Jesus was Abandoned

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“And they all left Him and fled.”
Mark 14:50

The wheels were in motion, the storm was now organizing, and the war had begun. Jesus knew this. We hear it in His prayers. We see it as the blood and sweat broke the surface of his skin. Who can imagine the visceral pain of complete abandonment?

Alone,

Alone,

Alone… A trillion miles from home.

The wilderness of the isolation devastates us more than any barren landscape seen by human eyes. It penetrates into the depths of our being. It is not good, this aloneness and void of connection. And yet abandonment is fertile ground for transcendence and growth. It is the wilderness called “Abandoned.”

Wildernesses bring us to a place that no oasis can.  The wilderness is where all greatness begins. Jesus went there. Moses went there. Elijah went there.  In fact it’s hard to find any one of any importance that wasn’t at one time or another led into the wilderness. We go through wilderness experiences that aren’t on any map, but they are as real as rain. These are regions with names like depression, loneliness, infertility, divorce, lost children, and bankruptcy.  We can find encouragement in Christ who leads us into His presence as he meets us in the wilderness of our lives.

He will never abandon you.

Never. 

“I am with you always even unto the end of the earth.”

Jesus Christ

It is easy for us to overlook this parting statement of Christ as some kind of “over-and-out” liturgy but it must sink deeply into our bones.

 

Simply stated: God is committed to us more than we will ever (on this side of death) be committed to Him.

I rest in the truth that He will give good things, and we will never, ever, be alone.

When I find a friend with whom I can reveal my deepest wounds and admit my profound flaws, I’m amazed that they stay. Something deep within says, “He’ll never stick around for this messy confession.” But more often than not  I look up and noticed that they stayed. I often underestimate my friends.

Perhaps you are surprised as well. But even if everyone you love deserts you and flees to the ominous horizon of twilight, One still remains.

The abandonment of Christ stands as a monument of the pain, hurt, disappointment and loneliness we feel when we are left alone. Goodbyes are hard enough. But when someone leaves for good the pain can be devastating. We dream about it. We analyze every step we could have taken. We become angry that we allowed ourselves to believe that things would get better. Shame covers us and we are left with the burden of isolation.

One who has unreliable friends soon comes to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.
Proverbs 18:24

There is a mysterious peace when you have been left with only Jesus.

When there is desolation and pain—

When the burden is greater than you thought you could bear—

When the darkness gathers around you—

Even after goodbyes are said—

He is the faithful Friend who is ever beside you when all others forsake you. He is above every present sorrow and every personal struggle. He, too, has walked the paths of brokenness. He, too, has stood beside graves. He, too, was betrayed and conspired against. You share commonality and kinship with the author of the universe.

He placed His mark on you. He claimed you as His own. He looked through the crowd. He found you and said, “This struggling child is mine.” He is enough to fill your empty cup and to calm the storm within. He can be heard if you allow Him into your silence. He can be seen in the sunset of each dying day. Closer, He will be to you—Pulling you closer into His grace… With every struggling moment, when you desire Him more than the fallen world’s rotting junkyard of futile aspirations and empty pleasure— He will be more than what you imagined He could be. And you would have never known the depth of His love so deeply, if you had never suffered so greatly.

 

 

The Glorious Gift No One Wants

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I may not know you, but I know something about you. You’ve learned so much more about life through one day of failure, suffering and pain than one thousand days of pleasure and success. Your deep sorrow is intimacy of soul and the people all around you, with smiles and small talk, cannot deepen life to the extent of your sorrow.

It is the gift no one prays to receive. And yet when sorrow comes, it brings clarity, resolve and a desire to change.

You’re not the only one that grieves the injustice found in the shadows. Jesus grieved, wept, and lamented as well. He wept at the tomb of a friend. He mourned a city lost in the crippling legalism of false religion, racism, and injustices decreed on the poor. He wept under the weight of looming sacrifice in the garden.

When I look at my life, I, too, grieve. I grieve the obsessions I embraced that foolishly looked like safety and humility, when in fact they only gave birth to deeper dangers and pride.

