Scriptures

My God, My God Why Have You Forsaken Me

Introduction

‘About 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?’)’ Matthew 27:46

Many today believe that these words of Jesus clearly demonstrate that God actually turned His back on Jesus whilst He was on the cross, that God somehow, couldn’t bring Himself to look at Jesus and so abandoned Him because of the sin He was carrying. Although this idea seems plausible to some, to understand what Jesus meant we have to look to other Scriptures to see if this claim could actually be plausible.

God has always looked at our sin

To claim that God can’t look at sin is foreign to the Scriptures, God has been looking at the sin of mankind since the fall of mankind in the garden and has been ever since. Even in the days of Noah, the Bible tells us that God SAW their sin which implies He was looking at mankind’s sin.

‘The LORD saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time. The LORD regretted that he had made human beings on the earth, and his heart was deeply troubled. So, the LORD said, ‘I will wipe from the face of the earth the human race I have created—and with them the animals, the birds and the creatures that move along the ground—for I regret that I have made them.’ Genesis 6:5-7

‘Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.’ Hebrews 4:13

If God can’t look at sin, then surely that would imply that He can’t bring Himself to look at mankind today, because we’re all sinners.

‘For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God’. Romans 3:23

There’s a huge difference between God hating sin and not being able to look at it, in order to deal with it.

Whose sin was He carrying?

We also need to ask the question; whose sin was Jesus carrying? He was carrying OUR sin, because He Himself was sinless. Jesus wasn’t a sinner and there’s a huge difference between being a sinner and bearing the consequences of someone else’s sin.

‘He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.’ 1 Peter 2:22

‘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.’ Hebrew 4:15

Jesus became sin for us, but He was still the perfect Son of God. ‘Truly, this was a righteous man’ Matthew 23:47. Ask yourself this question, if you were a judge, and your own innocent son heroically stepped forward at a trial to take a criminal’s punishment upon himself, would you be angry with him and reject him? Of course not.

Jesus was doing the Father’s will

Why would the Father turn His back on His Son, if the Son pleased the Father in every way? When we think about the cross, it was God’s plan to deal with sin once and for all, it was Jesus’ ultimate act of obedience to the Father.

‘And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!’ Philippians 2:8

‘During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission.’ Hebrews 5:7

And surely if there was ever a time in the life of Christ when the Father would have said, ‘This is my beloved Son, in whom I’m well pleased’, it would have been at the cross. We know that the Old Testament sacrifices to God were ‘a sweet-smelling aroma’, how much more would God be pleased with Christ’ selfless sacrifice?

‘Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.’ Ephesians 5:1-2

We have to remember that everything Jesus did was in accordance to the will of the Father, this included Jesus’ death on the cross.

‘Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.’ Luke 22:42

‘He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death, though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth.’          Isaiah 53:9

‘This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.’ Acts 2:23

The whole point of God coming in the flesh was to deal with our sin problem and fulfil Scripture, the whole point of Jesus having a body was for the purpose of the cross.

‘Therefore, when Christ came into the world, he said: ‘Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me with burnt offerings and sin offerings you were not pleased. Then I said, ‘Here I am—it is written about me in the scroll—I have come to do your will, my God.’ First, he said, ‘Sacrifices and offerings, burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not desire, nor were you pleased with them’—though they were offered in accordance with the law. Then he said, ‘Here I am, I have come to do your will.’ He sets aside the first to establish the second. And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.’ Hebrews 10:5-10

Notice that phrase, ‘a body you prepared for me’, the cross was God’s plan, even before Christ came into the world. And so, when we look at the cross and Jesus’ submission to the Father’s will, we clearly see that Jesus was doing everything which pleased the Father with the body He provided for Jesus. So, why on earth would God turn His back on His Son, if His Son was pleasing the Father and doing the Father’s will with the body He provided for Him?

Jesus stopped being God at the cross!

Now we know that Jesus was God in the flesh as Philippians clearly tells us.

‘In your relationships with one another, have the same mind-set as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!’ Philippians 2:5-8

Some people though, suggest that Jesus stopped being God when He was on the cross, just for that one moment. And so, they ask, when Jesus was on the cross suffering for our sins, did Jesus stop being God? The answer is No. Was God the Father unable to look upon the judgment that fell upon God the Son? Of course not.

Clearly, Jesus never stopped being God, even when He died for the sins of mankind. Jesus didn’t in any sense, to any degree, at any time, or for any reason surrender any bit of His deity.

