It is great to be back MBM! Steve Wakeford said I would lose weight travelling in South East Asia—well, he got that wrong. I was away for two and a half weeks, spending four days each with each of the four families who are serving the Lord overseas in that part of the world: LJ and Maria; Jerome and Indra; Brendan and Leaf; and Phil and Lil, and their beautiful families. Along the way, I had my quota of plane delays and cancelled flights with no warning. During the cancelled flight, I spent six hours in Chiang Mai airport lounge area writing an article and seeing the ‘miraculous’ Australian election result unfold.
I was able to make some interesting observations. One was that the first thing I saw coming out of the airport in one of the countries I would have least expected it was a McDonalds! Then there were old men who put henna in their hair, and they ended up with very red beards? I was often left with questions, like why do Filipino security guards wear tight shirts in extreme humid weather? Why do 50% of Thai motor bike riders carry helmets but don’t wear them, even though in Thailand forty people die a day due to motor bike accidents The reason was that hair style is everything. I loved how in the airport people double park and block you in, but they would leave their car in neutral with the hand brake off so you can push the car out of your way. The traffic was mostly organised chaos. No one stays in their lanes. Everyone who drove me was a good driver, but I give a special award to Phil, with a close second to LJ. Phil had to handle not just thousand motor bikes, but a quota of all kinds of animals on the roads, including donkeys, dogs, and cats. It was such a thrill to be driven by him.
The reason why I have never visited our overseas ministry partners before now is that I felt it was indulgent. After seeing how grateful they were and how loved they felt, it was ‘shame on me’ for not going before. I learned a lot of things on this trip.
Our overseas ministry partners live in tough situations. It is very hot and humid, and some cultures in which they live show a strong hostility to Christianity. They live with regular power failures, water issues, and are surrounded by poverty. They are trying to learn one or two new languages. Most of the citizens of those four countries I visited would give everything to come to comfortable Australia. Our four families chose to leave Australia for a much harder life. The reason is to bring glory to God, so that people in those countries can be saved and worship the living and true God.
Marriages are hard work wherever you live. But our ministry partners have relocated their families in a new country with a hundred extra challenges, and they are under more pressure. I was so encouraged by each of their marriages. All four couples were both honest with their struggles, and also showed that they faced them in a Christ-like way. The rest of us could learn a lot from them about how to grow strong marriages.
I learned that our overseas ministry partners have different gifts and serve the Lord in different ways. But each one is making a real difference for Jesus. The locals told me again and again how thankful they were to MBM for the families we sent to them. The elders of one of the churches expressed his thankfulness for being trained by LJ and Maria The pastor at another church was thankful that he could entrust the Christianity Explored ministry to Jerome and Indra. There are many travellers whose lives have been transformed through the ministry of Brendan and Leaf. The Bible college principal thanked us for sending Phil to lecture, and the women in Lil’s leadership team were so thankful for her ministry.
I have always felt proud that we at MBM have partnered with these servants of Jesus. But seeing the work up close and personal has made me more thankful. So brothers and sisters of MBM, with 10% of our budget for mission, I can report back to you that your giving is not in vain. It is well invested. Your prayers are not in vain. God is doing wonderful things through them. Your encouragement is not in vain. They love it when you support them.
I urge each growth group to assume responsibility for one of our ten overseas ministry partners. Keep praying, keep in touch, send gifts, and skype them, for this is pleasing to the Lord.
On my trip to visit overseas ministry partners, I was with Brendan, and I had a pain that resembled a blood clot. So I spent a day in Chiang Mai hospital. If a blood clot goes to the heart or brain, you can die. So I said to Brendan, “If this is it, can you tell my family and MBM that I love them and to keep trusting Jesus and telling others about him.” Then Brendan started to make suggestions for improving my last words. They were better than mine.
There have been some famous last words. George Bernard Shaw had written on his tombstone, “I knew if I hung around long enough this would happen.” Then there was Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna in the second century AD. Just before he was burned at the stake, he prayed, “O Father, I bless you that you have counted me worthy to receive my portion among the number of martyrs.” What a way to go.
A person’s dying words will often tell you a lot about the person, which is why when we turn to Jesus, it is such a surprise, for Jesus’ famous last words speak more of desperation and confusion than bravery and conviction. So Mark 15:34, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” His life almost ends on a question?
These words that fell of the lips of Jesus once fell off the lips of King David. They were written about a thousand years before Jesus came to earth, and they come from Psalm 22.
