Embracing the Cross - Bob Sawvelle

Have you ever heard part of a song and immediately completed the remaining lyrics in your mind or sang them? Most of us have. Consider the patriotic song, God Bless America.

If I began to write or sing the first few lyrics, such as “God bless America, land that I …” most of us would continue, “love, stand beside her and guide her” … etc. By just giving a few words of this well-known song, I have given a “hint” of the entire song and direction in communication that I am going.

This practice, not just related to songs, was common among early Hebrew students and scholars of the Old Testament. Before chapter and verses were used in the Bible, when a Rabbi would merely speak the first sentence of a psalm or key passage of scripture, people would know that he is now referring to the entire Psalm or passage.  The Semitic term for this practice is remez.

With this understanding of remez, I want to examine some of Jesus’ final words on the cross and what he meant. Was Jesus forsaken? What about us?

Early in Mark’s gospel, we read how Jesus was recognized and affirmed by the Father, “You are my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” Three years later, on the cross, Jesus cries out, “My God my God, why have you forsaken Me!” I want to examine these two events, and how they mirror our acceptance by Father God. Jesus was never forsaken, and neither are we in Christ!

Affirmed by the Father

Jesus was affirmed and loved as a son by the Father:

It came to pass in those days that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And immediately, coming up from the water, He saw the heavens parting and the Spirit descending upon Him like a dove. Then a voice came from heaven, “You are My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” (Mark 1:9-11)

Before Jesus performed a single miracle, God the Father affirmed God the Son as a son. Jesus’ identity is not in his performance; his identity is rooted in sonship with the Father, and as such, he is a partaker of his Father’s identity.

Understand that God’s voice to you releases your kingdom identity. You may have made poor choices, but through surrender, your destiny is redeemable with God. He is a loving Father—not an unjust judge or unkind friend! Identity, calling, and destiny are discovered through a Father-Son relationship.

You are loved, accepted, and in right standing with God through Jesus Christ.

The Father has always wanted a family—not subjects. Your identification with Christ as a follower justifies you and positions you as a son or daughter in the Father’s family. You are not working for his love, acceptance, and righteousness—it has been given to you by God’s grace!

Consider what Paul wrote in Romans,

There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh, that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” (Rom. 8:1-4 NKJV)

For those who are in Christ, they are free from the power of sin and death, free of its guilt and condemnation. They are justified and made righteous through Jesus and his atoning death. His unconditional gift provides acceptance and adoption through grace.

Many today have never received the Father’s affirmation. Experiencing God’s love as his son or daughter is essential to breaking ungodly beliefs about yourself and dismantling “orphan thinking” in your life. It frees you from rejection and abandonment.

Orphans tend to strive for acceptance, whereas sons and daughters in healthy families are secure. When someone continually fears rejection or abandonment, they are struggling with an “orphan mindset.”

How do we receive the Father’s affirmation? I have discovered most Christians know this intellectually, but fewer numbers experience the Father’s embrace at a heart level. Love is expressed “heart to heart.”

It can occur at new birth, but God’s affirmation occurs through encounter. It begins with surrender, allowing him to love you!

The fullness of the Father’s love toward you can only be learned as you spend time with God in his presence. As you allow the Holy Spirit to embrace and lead you, the love of God will fill your heart. You know you are child of God, not just as a revelation to your mind, but also as a revelation to your heart.

Paul describes the depth of God’s love for us and the completeness of our adoption into God’s family in his letter to the Romans:

For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children. Now we call him, ‘Abba, Father.’ For his Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm that we are God’s children. And since we are his children, we are his heirs. In fact, together with Christ we are heirs of God’s glory. (Rom. 8:14-17 NLT)  

Adopted by God

In Christ, you are no longer an orphan, a black sheep, or from a broken family lineage. Rather, you are loved, adopted, and an empowered child of God.

Under Roman law, an adopted child received all legal rights to the father’s property, even if he or she were formerly a slave. The adopted child was not second-class; rather, they were equal to all other children in their father’s family and had all the same rights and privileges.

Furthermore, the Roman law specified that an adopted child could never be disowned or disinherited from the family. Oddly, in Roman society, a biological child could be removed from the household and inheritance, but not the adopted child. The adopted child was secure in their new family.

Likewise, when we become Christians, we gain all the privileges of being a child in God’s family.

Your adoption into God’s family has given you the privilege to live as an heir of God, and as joint heir with Christ in the inheritance of the Father’s house. Through your union with Jesus you can claim, with confidence, your inheritance as his child and the rights to God’s promises and resources.

God’s love for you is complete; nothing will separate you from his love and you can find security in it. You do not have to strive to earn his love or acceptance. You need to love yourself as much as God loves you.

Paul explained to the Ephesians that we were chosen to be part of God’s family:

Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes. God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure.” (Eph. 1:4-5 NLT)

It is a mysterious plan: before God created the world, we, who were in the heart and mind of God, were chosen to be part of God’s family—like him, holy and without fault.

In Christ, you have a new identity and a new family heritage. Permitting the Holy Spirit to renew your mind to the truth of your acceptance into God’s family and kingdom is essential in discovering your calling.