‘For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form’.       Colossians 2:9

Likewise, Jesus can’t be separated from God the Father because He said,

‘I and the Father are One.’ John 10:30

Psalm 22

The biggest reason for this misunderstanding of Jesus’ words on the cross is because people don’t understand Psalm 22. When Jesus said,

‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’

He was quoting from Psalm 22 and therefore fulfilling Scripture prophesies concerning Himself. The idea of God turning His back on Jesus on the cross would never have been on the mind of anyone who was present on that day. The problem today is that many people just take one verse and make it mean something which it was never meant to mean.

Now remember the Jews knew these Scriptures really well, and when anyone read out the first line of any Psalm, the Jews would recognise it and be able to recite the whole Psalm in their minds. This was the Jewish practice at the time of Jesus and this is exactly what Jesus did here on the cross.

Psalms 22 has many references or circumstances about the atoning death of Jesus Christ. To us today, the prophecies are profound and obvious. Likewise, those Jews watching Jesus on the cross being crucified saw the many parallels of the crucifixion or the fulfilment of prophecy. As Jesus was suffering, He was quoting the Jewish Scriptures from the cross.

Can you imagine the expression on the Jews’ faces as they remembered the whole of the messianic prophecy as we find in Psalm 22 being fulfilled in front of their eyes? And the climax would be Jesus’ final words, ‘It is finished.’ John 19:30.

Look at the last line of Psalms 22.

Psalm 22:31 ‘He has done it!’

Jesus isn’t saying that His father ‘has forsaken Him’ or His Father has ‘turned away from Him’, He’s saying that He is the Messiah.

Read Psalm 22:1 again,

‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken Me?’

This doesn’t say the Father rejected the Son. First of all, look at the context, look at the parallel verse, ‘

Why are you so far from saving me?’

This is the issue, ‘no help’, the sufferer is asking why God doesn’t save Him from His oppressors. In other words,

‘Why do you let my oppressors torment me?’

The Father gives the Son over to suffering.

Psalm 22:1 is the equivalent of Isaiah’s statement,

‘It pleased the Lord to bruise Him’, Isaiah 53:10

In fact, the Psalm later says it,

‘you lay me in the dust of death’ Psalm 22:15

Secondly, it’s a rhetorical question, the sufferer knows full well why God does this.

Now you may well think, well, what’s the point of asking it, then?

He’s simply expressing His distress because this is real suffering, He really doesn’t want to go through it, He would rather God saved Him instantly out of it.

‘My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.’ Matthew 26:39

Maybe the idea is that ‘it feels like you have abandoned me’ or ‘it’s really hard in my present circumstances to feel your closeness,’ which is a very real human reaction, isn’t it? And again,

if God turned His back on His Son, why does the Psalm say otherwise?

‘For he has not despised or scorned the suffering of the afflicted one; he has not hidden his face from him but has listened to his cry for help.’ Psalm 22:24

Does ‘the Father turn His face away’ according to this verse? Not at all.

A closer look at Psalm 22

Now I don’t know about you but a lot of people I know, can recite the whole of Psalm 23, but they couldn’t tell you one verse from Psalm 68, Psalm 52 or Psalm 117.

Why is that?

Well simply because we don’t know our Scriptures like the Jews did, we know Psalm 23 very well because we’ve heard it over and over again, but we don’t hear the other Psalms as often.

The Jews would have known all of the Psalms and memorised them because they had been taught them over and over again since a very young age. The more you hear them, the more you’ll remember
them.

Old Testament prophecy often had both a current and future application, and here we’re concerned with the future application of what is written in Psalm 22. As we read it, we will see why Jesus said,

‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’

Later, in John 19:30, why He said,

‘It is finished.’

What we see is that Jesus quoted the very first verse in Psalm 22 and the very last verse, which, properly translated, should read,

‘it is finished.’

Jesus quoting the beginning and the ending of one of the most famous, most well-known, and most memorised sections of all of the Old Testament, one that vividly set forth what was taking place right in front of their eyes. No doubt for many of them who had ears to hear, the verses we’re about to read flashed through their minds.

Psalms 22-24 are Messianic Psalms. Psalm 22 focuses on the coming Saviour. Psalm 23 pictures the Saviour as a shepherd of the people. Psalm 24 proclaims the sovereignty of the Saviour. The Psalm can be divided into two sections, the first dealing with trials, Psalm 22:1-21 and the second with triumph over trials Psalm 22:22-31.

‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning?’ Psalm 22:1

As we read on, we’ll see that these are basically rhetorical questions, because after verse 18 the theme of the Psalm changes radically from death unto life. But to many standing around at the scene, especially those who weren’t familiar with this Psalm, and their attention captivated by the horror of it all, it would certainly ‘appear’ as if God had forsaken this man who had claimed to be His Son.