What does a person think of in their dying hours? What will you be thinking about on your death bed? We know that Jesus was meditating on Psalm 22 as he hung on the cross. So let us enter into the mind of this crucified man as he makes sense of his pain and his situation, Psalm 22:1-2:
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, and am not silent. (NIV)
The psalmist is groaning. He is pleading loudly to God. We know Jesus cried in a loud voice. Literally, he screamed it out, “My God!” He is asking God to step in, but his prayers are not answered. This is the horror of the silence of God. Yet you notice that the silence of God has not turned Jesus into a cynic nor an atheist. God is still his God. He says, “My God, my God”, reminding us that God’s people have been given permission to express their grief and anger to God. Even if God has not heard him now, he has heard others. God’s track record is faultless. So David looks back to the past, Psalm 22:3-5:
Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One; you are the praise of Israel. In you our fathers put their trust; they trusted and you delivered them. They cried to you and were saved; in you they trusted and were not disappointed. (NIV)
The fact is that others have prayed and they were heard. Three times, we are told that they trusted in God, and three times we are told that they were saved, or delivered, or were not disappointed. Others cried out and were eventually saved: Abraham; Moses; Deborah; and Ruth. Not one ended up saying, “It wasn’t worth it”, or “What a waste of time”. The one who suffers now stands where others have stood in the past. That is why it is not blind faith!
But the call is to trust God now. And this trust seems like total insanity, Psalm 22:6:
But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by men and despised by the people. All who see me mock me; they hurl insults, shaking their heads: “He trusts in the LORD; let the LORD rescue him. Let him deliver him, since he delights in him.” (NIV)
These words written a thousand years before Jesus, but they were written with him in mind. From the cross, Jesus is being paid out by everybody, Mark 15:29-32:
Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads and saying, “So! You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, come down from the cross and save yourself!” In the same way the chief priests and the teachers of the law mocked him among themselves. “He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself! Let this Christ, this King of Israel, come down now from the cross, that we may see and believe.” Those crucified with him also heaped insults on him. (NIV)
From the thieves who hung with him, to the priests who accused him, and the people who threw his kindness back in his face, they all said, “He saved others, but he can’t save himself!” Little did they know that if he saved himself he could not save others. And through it all, God does not step in. Here is the seeming stupidity of trusting in the one who has abandoned you.
Mike Sunker once told his story at MBM. He was born into an Indian Hindu family in South Africa during the apartheid regime. On one occasion his sister brought home a Bible. His father threw it against the wall, saying that he would not have ‘white man’s religion’ in his house. Mike nevertheless got to read the Bible, and over the course of the next few years, he eventually came to trust the Lord Jesus for his salvation. That was when the trouble began. In time, Mike and his wife had a child. The child grew, but at six months old, the child died. The Hindu relatives told Mike, “The reason why your child has died is because you have turned against the Hindu gods, and now they have turned against you.” He was devastated, but remained trusting in the Lord Jesus. Wonderfully, a second child was born, but six months later, this child also died. Again the Hindu relatives told Mike, “You turned against the Hindu gods, and now they have turned against you.” Fortunately, a third child was born, but this child also reached six months of age, and unbelievably, again this child died at the same age as the other two. Mike said, “Honestly, it is no such much that I had any faith left. It was the sheer grace of God that carried me through.”
What is the logic of trusting in a God who at best doesn’t care, and at worst seems to be against you? What is so amazing is that with Jesus, it is not some innocent person being unjustly treated. Mike Sunker is the first to tell you that he is a sinner and is receiving less than what he deserves. Jesus is the sinless Son of God in a perfect relationship with his Father. He had never experienced the silence of God before. It was on the cross that he experienced this God-forsakeness for the very first time, Psalm 22:9-10:
Yet you brought me out of the womb; you made me trust in you even at my mother’s breast. From birth I was cast upon you, from my mother’s womb you have been my God. (NIV)
For David, God had been his God from his mother’s womb For Jesus, his umbilical cord reaches back into eternity. In John 17, Jesus prays, “Father you loved me before the creation of the world.” The only relationship that never had a beginning has come to an abrupt halt. The one who said of Jesus, “This is my Son, in whom I am well pleased”, is now saying nothing and is now doing nothing! As his enemies turn on him like vicious animals ready to tear him apart, the experience of Jesus is described in Psalm 22:14b:
My heart has turned to wax it has melted away within me. (NIV)
Jesus is truly human. There is no bravado here, and no stiff upper lip. His fear is as real as the temptations he felt. He never stops trusting his Father, as Luke 22:44 tells us:
And being in anguish, He prayed more earnestly and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground. (NIV)
Psalm 22 is often called ‘The fifth Gospel’. Written a hundred years before Jesus, it predicts the cry of Jesus at the cross. It tells us how his clothes would be gambled. It predicts the mocking words. It predicts his death by crucifixion when crucifixion had not been invented. It tells us that they would come with nail and hammer in hand, Psalm 22:16:
Dogs have surrounded me. A gang of evil men has encircled me. They have pierced my hands and my feet. (NIV)
Some idea of the horror and agony of crucifixion can be discerned from the remarks of Seneca, a Roman contemporary of Jesus. Seneca writes, “Can anyone be found who would not prefer wasting away in pain, dying limb by limb, or letting out his life drop by drop, rather than expiring once for all? Can any man be found willing to be fastened to the accursed tree, long sickly, already deformed, swelling with ugly weals on shoulders and chest, and drawing the breath of life amid long drawn-out agony? He would have many excuses for dying even before mounting the cross.” (Epistle 101)
The real agony of the crucifixion of Jesus was not just the physical horror. The grief was so great because of who was on the cross. The agony was that God was far away from his Son. In some sense, a breach of fellowship between Father and Son had occurred. A relationship break had occurred in the only perfect relationship. The Psalm doesn’t explain why this occured, but elsewhere in the Bible we are told. 2 Corinthians 5:21 tells us that “God made him who knew no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” This is the language of substitution. When Jesus cried out on the cross, your sins were being transferred to Jesus, who became your sin. When Jesus died, darkness fell over the land. With it, judgment for the sins of the world would fall on one man. Jesus suffered the hell of the cross so that you could escape hell itself.
