Matthew 27: 45-46 "From the sixth hour until the ninth hour darkness came over all the land. 46About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”).[
Powerful words ... a powerful image. Jesus Christ ... the Son of God ... His body broken, bleeding, crying out in pain and agony. Let us just take a moment to meditate on one verse in this passage, verse 46. Let's see what we can learn from it. Let us pause and reflect on the cry itself. Let's examine the word “why”, the word “my”, and then let us look at the question "why have you forsaken Me?" as the whole. Let's do this because when we are done I think you'll find that the cry points to the fact that Jesus actually died this death, the “why” points to the reason for his death, the word “my” actually points to the accomplishments of His death and the question taken as a whole shows us something about why He did what He did, His motive.
First, just notice, “about the ninth hour” which is three p.m.., “Jesus cried out a loud voice”. It’s a word that could be translated “scream” or even “shriek”. Any first time reader reading this would immediately feel that Jesus had cracked. Here He is saying to God, “you’ve abandoned me, you failed me”. Jesus seems to be cracking, He’s giving up, He’s saying “God, you failed me.” It’s interesting that historians and scholars who are actually suspicious of the bible, that is to say that they feel that the gospel accounts might contain legendary material and that you can’t trust everything in the bible. Even the most skeptical scholars say this must’ve happened. Why do they say that? Because if you were adding things or making something up for promotional purposes, you would never put Jesus in this position; you would never put your religion's founder in this place, with these last words in his mouth, looking so despondent, so unheroic, and so hopeless. If you were to read the accounts of the end of Buddha’s life or Muhammad's life or any other figure or founder, they are always dying in peace with wise and heroic last words. If you were making up a piece of literature trying to promote a faith, you never write this down; therefore even the skeptic says, “this must’ve happened or we wouldn’t be reading it.” Also, it’s in Aramaic even though the both Matthew and Mark who record this cry from the cross, were writing to Greek speakers, so there’s no need to write what He said in Aramaic. The reason they write it in Aramaic is because this is eyewitness memory. People remembered it. In fact they couldn't forget that cry. I don’t want you to ever forget that cry, it happened. He died on the cross. So first of all the cry points to the fact of Jesus’ death.
Secondly, the word “why?” starts moving us toward the reason, “why did God forsake Jesus?” So let's explore that question ... “why did God forsake Jesus on the cross.” The beginning of the answer is to realize that what Jesus is saying here is, is a bible verse, He is quoting Psalms 22 verse 1. We constantly forget that. He cried it, He screamed it but He was quoting a bible verse which actually shows right off the bat that He did know what was going on. He did know what was happening. Psalm 22 is one of the most puzzling, even shocking Psalms of the whole Psalter. Why? Well, King David wrote a lot of the Psalms and the Psalms very often reflected various times of his life ... and there were terrible times of his life. For example, David wrote Psalm 51 after his son died. But when did Psalm 22 ever happened to David? Listen to some of Psalm 22 which Jesus is crying out. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me, all who see me mock me, they hurl insults, shaking their heads, “he trusts in the Lord, let the Lord rescue him”, strong bulls encircle me, roaring lions open their mouths wide against me. A pack of villains encircle me. They pierced my hands and my feet. I am poured out like water and all my bones are out joint. You lay me in the dust of death. People stare and gloat over me. They divided my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing.” When did that ever happened to David? When did anybody ever pierce his hands and his feet? When were there people surrounding him? Psalm 22 is not describing an illness. Psalm 22 is not describing some kind of general persecution. Psalm 22 is describing an execution. It’s an execution. Did that ever happened to David? No of course not. By crying this Jesus is telling us all that, through the power of the Holy Spirit, David was pointing to me. I am being executed. Judgment is coming down on me.