‘My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, but I find no rest. Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One; you are the one Israel praises. In you our ancestors put their trust; they trusted and you delivered them. To you they cried out and were saved; in you they trusted and were not put to shame.’ Psalm 22:2-5

To whom did Jesus come? Israel. To whom was this Psalm written? Israel. Look how he’s reminding them of their spiritual heritage, which included the Messiah.

‘But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by everyone, despised by the people.’ Psalm 22:6

The word ‘worm’ here is very interesting; it is the Hebrew word ‘tola’, which isn’t the ordinary word for worm. Rather, this was a worm from which crimson or scarlet dye was obtained.

Why is this word used?

Because Jesus was covered with blood, and was the colour of scarlet dye.

‘All who see me mock me; they hurl insults, shaking their heads. ‘He trusts in the LORD,’ they say, ‘let the LORD rescue him. Let him deliver him, since he delights in him.’ Psalm 22:7-8

These verses sound familiar, don’t they?

‘In the same way the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders mocked him. ‘He saved others,’ they said, ‘but he can’t save himself! He’s the king of Israel! Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. He trusts in God. Let God rescue him now if he wants him, for he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’ Matthew 27:41-43

This very prophecy was unfolding right in front of their eyes, and
Jesus was trying to call their attention to it.

‘Yet you brought me out of the womb; you made me trust in you, even at my mother’s breast. From birth I was cast on you; from my mother’s womb you have been my God. Do not be far from me, for trouble is near and there is no one to help.’ Psalm 22:9-11

The agony of death itself was approaching, the disciples

‘deserted him and fled’, Mark 14:10

with the exception of John, and in the excruciating agony of that situation, Jesus again cried out for help. The torture described here is clearly that of a crucifixion, a form of execution, which, as far as we can determine, had never at that time been used by any government. Although it resembles the impaling of enemies upon stakes, as practiced by the Assyrians, the practice of crucifixion was never developed until a later time by the Romans.

‘Many bulls surround me; strong bulls of Bashan encircle me.’ Psalm 22:12

Who was Bashan?

And what was does that mean? Bashan was the chief cattle-raising area of Israel where the biggest, best, strongest bulls came from. Figuratively, this is referring to the religious ‘top notches’ of Israel. It was the Pharisees who had inspired, persuaded, and manipulated the Romans to pound the nails. As such, they were the ones responsible for Jesus’ death.

‘From then on, Pilate tried to set Jesus free, but the Jewish leaders kept shouting, ‘If you let this man go, you are no friend of Caesar. Anyone who claims to be a king opposes Caesar.’ When Pilate heard this, he brought Jesus out and sat down on the judge’s seat at a place known as the Stone Pavement (which in Aramaic is Gabbatha). It was the day of Preparation of the Passover; it was about noon. ‘Here is your king,’ Pilate said to the Jews. But they shouted, ‘Take him away! Take him away! Crucify him!’ ‘Shall I crucify your king?’ Pilate asked. ‘We have no king but Caesar,’ the chief priests answered. Finally, Pilate handed him over to them to be crucified.’ John 19:12-16

‘Roaring lions that tear their prey open their mouths wide against me. I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint. My heart has turned to wax; it has melted within me. My mouth is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth; you lay me in the dust of death.’ Psalm 22:13-15

Using metaphorical language, these verses clearly describe a person dying. ‘All my bones’, we say things like that today, don’t we?

‘Every bone in my body is tired.’

That doesn’t mean all 216 or however many there are, it’s a figure of speech.

In regard to Jesus, crucifixion dislocated a number of his bones, and no doubt it felt like all of them. His heart, the most critical organ in his body, ‘turned to wax.’ A ‘potsherd’ was an old piece of pottery dried by the sun, Jesus’ strength had ebbed away. His tongue stuck to the roof of his mouth, from the cross he said,

‘I thirst.’ John 19:28

‘Dogs surround me, a pack of villains encircles me; they pierce my hands and my feet. All my bones are on display; people stare and gloat over me. They divide my clothes among them and cast lots for my garment.’ Psalm 22:16-18

When the Romans crucified someone, they formed a cordon of soldiers around the cross to keep the people away. And the Jews referred to uncircumcised people like the Romans as ‘dogs.’

‘I can count all my bones,’

that’s another figure of speech meaning that in His many beatings and floggings, Jesus’ skin had been thrashed to the bone. People spit on Him, taunted Him, and gloated over Him.