Then all of a sudden and out of the blue, the Psalm moves from grief to unstoppable praise, Psalm 22:22:
I will declare your name to my brothers; in the congregation I will praise you. (NIV)
And this praise is given because of Psalm 22:24:
For he has not despised or disdained the suffering of the afflicted one. He has not hidden his face from him but has listened to his cry for help. (NIV)
The prayer of the afflicted man has been heard, and God’s silence has come to an end. A key difference between David and Jesus is this: David was saved from death, but Jesus was saved through death. Jesus was killed, but was raised again on the third day, never to die again. The one hated becomes the one we look to. That is why he calls on his people and all the peoples of the earth to bow before this one, Psalm 22:27:
All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the LORD, and all the families of the nations will bow down before him. (NIV)
Jesus’ death is not limited to one people and one time. In fact, the Psalmist announces Jesus’ victory to future generations like us, in Psalm 22:30-31:
Posterity will serve him; future generations will be told about the Lord. They will proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn — for he has done it. (NIV)
In fact, this Psalm is being fulfilled as you read these very words. For I am proclaiming to you his righteousness three thousand years after it was predicted.
What was Jesus thinking about on the cross? He was thinking of you, who at the time of Christ’s death were yet to be born.
What is the answer to the question which Jesus cried out: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” The answer is “You!” You are the reason why Jesus was forsaken.
There are some famous last words awaiting you. They will be either, “Well done, good and faithful servant”, or “Depart from me! I never knew you.” It will all turn on whether you trust in this one.
Jean Paul Sarte said, “Hell is other people.” But hell is no people and no God. The reason why Jesus was forsaken was so that we don’t have to be.
Please close your eyes. Imagine waking up after death to find yourself in hell. “He had never felt such aloneness before. ‘Where is my wife? Where are my parents?’ He choked. He only heard that awful echo, ‘Your wife is not here. Your parents are not here.’ He tried to piece it all together but the darkness was too thick. Once in a while he thought he could see a blurred figure or hear an anguish moan. He remembered the pain of those last moments of terror but it was nothing compared to the feeling that was creeping into his awareness now. Again he cried, ‘Where is my wife? Where are my parents?’ Then came the response, ‘They are not here.’ ‘Where are my friends?’ ‘Your friends are not here.’ He started to grope about in the darkness but all was blindness. ‘My God’, he howled again, ‘Let me feel the presence of one single human being.’ ‘My God’—he hadn’t said those words in such a long time, and now they seemed so hollow. Terror was welling up in him. He felt like a small child threatened by deep darkness. No candle anywhere. No love anywhere. No voice anywhere. ‘Where are my parents?’, he screamed. ‘Your parents are not here!’ ‘Where are my friends?’, he pleaded. ‘Your friends are not here.’ Then the greatest fear of all came to his mind. His whole body trembled as he wailed into the nebulous night, “Where, oh where is God?” As the deepest of all darkness closed in on his soul for all eternity, he heard the hideous echo whispering that most horrifying of all judgments, ‘God is not here!’”
God is not playing games. He is no fool. Keep saying “no” to Jesus’ call, and you will wake up one day to find yourself hearing those words, “God is not here!” It doesn’t have to be this way.
A lady in this church was a single parent with two boys. She developed cancer. She lived for two years with pain knowing that the end was coming. She said to my wife Sandy just before she died, “Of all the prayers I have prayed, I am so glad that there is one prayer I will never have to prayer, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me.’” Why? Because Jesus went to hell so that she could escape it.
Have you stopped being thankful to God for what Jesus did for you? Do you sing praises to God from your heart for that salvation? Have others heard from your lips the joy of what Jesus did? Do you support the efforts of those who take the good news of Jesus to the nations? Have you ever put your trust in this saviour who went to hell for you? If not then don’t delay. Do it now.
We praise you for sending your dear Son, the Lord Jesus. It was our sin that put him on the cross. It was his love for us and you which kept him on the cross. For some of us, we want to put our trust in you right now for the very first time. We want to thank you for sending your beloved Son to enter the hell of the cross so that we don’t have to ever enter hell itself. May we never stop praising you, never take it for granted, and never stop desiring that the nations hear this good news.
In Jesus’ name, Amen.