My God, Why Have You Forsaken Me?
Topic: Biblical Verse: Matthew 27:45–27:49
Midweek Lenten Worship
March 26, 2014
CrossWords: “My God, Why Have You Forsaken Me?”
Few experiences in life are worse than being deserted and abandoned. A baby is left in a trash container. A wife is abandoned by her husband. A child is left to fend for himself as each parent deserts him. Debt befalls a business partnership and one party is left to pay the bills. An elderly parent is all but forgotten by family. We recoil from scenarios as these. We come to trust certain people in our lives— parents, children, partners, teammates. But when they fail us and forsake us, we are grieved. There is no hurt greater than that of being abandoned by one you loved and trusted. Perhaps you know firsthand what this is like.
Jesus Christ knew what it meant to be forsaken. He felt the sorrow and the heartbreak that it brings. As the prophet Isaiah foretold, “He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not” (Isaiah 53:3). First, Jesus was rejected by his people, the nation of Israel. Five days after the crowds shouted “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” (Matthew 21:9), they cry out for his death: “Let him be crucified!” (Matthew 27:23). His own people hand him over to their Roman overlords for execution. Second, Christ was rejected by the religious leaders – the priests, scribes, and Pharisees –who brought charges against him. The religious community which should have been the first to acclaim him was the first to disown him. Worse, even his friends abandoned him. When trouble arose, they ran. They scattered like birds. One of Jesus’s chosen twelve chose to betray him. Even his inner circle of disciples crumbles when Jesus is arrested. Peter, who earlier had promised to defend Jesus to the death, instead denies any association with him. Those who had been followers now disassociate themselves from him. The Lord is abandoned by his closest friends. As Jesus hangs dying on the cross on that gruesome Friday afternoon, even the light of the sun deserts him. Verse 45 of our text states that darkness covered the land from noon to 3:00 p.m. Light itself flees from the one who is the light of the world (John 8:12).
To add insult to injury, even justice abandons Christ. He is on the cross, though he does not deserve to be. Pontius Pilate had declared that Jesus was without guilt (John 19:4). King Herod acquitted Jesus of the charges against him (Luke 23:15). Yet there he hangs, suffering as the worst of criminals. Justice is nowhere to be seen. The absence of justice is demonstrated in the response of the bystanders to Jesus’s cry from the cross: “Eli, Eli!” Verse 47 of Matthew 27 states: “Some of the bystanders, hearing it, said, ‘This man is calling Elijah.’” They mistook Jesus’s call to God – Eli means “my God” in Hebrew – for a summons to Elijah the prophet. Their mistake stems from a pious superstition that held that a person who was being unjustly punished could call out to Elijah for vindication. If the person was truly innocent, Elijah in heaven would intervene to rescue the victim. This is why in verse 49 of our text it states: “But the others said, ‘Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to save him.’” In other words, in the eyes of the people, Elijah was a personification of justice. The fact that Elijah didn’t rescue Jesus from the cross simply attests that Jesus was abandoned by justice itself. Jesus was abandoned by his nation, the religious establishment, and even his friends. As he hung dying, Jesus was forsaken by the created order itself as the sun withdrew its light from him and justice turned aside from him. But these forms of abandonment pale in comparison to the ultimate abandonment, and that was being abandoned by God. That was the experience of being forsaken by God – the final and most hideous form of forsakenness that Jesus experienced.
There may have been times in life when you felt abandoned by God. Maybe it was during a period of sorrow and loss while you underwent grief and pain. We may experience utter despair as we believe we are forsaken by God. Yet even though we feel abandoned, we are not. God remains there for us. We just don’t recognize it. But that’s not the way it was with Jesus. Not only did he feel abandoned by God as he gasped for his final breath. He was actually and truly abandoned by his Father. He really was forsaken by God the Father. But why? It is all because of us. Jesus was deserted by the Father because we had deserted God through our sin and rebellion against God. It is our sin that caused the original separation from God. The prophet Isaiah in tonight’s First Reading explains the situation plainly: “Your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear” (Isaiah 59:2). The original alienation was initiated by us! Our first parents forsook God to go their own way, and their descendants have been following suit ever since. And that includes each one of us today! And the punishment for such desertion is separation from God now and in eternity. The ultimate separation from God is hell itself – a place of eternal forsakenness by God.
Into this abyss of hopeless separation and abandonment, Jesus has come to bear our sin and its punishment. The prophet declares, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him [Jesus] the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6). This is why Jesus was forsaken by his Father. It is because he bore our sin in his body on the tree. On that Friday afternoon when the sun turned dark, all the darkness of sin from all people of all time descended upon Jesus. He bore our iniquity as he hung under the crushing weight of our sins. And the holy face of his Father turned from such unholy sin. The pure light of God’s righteousness was repelled by the darkness of our depravity that was laid upon Christ. Because he bore your sin, Jesus became anathema, or cursed, to his Father. As the Apostle Paul puts it, Christ became a curse for us, “for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree’” (Galatians 3:13). At that moment, one of the greatest mysteries of all time took place. God the Son was forsaken by God the Father. By some mysterious means which we cannot fully understand, Jesus was forsaken by his Father. At that point of dereliction Jesus experienced hell. He tasted hell – absolute alienation from the Father –for everyone. In an instant, the eternal One endured an eternity of damnation in order to free those destined for hell. Jesus did this all for you. He did it so that you would not be cursed of God. He did it so that you need not be separated from the Father because of your sin. He experienced the forsakenness of God so that you and I might never be so forsaken. Paul explains: “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us” (Galatians 3:13). And: “God made him [Christ] who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21).
Immediately after Jesus died, a remarkable phenomenon occurred. Matthew’s Gospel reports that “the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom” (Matthew 27:51). That curtain showed the separation between the holy God and unholy people. Unholy people could not pass through that curtain. The curtain served as a barrier between God and sinners. But once Jesus died, the sin of all people was paid for. Thus the barrier separating them from God was no longer needed. Accordingly, the curtain was torn from top to bottom, opening the way to God. There was no longer any separation between God and humanity. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” – these words were spoken by Jesus so that you need never be forsaken by God. You need never fear abandonment from your heavenly Father. Jesus endured the God-forsakenness that you deserve. He was abandoned by the Father so that you may never be separated from him. Thanks be to God! Amen.