The Forsaken

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?”
                             —Ps. 22:1-3 (cf. Matt. 27:45-49)

 

On the cross Jesus cries out and quotes from Psalm 22: “My God, my God,[1] why have Thou forsaken me?!”[2] This is especially pungent because Jesus, unlike all other humans, did not deserve to be forsaken.[3]

Jesus’ forsaken cry comes at the end of three hours of darkness (Matt. 27:45). This is in great contrast to other momentous occasions in Jesus’ life. At Jesus’ birth the star led the way and angels announced His arrival (Lk. 2:8-14).[4] At Jesus’ baptism the heavens were torn open and a voice from heaven said, “You are my beloved Son; with You I am well pleased” (Matt. 3:17). At Jesus’ transfiguration “a cloud overshadowed them,[5] and a voice came out of the cloud, ‘This is my beloved Son; listen to Him’” (Mk. 9:7).

Yet when Jesus is on the cross crying out His forsaken cry the sky is dark and there is no voice from heaven.[6] It is through Jesus being forsaken by God, however, that a gentile centurion[7] says, “Truly this man is the Son of God” (Mk. 15:39). It is through Jesus being forsaken by God that the temple curtain is ripped in two (Mk. 15:38)[8] and we can now, through Jesus Christ, boldly go to God our Father (Heb. 9:2–3, 12; 9:24; 10:19–20).[9]

Jesus cried His forsaken cry so that all who trust in Him will not have to for all eternity.[10] Jesus died in agony, crying out, “My God, my God! Why have You forsaken me?!” so that we could die in peace. The voice that called out to Abraham to not touch Isaac is silent for the Son of God.

Later on the psalmist says: “I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax; it is melted within my breast; my strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to my jaws; you lay me in the dust of death” (Ps. 22:14-15 cf. 69:17-21).

That too was Jesus’ experience. He was forsaken by God. His life was poured out like water as He drank the cup of God’s wrath and suffered severe thirst. John 19:28 says “Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), ‘I thirst.’”[11] And so we see, the One “who had made gallons of wine for a wedding party, who had spoken of living water that would quench all thirst forever” was dying with a parched tongue and the sour smell of vinegar on His beard.[12]

Jesus died in the dark. Thirsty. Forsaken by God.

Yet it is through Jesus being forsaken that He opens the way for whosoever will to come to God through the way that He made. Jesus is the way, He is the gate (Ps. 118:20; Jn. 14:6).

Reflections

  • It’s helpful to realize in the midst of suffering that God takes our suffering seriously. In fact, “God takes our misery and suffering so seriously that he was willing to take it on himself.”[13]
  • Jesus, because He Himself suffered when tempted, He is able to help those who are being tempted (Heb. 2:18). Jesus was “made like his brothers in every respect, so that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God” (v. 17). So, as you struggle and strive in this fallen world, remember Jesus sympathizes with your weaknesses, because He was tempted in every was that we are, yet He never sinned (Heb. 4: 15). 

Prayer

God, we are thankful and amazed that You are mindful of us. But we know that You are. And You even sent Jesus to bear the wrath that we deserve so we could be welcomed into friendship with You. Thank You, God. Be praised by our lives we ask, because You deserve it. We ask this through Jesus our once forsaken Great High Priest. Amen.

 ________

[1] Jesus said, “My God, my God” and so we see both Jesus’ personal relationship with God—even though He doesn’t say “My Father, my Father” here since He’s quoting the psalmist—and His continued trust in God (Bauckham, Jesus and the God of Israel, 258).

[2] Forsaken me in this context means “to cast off,” “reject,” “to be far from,” “to hide God’s face from,” “to turn in anger from,” “to forget” (Richard Bauckham, Jesus and the God of Israel: God Crucified and Other Studies on the New Testament’s Christology of Divine Identity, 256). “To be forsaken by God means that he has allowed this to happen and does nothing to help. So it is somewhat misleading to say—of the psalmist or of Jesus echoing his words—that he feels forsaken by God as though this were an understandable mistake. What Jesus experiences is the concrete fact that he has been left to suffer and die. God has, in this sense, abandoned him, not merely in psychological experience but in the form of the concrete situation that Jesus experiences” (Ibid., 257).

[3] So, we could read the text: “Why have You forsaken Me, Me of all people?!” We know the truth, however. We know that Jesus knew that it was God’s will that He bear the sins of many.

[4] See Colin R. Nicholl, The Great Christ Comet: Revealing the True Star of Bethlehem.

[5] God’s presence to bless is often seen in atmospheric symbols like clouds. We see this for example in the Exodus (Ex. 13:21).

[6] In Scripture darkness sometimes expresses God’s judgment as well as His nonappearance to bless and protect (see e.g. Ex. 10:21-22; Is. 8:22; Amos 5:20; Zeph. 1:15).

[7] This centurion would have observed many deaths, and many crucifixions. And so, he is in a unique position to recognize the purity and power of Jesus. The centurion said, “Certainly this man was innocent!” (Lk. 23:47), after he saw Jesus call out and say, “It is finished. Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” and breathe his last (Jn. 19:30/Lk. 12:46). The centurion must have been amazed by Jesus’ composure and everything else that had taken place surrounding Him. For example, the centurion may have seen the way Jesus treated His enemies (v. 34), His promise to the criminal on the cross (v. 43), His prayer to God (v. 46), not to mention the ominous darkness (v. 44).

[8] “The curtain between the Holy Place and the Most Holy Place was an elaborately woven fabric of 72 twisted plaits of 24 threads each. It was 60 feet (18 m) high and 30 feet (9.1 m) wide. No one was allowed to enter the Most Holy Place behind the curtain except the high priest, and he only once a year, on the Day of Atonement (Heb. 9:2–7). Torn in two signifies the removal of the separation between God and the people” (The ESV Study Bible note on Matt. 27:51).

[9] As D.A. Carson has said, “At the very moment when Jesus gives up his spirit (v. 50), Matthew reports, ‘The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom’ (v. 51a). This is not some mere datum of interesting destruction. The destruction of the curtain makes a theological statement” (D.A. Carson, Scandalous, 34).

[10] D.A. Carson, Scandalous, 36.

[11] Yet in Jesus’ thirst He was given sour wine. So, “What David was offered in metaphor, Jesus was offered in fact” (Kidner, Psalms 1-72, 266). See Ps. 69:21; Matt. 27:34, 48; Jn. 19:28.

[12] Philip Yancey, The Jesus I Never Knew.

[13] Keller, The Reason for God, 31. “The cross is God’s act of self-identification with all people in that extremity of the human condition and that heart of all suffering that is the absence of God” (Richard Bauckham, Jesus and the God of Israel, 267).

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About Paul O'Brien

I am a lot of things; saint and sinner. I struggle and I strive. I am a husband and father of three. I have been in pastoral ministry for 9 years. I went to school at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary but most of my schooling has been at the School of Hard Knocks. I have worked various jobs, including pheasant farmer, toilet maker, construction worker, and I served in the military. My wife and I enjoy reading at coffee shops, taking walks, hanging out with friends and family, and watching our three kid's antics. :)

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