The Agony Of Heaven

Have you ever heard the saying, “He is so heavenly minded that he is no earthly good?” It’s usually said of those people who are so wrapped up in spiritual things that they become totally oblivious to the people around them.  They speak a “different language” and people no longer understand them.  They answer every question with a Bible verse.  And you get the feeling that their number one concern is to recruit you to their side . . . even though they know nothing about you.

One of he things that makes Jesus so unique is the way that He was able to be totally focused on God while being totally anchored in the practical day to day world.  Jesus was “tuned in” to God but also “tuned in” to the human heart.  This is why He was able to minister to the woman caught in adultery (John 8).  He knew the law, He was aware of her sin, but He was also aware of her heartache and her need for someone to set her free.  That combination of righteousness and compassion is very powerful.

Jesus was “balanced” when he dealt with the paralyzed man who was lowered through the roof of a house.  Jesus knew what was expected: the men who loved him wanted him to be well again.  And Jesus was moved by the man’s physical needs and the faith of his caring friends.  But the Savior also saw a deeper need….a spiritual need.  So Jesus addresses them both: the need for forgiveness and the need to be made physically whole.

This morning we will see another example of balance in the life of our Savior.  Jesus, hanging on the cross is in a spiritual battle that is greater than anything we can comprehend.  The very idea of bearing the wrath for our sins is mind-numbing.  He who from the creation of the world has been in perfect unity with the Father is now, somehow, separated from Him for a season.  For a period of time the Son is cut off from the life-giving fellowship with the Father.   Yet, in the midst of this spiritual battle Jesus notices the grief and the needs of his mother.

Balance . . . it is what we seek in our Christian life: heavenly mindedness that makes a difference in daily living.


Parents were never meant to bury their children.  As a Pastor there is nothing more heart-wrenching than watching parents walk past a casket that contains the remains of their child.  It’s difficult to let go of our parents.  It is terribly painful to let go of the one who was our earthly mate. But it is almost unbearable to let go of a child.  The thought is so horrible that most of us do not even want to entertain such a thought.  It is difficult enough to think of our children leaving home . . . .but dying?  No way.

Consider the agony of  Mary  as she stood and watched her child die on the cross.  Are you surprised that she is there?  I’m not.  As horrible as it was, she was going to be there for her child… just like you would be.  Sure, people pointed and whispered . . . it doesn’t matter. . . you don’t desert your child at a time like this.

You may not have had to endure this kind of hardship.  I hope not.  Some of you have.  I’m sure that you would tell us that the experience (as fresh today as it was on that day) is one that bears no analogy.  The closest some of us come to understanding is when we have had to give our child over to a surgeon for some operation.  There is a helplessness that we feel at that time that is suffocating.  You can’t do anything but wait.  It’s not near as bad as watching your child die . . . but it is bad enough.

As Mary stood before the cross that day John stood near her.  So did some of her other friends.  But I’m sure Mary felt all alone.  I wonder if she was thinking about Simeon’s words, “This child will cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed.  And a sword will pierce your own soul.” (Luke 2:34,35) Surely this is what Simeon referred to.  Her soul felt like it had a sword running through it.

I’m sure if we had been Jesus we would have been glad to have Mary there.  But it is very possible that we would not have given her suffering a thought.  Our suffering would have enveloped us.  All we would think about at that time is how WE were going to get through this time of agony.  Every ounce of energy would have been sent to dealing with our pain.  Jesus was in a spiritual battle of unparalleled proportion.  We would understand His preoccupation at this time.  But his agony, His spiritual battle was not so all-consuming that He didn’t feel His mother’s pain.

Jesus, gasping for air; keeping words to a minimum; looks down at his mother and her tear-stained cheeks.  What love there must have been for this woman who so lovingly cared for God’s Son.  Jesus looks at his mom, then at his dear friend John and says, “‘Woman, here is your son,’ and to the disciple, ‘Here is your mother.'” If we were paraphrasing we could perhaps say, “Mom, let John take care of you.”  “John, please watch over my Mother.”

