Sermon preached on Matthew 27:27-54 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Good Friday Worship Service at Atria Tam Creek Retirement Community on 3/30/2018 in Novato, CA.
“My God, My God, Why Have You Forsaken Me?”
Quoting Psalm 22:1, Jesus cried out on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” What a question! Why? Why would God forsake his loving and faithful son? Why would God abandon the righteous one to die at the hand of sinners? Why would he desert his anointed one, his Messiah in this hour of trial? Why would God leave Jesus to the cursed death of the cross? Surely, we could understand if God forsakes a wicked person, but why would he forsake the Christ? What is the answer to Jesus’ question? Why is God forsaking him?
It is certainly the question to ask. David in Psalm 37:25 says that he’s never seen the righteous forsaken. And yet it was David himself, in this psalm Jesus quotes, who first asked this question. David in Psalm 22 expresses his own sense of being forsaken by God. Yet, in that psalm David also expresses his ultimate trust and confidence in God. Whatever sufferings David was experiencing, however forsaken he felt momentarily, he believed God would yet deliver him. And so, for David to ask God, “Why have you forsaken me?” was really a cry to God for help. It was ultimately a petition to God to respond in covenant faithfulness. You see, David was not without reason to make such a request. David’s relationship with God was in light of the old covenant. In that old covenant, we see statements by God that he wouldn’t forsake his people. Deuteronomy chapters 4 and 31 delve into this. And yet, interestingly, it’s in those same chapters that God also speaks of how he would forsake his people. God says there under the old covenant, that if his people were faithful to the law, God would not forsake them. But, if they did forsake God and his law, then God in turn would forsake them.
And so amazingly, David in Psalm 22 basically appeals to God based on this covenant promise. David is essentially saying in the psalm that he has been faithful to God and so he calls for God to not forsake him but save him. In the psalm David is confident that God will in fact give him that salvation. Well, we know that David was not perfect in his righteousness. If David could ask this question, of why would God forsake him, again we have to ask the question all the more for Jesus. We can understand why any sinner, David included, would warrant God to forsake him. We know David had his share of sin and his share of not being faithful to God and his laws. But that was not the case with Jesus. So again, why is God here forsaking the perfectly righteous Jesus, the only one ever who was without sin?
Well, the answer is because of the very tension that was just mentioned all the way back in Deuteronomy. God has desired to have a special people unto himself, a people that he would not forsake. And yet the people he has chosen for that relationship are sinners. Back then and still today, all of God’s chosen ones are sinners. Even the most holy of us still struggle with sin. All humans, apart from Jesus Christ, deserve for God to forsake them in his condemnation and wrath. A righteous God could not let sin go unpunished. A holy God could not stand in the presence of such sinners and bless them. And yet God had a plan. In God’s graciousness to his chosen people he gave his only son to die for them. God’s plan was that he would satisfy the demands of justice and holiness through the sacrifice of his son Jesus Christ. All of God’s people deserve to be forsaken by God because of their sin. But praise be to God for he has not left us alone in our sin to die. He has not left us to be forsaken. No, he has sent his son, Jesus Christ, the righteous one, to suffer this in our place. At Calvary, Jesus became the propitiation for our sins. By Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, he bears the wrath of God for us. When Jesus makes this cry, he is essentially experiencing hell there while hung on the cross; in our place. Jesus was forsaken by God so that his people would not have to be.
The prophet Isaiah prophesied about this in Isaiah 53:4-5, describing Jesus as bearing the sins of God’s people. Isaiah says, “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed.” There, in Isaiah 53, Isaiah makes clear that the Messiah was to bear the sins of God’s people. All the promises of God are reliant on this mission of the Christ, to serve as a ransom for many. “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21). God could not fulfill his promises to bless his people as long as we were sinful, but when Christ bore our sins on the cross, the guilt of our sins were removed from us, and we were clothed with Christ’s righteousness.
This then is the answer to Jesus’ question on the cross: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me”? Because of our sin. Let me say it again; the reason God forsook and abandoned Jesus on the cross is because of our sin. Thinking of Jesus experiencing that hell in the place of his people here, let me give you a contrasting thought. Those not saved by Christ’s sacrifice, this is their future; they will be eternally forsaken by God in hell. They will experience an eternal abandonment of God’s good favor in hell. This is why salvation is so important!