An execution is not just a tragic death, it’s a punishment. Who is doing the punishing? To answer that look at the darkness. From the sixth hour, until the ninth hour, darkness came over all the land. Anybody who reads the Old Testament knows what it means when God sends darkness. Listen Amos chapter 8, “in that day declares the Lord, I will make the sun go down at and darken the earth to broad in broad daylight. At I will make the sun go down. It will be a time like the morning for an only son.” Or from Exodus 10 So Moses stretched out his hand toward the sky, and total darkness covered all Egypt for three days. You know the hymn that goes, “well might the sun in darkness hide shut his glory in. When Christ the mighty maker died for man the creature sin.” Darkness means God’s judgment and when it says it’s over all the land, it’s sign of the fact that God’s judgment is over the whole human race and punishment is deserved and it’s going to come down somewhere.
Now let me just say this ... you can’t come to grips with or understand why God forsakes Jesus, and you can’t understand the cross unless you understand that all human beings stand guilty before God and deserving judgment and punishment. Now, that might be a controversial statement for you. Modern people resist this because all of our lives, we’re told, don’t let other people make you feel guilty. Guilt is a bad thing, it shows that you’re letting other people make you feel guilty, you have to decide what is right or wrong for you. You have to decide that. You determine what’s right or wrong for you and then you live the way you want to live and you don’t let anybody else make you feel guilty.
After World War II, there was a period there that was called “The Age of Anxiety.” This was a time when everybody was wracked with guilt and everyone was into a psychoanalysis to deal with their repressed guilt. If you were to look back at that era you will see that it was the theme of plays, it was a theme of books, it was a theme of everything. We are not like that today. Nobody talks about our current culture as people wracked with guilt. It seems like everybody does things out in the open, everybody is just as shameless ... the president is having affairs with porn stars, our youth are sending nude pictures of themselves to one another on their cell phones, we've legalized marijuana ... and every time we hit a new social low everybody just says, "well ... this is the way it is" or refers to the calendar (this is 2019). We don’t feel guilty, we have no problem with guilt as a culture and that lack of guilt IS a problem. Of course an inordinate amount of guilt feelings is pathological, no guilty feelings are just as pathological.
Andrew Delbanco, a terrific cultural analyst wrote a book some years ago on American Culture. In that book he analyzes a little section out of Walker Percy’s novel, Love in the Ruins. There’s one point which Delbanco looks at the character named Max. Max is a psychiatrist who thinks that the essence of being an enlightened person is that you live without guilt. You do what you want to do and you don’t feel guilty about it. Now Max has this client named Tom whom has just had an affair and is very worried. Max is having trouble understanding Tom and Max says, “well Tom, I don’t quite understand what worries you about the affair if you don’t feel guilty” and Tom says “that is what’s worrying me, I don’t feel guilty.” Max comes back and says, “well what I don’t see is, if there’s no guilt after your affair, what’s your problem?” and Tom says, “it means that you don’t have life in you.” Then Andrew Delbanco dispenses his cultural analysis “what the psychiatrist don’t understand is that the guilt Tom no longer feels had been his last reassurance that there existed something in the world that transcended him.” This is brilliant. Here’s what Delbanco was trying to say ... if you say nothing should make me feel guilty, that I have to decide what is right or wrong for me, then there’s nothing more important than me, my feelings, my conscience, my needs, my intuitions and my consciousness, that’s all that matters. There’s nothing more important than me, there’s nothing that I have to sacrifice and serve and feel guilty if I am not doing it. But if nothing transcends me, in other words, if there’s no guilt, there is also no hope because we’ve got nothing to live for and nothing to die for. If there’s no guilt, there’s no hope and Delbanco says that’s who and what we are, right now.
People don’t feel guilty in our culture, people are shameless and people are unbelievably hopeless and pessimistic about the future. You see, the Bible says is there is truth, there is right, there is wrong and therefore there is guilt ... BUT ... there is also HOPE. There is something more important than you. It’s God. We are supposed to love God with all our heart, soul, strength and mind because He gave us everything. We are supposed to love our neighbor as ourselves and we’re not living up to that command. There is something greater than us (God) who gives us something to live for (to love Him and to love our neighbour), there is guilt when we don't do it ... but there is also Hope. When the dark clouds of God’s judgement lie over the whole land, there should be an execution, there should be punishment. That’s why Jesus was forsaken because the punishment was coming down on Him.
