“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Psalm 22:1)
Forsaken! Abandoned! Deserted!
We talk about places that appear devoid of any life and hope as “godforsaken”! Maybe some dry desert place or even a city after a battle when all that remains is rubble. But I don’t recall ever using that phrase for a human being. Yet, I guess, it has been the feeling of many, this sense of abandonment, for example, in the Bible, there is that unique character named Job, who went from being “the greatest man among all the peoples of the East” (Job 1:3) to losing everything – family, livestock, servants, health and status. We read that when his friends “heard about all the troubles that had come upon him…they went to sympathize with him and comfort him”, and, “When they saw him from a distance, they could hardly recognize him and they began to weep aloud…and sat on the ground with him…and no one said a word to him because they saw how great his suffering was.” (Job 2:11-13)
As you read the 42 chapters of this unique book, simply called Job, then the sense of despair often comes across from Job and it wouldn’t be hard to imagine that it could have been him who wrote Psalm 22. Although we know it wasn’t.
So, as we consider the first verse of Psalm 22, I want us to consider a big question. How could it be possible for these words (“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me”) to have come from the mouth of Jesus, the Son of God? Why would he feel as if God had forsaken him, right when, it seems to us, he needed him the most? Now, I realize that a lot of books have been written on this topic by much more scholarly people than me, so don’t expect this to be anything like their works. These are just some thoughts from my own study. If you would like to join in the discussion, then please do so by commenting on Facebook or on this Blog page.
As far as I understand the Scriptures, the answer, in one sense, is quite simple and that is, it was because of “sin”! Well, that sounds shocking doesn’t it! Wait a minute, you might say, we are talking here about Jesus, and the words “sin” and “Son of God” used together is an oxymoron, i.e. a complete contradiction in terms. And, of course, it is. That’s very true!
Paul, in speaking of Jesus says that he “had no sin” (2 Corinthians 5:21). Peter, quoting Isaiah’s prophesy in Isaiah 53:9 of the coming Messiah spoke of him with the words, “He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.” (1 Peter 2:22). The author of the book of Hebrews, speaking of Jesus, says, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.” (Hebrews 4:15). And John, again writing concerning Jesus, says, “in him is no sin.” (1 John 3:5)
But, it is still the answer. Simply because it is not His sin I am talking about. It was not his sin (because he was sinless) that caused this seeming rift between Him and the Father, but our sin! Yours and mine! Let’s see what the Bible teaches.
First there is that incredible prophesy of Christ’s suffering in the Book of Isaiah 53:4-6.
“Surely he took up our pain
and bore our suffering,
yet we considered him punished by God,
stricken by him, and afflicted.
5 But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his wounds we are healed.
6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
each of us has turned to our own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.”
Peter quotes from this passage and says of Jesus,
“He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.”
When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. “He himself bore our sins” in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; “by his wounds you have been healed.” (1 Peter 2:22-24)
Then Pauls words in 2 Corinthians 5:
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come:[a] The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them… God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:17-19, 21))
Then there are the words of John the Baptist to his disciples when he saw Jesus passing by:
“Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29)
So on that historical day around 2000 years ago, when Jesus, the Son of God was crucified on a Roman cross of execution, he was not there paying for his own rebellion. He was not being punished because he was guilty of breaking any law. It was not his own sin that caused him to be nailed to that cruel cross. It was mine. It was yours.
As the Apostle John said: “But you know that he appeared so that he might take away our sins. And in him is no sin.” (1 John 3:5)
But, you are saying, I understand that, but still I am wondering why Jesus felt forsaken by God, the Father? As I understand it, it is because of Who we are talking about here. We are talking about God, the Father, the Creator of the universe, the awesome, holy and righteous God, the One of whom the prophet Habakkuk says:
“Your eyes are too pure to look on evil; you cannot tolerate wrong.” (Habakkuk 1:13)
A commentary on God’s moral perfection, his righteousness and holiness.
Other verses describing God’s holiness are:
“Who among the gods
is like you, Lord?
Who is like you—
majestic in holiness,
awesome in glory,
working wonders?” (Exodus 15:11)
“There is no one holy like the Lord;
there is no one besides you;
there is no Rock like our God.” (1 Samuel 2:2)
So, our God is uniquely holy, with no rivals or competition.
But, as we know, prior to the cross, we read of a unique intimate relationship between the Father and the Son.
Consider these words of the Father concerning Jesus at his baptism:
“You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” (Luke 3:22)
And then consider these words of Jesus to his disciples:
“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you…I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love.” (John 15:9-10)
Although it is really beyond our deepest human understanding, it appears that when Jesus himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, he had to do it alone, in a sense, because His Father’s eyes are too pure to look on evil. The painful separation from God that we experience due to our sin, was somehow experienced by Jesus on the cross. No wonder, in the garden of Gethsemane, the night before his crucifixion, he said to his disciples, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.” And then,
Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” (Matthew 26:38-39)
And yet, did the Father really forsake his beloved Son, even for a moment? I think not! Kidner is helpful here. He comments:
“Our Lord’s cry of dereliction…told, it would seem, of an objective reality, namely the punitive separation He accepted in our place, ‘having become a curse for us’ (Galatians 3:13)…It is not a lapse of faith, nor a broken relationship, but a cry of disorientation as God’s familiar presence is withdrawn (as it was from, e.g. the blameless Job) and the enemy closes in.” (see references # 29)
But, as we know from the Gospels, that was not the end of the story. Jesus rose again from the dead and when Mary Magdalene visited the tomb only to find it empty she met the risen Christ, who said to her to “Go…to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” (John 20:17).
Good news! And as we read through this Psalm 22 we discover that the mood also changes from one of despair to:
“I will declare your name to my people;
in the assembly I will praise you…
For he [God the Father) has not despised or scorned
the suffering of the afflicted one [Jesus];
he has not hidden his face from him
but has listened to his cry for help.” (Psalm 22:22, 24)
Thus, reflecting what Peter calls both “the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow.” (1 Peter 1:11)
So, what amazing and life transforming truths this psalm reveals. And just think, that “All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them.” (2 Corinthians 5:18-19)
Whoever you are today reading this, let me say, if you aren’t already, “Be reconciled to God [because] God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5)
Father, we can’t really take it all in, the truths that we have been considering today, but we are thankful that Jesus, despite his “soul [being] overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death”, was willing to go all the way to the cross for us, even to the point of feeling forsaken by You. May we live in such a way that reveals our gratefulness. Amen.