‘They divide my garments among and cast lots for my clothing.’

This couldn’t more clearly describe what later happened at Golgotha in fulfilment of this prophecy. Mathew 37:35.

And it’s at this point that the thrust of Psalm 22 begins to shift from death unto life.

‘But you, LORD, do not be far from me. You are my strength; come quickly to help me. Deliver me from the sword, my precious life from the power of the dogs. Rescue me from the mouth of the lions; save me from the horns of the wild oxen.’ Psalm 22:19-21

The Messiah calls upon His God, Yahweh, to save him.

How?

Not by taking Him off the cross, but by raising Him from the dead in accordance with other Old Testament prophecies.

‘Because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead, nor will you let your faithful one see decay.’ Psalm 16:10

On the Day of Pentecost, when Peter preached the first Gospel sermon, he boldly asserted that God had raised Jesus from the dead, Acts 2:24. He then explained that God had performed this miraculous deed in fulfilment of David’s prophecy in Psalm 16.

In fact, he quoted the words of David in detail as contained in Psalm 16:8-11. Years later, Paul did the same thing when he spoke to the Jews of Antioch in Pisidia. Acts 13:33-35. Like Peter, he declared that God had raised Jesus from the dead in fulfilment of Psalm 16:10.

‘I will declare your name to my people; in the assembly I will praise you. You who fear the LORD, praise him! All you descendants of Jacob, honour him! Revere him, all you descendants of Israel!’ Psalm 22:22+23

How is the Messiah going to praise God in the future when it’s clear that He was to die?

Only if God keeps His Word and raises him from the dead. And the next verse indicates that God hadn’t forsaken Him and would do just that!

‘For he has not despised or scorned the suffering of the afflicted one; he has not hidden his face from him but has listened to his cry for help.’ Psalm 22:24

This magnificent psalm, we see a vivid portrait of the death and resurrection of the man we now know as Jesus, the Messiah. This Psalm ends in triumph and God will bless the world through Him. Again, if God turned His back on His Son, why does the Psalm say otherwise? Does ‘the Father turn His face away’ according to this verse? Not at all.

‘From you comes the theme of my praise in the great assembly; before those who fear you I will fulfil my vows. The poor will eat and be satisfied; those who seek the LORD will praise him—may your hearts live forever! All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the LORD, and all the families of the nations will bow down before him, for dominion belongs to the LORD and he rules over the nations. All the rich of the earth will feast and worship; all who go down to the dust will kneel before him—those who cannot keep themselves alive. Posterity will serve him; future generations will be told about the Lord. They will proclaim his righteousness, declaring to a people yet unborn: He has done it!’ Psalm 22:25-31

The proclamation of the prayer was to all the people. The proclamation was an exhortation to fear, praise and glorify God. In times of trouble vows were made to God and when the day of deliverance came, the one delivered remembered what he had promised the Lord, and thus gave his thank offerings to the Lord.

After victory over an enemy, Israel ate of the sacrifices that were made to the Lord, Leviticus 3:17 / Leviticus 7:16 / Numbers 15:3. Not only would Israel worship the Lord, but this Psalm speaks of all the nations giving praise to God. This is certainly a Messianic prophecy of what would eventually come and did come in reference to Jesus.

‘But after the three and a half days the breath of life from God entered them, and they stood on their feet, and terror struck those who saw them.’ Revelation 11:15

The last verse of verse 31 should be translated a bit differently. In the KJV you can see that the word ‘it’ is in italics, indicating that the translators added it. The pronoun ‘he’ isn’t in the original text, it should be the word ‘it,’ so that the Psalm closes with the words, ‘for it is finished.’

Conclusion

Jesus Christ knew that, and in the final agonising moments of His life had the presence of mind and the love for all men, including those who were killing Him, to once again hold forth to them the Word of Life. He quoted the very first verse and the very last verse of a section of Scripture that they knew very, very well.

With His dying breath He affirmed one more time that He was who the Word of God said He was, the Messiah, the Son of the living God, the Redeemer of Israel and hope for all who would believe on Him in the future.

God didn’t forsake His Son, God didn’t turn His back on Him because He was sinless, perfect, He was carrying our sins and God proved how pleased He was with His Son because three days and three nights later, He raised Him from the dead.

Throughout His life Jesus was fulfilling Scripture, even on the cross to prove who He was, the Messiah.

‘For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.’ 1 Corinthians 15:3-4

 

DAILY BIBLE VERSE

"Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!"

2 Corinthians 5:17

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