Now thirdly, I want to look at the little word, “my” because Jesus says “my God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” It is here that we really come into the holy of holies and we get to learn there’s two ways in which Christ accomplished our salvation. Yes I said "two ways."
The little word “my” points to His infinite sufferings and to His perfect obedience. First, His infinite sufferings. “My God, my God.” Do you notice what He is not saying? He is not saying, “my head, my head”, “my hands, my hands”, “my feet, my feet”, “my side, my side”. There’s thorns in His heads, a spear was stuck in His side, and they pierced His hands and feet with nails. Yet He is not complaining about that. He’s not screeching about it. Nor is he saying, “my friends, my friends, you’ve all abandoned me.” He’s not talking about that either. The physical suffering and the relational suffering aren't the things causing Him the most pain.
Up until the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus has been pretty collected and pretty poised; “The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak, put down your sword, put your sword back. Those who live by the sword die by the sword.” “What thou doest, do quickly.” You say I’m a King.,I figure it is safe to say that up until now, even under incredible pressure, physical suffering, relational rejection, He’s been pretty poised but now he is shrieking. Why? What’s happening that is worse than being abandoned by your closest friends? What is worse than being nailed to a cross? What is He experiencing that makes all that He has endured feel like a flea bite in by comparison. What is it? The loss of love.
There is no greater agony than to lose love. You know that. Psychiatrists and marriage counselors know that. There is no greater agony than a love that really matters to you. The longer and deeper that love was, the longer and deeper is the agony you suffer; if acquaintance says, I never want to see you again, that’s bad but if a good friend says I never want to see you again that hurts worse. If your child or your sibling or your parents say I never want to see you again that hurts worse than a good friend. If your spouse says they never want to see you again, that hurts the worst of all. If you have been through any of those experiences I am sure you know how much it hurts .... it destroys your heart, it destroys your body, it destroys ... period.
That is what is happening here, but on a scale that you and I just can't comprehend. In John 1:18, it says the Son was in the bosom of the Father for all eternity. The Father and the Son souls were wrapped up in one another, not just for forty years or fifty years or twenty years or sixty years but for all eternity! And that is what Jesus lost. That is where that cry, that shriek, is coming from. You may know something about the agony lost love, I know I do, but there is nothing that compares to this. The love that the Father and the Son had makes the greatest marriage in the history of the world look like a dewdrop compared to the Atlantic Ocean. He was experiencing eternal suffering.
What is the punishment Jesus was suffering? 2 Thessalonians tells us that the right and just punishment if we turn away from God, is exclusion. The absence or exclusion of God, the place where there is no God, is called Hell. It’s called Hell. You’re just sent away from the thing you most need.
Just like the flower needs the sun, we are built for the presence of God. Hell is being sent away forever. Jesus Christ wasn't just taking that punishment ... He was taking that punishment for us. What He was experiencing on the cross was like zillions of eternal hells all compressed and laid on Him at once. If you know the agony of lost love, just take that experience up a trillion times. He’s saying “I’ve lost you, my God!”
“My” is an intimate word. You may not know anything about me but if you hear me say “my Ruth” or “my Faith” or something like that, you’ll say “that must be his children or his wife” because a guy doesn’t say “my something” unless we're talking about something intimately close to us. “My God, I’ve lost My God.” When we hear Jesus say that we are looking into the infinity of his sufferings.
For the first time in all eternity Jesus was without God, it was as if He had no God. All that God had been to Him before, was taken from Him. He had the feeling of the condemned. He heard as when the judge says “depart from me you accursed who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power.” He felt that God had said the same thing ... this is the hell in which Christ suffered.
