The Passion Narrative: Matthew 27:45-49 – Now from the sixth hour darkness fell upon all the land until the ninth hour. 46 And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” that is, “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” 47 And some of those who were standing there, when they heard it, began saying, “This man is calling for Elijah.” 48 And immediately one of them ran, and taking a sponge, he filled it with sour wine, and put it on a reed, and gave Him a drink. 49 But the rest of them said, “Let us see whether Elijah will come to save Him.”
The Fourth Word from the Cross: “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?”
The Apostolic Response: 2 Corinthians 5:14-21 – For the love of Christ controls us, having concluded this, that one died for all, therefore all died; 15 and He died for all, that they who live should no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf. 16 Therefore from now on we recognize no man according to the flesh; even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him thus no longer. 17 Therefore if any man is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. 18 Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ, and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, 19 namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation.
20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were entreating through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21 He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.
I was working with students on a campus in North Carolina when I met Melanie. Like no one I had ever met, Melanie knew the pain of being forsaken. Fourteen years prior, her mother had died and her father, being absolutely overwhelmed at the thought of raising three little girls by himself, left Melanie and her two younger sisters on the front steps of an orphanage in the far away country of her birth. Imagine yourself, six years old and totally abandoned. To this day, she still remembers with tears the agony of seeing her father walk away.
How devastating and agonizing to be left in the lurch, alone, and forsaken. How painful to be abandoned by someone you love. That day on the streets of this large metropolitan city Melanie’s heart-rending cry was intense. But, it could not compare to the cry of our beloved yet God-forsaken Savior on that first Good Friday on the hill called Golgotha.
Let’s mediate together on Jesus’ cry and look at two fundamental questions: In what sense was He abandoned by His Father? And, secondly, why He was abandoned?
Jesus experienced real abandonment by his Father. How do we know this? Look again at Matthew 27:45. Cry from the Cross – It is not a cry of unbelief, nor doubt, nor loneliness, nor victory, but simply a cry of being really and truly abandoned. The text does not tell us in what sense the Father and Son are here separated, but we know that the abandonment was dreadful that took place between the Father and the Son. How so?
Look at what happened in the created order… Darkness – a symbol of God’s judgment. The darkness is meant to convey the devastating horror of what was taking place. The one who had only known the light of the Father’s love, now stood alone in darkness, under God’s judgment and wrath against sin.
How did the creation respond at Jesus’ birth? Isn’t it interesting that when Jesus was born, there was radiant brightness at midnight. The Star of Bethlehem. At His death, there was pitch black darkness at high noon. Our text says this darkness lasted for three hours.
At the end of this period of three hours of darkness, Jesus expressed himself with a verse of Scripture which perfectly described his position. Psalm 22:1. He cried out in a loud voice in Aramaic: Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani. My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why do you think Jesus’ cry takes the form of a question? It was not because he did not know the answer but only because the text itself was in the form of a question. Jesus was fulfilling King David’s messianic Psalm… 22:1.
All the physical and emotional suffering that led up to the cross was nothing compared to what He was presently enduring. Don’t misunderstand, we should be moved by the picture of the blood running down His face. We should weep with gratitude as we consider the skin on His back that was torn apart by the whip and the nails that penetrated his hands. But if that is all we see we have not begun to probe the depth of His sacrifice. This time of being “forsaken” was the most devastating agony of all. To face the full force of God’s wrath and hell’s fury was pain incomprehensible.
Jesus tasted for us the very essence of hell – separation from God. It is biblical to say that Jesus Christ endured your hell and mine. Our sins sent Christ to hell – the hell of punishment and separation from God (gehenna, the place of punishment) to which our sins condemned him before his body died.
The Cause of the Cry is the heart of the gospel. Jesus was forsaken because there was a Sweet Exchange taking place… Theologians call it the vicarious, Substitutionary Atonement of our Lord. Our sin for His righteousness. What an unsearchable, mysterious operation. Benefits surpassing all expectation… the sin of many are hid in a single righteous one… The righteousness of one justifies many.