Like you, Jesus loved someone with no reciprocation.

Like you, Jesus saw promises and covenants breached in a moment.

Like you, Jesus felt the shame of false accusation.

He showed us how to endure the arrow-paths of a thousand earthly sorrows.

Man of sorrows what a name
for the Son of God, who came.
Phillip Bliss


“Whenever you find tears in your eyes, especially unexpected tears, it is well to pay the closest attention. They are not only telling the secret of who you are, but more often than not of the mystery of where you have come from and are summoning you to where you should go next.”
Frederick Buechner

 


When we grieve over the right things we find hope in the shadows- seeing through a glass darkly yet face-to-face. The secret is to be able to bury the dead things that must be buried and call upon God to do what only He can do with the rest. We mourn but we do not sorrow as those who have no hope.

Lord, save me from the kind of sorrow that leads to despair and draw me to the sorrow that leads to forgiveness and dancing.


 

The Power of Perseverance

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There are falls on the way to Golgotha, but gloriously there is a rising up. Jesus somehow finds strength before his mother and Father to rise up and keep going. He keeps going in the midst of astounding physical, social and spiritual pain. He finds strength. He finds will. This is the capstone moment of perseverance. Everyone falls. But not everyone rises.

Oh Lord, my God– I see you fall. My hero cast to the ground! The Creator of wood and gravity, casts His life on the canvas of my shame. His eyes behold the hill. With exhaustion and thirst, He bears the inheritance of bloodshed ages hence.

Look on the face of Jesus as He falls. He feels the injustice of carrying a burden that is not His own. Men of acquired authority force the one eternal Authority to rise up.

With little human strength remaining within His torn flesh and weary eyes, He rises up.

Lord, teach me to rise.

He bears injustice

(Teach me to bear injustice)

Somehow, He finds strength.

(Lord, Jesus Son of God, show me Your strength.)

Lord, in the rush of days when all seems lost and I grow weary of the battle. Teach me to rise up.

…to rise up even in times of humiliation and exhaustion,

…to rise up in determination

…to rise up in the midst of my own degradation

…to rise up, when mocking voices of the enemy seek my retreat at dawn.

…to rise up, when earthly authority seems to overtake and depose me.

…to rise up, as I look to the Holy Cross of Christ.

Perseverance is the “having done all, to stand” part of your journey. Sometimes all you can do is stand. The Lord must fight for you and that’s what He is doing today on Your behalf. That thing that seems so impossible to overcome is being handled. He’s totally and overwhelmingly capable. Do you trust God enough to let Him do the heavy lifting?

 

Forgiveness: A Bridge Worth Saving

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Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”
Luke 23:34

How important is it to forgive? Eternally important.

Welsh poet of the 1600s, George Hebert writes, “He who cannot forgive breaks the bridge over which he himself must pass.”

Eight things I’ve learned about unforgiveness

  1. Being unwilling to forgive is never helpful.
  2. And revenge just doesn’t work. Never….
  3. Your unwillingness to forgive is a sign of unbelief.
  4. It will ultimately destroy your character.
  5. Unwillingness to forgive poisons joy.
  6. It will set your mind to believing that you are more important than Jesus. He humbled Himself to offer forgiveness and you will not?
  7. It negates the power of the cross in your journey.
  8. When we are unwilling to forgive, the pain becomes an idol.

The pain is consuming to the person who doesn’t forgive. We become stuck. We fantasize vindication. We look at relationships surrounding the offense in a possessive manner. We cling to bitterness as our beverage of choice. We talk about it to people who have no business hearing of it. We dream about going back, doing things differently, saying something more damaging, or avoiding the offense.

My unwillingness to love and forgive makes life about me and NOT the Incarnation of grace-filled Jesus who longs to abide in me.

When we forgive we forfeit our miseries and choose to live in the present. We no longer have the need to marinade in the poison of nurtured malice. We lose our self-important disappointments. We embrace everything that Jesus, on the cross, suffered to apprehend.