But “My God, my God” doesn’t just mean the loss of love and the infinite sufferings. It also means His perfect obedience. This is the other side of what was happening on the cross. When Jesus Christ says “My God” He’s using the covenant. No what do I mean by that ... in the Old Testament God says "if you enter into a covenant relationship with me, a saving relationship with me, I will be your God and you will be My people." He gives us the right to call Him "my God," it’s a covenant name. It means, you’re in a relationship with God. Every person in the history of the world up to now can be assured to this: if you give yourself to God, God will be with you. That is the covenant. That is the promise. However, when Jesus Christ obeyed God, He was abandoned! To everyone else in the history of the world God says, "Obey me and I’ll be with you, obey Me and I’ll bless you." But Jesus Christ ... He obeyed God yet He was abandoned; He obeyed God and He was cursed! And yet, despite all of this, in the midst of all His suffering, He is obeying God anyway. Listen to the cry "My God!" He is loving God anyway. He is holding onto the covenant in spite of what He’s going through. Nobody on all of time has ever gone through anything like this but He is and He is loving God anyway.
In the story Moby Dick, Ahab hates Moby Dick. In one of the very last scenes in that book, Captain Ahab is entangled in a harpoon line that is attached to Moby Dick. Moby Dick is injured and is about to plunge down into the depths of the ocean. Ahab knows he's going to be dragged down to his death by the whale yet he hollers out “From hell’s heart I’ll stabbeth thee.” Jesus really was in Hell’s heart. But what does He say? "From hell’s heart I love you still. Though you slay me yet I will praise your name." That is perfect obedience. That is the most perfect obedience ever.
Now do you understand what I mean when I say that the gospel is not one form of substitution but two, not one form of imputation but two. When the Bible says, “God made Him sin who knew no sin, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him,” it’s saying not only that God puts our sins on Him so He dies the death we should’ve died but we are also told, God puts His righteousness on us so that because He lived the life that we should’ve lived. He died the death we should’ve died and lived the life that we should’ve lived. So it’s not just that God pardons you and says “now you get out of jail free,” He puts the congressional medal of honor on you and treats you as if you done everything Jesus ever done.
That idea of being clothed in the righteousness of Christ is a big abstraction for most people including me until I see this. And now I realize, “you mean God is actually treating me, if I believe in Jesus Christ, God treats me as if I’ve done everything Jesus ever done.”
My father used to watch this show NCIS. NCIS means Naval Criminal Investigative Service and it is about a bunch of special agents who investigating crimes that have evidence connected to Navy and Marine Corps. Anyway, there is one episode in which a broken down old eighty year old man, a vet is being arrested by these great big snarling navy MPs. But it turns out years before on Hiroshima he had won the congregational medal of honor and he always wore it underneath all of his suit. So these navy MPs are standing over him snarling, ready to take him in and somebody reaches over and pulls his tie aside and there is the congressional medal of honor, what do you think those guys do? What do those great big guys do, twice his size? They salute. They snap to attention in front of this little broken man. What are they saluting? They are saluting the accomplishment, they are saluting the medal, they are saluting what it represents.
And my friends that is just like us. You are not just forgiven. Jesus didn’t just die the death you should’ve died. He didn’t just go through infinite sufferings. He lived the life we should have lived. He perfectly obeyed in your place so that when you believe His righteousness is put on you, that is to say all those medals that Jesus Christ earned in this battle are on your chest and all the angels in heaven salutes you. “My God” shows us the infinity of his sufferings and the perfection of his obedience and therefore the amazing accomplishment of the Cross.
Now lastly let’s stand back and look at the this question, "Why did Jesus do it?" Why did he let God forsake Him? Why did he put himself in a position where all this could happen? I think probably the right answer, that is totally inadequate, is Jesus Christ was doing it for the Glory of God. That’s why He did it. He did it to glorify His Father! And of course that’s right but as a reason it is totally inadequate. He was already glorifying His Father in Heaven. He did not have to come to Earth to glorify His Father. So why did He come? What did He have, what did He get by coming to Earth that He didn’t have before? Us. Why did he left all this happen to Him? Why did He go into the agony voluntarily, He quotes a bible verse here, He knows what's going on, He’s doing it voluntarily. “No man takes my life from me, I lay it down from my own accord.” Why did He do it? From the broken bread and the poured out cup, you can almost hear the words, “my God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me.” And now you know the answer, why did He do it? For you. Or you can say for me. But you have to believe. You have to willing to admit that it was a punishment, it was an execution, the clouds were over us and yet He took it. This is a Holy Week, you have the whole week to think about this and then ... on Easter ... we will celebrate.