Do you see what happens here?  In the midst of a cosmic struggle between good and evil Jesus takes time for practical compassion.  He takes time to address an aching heart.

This simple act of love reminds us of two important truths:

There is a message about the serious responsibility to honor our parents

One of the ten commandments is this: “honor you Father and Mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.”  Familial love and respect is a key to national survival.  In our mobile society the family is increasingly pulled apart.  Not only is there the physical distance that often separates . . . there is also the pull of schedules.  We can be so busy that we seldom see each other.  Sometimes, that’s just the way it is.  However, the importance of family remains.  We need to treat our family with special honor.

Are your parents still alive?  Are you continuing to honor them?  Is it time for a visit? A phone call? A note?  Is there a birthday or anniversary to remember?  Is there a special love that needs to be shown?  Or maybe there is a gravesite that needs attention. Your parent may not even be aware of what you are doing.  Maybe they won’t sense the honor that you are paying them.  But it is a good thing to do anyhow.  It’s good for you as well as for them.

There is a reminder that true Christianity has a practical dimension

I love getting into theological discussions.  It’s fun and enriching to ponder the deep things of God.  But in so doing we must never make the mistake of thinking that Christianity is primarily an academic pursuit.  Christianity is about real life.  It’s about the deepest needs of people’s hearts.  It’s a life preserver for spiritually drowning people.

James reminds us that “faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.”  True faith is compassionate and loving. Are you so wrapped up in your own agenda that you are not seeing the hurt in another’s life?  Are you so concerned about “getting a decision” that you are missing the fact that the person before you has got the pieces of their life in a box?  Jesus was always concerned to lead PEOPLE to salvation.  His goal was not “getting a response”, His goal was to change a life.  You may feel that you are wasting time by sitting with an elderly person . . . but you’re not.  You may feel that your practical help for someone just home from the hospital is not really ministry.  But you’d be wrong.  You may feel that taking the time to talk to someone on the street is taking valuable time from more important things . . . but I remind you nothing is more important than showing Christ’s love to another.  The vertical relationship with the Father that Jesus had impacted the horizontal relationship He had with others. Three of the seven last words are directed to the needs of others.  But there is more yet to see . . .


The next words spoken on the cross are certainly perplexing: “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me.”  How could Jesus be God and yet be forsaken by God?  I can’t answer that question. . . it causes the circuits of my brain to overheat. This is another time when language is unable to adequately convey what is going on.  There are as many explanations of these questions as there are people.  But rather than engage in fruitless speculation, let me affirm some things that we do know….

This was a REAL separation

This was no parable . . . this was real. The one who had always known perfect fellowship with God the Father was now, for a period, treated as an enemy.  Why?  Paul said, “He was made to be sin for us.” And he also wrote, “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 tree.” (Galatians 3:13)

In those hours of darkness Jesus was enduring the punishment for our sin.  For there to be real forgiveness, there had to be a real encounter with God’s wrath.

This separation was incomparably devastating

It is an awful thing to lose a spouse to death.  There is an emptiness that is at times causes one to ache.  There is a sense of lostness that seems to suck the life out of life.  A part of you is missing. And the closer two people have been . . . the better their relationship, the greater the pain of loss.

But even the best relationship is no comparison to the eternal “oneness” of the Father and the Son.  There was no time before their relationship.  The two are truly one.  We cannot begin to imagine how “hellish” it would be to suddenly face wrath after only knowing the delight of His  love.  The three hours of darkness that preceded this utterance were meant to convey the devastating horror of what was taking place.  The one who had only known the light of the Father’s love, now stood alone in darkness.

All the physical and emotional suffering that led up to the cross was nothing compared to what He was presently enduring.  Don’t misunderstand, we should be moved by the picture of the blood mixed with spit running down His face.  We should weep with gratitude as we consider the skin on His back that was torn apart by the whip and the nails that penetrated his hands. But if that is all we see we have not begun to probe the depth of His sacrifice.  That time of being “forsaken” was the most devastating agony of all. To face the full force of Hell’s fury was a pain incomprehensible.

