On Weeping and Being Forsaken

“I’m tired of hearing about the brokenness of those outside the church. What about those of us in the church who are broken? Just once, I’d like a sermon on ‘Jesus wept’ and ‘my God, my God, why have you forsaken me? ‘ ”

So, here’s your sermon on “Jesus wept” and “my God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Because you’re in the church. And you’re broken– we all are– and the tough stuff should be talked about in church. If we as a church are talking about the tough stuff outside the church and weeping with the brokenness of those outside, then we should talk about our Jesus who weeps with all of us. Because our brokenness doesn’t stop because we go to church, and that’s why we need Jesus– a Jesus who performed miracles, healed the sick, washed His disciples feet, and died on the cross. A Jesus who wept.

John 11: 35. Jesus wept. The shortest verse in the Bible. Two simple words. And yet, despite its simplicity, it is one of the most complex and beautiful verses in all of Scripture.

John’s gospel is full of examples of the divinity of Jesus. He, more than any other gospel writer, makes it unequivocally and beautifully clear that Jesus is God. Jesus is human, but He is also God. His book opens with a beautifully poetic sentiment setting Jesus up as the Word who became flesh. John portrays Jesus as the personification of the very breath of God– the very thing that was used to create come down to the created. Jesus is not the voice of God (there is a difference between voice and words), or the mouthpiece of God, or even simply the Son of God– He is God. He’s the Word of God, and, since God cannot lie (Num. 23:19) and “no word from God will ever fail” (Luke 1: 37), Jesus is the exact and perfect representation of everything God is. He is God’s character, God’s wisdom, and God’s divinity made flesh. John spends the entirety of his gospel proving this point as he continually explores the ways that Jesus glorifies God and makes His glory manifest. His gospel is full of these beautiful. profound, and well-known “I AM” statements, which echo God’s expression of “I AM” in Exodus 3:14. So, there is, according to John’s gospel, no question that Jesus is, in fact, God who was made flesh.

It is interesting that a gospel writer so focused on Jesus’ divine nature chooses to incorporate such a verse as seen in 11:35 into his gospel. However, John’s gospel is just as intimately focused on the human side of Jesus as His divine nature. Jesus is divine, but He was also made flesh and therefore had a human nature– a human nature without the sin and brokenness that plagues our own human natures, but a human nature nonetheless. And so, amidst one of the greatest portrayals of God’s glory manifest through Jesus’ divine nature– the raising of Lazarus from the dead– John includes the phrase “Jesus wept.”

Weeping is a human emotion. In fact, emotion, or at least as we so often think of it, is a human trait. Showing emotion is not something a divine being does. We do see glimpses of God’s emotion all throughout Scripture, but weeping is a uniquely intense expression of emotion not often associated with the divine person of God. And yet, God Himself is shedding tears. Luke 19:41 also shows Jesus weeping, but the words used here are different. John’s word is unique to his gospel, and it portrays a more calm shedding of tears and not an outcry of lamentation as shown in Luke 19. This word is not any less profound than an outcry of lamentation, however. In fact, as a fully divine and fully human being, it becomes  even more profound. Jesus knows Lazarus will be raised and God will be glorified, so he has no reason to weep with sadness (11:4). And yet, He deeply feels the pain and sorrow of those around Him and it brings Him to tears. He weeps because He feels our pain– He is the divine God made flesh with the ability to sympathetically feel the pain and brokenness of those around Him. If He felt the pain of Lazarus’ family and friends when they were at the lowest part in their lives, He is just as able to feel our pain when we are at our lowest, darkest, and most painful moments.

In fact, when He was at His own darkest moment, He cried out in a uniquely human way. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” In the moment of His death, when He is about to commit the ultimate act of sacrificial love and the ultimate demonstration of the glory of God, He cries out to God in pain.  His words quote the beginning of Psalm 22, a lament psalm, which expresses a human’s deepest thoughts as they cry out to God to be saved, and later as they thank Him for not abandoning them. It is a prayer for help amidst pain. And Jesus quotes it on the cross as He is dying for humanity. It has long since been read in light of the death, resurrection, and glorification of the Messiah. In fact, the words of it play out throughout the entire Passion narrative. But, it is, at its most basic level, a uniquely human cry of lament. It’s a cry of pain amidst a broken, messed up, and painful moment in life. Jesus– God Himself– is wrestling with the belief in the goodness of God and the brokenness of His situation. He knows He must die in order to divinely save humanity, and yet His human nature is feeling the pain of His death and desiring for God to rescue Him. He looks for God in His darkness, as His divine character of saving the world competes with the human nature of His broken situation. So, “He cried out in a loud voice…’my God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

The thing about these words as found in Psalm 22, and as they are acted out through His death, resurrection, and restoration of the world, is that God did not actually forsake Him. These words remind the Psalmist, those standing by the cross of Jesus, those reading the words today, and even probably Jesus Himself, just how present God is in that moment. He may feel distant from God, He may feel forsaken by God, but He knows, just as the psalmist goes on to say, that God is still present, and He still cares, even if it doesn’t feel that way. In the case of Jesus, God is literally present in human form, dying in front of the people, but God is also spiritually present in the darkness. It is a reminder that, while it may feel as if God has forsaken us in our darkest moments, He is present if we cry out to Him. Even if we cry to Him for abandoning us. The words do not actually do anything for God Himself– they don’t remind Him to return to His people in distress. He never left His people. Rather, they remind His people that He is there in our pain– even if we are angry or confused or questioning why it feels like God has abandoned us. Because being angry, confused, or upset with God is okay, and it is okay to cry out in frustration, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

Jesus is divine. He is God. And yet, He weeps with His people when they are at their darkest.  He makes the words of a broken human psalmist His own, and He weeps with alongside His own. When your life has reached its darkest, most broken, most painful moment, when depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts, death, broken relationships, or just the broken and sinful world overcome you, Jesus is with you. He felt the pain of those around Him, and He wept. He weeps with you. By taking on flesh, He was put in a unique place to understand our pain and weep with us. When all you can do is cry out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?,” He cries out with you. And He cries out to God for you. Because during the times when you feel alone and broken, and you cry out to heaven, begging God for help, He may or may not respond with words. He may whisper a promise. He may, as in the case of Lazarus, respond with a powerful glimpse of His glory. Or, He may, as in His own death, remain silent as you suffer through your Friday, wait through your Saturday, and reveal His promise on your Sunday. But, regardless of how He responds, He walks with you. Because His Son– His divinely human Word– walked with you. So, in your darkest, cry out to Him. Cry, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ and know that Jesus wept. Know that the question is not if we can make the cry of Jesus on the cross our own, but rather if we can remember that He made our cry His own. Because it is in those painful moments that He is closer than ever. And when you can’t see Him or feel Him, when you look to the sky and cry out to Him, but get no response, know that He is not up above you somewhere far away from your reach, but He is walking next to you and walking with you. He’s reaching out the hands that died for you, with a Love that wept, as you cry out “my God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’

Because if anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts, sin, or brokenness– all the things that make us human– are not allowed in the church, if the church does not want to talk about them, then our Jesus is not allowed in the church. Because our Jesus became human. And humanity is broken. And Jesus, while not broken Himself, broke Himself for us, and let His heart break with us. And while He said “it is finished,” and took the death we rightfully deserve so we don’t have to endure the pain, He also said “my God, my God why have you forsaken me?” amidst His pain. Before it was finished, He wept and He cried out to God. So, before your pain is finished, it’s okay to weep, and it’s okay to cry out to God.

“my God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” “for He has not despised or scorned the suffering of the afflicted one; he has not hidden his face from him but has listened to his cry for help.”

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