So, tonight we have answered the question of why God forsook Jesus on the cross. That was a question raised when Jesus said, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me.” But that leads to another question. Why did Jesus ask this question? Did he not know why? Did Jesus not know why he had come to the cross? Far be it! Surely it would be wrong, scripturally, to say that Jesus didn’t know why he was forsaken on the cross. Surely, he knew why he hung there and why he was forsaken. Jesus, throughout his earthly ministry boldly went from town to town declaring the word of God, confident and sure of his father’s will. Jesus had come to the cross, knowing full well that he would undergo the wrath of God. Remember how just before his arrest, he had went to Gethsemane to pray, and said to his disciples, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death” (Mt. 26:30). Scripture says of his time there in Gethsemane, that “being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground” (Luke 22:44). Jesus specifically prayed there, that if possible, that the cup of God’s wrath be removed from him. But, of course, it could not be removed. Jesus knew why it couldn’t be removed. It’s because of what Jesus told his disciples repeatedly before. In Mark 8:31, Jesus told them how the Son of Man would suffer many things, be killed, and after three days rise again. In Mark 10:45, he told them that the Son of Man must give his life as a ransom for many. Jesus had predicted how the temple of his body would be destroyed but then rebuilt in three days. My point is that Scripture is clear. Jesus was prepared for this suffering. He was expecting it. He was not caught off guard from it, nor did he suddenly doubt the Father in this climatic moment. Rather we find in 1 Peter 2:23 that during this moment of suffering at the cross that Jesus “entrusted himself to him who judges justly.” So, even in the midst of being forsaken like this, Christ’s faith and purpose held strong.
So, since Jesus knew why he was being forsaken, again the question is why did he ask this question? Since Jesus’s trust in his father at that very moment did not waiver, why did he ask the question? Why did he speak forth for all around him to hear this? If it was spoken by another man, I could imagine a sinful reason to say something like this for everyone to hear. I could see how someone else might say something like this as a way to slander God; as a complaint against him. You shout out something like that to basically tell others that God is giving you a bum deal. “Why would God forsake me!” But is that what Jesus is doing here? Again, surely not! Jesus never sinned, including here.
So then, was it instead maybe a prayer by Jesus? Well, we are starting to get closer, because certainly in Psalm 22, this was first written by David as a prayer. And yet, if it was a prayer, I would remind you that at that moment Jesus was being forsaken by God. If that is the moment of his being forsaken, you would not expect God to hear or receive a prayer from him who had become sin for us. In fact, in Psalm 22, the very next verse makes that point. The psalm speaks of how God hadn’t been hearing him, that’s why the psalm was talking about being forsaken. To be forsaken by God infers that God is not listening to you or your prayers any longer.
So then, I draw your attention to something Jesus said in John 11:41-42. That’s when Lazarus had died and Jesus was about to raise him from the dead. There Jesus prays out loud and starts off his prayer by saying this: “Father, I thank You that You have heard Me. And I know that You always hear Me.” Stop right there. That’s what is so shocking about the cross here. Before, Jesus said that the Father always, always, heard him. Never before, had the Father ever turned a deaf ear to the Son. Back in John 11 when Jesus raised Lazarus, Jesus acknowledged that the Father had always heard his prayers. But look at what Jesus goes on to say in that prayer for Lazarus. Notice why Jesus says he is praying aloud there in John 11. I’ll keep reading his prayer from there. John 11:41, “Father, I thank You that You have heard Me. And I know that You always hear Me, but because of the people who are standing by I said this, that they may believe that You sent Me.” Think of how this answers our question here. Back then with the raising of Lazarus, Jesus didn’t need to pray out loud. Jesus knew he didn’t need to verbally speak that prayer to God. Jesus could have just prayed in his mind, and he knew his heavenly father would hear and answer him. But Jesus did pray out loud back then in John 11 for the sake of the people standing there. That they would have the benefit of seeing God answer his prayer. That they would have faith in Jesus grown in them by witnessing that.
