My God, why have you forsaken me? Matthew 27:46
Today we are looking at the words “My God, why have you forsaken me?” as spoken by Jesus from the Cross.
I know of no words in all of Scripture that portray the cost of our redemption better than those words. The Cross was designed for torture. Many believe it was the most gruesome form of putting a man to death that humanity has ever devised. Crucifixion was considered so ugly by the Romans who devised it that they forbade it being used on any Roman citizen regardless of the severity of the crime. Yet the real agony of the crucifixion is not the physical torture but the weight of our sin upon the Jesus. He who knew no sin or the effect of sin in His relationship with the Father, suddenly felt the separation that sin causes. We are going to look at those words today in their setting and then as they relate to Jesus, to the Father and finally to us.
The setting of these words is important. They were spoken during the hours of darkness. Read Matthew 27:45. That darkness presents an interesting study in itself. The Greek word used here indicates that, unlike an eclipse, suddenly it turned dark. We know it was not an eclipse not only because of the suddenness with which it appeared, but also from its length. It lasted for 3 hours and no eclipse lasts that long. This was God’s doing, a supernatural event. Some have called it the original Black Friday. Usually darkness in Scripture is related to judgment and certainly those hours were judgment on sin. In addition, it was also designed to hide the physical suffering of Jesus. One can well appreciate the idea that God would not want mankind to look at His Son so disfigured as to be all but unrecognizable and in such extreme pain. Perhaps even more than that, it was designed to force our attention off the physical and onto the even more ugly suffering of the soul that was separated from God.
There are some who would say Jesus was never forsaken but He only felt that way. It was really just a normal feeling like we would have in such a situation when one has gone through as much as Jesus had gone through in the previous 24 hours. He had suffered so much and felt as if there was no relief. It is certainly true that we sometimes, inaccurately, feel like we have been forsaken by God. That was, however, not the case with Jesus. He was truly forsaken by God.
The Prophet Habakkuk wrote that God is so holy that He cannot tolerate sin in any form. Read Habakkuk 1:13. That’s man’s problem. As sinners we cannot enter into the presence of the Holy God. Unless our sin problem is cared for we must forever be separated from God. Paul, however, wrote that Jesus paid the price of our sin. Read II Corinthians 5:21, I Peter 2:24 and Galatians 3:13. When Jesus became sin, His Holy Father could no longer look upon Him and for that time He had to forsake His Son. Jesus was literally forsaken by God as He hung on that Cross with the weight of our sins upon Him.
We cannot begin to imagine how Jesus had to have felt when our sin caused the broken fellowship with the Father. The agony of those words is found in the distance between the perfect fellowship that Jesus and the Father had enjoyed for all eternity and the broken fellowship that then separated. On the Cross, with our sins upon Him, He was cut off from the love of the Father. He was cut off from all communication with Him. He was cut off from all of the rights and prerogatives of Sonship. As Richard Bodey put it, “Now He hung between earth and heaven with no home in either. His Father’s smile was hidden. His Father’s favor was withdrawn. Laden with the sins of others, the sinless One sank into the lowest depths of hell as the waves and billows of God’s wrath swept over him.”
Imagine, if you can, the horror of Him being separated from God and then realize that had Jesus not endured the Cross we would be crying out for all eternity, “God, where are you?”
The agony of separation is the wage of sin. You and I should have to experience it, but He took our place. Read I Peter 3:18. Death in Scripture always means separation. On the Cross Jesus experienced the physical death of separation of body and soul that would occur shortly after when He commended His spirit to the Father. In addition, with our sin upon Himself He experienced spiritual death as He was separated spiritually from His Father. He was forsaken when we deserved that separation.
What must those words have meant to the Father in heaven? How do you suppose the Father felt when He heard them uttered? Sometimes, in our thinking we see Jesus as the one who loves and the Father as the one who judges. But God is love in the fullest sense of the word and He perfectly loved both His Son and lost mankind. God the Father had to have felt incredible anguish and heartbreak that hour. As the Son had had perfect fellowship with the Father for all eternity, so too had the Father had perfect fellowship with the Son. Then He was unable to help, to intervene, to share the burden. He was unable to send 10,000 angels to take Jesus off that Cross. He was unable to do any of that if the plan of redemption was to be accomplished for mankind. How do you think God the Father felt as He saw our sins placed on His sinless Son? The love of the Father for His Son was no less. At no moment did He stop loving Jesus because of the sin. He could not, however, love the sin so He had to allow His Son to suffer the separation that sin required of Him as the Holy One. We rightfully thank Jesus for going to the Cross but let us never forget the agony that the Father felt that day or the love He displayed for us in allowing His Son to bear our sins and die in our place.
Think also of how the Father in heaven had to have felt at that very hour. Here was the Son whom He had delighted in for all eternity and He must watch Him die and could not, for our sakes, intervene. That was love. The Cross was a demonstration of the love of the Godhead.
What do those words mean to the lost, to those who have never accepted Jesus as personal Savior? They mean nothing except an example of the cry they will make for all eternity. In our age there are many who deny the existence of a hell or say that God surely would not send anyone to a hell. That would be nice were it true. But what kind of a God would we have if, after all He allowed Jesus to go through, He did not send anyone to Hell who refused to accept His provision? It is impossible to believe that God would pour out His wrath on His Sinless Son and then not judge those who reject His love. There will be judgment. The Cross assures us of that.
What does this to say all to who have made Jesus their Savior? First, it meanswe do not have to face that separation we otherwise deserved. He took our separation upon Himself. Read I Corinthians 15:57. More than just thanks is needed. I Corinthians 15:58. William Barclay, in his book The Mind of Jesus, wrote about the incredible love of Jesus and His grace that makes redemption possible. Barkley then wrote, “Grace is the greatest gift in the world. Grace is a gift; and grace is a gift of love; to offer that grace to men cost God all He had to give; and therefore, there is laid on every man the awe-inspiring obligation of doing all he can to deserve that grace. That he can never do; but he can and must respond to that grace by seeking throughout all his life to be what that grace desires him to be. He must say: ‘If I have been loved like that I dare not break the heart of that love’”
“My God, why have you forsaken me?” They are words with deep meaning. Who can even hope to comprehend the fulness of their meaning? Yet in the process of contemplating them, we should be reminded of why we must share God’s love with all, so they too may be saved. In contemplating them we are reminded again not only of how much God loves us but what that love should mean each and every day to the way we live.