This separation was painful in two directions

We read the record of the agony of Jesus.  We read nothing of the “pain” undergone in Heaven.  I realize that attributing human emotions to God inevitably diminishes His greatness, it makes God more human..less God; but I can’t help but wonder how difficult it was for the Father to pour out His wrath on the Son.  We’ve all had occasions where we had to say, “This is going to hurt me more than it is going to hurt you.”  We knew that what we were doing was necessary and ultimately good.  But it didn’t make it easy.  God made Christ a curse . . . . how that must have torn at the compassion of the Father. But it was necessary.  Holiness demands justice, love demanded a substitute.

This separation points to new life

As I mentioned, Jesus is quoting Psalm 22.  In that Psalm, David talks about feeling abandoned by God.  As the Psalm progresses the sense of despair gives way to a declaration of hope and confidence in God.  In the midst of the heartache, the Psalmist lifts his eyes to the One who was Ever Faithful.  I believe Jesus went on to quote the rest of the Psalm to Himself while on the cross.  Even in the darkness He held on to God’s sure Word as His only anchor and support.

In the midst of the darkness of the cross we must see the light of grace.  We must see that there was a reason for the pain . . . it was to set us free.  Jesus endured God’s wrath so we would not have to.  He took our place so that we might know the delight of His love.  He suffered so we might know the joy of eternal fellowship. In this one act God demonstrates His love with an exclamation point.

My friend, do you understand?  Do you see His love for you? Is there still a question in your heart about His feelings about you? What is your response to this demonstration of love?  Will you run to Him or hide your face from Him?  Will you trust Him or will You reject Him?  On this question, hangs your eternal destiny.  Don’t rush on by. . . . stop, take a good look. A long look.


In this balanced picture of our Savior’s love there are two simple lessons I want you to grasp.  First, We see that Sin is Costly.  God offers us forgiveness through Christ, but that does not mean He gives an indifferent shrug toward our sin.  God takes sin seriously . . . so seriously Jesus died to pay the penalty for it.  There are implications to this truth:

  • Since God takes sin seriously, so we should too.  We should run to repent of known sin.
  • Jesus faced God’s wrath on our behalf . . . we should be grateful with every breath we take.
  • Those who spurn Christ’s offer must pay the debt themselves.  If the perfect Son of God found Himself in agony facing God’s wrath . . . .how do you think you would fair?  The whole notion that “If my friends aren’t going to be in Heaven I’d rather go to Hell” . . . is a foolish, unthinking and stupid thing to say.  Facing God’s wrath is more devastating than the word devastate can convey..

Second, We see that People Matter

Jesus died on the cross . . . .for people.  The Jesus who noticed and addressed the need of His mom also addressed your need on the cross.  You needed someone to take your place.  You needed a Savior.  He met that need… matter to God.

That may seem hard for you to believe.  You have heard the phoney sounding declarations of love before.  You’ve heard it from the scam artists who say they are interested in your well-being but time only goes to show that the only well-being they care about is their own. You’ve heard it from those who professed love and then walked away. . .It’s easy to become cynical.

Friend, come close to the cross.  Hear what He says.  See what He does.  Realize that He suffered like this intentionally so that you might be able to go free.  Run to Him.  Trust Him.  Rest in Him.

Realize also, that since people matter our approach to people must change.  Our primary concern should no longer be to build kingdoms, draw crowds, generate income, or gain earthly reward.  Our first concern should be similar to that our of Savior who said;  “” he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed,  to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18,19).  Jesus came to reach PEOPLE not to build organizations.

Theology is intensely important.  What we believe matters.  But it also matters how our beliefs affect our lives.  The Kingdom of God should make us better children, parents, friends, church members, disciples, citizens, business people . . . people.  Those who see us should sense our compassion, and benefit from our concern.  They should recognize Jesus in the things we do. And if that is the result of what the Savior has done – if we follow Him more fully and express His love with more compassion . . . then the agony of Heaven will have achieved it’s goal.

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