First Mennonite Church
March 27, 2016
A Living Faith
Text: Matthew 27: 45-54
45 From noon until three in the afternoon darkness came over all the land. 46 About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema 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 staff, and offered it to Jesus to drink. 49 The rest said, “Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to save him.”
50 And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit.
51 At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split 52 and the tombs broke open. The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. 53 They came out of the tombs after Jesus’ resurrection and went into the holy city and appeared to many people.
54 When the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and all that had happened, they were terrified, and exclaimed, “Surely he was the Son of God!”
Someone suggested that each of the Gospels is the story of Easter with a long introduction. Testimony to this idea is the fact that from the announcement of Jesus’ birth it was said he will bring salvation to his people (Matthew 1: 21). In the beginning of the Gospel of John it was said he is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29). Further ahead in John, Jesus himself claims to be the life and resurrection and everyone who believes in him will never die (John 11:25). The resurrection of Jesus, which we call Easter, is the culmination and climax of everything Jesus taught, did, and said he is. Jesus is the life and resurrection. Alleluia!
In the gospel story, Easter came after three and half years of Jesus displaying God’s power of miraculous healings. Easter came after three and half years of proclamation of the kingdom of God, even in the face of fierce opposition. Easter came after three and half years of powerful evidence of God’s presence in Jesus. And more exactly, Easter came three days after Good Friday. This means that Easter only came after a period of intense work and fierce opposition in the life of Jesus. Easter came after Jesus suffered and died on the cross. Not every day was Easter!
A very pale comparison to the glory of Easter is like the day a farmer harvests a bountiful crop—or maybe when the cash is in his wallet after he sells his crop. Easter might be like graduation day for the hard working student or maybe the day he or she is finally employed in the field she majored in. Easter is like the day the cancer patient is told by her doctor the cancer has gone into remission. Easter is like the day someone retires after so many years of hard work. In a nutshell, our little easter days do not come by every day either. (Let me clarify here: I do not mean that we cannot live every day in the hope of the resurrection of Jesus. As it will become clear, my point here to show that our everyday life, for so many reasons, might look more like Good Friday. And yet, our “Good Fridays” should be continuous reminders that Easter is still awaiting us.)
Life as we know it is full of struggles. Some of us struggle even to sleep well at night. As one of the TV commercials goes, “sleep was once a welcoming companion at night but suddenly became an elusive and hard-to-find friend.” We struggle with health issues. As we grow older our aches and pains seem to multiply. We struggle emotionally when we see our loved ones or close friends getting sick or dying. We struggle with faith. We might wonder: why can’t I just follow Jesus with dedication and fervor? Why doesn’t God hear or respond to my prayers? Where is God when I need him the most? Some of us struggle with the Bible, not only to understand it, but even more so when we begin to ask questions it seems not to answer right away.
My dear friends, I want to encourage you to be persistent with God, with faith and the Bible even if you have questions. I want to tell you that a living faith is not one that is free of struggles or one free of doubts. I want to tell you: if you have troubles with keeping faith or if you cannot quite get everything figured out relating to God or the Bible, you are not alone. I want to tell that faith in God does not mean all your questions about God have been answered. Faith in God does not mean you have to silence your questions before God. I want to tell you that you can honestly tell God what troubles your heart. Today, I want to tell you that God is not bothered by your honest questions or complaints against him. God will not stop loving you simply because you speak what is in your heart. Just as life is filled with struggles, a living faith is one that faces struggles.
We can learn a lot from the passage in Job. Job had a living faith in God. If we were to read the whole book of Job we would see a gradual directness in Job as his troubles increased and were prolonged. At first Job’s piety seems unsettled with the fact of what was happening to him.
“Naked I came from my mother’s womb,
and naked I will depart.
The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away;
may the name of the Lord be praised.”
In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing (Job 1:21-22).
These words of Job have been quoted time and time again when something terrible happens to Christians. And so very often Christians believe that Job always kept this attitude toward his ordeal. But as Job’s suffering was prolonged, his attitude towards God changed. He became more vocal about his disappointment. In Job chapter 7, verses 7 and 11 we read:
Remember, O God, that my life is but a breath;
my eyes will never see happiness again.
“Therefore I will not keep silent;
I will speak out in the anguish of my spirit,
I will complain in the bitterness of my soul.
And in chapter 16 Job becomes even more direct in accusing and blaming God for what is happening to him. Job openly recognized that his suffering was unjustified and unmerited. What is more, Job realized that he was no match for God, simply because God was God. Job prays:
[If] I speak, my pain is not relieved;
and if I keep silent, it does not go away.
Surely, God, you have worn me out;
you have devastated my entire household.
