While Luke and John each record three unique statements of Jesus from the cross, the gospels of Matthew and Mark record only one. While it’s clear that Jesus said more than one word, Matthew and Mark only pass on this statement and it might be because this word is so moving and so powerful that they felt like it was all that needed to be said. While this word is perhaps the most familiar of the words Jesus spoke, it is also the most disturbing and maybe the most misunderstood. In a moment of deep pain and desperation Jesus cries out, My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?
What’s clear from this word is that in this moment of pain and anguish Jesus felt abandoned by God. He no longer felt the presence of God that he had experienced his entire life and so in this terrifying moment Jesus felt alone. While there were people around him, even people that he loved and loved him, in this moment of pain and anguish, Jesus felt abandoned by his father. Here’s what makes this scene so powerful, it’s in this moment that Jesus feels exactly what we feel. There are times when we all feel alone. If you haven’t experienced that kind of a moment yet, there will come a time when you will because there are times we all cry out to God asking why he has forsaken us. Where is he in the midst of our pain and suffering?
For most of us there have already been these dark moments. They come when we finally face the reality of our sin and have to confess that everything in life seems beyond our control. It’s in the midst of this dark mess that we wonder where God is. For some this moment comes with the diagnosis of cancer for us or worse yet for a loved one and we feel isolated and alone and wonder where God is. For some the dark valley comes when we see jobs and investments and everything we have worked for disappear and we ask ourselves where God is in the midst of the economic crisis. For some it comes as we battle depression, or come to terms with abuse and bullying and feeling unworthy. For some it comes in the midst of accidents and unexpected tragedies. It is in those moments we all cry out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me.”
Many people also ask this question when they see the pain and suffering that exists in the world around us. When I was in college I had a professor that I thought was an amazing man. He was on the archeological dig in Ethiopia where they discovered the ancient human bones known as Lucy. These were the oldest bones ever discovered and it had to be a truly remarkable moment. He had travelled all over the world and experienced some of the most amazing things that I could imagine. He would have been like Indiana Jones only without the whip and fedora. He was also a confirmed atheist and he told us this often.
At the end of one of my exams I wrote out a question for him. I asked him how after seeing so many amazing things around the world he could say that there was no God. His answer was one we often hear. He said, Yes, I’ve been all over the world and I’ve seen incredible things. I’ve seen poverty, starvation, violence and man’s inhumane treatment of other men. Tell me how there can be a god. In other words, in the face of all the pain, chaos and injustice he saw and experience around him he was crying out, My God, My God, why have you forsaken us? Where are you? For him, and for many, it was easier to believe there was no God than to believe in a God who would turn his back on such injustice.
In our own way, we wrestle with this same feeling. We ask ourselves where God is when we experience tremendous pain and loss. Where is God when we hurt so much and think that nothing will ever take the pain away? Where is God when we feel like all is lost? These are very normal questions, very human ones, and they are the same questions that Jesus asked because he felt the same way we do. Where was God in the midst of his pain? Jesus was feeling so alone, so abandoned, so afraid and in so much pain and he cries out, “God, where are you? “
Before we answer that question, I want us to step back and moment and remember that while we often find ourselves in this situation, it is usually due to circumstances beyond our control. We often feel alone and let down by God because of things that happen to us.
We don’t choose to get sick, we don’t choose to have relationships fall apart, and we don’t choose to battle depression, addictions or go through an economic crisis and failure. We don’t choose those things – they happened to us and at those times we wonder where God is. But with Jesus it’s different. Jesus chose a road in life that he knew would lead him to this place of feeling abandoned. Jesus chose to carry a cross and come to a place where he knew he would experience the pain of isolation and feeling alone.
If we go back and look at the events that led up to the crucifixion, we see any number of moments when Jesus could have gone in a different direction and saved his own life. Jesus could have left Jerusalem at the Passover when tensions were running high, but he chose to stay. Jesus could have kept Judas from betraying him, but he let him go. Jesus could have fled the Garden of Gethsemane during the dark of night before the soldiers came to arrest him, but he remained with his friends. Jesus could have spoken up at his trial before the religious leaders and he could have defended himself against Pilate and Herod – but he chose to fulfill God’s word and stand there silent. Jesus chose the road that led him to the cross. He knew the decisions he was making would bring him to this moment of feeling forsaken. Why did he do it? Why did Jesus choose this road? The answer is because he loves us and he knew this was going to be the way of salvation for us.