Choosing not to forgive is choosing to live backwards. Forgiveness frees up the energy it takes to bear the burden of anger indefinitely. Because God has forgiven all our sins, we should not withhold forgiveness from others.

One other thought about forgiveness-perhaps the most important one. It’s in the form of a question:

Have you forgiven yourself?

Lord, when You were on trial, You would not speak to save Your life. Teach me the art of trust and forgiveness even when I am in the midst of wrongs done to me. Teach me to speak grace and truth, not so much in a desire to be seen as right, but rather to humbly participate in the ministry of reconciliation.

The One who created life became obedient unto death.

Even After the Denial

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It doesn’t take much to deny Him. Ask Peter. We see him after the passover meal skulking around a fire,  countering his true identity and affiliation. This is the same man who said before anyone else, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God” This is the one who was bold enough to get out of the boat. This is the man of ambition whose words were always three steps ahead of his heart.

But he’s not alone. I, too, deny Him. I am quick to laugh with the crowd.

I, too, am quick to change my tune to match the beat of the clamorous cosmos.

I, too, allow my passions and my ambition to spin wildly out of control. I doubt His judgment regarding my life. I die on the wrong altar.

I, too, curse more vehemently and emphatically to preserve my own shadow mission.

But still He remains.

I don’t understand this kind of grace that covers my wrong thinking and illogical fears. And the struggle continues– my gangly, strutting, dodging, frenetic activity. But it is no match for His dogged pursuit. The Creator of love runs after me with profound determination.

Finally, after running from the truth, breathless, weary, I am mess to behold, And He is there.

This is not a soft-rock, falsetto kind of love, filled with flowery fragile words. This driving anthem of truth echoes wildly into the valleys of my rebellion and sallies forth with light and victory into the abyss of my futility.

Eyes of Compassion

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Jesus hangs on the cross bearing the bleak rebellion of every age. Who can measure the weight of such a burden? Who can scan the circumference of this transaction? In our repentance we grieve of what our sin has done to us, but at the cross,  we mourn of what our sin has done to God.

This obelisk of sin that outweighed the mass of Jupiter leveled itself against His weakening limbs. Still his eyes remain compassionate. He speaks to the beloved ones of his life: “Woman behold thy son. Son, behold thy mother.”

This moment of compassion seems insignificant considering that humanity would soon be forever changed. Jesus was a Savior but indeed He was still somebody’s boy. We hear Him tie up the loose ends of His next of kin. These details would not escape the attention of Jesus.
We look back at the compassion of Jesus as He stood at the grave of a close friend. Those around Lazarus tomb that day observed His grief:

Jesus wept. The community said, “See how he loved him!”
John 11:35-36

Jesus knew the end of the story. He would call out and Lazarus would come forth, but He stepped into the moment.

He stepped into the pain.

He stepped into the grief of a broken family.
What are you mourning today? He is mourning with you. He, too, has compassion and is making accommodations on your behalf to get through this. You’ll get through it together.

We often forget that even though there are pressing issues on every continent, He still has a heart for the small. There are kings and presidents and war on every side, but Jesus still has the capacity to know your secret wounds and weep over the tombs of your cloistered dreams. He is a God of compassion.

He took care of the people He loved.

When we fail to remember this, we struggle. Jesus eyes aren’t solely fixed on the White House, the Vatican or the United Nations.

His eyes are in the marriage counselor’s office,

His eyes are on the wounded warrior half a world away,

at the funeral of a grandfather,

and under the bed of an abused child who prays for the gift of peace.

He’s there, too. 

The shape of the cross is the template of compassion. In order to die on the cross your arms must be open.

God of Wonders,

King of Glory,

Grant us the courage to look beyond our own pain and enter into the pain of another.

For in this act we receive a more glorious vision of the cross of our slain Savior, Jesus Christ.

In Whose Name we pray,

Amen

 

A Different View of the Cross

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There was another perspective of the crucifixion. It was hidden from the gaze of those on Earth. The great cloud of witnesses watched from Heaven as Jesus exhaled one last time before mourners and murders. Millions of souls, from centuries past, witnessed in amazement the unthinkable death of Jesus. They watched His stillness from beyond the veil, perhaps in wonder. It seemed less like a death and more like a realization. Suddenly they understood their story.