God assails me and tears me in his anger
and gnashes his teeth at me;
God has turned me over to the ungodly
and thrown me into the clutches of the wicked.
All was well with me, but he shattered me;
he seized me by the neck and crushed me.
He has made me his target;
his archers surround me.
Without pity, he pierces my kidneys
and spills my gall on the ground.
Again and again he bursts upon me;
he rushes at me like a warrior (16:6, 7, 9; 11-14).
Job became unorthodox in the way he addressed God. He did not hide his anger and frustration behind a pious façade or smile. His unorthodoxy troubled his friends because they believed Job should keep reverence before God no matter what. They believed Job should not address his complaints against God even if the reason for his pain seemed unjustified. But Job kept his integrity and he spoke out in his anguish. Job bitterly complained not only before God but against God. Job expressed his anger and frustration at God because God was using him to practice archery and Job was the target of every arrow (v. 20).
What we see here is that Job was a thinking person; Job was a person of integrity. And he reasoned with himself, with his friends and even reasoned against God for his suffering. In Job’s integrity he could not remain silent.
Let me pause here for just a second. Job spoke what was in his mind to God and against God. The God who created Job and who created us never intends that we stop using our brains when we come to faith. Often I hear complaints about people being too rational. It seems as if being rational beings is a species God did not create. It seems as if using our reasoning faculty is sin. Piety, integrity, and faith in God are not opposed to being rational beings.
And in his last discourse to his friends Job alleged that God had denied him justice and that God had made his life bitter despite knowing that Job was innocent (27:2-6).
And what is amazing is that when God finally appeared to Job, God never condemned Job for his irreverence or for complaints. In fact God affirmed Job’s integrity. Job is a prime example of what it means to have integrity before God. A faith like Job’s is one that empowers us to speak to God without fear and even despite the way we express ourselves.
But the ultimate example of an honest faith in God was revealed on Good Friday. Jesus revealed the will of God for us in every single way. He is the perfect example of having an open yet intimate relationship with God. Jesus, as I said at the beginning, spent three and half years, day in and day out, with his disciples. He spoke openly to them about his intimate relationship with the Father. Nothing summarizes the quality of such perfect unity better than his words when he said, “The Father and I are one” (John 10:30). He publicly confessed doing and saying only what the Father told him to. Jesus prayed that all his disciples would become one as he and the Father are. But when Jesus hung on the cross and darkness came over all the land for three hours, Jesus cried out to the Father something that has intrigued biblical scholars and preachers of all ages since then. Jesus cried out in a loud voice: “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”).
Jesus was hanging on the cross. For about three hours Jesus slowly agonized a painful death. For about three hours darkness came over all the land, like if the sun wanted to avoid looking at this God-forsaken event. And indeed it was a God-forsaken moment. And Jesus felt the loneliness of abandonment not only by his close friends but most importantly by God the Father. And before he breathed his last, Jesus cried, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
On Good Friday the weight of the world’s sin came over Jesus. As he died he expressed the pain experienced by the Triune God. Our sins not only broke Jesus’ physical body, but they also broke the bonds of unity between Jesus and the Father. That is why Paul says in 2Corinthians 5, verse 21: God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. And again Paul says in Galatians 3, verse 13: Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a pole.”
When Jesus cried on the cross, his abandonment reveals how far God’s love would go for us, a bunch of sinners that we are. God’s love is so great that God did what was by nature “unorthodox” to his very holy essence. The Son of God became sin and curse for us, so that we may become God’s righteousness and recipients of the blessedness of God’s salvation.
And in the likeness of Job’s faith, Jesus also expressed the deep impact of dying on the cross as a human being. Just as he openly expressed his oneness with the Father he also expressed the horrific pain of abandonment by the Father. Jesus did not find it a contradiction to cry out when he also felt abandoned and forsaken by God. Jesus did not hide his pain, his agony nor his sense of abandonment. But Easter, the resurrection of Jesus, was the way God confirmed that Jesus is his beloved Son (Acts 13:33-34).
My beloved friends, the God who invites us to follow his Son is a God who is not offended when in the integrity of our heart we ask God the questions that trouble us. Faith in God does not mean remaining silent when we feel like crying or complaining against God. A living faith in God is one in which we feel secure to give God thanks for the blessing of salvation but also to tell God the pain and troubles we have. A living faith is one that remains committed to God as Job remained and Jesus did remain even if the last prayer we say before we die is a question directed to God.
This Easter, I want to invite you to embrace a living faith like Job’s. I want to invite you to embrace a commitment with the Father even when you feel God has left you alone. He will show up again on Easter Day as he did with Jesus. Amen!