There is an old hymn which talks about this love of Jesus. It goes, What wondrous love is this, O my soul, O my soul
What wondrous love is this, O my soul
What wondrous love is this that caused the Lord of bliss
To bear the dreadful curse for my soul, for my soul
To bear the dreadful curse for my soul
I’m not sure the dreadful curse for Jesus was death as much as it was this moment of feeling abandoned by God. How painful it must have been for Jesus to feel so alone and forsaken by his father. Jesus had felt a special closeness to God his entire life and yet he chose to let that go, he chose to walk this road so that he would know exactly how we feel and so he could deliver us from sin and death.
Jesus not only loves us this much but he calls us to love others this much. As followers of Jesus, our love for others should be willing to set aside what we want and what is good for us so that we can do what is good for others. That is what it means for us to carry a cross. I’ve been asking myself this week what this kind of love looks like. What does this wondrous love look like in our own lives? At first I thought this kind of love was rare and extraordinary, but then I realized, maybe it isn’t. Maybe this kind of sacrificial love is all around us and maybe we are able to live it out in our own lives.
You see, what this love looks like is people choosing to rush home from work so they can get to a church that reaches out to children who have no place to go. They sacrifice their time and energy to be treated poorly, to be called every name in the book and to even be threatened by children in 2nd and 3rd grade. This takes place every Wednesday at the ROCK at Second Ave. in Altoona as part of their afterschool program. When I was there, we would often gather at the end of the night and ask ourselves the same question Jesus did, “God, why have you forsaken us. Where are you in this? Where are you in the pain and suffering of these children’s lives and where are you as we try to help them? We feel so helpless and alone.” But the next week we would all choose to be right there again because God’s wondrous love seen on the cross moved us to love others.
This kind of love looks like people giving up their vacations and paying hundreds of dollars to travel for 2 days to go to hot and dry South Dakota to help those who live in one of the poorest counties in our nation. We built houses, we painted homes, we worked to help people every way we could and there were times we asked ourselves if we were really doing any good. Where we making any difference? Where was God in all of their pain and suffering and where was God in our desire to help transform their lives?
This kind of love looks like people from here at Faith Church who are currently serving in Alabama after the tornados from last year destroyed so many homes and lives. It looks like high school students giving up some of their summer vacation to serve people less fortunate and in need. It also looks like a church congregation giving up a Saturday to serve the needs of seniors in our community or families choosing to celebrate Christmas by reaching out to help feed those who are hungry and make a difference in our community.
The wondrous love of Jesus that chose to reach out to others even though he knew it would lead to heartache and pain is a love that is seen all around us as people choose to live for others and not for themselves. This love is possible for us to make part of our lives. The love of Jesus is possible for us to live out in our lives if we are willing to do the same thing. When we love others in ways that calls us to give ourselves to others, then we are both experiencing and sharing this wondrous love of Jesus. When we hear this word of Jesus from the cross we need to remember that he made a choice to be there, he made a choice to love others – and we need to make the same choice.
So now let’s go back and answer the question that this word from the cross raises. Where was God when Jesus felt abandoned and alone? Where was God when Jesus hung and died on the cross? Some believe that when Jesus was on the cross, God turned his face away. In 2 Corinthians 5:21 it says “for our sake God made Jesus, who had no sin, to be sin so that through him we might become the righteousness of God.” So when Jesus was on the cross, our sin was placed upon him and in that moment some believe that God, who is pure and holy and righteous, turned his face away.
In his classic book Basic Christianity, theologian John Stott writes, “Our sins came between the Father and the Son. The Lord Jesus Christ who was eternally with the Father, who enjoyed unbroken communion with him throughout his life on earth, was thus momentarily abandoned. He tasted the torment of a soul estranged from God. Bearing our sins, he died our death. He endured instead of us the penalty of separation from God which our sins deserved.”
So some believe that in this moment Jesus not only felt abandoned by his father in heaven, but because of our sin, he actually was forsaken by God, even if it was only for a moment. There are others, however, who interpret this word of Jesus a little differently and here’s why. Does God ever really abandon or forsake anyone? Even when we willfully turn away from God and walk in sin – does God forsake us and turn away from us? The Bible is pretty clear that God doesn’t do this. Look at Psalm 139:1-12.
