My God, Why Have You Forsaken Me?

Title: My God, Why Have You Forsaken Me?

Text: Matthew 27:47-49, Psalm 22

Time: March 24th, 2010

Because it’s only a few weeks before Easter, we are once again examining the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Today, I’d like to examine the cry of Jesus on the cross, “My God, My God, Why have you forsaken me?” People always ask about this cry, particularly as to what it means. Matthew 27:43-50 states, “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 sabachthani?’ – which means, ‘My God, My God, why have your forsaken me?’ When some of those standing there heard this, they said, ‘he’s calling Elijah.’ Immediately one of them ran and got a sponge. He filled it with wine vinegar, put it on a stick, and offered it to Jesus to drink. The rest said, ‘Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to save him.’ And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit.” Now the question is, was he crying out for himself or for another or others? This is the question I will try to answer today along with a couple other questions about the death of Christ. These things matter because they help us understand the events of Easter, and it important for us to understand the meaning of the Easter events because this is our faith, what we trust. Any time we can better understand the meaning and purpose of Christ’s death on the cross on our behalf the more meaning and purpose our lives have, most importantly. Now it’s common in our culture today, a culture that once claimed Christianity as its faith but no longer, it’s common today for millions of people to not attend any type of Easter observance in church, neither Good Friday services nor Easter Sunday itself. For a growing number of persons in the United States, Easter is just another weekend, another time to read the paper, scratch around on the lawn, go out for breakfast, take a walk in the park, go for a drive, enjoy a picnic – or any number of recreational or entertainment activities. No reference to Jesus or the cross or salvation or forgiveness. The biblical account of Christ’s death or resurrection has no meaning for these people. Understanding what Jesus suffered or how he suffered means nothing to these people. Theology – or simply, thinking about godly things and trying to understand them, is pointless to many secular people. Like British biologist Richard Dawkins says, “Theology is nonsense. Theologians, what have they ever done? What have they ever created or produced? Nothing as far as I can see.” So we wouldn’t expect him in church on Easter Sunday. But for Christians, any time we can explore some aspect of our faith, we are helped because it gives us a greater appreciation for just how much God loves us and is willing to show that love towards us. So today, let’s look at Jesus on the cross and let’s hear what he says. What does what he said mean?

First, Jesus was misunderstood by the bystanders. Matthew 27:47-49, “When some of those standing there herd this, they said, ‘He’s calling Elijah.’ Immediately one of them ran and got a sponge. He filled it with wine vinegar, put it on a stick, and offered it to Jesus to drink. The rest said, ‘Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to save him.’” We can understand why it might have been easy for the people gathered around to misunderstand Jesus on the cross – there was wind blowing, the clouds grew dark, and lightning cracked, and it was a confusing scene. It would have been easy for people to hear only bits and pieces of Jesus’ cry, only the “Eli, Eli” part, which could have been mistaken to mean “Elijah, Elijah.” But why would they automatically think that he would be calling to Elijah? Apart from thinking they might have heard the word “Elijah” coming from the lips of Jesus, what significance would Elijah have with anything taking place? Well, for us non-Jews – technical term, Gentile – we don’t understand the significance of Elijah in the popular thinking of Judaism, then and now. The Jews knew that Elijah had been taken into heaven without dying, as described in 2 Kings 2:11, so they also thought that he would return again to rescue them from trouble, according to Malachi 4:5, “See, I will send you the prophet Elijah before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes. . . .” And Jews to this very day during the annual Passover meal set an extra place for Elijah in hope of his return. That’s tradition. So there is this Jewish tradition going way back that says Elijah will show up someday at just the right time to rescue the Jewish people in connection with the judgment and deliverance of the Messiah. Now the theology isn’t clear concerning the role of Elijah, but the Jews at the time of Christ’s crucifixion knew enough about Elijah to think that’s what Jesus was referring to on the cross. Now we know in hindsight that they were mistaken; they simply heard Jesus wrong. He wasn’t saying anything about Elijah. In fact, his disciples would have known immediately he wasn’t crying out to Elijah, because he had already taught early on in his ministry that John the Baptist was the symbolic “Elijah” that was to come; he has already fulfilled the Malachi 4:5 prophecy in preparing the people for the coming of the Messiah Jesus. So the disciples of Jesus immediately he was crying out to God the Father in heaven, not Elijah the prophet. So the bystanders were wrong, but we can understand their mistaken. It was easy to make. But that still leaves the question, what did Jesus mean in crying to God, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” Was he asking this for himself or on behalf of other?

Second, Jesus was quoting the suffering servant Psalm 22. Psalm 22:1, “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?” The historical application of this passage is with King David, who could have written it while being pursued by King Saul early on in his career, or it could have been written later when he was forced to flee Jerusalem because of the coup initiated by his son Absalom. Or, it could have been a reference to some other experience altogether, perhaps in battle against the Philistines when he was on the run trying to outmaneuver his enemy. It isn’t exactly clear what specific incident it’s referring to but in any case, it’s the case of a righteous man in need of deliverance from God. It’s his prayer for deliverance. Jesus quotes David’s prayer while on the cross in his moment of suffering. Now Psalm 22 is a most interesting verse because it’s the most quoted Psalm in the New Testament. Many different New Testament writers use this Psalm in so many different instances. I don’t have time to mention every reference, but let me list just a few. Psalm 22:7-8, “All who see me mock me; they hurl insults, shaking their hears; ‘He trust in the Lord; let the Lord rescue him. Let him deliver him, since he delights in him.’” This is an exact description of the crucifixion scene as depicted in Matthew 27, specifically in verse 43. Psalm 22:16, “Dogs have surrounded me; a band of evil men has encircled me, they have pierced my hands and feet.” This is reference to the Gentile Roman soldiers mocking Jesus; the word “dog” is a slang word for non-Jews. The nails were driven into his hands and feet at the crucifixion. Psalm 22:17, “I can count all my bones; people stare and gloat over me.” This is a reference to the public nature of the crucifixion and most importantly surprisingly enough that no bones of Jesus were broken at the crucifixion. John 19:32-33, “The soldiers therefore came and broke the legs of the first man who had been crucified with Jesus, and then those of the other. But when they came to Jesus and found that he was already dead, they did not break his legs.” There are still other parallel passages between Psalm 22 and New Testament passages, but too many to list today. Jesus was consciously and deliberately identifying himself with the suffering servant of Psalm 22. But even though this answers the question about where the words of the cry of Jesus originated, it doesn’t answer the question why Jesus spoke them when he did. Was he crying out for himself or others?