When you agree with your new identity in Christ, you can begin to embrace the destiny God offers. Embracing your new identity leads to changed behavior; changed behavior creates victorious living.

Sonship Frees You from Fear

Your adoption liberates you from bondage to and fear of the law. Paul explains in verse 15 of Romans 8 that you do not need to be afraid of God as if he were a slave master. Placed in God’s family, you have the full rights of his family, complete with his unconditional love.

One of the many benefits of your adoption by God is that you can be free from the fear of judgment. If you believe God is angry with you, you have not yet matured in your understanding of his love toward you or in your relationship with him. Nothing can separate you from his perfect love.

The apostle John writes regarding judgment,

This is how love has been perfected in us, so that we can have confidence on the Judgment Day, because we are exactly the same as God is in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear, because fear expects punishment. The person who is afraid has not been made perfect in love. We love because God first loved us.” (1 John 4:17-19 CEB)

God’s complete acceptance provides confidence that in the presence of God you are free from the fear of judgment due to your past or present mistakes. Love draws us close, fear pushes us away from God!

This passage in John does not relate to a fear of judgment for sin; Christ removed the eternal consequences of sin. Nor is it about character development. It refers to your position as a child in God’s kingdom—loved and accepted.

In the NKJV, the translation of verse 17 reads, “…as He is, so are we in this world.” The Father completely loves and accepts Jesus—and so are you! Jesus will never be rejected by the Father, and as a follower of Christ, neither will you be rejected by Him.

In 1 John 4:18, the English word fear is translated from the Greek word phóbos, which denotes both the fear of terror and the reverential fear of God. We are to reverentially fear and honor God, but not fear the terror of punishment, which was removed in Christ.

Jesus has tasted rejection for all of us on the cross.

Consider what Mark wrote about the crucifixion in his gospel,

“Now when the sixth hour had come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour. And at the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?” which is translated, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Mark 15:33-34; see Psalm 22:1)

Was Jesus forsaken by the Father on the cross? No, God the Father couldn’t have abandoned God the Son, otherwise the eternal trinity wouldn’t be eternal! The indivisible essence of God can’t be separated. That said, Jesus did carry the weight of our sin, brokenness and disease upon himself on the cross, but in the presence of the Father.

When Jesus cried out, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me,” he was in fact referring to the first line of Psalm 22:1. As I mentioned, he used a remez to refer to the entirety of Psalm 22. In fact, his reference to Psalm 22 was also a reference to Psalm 23 and Psalm 24—the shepherd Psalms. He was giving a “hint” on the cross to those who understood, “look at Psalm 22, and the shepherd Psalms, I’m identifying with them!” Rather than sorrow, the ending of these Psalms finish in hope and triumph.

Remember, this is the only begotten Son of God, the beloved Son in whom the Father is well pleased! God didn’t reject or abandon the Son on the cross, and neither will the Father reject those who have received the grace of life through Jesus.

In his humanity, Jesus did experience in the crucifixion a dimension of rejection and abandonment—so that you and I would never have to be rejected or abandoned by the Father. Jesus, both God and man, tasted death on the cross for us.

Rejection and abandonment are powerful emotions that can cause deep pain in the human heart. If we measure an earthquake, the higher the number on the Richter Scale, the more severe the quake. If we had a similar scale to measure human pain and suffering, rejection and abandonment would be at the top of the scale.

Commenting about the intense human need for love and acceptance, Mother Teresa said, “There is more hunger in the world for love and appreciation than for bread.”

Rejection can occur through the relationships we have with parents, family, friends, associates, or a spouse. We will do just about anything to avoid these painful emotions.

Here is the good news: because Jesus carried our sin and rejection, the Father can eternally accept you. You never have to experience the Father’s rejection; rather, you experience the benefits of his adoption and privilege of a relationship with the Creator. Think about this: in the presence of the Father, Jesus is fully accepted never to be rejected—and so are you. The last words of Jesus actually assure us God will never abandon his own!

In like manner, through your relationship to Jesus, you will never be separated from God’s love, this truth must become foundational in your heart as you walk with Christ:

Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death?…  No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us. And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom. 8:35, 37-39 NLT)

If you live as a fearful slave, not knowing you are an adopted son or daughter, you will fear God whenever you do not measure up or perform well. Rather, you never need to fear judgment or rejection again, no matter the circumstances.

Jesus has eternally reconciled you to the Father. His unconditional love and acceptance is not based on what you have done; rather, it is based on what Jesus did for you. Pursue holy living, but rest confidently in the finished work of Christ.

He took the initiative, broke down the wall that separated you from him, and loved you unconditionally. When you have completely received his love and walk in this truth, fear leaves.

What a revelation this is; not from an intellectual understanding in your mind, but as a revelation to your heart and spirit. You love God because he first loved you. Your motivation to live for God flows from an understanding of his unconditional love.

The question many of us ponder about God is, “Does he love and accept me?”

The answer is clear, yes, God loves and accepts you! You are adopted into his family and care through Jesus, never to be rejected or abandoned by him again. Don’t fear judgment, Jesus took our place; rather honor, love and obey God as his child and rest in his care!

Bob Sawvelle


For a more in-depth look at being accepted, not forsaken, watch the Passion Church message: Accepted, Not Forsaken:

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