God is always with us and when it says that even the darkness is not dark to God it tells me that even the darkness of sin doesn’t keep God away. So did the darkness of our sin placed on Jesus really force God away, or did it just feel like it. The truth is that whenever we walk through dark and difficult places and whenever we willfully turn to sin, it feels like God has left us, but just because that is how we feel doesn’t mean those feelings are real. After all, Jesus said “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” So if God doesn’t ever abandon us, then what do we make of this word from the cross.
I think it is important for us to understand that these were very honest words from Jesus, he was feeling alone – like we all do at times, but these words were also a prayer for Jesus. This word from the cross is actually a quotation from Psalm 22, a psalm that would have been very well known by all the Jewish people who heard Jesus that day. In fact, when Jesus said, My God, my God, why have you forsaken me, the people would have immediately thought to themselves, why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning. They would have been able to not only recite the next line but they would have been able to finish the psalm.
It would be like this. If I said, Amazing grace how sweet the sound, you all immediately think to yourselves… (that saved a wretch like me.) And you could probably sing the rest of the song as well.
Or if I say, the Lord is my shepherd you would think… (I shall not want) and many of you would be able to finish Psalm 23.
Or if I said, Our Father, who art in heaven, you would think… (hallowed be thy name.) and again, you could finish the prayer.
It was the same for the people who heard Jesus that day. When they heard this cry of Jesus, they weren’t just hearing how Jesus felt forsaken in this moment, they were hearing the entire psalm, so we need to look at the entire psalm to see what else Jesus was thinking and praying and feeling in this moment. As part of our next steps this week we encourage you to take some time to read through the Psalm 22 and reflect on all that was on Jesus’ mind and heart in this moment, but for now, let’s look at just a few verses.
First look at Psalm 22:6-8 and now 22:12-18. All of this was what was happening to Jesus. All these things were taking place as Jesus hung on the cross so Jesus was actually living out this psalm; it was being fulfilled in his dying. Now if this was all there was to the psalm, things would be pretty bleak and hopeless, but this is not all there is. Look at Psalm 22:3-5. Jesus may be crying out to God asking where he is, but he knows that God is the one who is there to save him. And then look at 22: 24. This may be the most important word in the entire psalm. God heard Jesus when he cried out to him. God was there when Jesus felt alone and forsaken. God heard him when he cried for help and God was there to save him, that’s also what it says at the very end of the psalm, look at Psalm 22: 30-31. There’s the word we are looking for, deliverance. God hears Jesus when he cries out and God is there to save him.
Maybe that is why both Matthew and Mark only record this one word from the cross, because this one word not only shows us the humanity of Jesus and how he felt alone and afraid just like we all do at times, but it also shows us that Jesus never gave up hope or faith because he knew God was with him and that deliverance was coming. When we feel abandoned and think that everything is going against us and God has let us down, we need to remember that first of all – Jesus understands that feeling. He gets it, but he doesn’t let it get him. His cry from Psalm 22 reminds us that not only does God hear us when we cry out in despair, but God comes to save us. No matter what the darkness or despair is that we face in life, no matter what the darkness and despair is that we face today, God is here and God is here to save.
Final Words from the Cross ~ My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
1. Read Psalm 22. Notice all the different ways this psalm reflects what Jesus experienced on the cross. Jesus is not just reciting scripture here, he is praying. Use Psalm 22 as a prayer to God. Share with God honest feelings of despair and disappointment and ask God for strength and salvation.
2. If you are feeling abandoned and forgotten by God today, remember Jesus felt the same way. Jesus used scripture to remind himself that God was with him. Read Psalm 18 and Psalm 139 and claim the promise that God is with us always.
3. Because he loves us, Jesus made the choice to deny himself and die on the cross, pray for those who this week are denying themselves to serve others.
• Pray for those on the mission team in Alabama.
• Pray for students who choose to serve over spring break.
• Pray for our missionaries around the world:
The Abbotts in Spain
The Wilcox in Alaska
The Enrights in Zambia
The Smallwoods in Kentucky (Red Bird Mission)
The Heffners in New Mexico
4. Jesus said those who want to follow him must deny themselves and take up a cross. How can we show this kind of wondrous (sacrificial) love to others?
• Sign up to help with “Serving our Seniors”.
• Volunteer time to minister to children or youth.
• Volunteer time at a local outreach agency.