Probably the best sermon or message I’ve ever heard was an Easter chapel message when I was at Wheaton…and since then I’ve also shared the basic premise of that message myself. This is an expanded version of my earlier post on faithfulness. Here it is:
Here is a question that has always bothered me: why would God forsake Jesus at the cross? I would like to examine this passage and see if we can understand what this text means to us today.
41 So also the chief priests, with the scribes and elders, mocked him, saying, 42 “He saved others; he cannot save himself. He is the King of Israel; let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. 43 He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he desires him. For he said, ‘I am the Son of God.'” 44 And the robbers who were crucified with him also reviled him in the same way. 45 Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour. 46 And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” 47 And some of the bystanders, hearing it, said, “This man is calling Elijah.” 48 And one of them at once ran and took a sponge, filled it with sour wine, and put it on a reed and gave it to him to drink. 49 But the others said, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to save him.” 50 And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit. ESV
When we read Jesus’ words at the cross, it sounds very sad and miserable. I have always believed when I read about Jesus being crucified that he was forsaken by God, and I had a difficult time accepting this. Why would Jesus be forsaken in the hour of his greatest need? Didn’t the Father and the Son agree before the beginning of time to save us in this way? Jesus begged the Father that if possible he could avoid this punishment, but God did not prevent this but allowed Him to be killed. Jesus was being obedient. Why would He be forsaken?
However, I think we need to remember that the Jewish culture of this time was an oral culture. Most of the people did not have their own copies of the scriptures, but they would hear the scriptures being read aloud at the synagogue each week. The Psalms were very important to the Jews. They would be very familiar with the Psalms, and they would recognize that Jesus is quoting from Psalm 22. The entire Psalm is very helpful for understanding the life, ministry and death of Jesus, but we’ll focus on a few verses toward the end:
Ps 22:22-26 22 I will tell of your name to my brothers; in the midst of the congregation I will praise you: 23 You who fear the Lord, praise him! All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him, and stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel! 24 For he has not despised or abhorred the affliction of the afflicted, and he has not hidden his face from him, but has heard, when he cried to him. 25 From you comes my praise in the great congregation; my vows I will perform before those who fear him. 26 The afflicted shall eat and be satisfied; those who seek him shall praise the Lord! May your hearts live forever! ESV
Jesus knew that any faithful Jew would know Psalm 22. A few people completely misunderstood what he meant and thought he was calling for Elijah. And many people today don’t understand and think that he was completely abandoned. But this is not in the character of God:
Ps 27:10 Though my father and mother forsake me, the Lord will receive me. NIV
Ps 37:27-28 27 Turn from evil and do good; then you will dwell in the land forever. 28 For the Lord loves the just and will not forsake his faithful ones. NIV
Ps 94:14 For the Lord will not reject his people; he will never forsake his inheritance. NIV
Heb 13:5 Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” NIV
God’s promises are true, and they never fail. When we are going through trouble and hardship, He will always be there for us, just like He was there for Jesus. We believe in the Trinity, that there is one God in three persons: the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. They are one, so they cannot be opposed to each other: the Father would never forsake the Son. They always work together, and they worked together to pay for our sins, the Son died in our place so we would be declared justified. Some believe that since Jesus took our sin on Himself, that the Father had to separate Himself from Jesus. I don’t understand all the nuance and complexity of the logistics of that process, but I don’t think that concept is fully accurate, and I think it misses the point. Even considering the Apostle’ Creed, declaring that Jesus descended into hell (which I think has very spotty biblical support, agree with Wayne Grudem that the creed probably got it wrong there), I believe God would have been there with Him the entire time. In Ps 139:7-8 it says:
7 Whither shall I go from thy spirit? or whither shall I flee from thy presence? 8 If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there: if I make my bed in hell [or Sheol, in other versions], behold, thou art there. KJV
In Acts 2:31-33, Peter is preaching about the death and resurrection of Christ. He says:
29 “Brothers, I can tell you confidently that the patriarch David died and was buried, and his tomb is here to this day. 30 But he was a prophet and knew that God had promised him on oath that he would place one of his descendants on his throne. 31 Seeing what was ahead, he spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to the grave, nor did his body see decay. 32 God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact. 33 Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear. NIV
So why did Jesus say, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” He knew the prophesies about His death, and He knew God would raise Him again and would never forsake Him. The reason Jesus said this is because He was completely human. He went through feelings of pain and rejection so He would truly understand us. Hebrews says He suffered just as we do. And I know when I go through hard times, every time it seems that God has forsaken me. When I come to a problem or issue, I have this assumption, and it doesn’t really make any sense. I think over the history of God, and I think to myself, ok, well God, you have a pretty good record. You have been successful 100% of the time, from the beginning of time up until now. This can be seen in human history and in my own life, God has been faithful to me 100% of the time, always. He has never failed. So what I do is I think this over, and then I consider the problem facing me, and I’m like, oh no, now this time I’m done for! You’re done well so far, but this one is too much, its not going to work out. This will be the first time ever that you have failed, and its going to be with me.
How foolish is this? Why don’t I remember what God has done for me and simply trust in Him? But to feel that God has forsaken you is human, and when you read the Psalms so many of them are about this. Why don’t you save me God? Why don’t you answer my prayers? Why don’t you punish evil people who are doing injustice and evil? Ultimately, God will enforce justice but not always here in this world when we want him to.
Over time I’ve seen that God is still good, and even this was in his plan, just like everything. He has never forsaken me, and He will never forsake me, and I pray that my faith would be strong enough to trust Him the next time I go through a hard time.
For you, when you feel God has abandoned you, and your ministry isn’t growing, you don’t have money, you don’t know how you’re going to get food for your family, believe that God WILL NEVER forsake you or abandon you. He knows the number of hairs on your head, and He takes care of the sparrows, and you are more valuable than any bird. Believe and trust in Him. Remember Jesus on the cross, and how much good came out of that terrible and evil act of crucifying the only Son of God, the only one who ever lived without any sin. God did not forsake Jesus, and He will not forsake you. Even if it feels like that, over time you will see how God was working in your heart and preparing you for even greater things. He was growing your faith, and making sure you truly trust Him. Through Jesus’ death we are all saved. I’m so glad Jesus did that for us! I’m so glad the Father did not forsake Him but fulfilled His plan and will continue to work in our lives and complete the work of salvation in our hearts.