So then, now, when being forsaken by God, why would Jesus speak aloud such a prayer? Why would he call out aloud to the father at the one moment he knew God wouldn’t hear him? I would submit to you that it was for the same reason he spoke his prayer aloud back in John 11. It was for our sake. Here, as always, even amidst the climax of his suffering, Jesus was preaching! Here he preaches and teaches that they and us would believe. Remember, Jesus is quoting scripture here! This is not some mindless utterance. Jesus was opening the Word of God, even during the depths of his suffering. He was declaring to them and to us “Behold! I am the Messiah! I am the fulfillment of all the scriptures! I am the answer to David’s petition in Psalm 22. I am being forsaken, the righteous one, so that you, the unrighteous ones, will never be forsaken!” Here Jesus answers his mockers. To those who said: “Come down from the cross, if you are the Son of God”, he is saying that it is precisely because he is the Son of God that he remains on the cross, not to save himself, but to save his people! Oh, what a great and awesome and merciful Lord we have! Even here, he is doing his Father’s work. Even here, he is reaping a harvest. Even here he loves his lost sheep as he lays down his life for them.
By quoting Psalm 22 here, Jesus essentially presents his life at that moment as a sermon to those that were there. When you read everything going on here at the cross, there are quite a number of allusions to Psalm 22. Psalm 22 talks of the psalmist’s hands and feet being pierced. Psalm 22 speaks of the psalmist’s clothes being divided up by lots. Psalm 22 says the psalmist is mocked with insults and people wagging their heads at him. Psalm 22 says these mockers will specifically mock him for trusting in the Lord and taunting the psalmist to have God deliver him. All these things from Psalm 22 are being seen here. Then the climax of it all comes when Jesus cries out that opening verse of Psalm 22, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” So, Jesus cries out this quote to make it clear to all, this was not defeat. This was the plan all along. For Jesus to ask the question of Psalm 22 made the people there ask the question. It caused us to ask the same question tonight. And for Jesus to ask this question of Psalm 22, it should also remind them and us of the confidence that comes at the end of that psalm. It ends in confidence in God’s victory and salvation. Many have pointed out that the last word of Psalm 22 in Hebrew could even be translated as “It is finished” making some wonder if Jesus still had the psalm in mind when he said that on the cross.
You see, Jesus knew the Scriptures said that the Christ must first suffer then glory would follow. Jesus also surely knew that his disciples would be slow to get this. Remember that on the third day, after Jesus rose from the dead he’ll encounter some of his disciples on the road to Emmaus who hadn’t figured that out yet. Then, he’ll explain to them from all the Scriptures showing to them how it was necessary for the Christ to first suffer and then enter into his glory. Well, Jesus begins that exposition of Scripture right here even. By crying out Psalm 22:1 he says that this psalm ultimately looked to his sufferings and future glory. It should have comforted the disciples that this was all part of the plan, as hard as it was. And so this is why Jesus asks the question of Psalm 22:1. Jesus asks the question to teach us. To make sure that the answer was not lost on us. Even here he shows his love for his sheep. Even as he experiences the forsaking of God on the cross, he loves us to the full.
My friends, we have asked again today this question so we would be reminded of the answer. So that all here may believe that Jesus came from the Father. So that all may here may know that the cross was not a defeat, except for sin and Satan and death! That victory was seen when that temple curtain was torn in two afterwards. That showed that God’s people were no longer restricted or even veiled in their access to the Father. Nor do we have to worry that God would ever forsake us, if we are in Christ. Through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, we stand before God justified, righteous, and holy. Christ himself was vindicated on that third day when he rose from the dead. He himself ascended up into heaven to the right hand of God to further confirm this. Since Christ is no longer forsaken by God, but restored and exalted, we too also share in this as those united to him by faith!
Own that truth. In the tough times of life, we might sometimes feel like God is actually forsaking us. We might even remember this cry from Psalm 22 and ask it of ourselves. But whenever you are tempted to think that, remember that Jesus took that Psalm onto his lips. If you are in Christ, then you are not being forsaken by God, even if now, for a little while, you have had to undergo some suffering. Know that it is not God forsaking you. It may be God growing you, but it’s never God forsaking you. Christ was forsaken so that we wouldn’t be forsaken. Let us then never forsake him, but always trust him with faith in all circumstances. Amen.
Copyright © 2018 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.