David understood why giants fell and kings collided into their own destiny.

Abraham understood the incomprehensible test of Mount Moriah.

Jonah experienced epiphanies of his three days in the belly of the fish.

The three Hebrews who spent time in a furnace, recognized the Visitor again. This time on the cross…

Solomon understood the reality of a friend that sticks closer than a brother.

And Isaiah surely wept as he saw the Man who bore our griefs and was bruised for the iniquities of us all. 

They watched. All of them watched–the angels, demons and mortals, the judges and criminals– the wretched mass of man’s worst epics, the ravished ones of the innocent garden. Betrayers and hypocrites understood this story and their role in the middle of this divine denouement. The broken and beaten wept in the midst of their personal revelation. The rabble of messy humanity watched as the last drop fell.

And we too, like the men on the road to Emmaus who walked and dined with the resurrected Jesus, experience revelation. It’s a moment of epiphany.

We say to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while He talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?” (Luke 24:32)

The cross makes sense of our struggle. It endows us with meaning and hope. Some will never accept the truth of Jesus and His mercy until they stand before Him. I wouldn’t want to live a day without it.

 

The Hands of the Betrayer

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The betrayal of Jesus didn’t begin with a bitter kiss. It began with skepticism. All betrayal will find its roots back-stories and subplots.

The night before Jesus’ death on the cross, Jesus celebrated the passover meal with His disciples. His friends knew that Jesus carried a heavy burden. As they were eating Jesus said, “You can count on the fact that one of you will betray me.”

Jesus words crushed them as they looked at each other trying to decide if this was another parable. Others tried to understand who that betrayer might be.

Jesus said, “He who dips his hand with me in the dish will betray Me.” (Matt. 26:20-23, NKJV). Jesus didn’t come out and say, “OK. You want to know so here goes. It’s Judas. He’s the villain here. He’s the betrayer.” No one knows for sure why Jesus chose to give them a hint rather than a name.

I would imagine that those words were pondered long after that night. He did mean Judas. The Bible leaves no room for uncertainty as to the identity of the betrayer.

And their suspicions were well founded because Judas was the one. The one who identified Jesus in the garden. He was the originator of the kiss of death. Jesus wasn’t the kind of Messiah he expected. Jesus was a pauper, not a conqueror. Maybe Judas thought he could force His hand and be the catalyst of a great rebellion. And by the time He had realized his mistakes, by the time Judas had collected the blood money and changed the direction of history… By the time he had betrayed innocent blood—

it was too late.

Remorse overtook him. He threw the money into the temple courtyard and hanged himself.

His hand was in that dish because He was a betrayer.

Still there were others at the table that night.

I sit here typing this story, imagining how it all went down and I look at my hands and I realize that I’ve seen with my own eyes what the hands of a betrayer look like.

My hand was in that dish.

I was one of the betrayers, because in a thousand ways I have denied our Savior. In a thousand ways I’ve broken not His rules, but His heart. In a thousand ways I’ve qualified as a betrayer.

But the glory of the Gospel is that He lived and died for betrayers. And after He died, He rose from the grave and then went back to that same band of failures and underdogs. Astounding! The creator of the universe search for a rag-tag group of ragamuffins!

Can you hear the voices of the skeptics saying, “I can’t believe that he’s going back to Peter, the denier, Thomas the doubter, Andrew the glory hoarders, and on and on, because they all deserted Him and fled that night. All of them left Him!

And yet still there was one whom Jesus couldn’t redeem. He was a man so seized with grief and remorse that he threw the money onto the temple courtyard and hanged himself.

I know it’s not my place to judge history or to think of all the what ifs, but if I were a betting man I’d bet the farm that if Judas had waited three days, Jesus would have taken him back.

“How can you say that?” You ask.

Because he took me back. 

