Mark 15:34 (ESV) — 34 And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
After hanging on the cross for 3 terrible hours, Jesus cried out into the darkness: “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” Jesus’ simple cry has left many interpreters baffled. Jesus is after all the divine Son of God. He is the second person of the Trinity, the eternal Son who became incarnate—truly God and truly man. What does it mean for God to be forsaken of God?
Jesus Identifies with Us
First, we must affirm that Jesus is God incarnate. He is the God-man. In his humanity, Jesus identifies with forsaken sinners. Have you ever been in an old, abandoned house? It has a certain smell. Everything is dusty and decaying. It might be apparent that someone used to live there, but not anymore. We have a term to describe places like that: Godforsaken.
That term, Godforsaken, captures the present condition of our world. Peter Bolt, in his book The Cross from a Distance, says it well:
We still live in a Godforsaken world, where God seems to remain at a distance, unmoved, uncaring, uninvolved, while human suffering continues unabated. The suffering and pain of this world continue to make so many people feel forsaken. Where the symbol of postmodern society is a traffic jam (apparently going somewhere eventually; plenty of people around, but absolutely no personal involvement), loneliness and isolation have become a tragic art form. For so many, God seems not to care. And, in fact, this world is Godforsaken. Because of our sinfulness, our hardness of heart, our perversity, our strange contradiction in which the creature continues to spurn the loving Creator, we live in a world that is already under the wrath of God . . . . That wrath is all around us in the concrete details of our fallen world. Our mortality reminds us daily that we are reaping the wages of sin, and that we stand under the sentence of death. (143–144).
Do you ever wonder if God cares? Have you ever cried out to God, “Where are you?” When we look to the cross, we discover that God does care. The cross shows us that our world is not entirely Godforsaken because God stepped into the pain and suffering of this world. God the Son became incarnate to die on a cross forsaken by His Father.
Jesus Substitutes Himself for Us
Jesus not only identified with us, he also substituted himself for us. Jesus’ cry of dereliction is a quote form Psalm 22:1:
Psalm 22:1 (ESV) — 1 My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?
In the Old Testament, the worst form of judgment was exile from the presence of God. Adam and Eve sinned and were cast out of the garden of God’s presence (Gen 3). When God told Moses that he would no longer go with Israel after they sinned with the golden calf, Moses pleaded for God to go with them (Exod 33). Moses knew that if God abandoned them, they were nothing. When Israel’s priest pronounced a blessing on the people, he would say, “The Lord bless you and keep you, the Lord make his face to shine up you, and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace” (Num 6:24–26). Blessing was found before the face of God; the curse of death was living outside of his gracious countenance. When Israel broke covenant with God after years of idolatry, God drove them out of the land into exile. God’s presence left the temple and the people of God were truly forsaken.
On the cross, Jesus is in exile. He is Adam outside of Eden and Israel cast our of the Promised land. He is forsaken by the Father because he has taken on the punishment due to sinners while hanging on the cross.
But Jesus is God incarnate, which means on the cross we discover God substituting himself in the place of sinners. God forsaken of God so that we could be reconciled to God. The punishment that God requires for sin is the punishment that God endures for sinners.
2 Corinthians 5:21 (ESV) — 21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
This Easter we should ponder the mystery of the cross. We should stand in its shadow and see God in Christ forsaken of God so that sinful people like us could dwell with God forever. If we understand the cross rightly, we will recognize how heinous our sin really is, leading us to repentance. And we will begin to understand the magnitude of God’s love for us, leading us to worship.
And can it be that I should gain An interest in the Savior’s blood? Died He for me, who caused His pain? For me, who Him to death pursued? Amazing love! how can it be That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me? Amazing love! how can it be That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?
*If you would like to listen to Matthew Emadi’s full sermon on this passage, click the link below and select sermon #11 titled Forsaken.