James Denny calls this sweet exchange “mysterious and awful… the key to the whole New Testament.”
Jesus was made sin for us. God placed our sins on our sinless Savior and as our substitute He satisfied divine justice. And to be true to his holy character, he had to turn away for Habakkuk 1:13 declares that: God’s eyes are “too pure to look on evil.” To maintain His justice, God had to pay the wages of sin which was death.
To grasp a little better why God forsook Jesus, let me compare Melanie’s father to our Heavenly Father.
Melanie’s father abandoned her because of his resources were limited. Jesus’ father abandoned him in spite of his infinite resources to save Him.
Melanie’s father abandoned her because of his own sinfulness. Jesus’ father abandoned him because of our sin.
Melanie’s father abandoned her because of debts he could not pay. Jesus’ father abandoned him because of the debt of sin we could not pay.
Melanie never knew the delight of her father’s love. Imagine how “hellish” it was for Jesus to suddenly face the Father’s wrath after only knowing the delight of His love.
So what? What is our response? Let me highlight three.
The Gospel is the power of God to set you free from selfish living. Do you really hate your sin? God takes your sin very seriously . . . so seriously Jesus was forsaken and died a condemned man to pay the penalty for it. Since God takes sin seriously, so should we. We should run to repent of all known sin.
Allow the cross to strip you of your self absorption and self promotion. Spurgeon, the prince of preachers, declares that “God never clothes men until he has first stripped them by the gospel.
You cannot face Christ’s cross with integrity and hold onto your sins. 2 Corinthians 5:15 calls you simply to “not live for yourself but to live for Him who died for you and was raised again.”
Martin Luther in writing to a monk in distress about his sins, wrote: “Learn to know Christ and him crucified. Learn to sing to him and say “Lord Jesus, you are my righteousness, I am your sin. You took on you what was mine; yet set on me what was yours. You became what you were not, that I might become what I was not” (Letters of Spiritual Counsel, p.110).
Do you really believe the gospel? You are loved more than you ever dared to dream. Let the Spirit of God question you from our text in 2 Corinthians chapter 5.
Do you believe that you are a new creature in Christ, namely that all your sins are forgiven and that you are totally accepted by Your Heavenly Father?
Do you believe that you are the righteousness of God in Christ and will you quit trying to establish your own track record of goodness to earn God’s favor?
Do you believe that you are reconciled to God and you are now at peace with Him because Jesus paid the debt of sin you owed and the debt you were powerless to pay?
Melanie believed and her life was radically changed! And oh what a transforming sight it was to see her heart opened up to the Father’s love. Now she is newly married and effectively deployed in communicating the message of the gospel to other spiritual orphans.
Is your heart enflamed to worship such a wondrous Savior? Worship and adore our conquering Lord Jesus Christ who has delivered us from such a great peril and who will now never forsake us (Hebrews 13:5).
Listen to the Heidelberg Catechism says as to the practical import of Jesus’ descent into hell: “To assure me in times of personal crisis and temptation that Christ my Lord, by suffering unspeakable anguish, pain, and terror of soul, especially on the cross but also earlier, has delivered me from the anguish and torment of hell.”
Hear the poetic words of Elizabeth Barrett Browning, who knew well what it meant to be forsaken. Her parents disowned her when she married Robert Browning. She wrote her parents beautiful poetry and letters of her love for them. Her parents responded after ten years by sending all of her letters back to her in a box all unopened. She took great comfort from Jesus’ cry of being God-forsaken and wrote about it in her poem
Yea, once Immanuel’s orphaned cry his universe hath shaken.
It went up single, echoless, “My God, I am forsaken!”
It went up from the Holy’s lips amid his lost creation,
That, of the lost, no son should use those words of desolation.
Hymn: And Can It Be – last stanza: “No condemnation now I dread,Jesus and all in Him is mine. Alive in Him my living head. And clothed in righteousness divine. Bold I approach the ‘ternal throne. And claim the crown through Christ my own. Amazing Love. How can it be that thou my God shouldst die for me.
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