Third, Jesus was expressing his separation from God the Father on our behalf. Matthew 27:46, “About the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, ‘Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?’ – which means, ‘My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?’ Jesus was expressing the abandonment of God for himself, but not only for himself, but on our behalf as well. We know from the Isaiah 53 prophecy about the Messiah, “Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows” v.4. “But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed,” v.5. “Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and . . . the Lord makes his life a guilt offering,” v.10. “For he bore the sins of many, and made intercession for the transgressors,” v. 12. The last verse is key because is says, “For he bore the sins of many, and made intercession for the transgressors” (emphasis added). Now we can fully understand the cry of Christ on the cross. Acting in his role of atoning sacrifice for the sins of sinners, Christ suffers a fate he didn’t deserve, yet the sins of the world were placed upon him. In that instant, he was separated and rejected from God the Father, just as all of us sinners deserve. Jesus not only suffered physical pain on our behalf, he suffered more importantly spiritually and emotionally. He was rejected by God in that one atoning instant, so then, the cry that came from him was truly a personal cry of deliverance to the Father on his behalf, because he was at that point carrying the sins of the world upon his shoulders. But more important than that, he cried also on our behalf – in our place – because if he hadn’t volunteered to die in our place, the very words, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me,” would come from our lips at some future Judgment Day. Jesus uses these words on our behalf; in place of the words we would say if we were forced to atone for our own sins. The real tragedy is that some people, many people, possibly even most people, will utter those pathetic and tragic words, “My God, why have you forsaken me?” The only way we can avoid ever saying those terrible words ourselves is to put our full faith and confidence in the atoning work of Jesus on the cross for our behalf. Then, the only version of this cry will come from the lips of Jesus in the pages of the Bible that we read now. Wouldn’t you rather have this cry of abandonment be made once by Christ on our behalf rather than be forced to utter them yourself in the midst of a terrible judgment and eventual damnation? Certainly.

So then we see the meaning of the cry of Christ on the cross of Calvary. In his capacity as our atoning sacrifice, he uttered the cry on our behalf, just as he died in our behalf for sins. He expressed the despair of judgment and damnation so that we don’t ever have to hear such a cry ever come from our own lips. What a blessing it is to reflect on the fact that we who have placed our trust in Jesus will never utter such a sad cry, ever. Nobody ever has to utter such a sad cry, such a despairing and disappointing cry. The original Psalm 22 cry was uttered by King David but only within a temporal situation from which God did indeed deliver him. But the utterance by Christ Jesus on the cross represented a much more grave situation – Judgment Day and punishment of eternal damnation. The cry uttered by Jesus is the cry of one who has been abandoned by God, one who experiences the full wrath of God for sins, and one who is eternally damned as punishment for sins. It is the cry of a desperate yet tragic situation from which there is no escape. Anyone uttering such a cry at the Day of Judgment will never escape an eternal punishment. What will the damned to hell cry as they are judged guilty of their own sins and sentenced to pay for their own sins for all eternity? What does the cry of one who has no hope sound like? What does one cry who has no possible way of escape? Wouldn’t it possibly be, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” And the real sad part of it is, the person will know why God has forsaken them – they refused to humble themselves, confess their sins, repent, and cast themselves upon the mercy and grace of God through the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ. The reason we can so appreciate the cry of Christ on the cross is that it represents his crying on our behalf and experiencing the abandonment and rejection on our behalf. Personally, I don’t ever want to experience the ultimate rejection of God for my sins. I don’t want to feel the despair in the pit of my stomach by realizing that there’s no escaping the hell of separation from God for all eternity. We can bear something we know is only temporary. People are amazing in that they can suffer something they know will pass. “This too will pass.” But imagine how it will feel for someone to learn that as they face God as Judge their sins have not been atoned for because they never asked for them to be. Imagine standing before God and not having an atoning sacrifice in Jesus Christ simply because one never trusted in Jesus. Then the cry, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” will make sense, even as the answer to the question is already known. Thank God, by faith, we’ll never say it!

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3 Responses to “My God, Why Have You Forsaken Me?”

  1. Rajesh Says:

    Dear Brother, I really liked your message. It has great insights and deeper truths.

    Thank you and God Bless you!

    With Love,
    Rajesh Kumar T

  2. jeffshort Says:

    Rajesh, what country are you from. thanks for the comment.

  3. Fern Says:

    I think some people who suffer much either physically and/or emotionally with no relief in sight often feel abandoned by God and cry out with Christ’s words. It’s hard for them to believe Jesus already endured all suffering for them when indeed his three hours don’t match up at all to their sometimes years of pain. Wouldn’t it be better to offer them Jesus’ example of bearing the abandonment until he could breathe forth his spirit into his Father’s heart?

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