gethsemane, His Father heard his Son’s prayers, but not in these three hours of darkness. In Gethsemane, God sent angels to strengthen, but no angels were there for him in these three hours leading up to death. In Gethsemane, Jesus and His Father were one, but for three hours they were separated. In Gethsemane Jesus wrestled with himself and brought himself to do the Father’s will, on the cross wrestles not only with flesh and blood, but with the forces of darkness. As all
- A story of my Karate days, and on how on the floor or in the ring you really are alone. Coaches can encourage, and friends can cheer, but each karateka fights alone. On their way to defeat, no doubt many fighters think about quitting, but every time victory comes their way, the will to keep on practicing and fighting is renewed.
- The Bible says that Jesus was tempted in every way that we are, and yet without sin. No doubt he was tempted to quit or to take the easy way out, but he didn’t. No doubt he was tempted to cry out for legions of angels to come down and smack these soldiers silly, but he didn’t. No doubt he was tempted to ask why his father had turned away, and he did ask the question.
- My God why have you forsaken me? Jesus knew well the purpose of dying, but was it really necessary for him to be left alone? We know now the answer was yes. It was necessary for the full price of redemption to be paid. He had to be left alone as an orphan so that we could be claimed as sons and daughters. He had to have this one prayer unanswered so that we could pray to our Father as dear children ask their dear dads. He had to be cursed so that we could be blessed. He had to be loaded down with sin so that we could have our burdens lifted. He had to be punished so that we could be forgiven. He had to be alienated so that we could say with St. Paul, “For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels no rulers, no things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
What a privilege it is to be persuaded by the Holy Spirit that our sins have been forgiven, the price we could never begin to pay has been paid, that our names have been written in the book of life, that our mansions in heaven are on reserve, and that through thick and thin, for better and for worse, in sickness and in health, in riches and in poverty, we are never alone. Christ is in us. He is walking alongside side of us. No He is carrying us on His shoulders as a good shepherd does…and He goes on before us.
What a privilege it has been to minister to the redeemed, the forgiven, and believing people of God over the years. God had graciously spared my life in 1987 and redeemed me from the claws of that ruthless militia in order to fulfil His will in my life so that I could serve Him and share the Gospel of Jesus Christ crucified with many people of the Islamic faith and beyond.
What a privilege to say to you tonight, no matter what is causing you to be afraid, no matter what storms are blowing hard your way, no matter how alone the darkness is making you feel… what a privilege to say to you that by virtue of your Baptism, Christ is inside of you. In the preaching and in the teaching and in the remembering of God’s Word, He is walking alongside of you and carrying you on His shoulders.
In the bread and the wine of the Holy Supper, He is strengthening you and drawing you close. And in those times, you can know that He is with you and will never forsake you. Amen!
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