He died for betrayers. To take their shame in exchange for His glory. And He’s still calling out:

Come home. You denied me. You shirked responsibility at the very mention of my name. Come home. You doubted my Lordship, but I still believe in you, child. Come Home. You didn’t want me to be a suffering servant. You wanted a magician who could solve all your problems in the blink of an eye. But now you understand. So come home. You’ve kept silent in the past when I’ve wanted you to speak out. But you’re still my child. Come home. All is forgiven. You are free to love as You are loved. Come home.

If it be Your Will…

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Out of the darkness of an ancient garden, we hear a sobbing voice. The One who crafted kingdoms and set the stars, pleads, “If it be your will, let this cup pass from me.” This plea reveals both His humanity and divine nature. He knows that destiny stalks Him on this night. It follows us as well.

When we run out of pretty prayers and Sunday School answers, pleading is an intimate, ugly cry that dares to cast away its pride.

Some roads we travel are eminent and relenting. There is no turning back, no escape…

  • We gather around a hospital bed as the beeping of the monitors slowly cease. If it be your will…
  • We leave our longtime home to discover a new life. If it be your will…
  • Our worst nightmares are realized as a prodigal is cuffed and carried away for years. If it be your will…
  • Documents are signed and delivered. The marriage is over. If it be your will…
  • Your mind is unclear and you are carried to assisted living knowing this room will be your last. If it be your will…

For Jesus, the world He came to save is now turning against Him. At this moment, one of His followers combs through the garden with a band of conspirators to capture Him. At the time of His greatest need, His dearest companions are comatose and negligent. He is utterly alone and the weight of the harrowing pain—every kind of pain including isolation, torture, shame, nakedness, blood and farewells, would soon appear under the rays of the moon and the poor light of a covered sun.

We see Him in the garden, a different garden that served as the arena of man’s fall, and He pleads, “If it be your will…”

Ultimately this is the cup of God’s fury. There is only One who experienced the wrath of God in its completeness, in it’s fearful symmetry, in a place where the forces of evil converge into one horrible event. This is place where Jesus is kneeling tonight– in the crosshairs of deep malevolence and holy blood soaked redemption. And Jesus knows this. He knows this well.

You may be pleading in your own sweat and blood eve of consequence. Pleading is messy prayer. It’s when we can do nothing else but cry out.

When we plead, we come to the end of ourselves and stumble toward the One who loves us. Beggars are never rejected at the footstool of the Almighty. We can come to the One who knows the harsh fulcrum of our pain.  When we fall, we fall to Him.

Away with Him

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But they cried out, Away with him, away with him.
John 19:15a KJV

These heartless words are scattered across the landscape of a world full of religion, judgment, and bloodlust. And worst of all, the cruel apathy that pushes divine grace aside like a dead weed.

“Away with Him!” they shouted, as if this suffering Hero had the looks of last week’s garbage– vile and putrid under the haze of a bitter sun.

How often I have dismissed the precious Lamb of God from my life. I, like Pilate, have whisked Him off the throne at the slightest moment of inconvenience, seeking to please the masses by releasing the Lamb who knew no sin.

“Away with Him!” I’ve said, when life seemed unsure.

“Away with Him!” I’ve said in my exhaustion.

“Away with Him!” I’ve have said in times of pride and vainglory.

And we, the bride He so loved have said, “Away with Him!”

…from our culture,

…our schools,

…our homes,

…our values,

…our bank accounts,

…our futures.

We, like Pilate, have called out, faultless though Jesus is, “Away with Him!” We have washed our hands of this divine enigma.

Lord, Jesus Son of God, have mercy on us. We have condemned you with our actions in exchange for the false security of our personal idols and jewels. Lord, have mercy on our country for we too have condemned innocent blood.

There was no one standing beside You that day.

You stood alone without a defender. And in this moment, I draw strength from the thought that through You, I too may stand alone in my desperate hour of need. When I am treated unfairly, help me to reflect on that moment in History when, under the greatest anguish known to man, You suffered rejection as a balm of hope on my behalf. You stood under a cascade of shame and rejection so that I may draw strength and help in my darkest hours. 

Lord Jesus, Son of God, I thank Thee for the power to stand alone, defenseless.