Wednesday 19 March 2014


[Transcript of talk given at the 2014 CUCDS production, "The perfect conductor".]

It’s The End

Many years ago I was a teacher in a school called ITE - the Institute of Technical Education. ITE was a fancy name for a fancy school - nice buildings, air-conditioned classrooms. My students had another name for ITE. They called it “It’s The End.” ITE. The reason is: You went to this school if you couldn’t get into any other school. You went to this school if you dropped out of every other school.

So one student would turn up late; and his excuse was: “I had to report to the police station.” (I didn’t ask why). One teenage girl was a pregnant. Every week she got bigger and bigger until  - no, she did not give birth in class - but she did have to drop out of school, and that was sad. The best student I had by far was a guy named R who was much older than everyone else in class - including me. He was a tank driving instructor in the army. We made him class monitor. Everyone listened to him!

Because I spent twenty hours a week with my students, I knew them pretty well. I knew their parents were telling them, “School is a waste of time. Get a job.” I knew their friends were calling them stupid (“You’re still wearing a school uniform?”). It was sad seeing kids so young go through so much.

What does that have to do with tonight’s play? Well, notice, there is no villain, no bad guy. No one is sneaking into St John’s May Ball (ask the Malaysians if you didn’t get it). And yet I see in tonight’s play the same struggles I saw in ITE. Did you know that 46% of Cambridge students have depression? (53% if you are from Trinity College). The problems in Cambridge are unique, yes - instead of the failure, you struggle with success - but the effects are the same: People give up on life. People give up on God.

Good news

And the one thing I want say is: God is not the teacher who walks into class and says: This is how you fix your life. A lot of people think that’s what Christianity is - “Do this; do that and God will bless you.” They think the bible gives us good advice when it’s actually gives us good news.

The difference is: Good advice tells you what you need to do. But good news tells you what God has done. Big difference. What we need to do; what God has done for us.

My God, my God

I want to read you a quote from Jesus Christ. It’s not, “I am the way, the truth and the life” - not one of the famous ones. It’s the one where Jesus says, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me.”

Listen to this:

In the same way, the chief priests, the teachers of the law, and the elders mocked him. “He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself! He’s the King of Israel! Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. He trusts in God. Let God rescue him now if he wants him, for he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’” In the same way the robbers who were crucified with him also heaped insults on him.

And here comes the quote:

From the sixth hour until the ninth hour darkness came over all the land. About the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachtani?” - which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
(Matthew 27:41-46)


Jesus - when he says this - is not responding to pressure. People are trying to kill him - he’s doesn’t say to them, “Why are you doing this to me?” In fact, he does not say anything at all. The bible tells us that he was silent as they tortured him - as they drove the nails into his arms - Jesus was silent to the very end when he turns to God and says, “Why have you forsaken me?”

To be forsaken is to be abandoned. And the worse kind is abandonment is by someone you love. A husband abandoning his wife. A mother abandoning her child. Friends, Jesus Christ was abandoned by God.

If you don’t believe in God, then godforsaken - and pardon my language, goddamn - are things you say when you’re upset. But this is Jesus Christ. Of all people to claim that he was godforsaken... these are not empty angry words.

There’s a story of a group of prisoners doing bible study. (Gives new meaning to “cell-group”). Anyways, they were looking at this passage in the bible and the question was, “Who killed Jesus?” “The crowds!” said one guy. “The leaders - they betrayed him.” One big man - who understood the gospel for the first time - would not even lift his face. He said, “I killed Jesus.”

Now, at some level all those answers are true. But the real answer is: God killed Jesus. The cross was God’s will for Jesus to suffer and die. Jesus, knowing it was God’s will for him to suffer and die, says, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

Knowing God’s will for your life will not make it easier or pain-free. Let me say this again: Knowing God’s will for your life will not make it easier. Or pain-free. But it will save you.

For us

What do I mean? Jesus was forsaken for us. He was forsaken not for something he did, but for something we did. He was forsaken for us.

Remember what the crowds said: “Save yourself if your are the Son of God! Prove yourself to us, then we will believe in you.” What were they saying? “You are not my God. You will never be my God.” The bible calls that sin. When we say to God, “Stay away from me, keep away from me, Don’t come near me.” What we’re doing is forsaking God. We are abandoning God.

And God should respond by forsaking us.

Instead he pours out his judgement on Jesus. On the cross, God treats Jesus the way he should treat us. All the things we said, all the things we did, God treats Jesus as if, “You did all those things. You said all those things.”

God looks at Jesus and sees our sin. But then, you see, God looks at us and sees his Son.

The bible says, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that, in him we might be the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21) An exchange happens on the cross. Martin Luther calls it the great exchange: Jesus takes our sin. We receive his righteousness.

Earlier I said: Knowing God’s won’t make life easier or pain free but it will save you. What did I mean by that? This good news is good for bad people. When it’s a sunny outside, as it is today, and you’ve got the grades, you’ve got the job, you’ve got the girl and you say to yourself, “Wow, God must love me very much!” You haven’t understood the gospel. Not yet.

But when you’ve messed up big-time. When you’re in ITE, when you’re in trouble, when you’re sick, when you wonder, “Is God punishing me? Is this why this is happening to me? Has God forsaken me?” And you look to the cross and you realise the answer is, “No!” If Jesus has taken all my sin, all my guilt, then all that is left is his love, his mercy, his grace. If he was forsaken, it means I have been forgiven. That’s the gospel.

God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might be the righteousness of God.

With us

Just this afternoon, I was at a party celebrating the wedding of two close friends in church. They got married in Hong Kong and wanted to share their joy with friends here in the Cambridge. The amazing thing was: they spent half an hour telling us all the things that went wrong at their wedding! I mean: they crashed a car (a Mercedes Benz); the bride took the tube in her wedding dress; the groom arrived at the church with no one there - there was a massive traffic jam so all the helpers were late. He was the only one in church and had to show guests to the their seats and hand out programmes!

And yet they were smiling. They were rejoicing in God’s goodness. Why? Because they went through it together.

When your plans goes wrong, sometimes you need to ask: What’s the plan? I’m sure J and L did not plan for things to go wrong on their wedding day, but what was the plan? To get married. More important than having the dream wedding, it was to be married as husband and wife. Christians promise one another in marriage to love one another - “for richer and poorer, in sickness and in health, till death do us part”.

Friends, God’s plan for your life and my life is for us to be united with him.

The very last words of this gospel - Matthew’s gospel - the same one where Jesus says, “My God, my God why have you forsaken me?” - after Jesus dies, after he is buried, after he rises from the dead and appears to his friends. The last words of this gospel have Jesus saying to his friends, “I am with you to the very end of the age.”

One day, Christians believe that Jesus will come and remove all pain. He will remove all death and all suffering. But until that day, Jesus promises he is with us today. He is with us to the very end. Because he was forsaken, we know will never ever be forsaken. He is with us to the very end.