“The Fourth Word: Why Have You Forsaken Me?”
Matthew 27:26-46 March 22, 2009
SI: Easter is four Sundays away.
We’re preparing for the celebration of our Lord’s resurrection,
by meditating on the words Jesus spoke as he was dying on the cross.
These are often called the Seven Last Words or the Seven Words of the Cross,
because Jesus spoke seven times.
As I said last week, each of the four Gospel writers contributed different details
about the crucifixion that are not found in the other three Gospels.
So all of Jesus’ seven words are not found in any one Gospel.
You have to read them together to arrive at a chronology.
This morning we are reading from Matthew’s gospel.
First word Matthew records Jesus speaking was actually his fourth word from cross.
We’ll start reading from the point Pilate turned Jesus over to be flogged.
INTRO: When I decided to go to seminary, one of the associate pastors
of my church, a very godly man, pulled me aside and said:
“So you’re going to seminary? Those were the driest years of my life.
God seemed so far away.”
A Christian I admire once said to me—
“I’ve prayed to the Lord to lift this cloud of depression and He hasn’t.
Where is He?”
I once heard another Christian say—“I was lying on the hospital bed
and it seemed like my prayers were bouncing off the ceiling.”
One of the Psalm writers was a man named Heman. In Psalm 88 he wrote:
“I cry to You for help, O Lord; in the morning my prayer comes before You.
Why, O Lord, do you reject me and hide your face from me?”
Another Psalm writer was a man named Asaph. In Psalm 77 he wrote:
“When I was in distress, I sought the Lord; at night I stretched out
untiring hands and my soul refused to be comforted.
I remembered You, O God, and I groaned, I mused, and my spirit grew faint.”
And the most famous Psalm writer of all, King David wrote Psalm 22.
It’s a prophecy of Christ’s suffering. But also David’s own experience:
“Why are you so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning?
O my God, I cry out by day, but You do not answer, by night and am not silent.”
Those are troubling Psalms, aren’t they?
The experiences of those three Christians I mentioned are also troubling.
It’s perplexing to think of believers turning to God, only to find that He is not there.
But most perplexing of all is this word of Jesus from the cross.
Jesus took David’s words from the Psalm and at the moment of His
greatest agony cried out in a loud voice,
“My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?”
One old saint wrote: “This is the most darksome word He ever uttered.”
This is a darksome word.
It’s dark because it brings us face to face with the fact that the most
terrible thing a human being can experience is to be abandoned by God.
Being forsaken by God brings an agony of soul that is deeper than any other pain.
But this word of Christ is not just a dark word, it’s a word of great comfort.
For that reason Christians have studied this word, pondered it, meditated on it.
More has been written about this word from the cross than any of the others.
It’s a word that is indelibly printed on the minds of Christians.
And we are drawn back to this word—not just at Easter—
but during any time we are greatly suffering.
Because perhaps more than anything else Jesus ever said,
this word assures us that Jesus knows what it means to suffer.
He can completely sympathize with us in our sufferings.
He is not a distant Savior. He didn’t live in a magic circle when he came to earth.
He became a man and lived in a fallen world and suffered the absolute worst.
So in our darkest hours we can know that he knows what we are going through.
But this word from the cross gives us much more than sympathy.
Jesus not only suffered. He suffered for us—in our place.
He was forsaken by God in his hour of greatest need so that you will
never be forsaken by God in your need.
If you know Jesus Christ. If you have given your life to Him and are united to Him,
you will never be deserted by God.
This fourth word of the cross is especially for all you Christians here this morning
who are passing through deep waters. Like Heman and Asaph and David,
perhaps you feel at times like your prayers are unheard.
God has not forsaken you. Jesus was forsaken so that you will never be forsaken.
This fourth words is also for all of you who are encouraging brothers and sisters
who feel that God has deserted them. You can point them to Jesus.
Remind them that He was deserted so that they will never be.
Let’s look at this word of Christ. Will study this word under two headings:
What Jesus suffered.
Why Jesus suffered.
MP#1 What Jesus suffered
Several years ago I went to the emergency room to see a child who had
fallen off a trampoline and broken her arm. The arm looked bad.
You could see the broken bone under the skin. It didn’t bother me to look at it. But then the doctor came in.
And he picked up her arm and turned it and the child screamed.
When she screamed I almost fainted and had to walk out of the room.
I can’t imagine how horrible it was to hear a grown man scream in the darkness.
Because that’s what Jesus did.
This “cry with a loud voice” is a rarely used NT word that means to scream.
And what did Jesus scream?
He didn’t scream: “My hands, my hands. My feet, my feet. Oh, the nails!”
It wasn’t physical suffering that made him scream.
In fact, nowhere in the crucifixion account did Jesus cry out in physical pain.
He was a strong man physically. Years of working in the carpenters shop,
years of travel by foot all over Israel had hardened him.
And he didn’t scream: “My friends, my friends. They’ve abandoned me.”
Or “My shame, my shame. My nakedness.”
It wasn’t psychological suffering that made him cry out either.
Once again, as you read the crucifixion account you see that Jesus was
remarkably calm when betrayed, deserted, and treated with contempt.
But his scream in the dark was: “My God, my God. Why have you forsaken me?”
That tells us that the spiritual suffering he was going through was infinitely
more painful than anything he was suffering physically or psychologically.
During those hours, darkness covered the land from noon to three.
That darkness was a picture of what was happening in his soul.
When the Bible describes spiritual lostness. When it describes hell,
it uses two images—fire and darkness. Called the outer darkness.
It has the sense of being cast out from the light into a dark and lonely place.
Our souls need God’s light like a plant needs the sun—when it goes out, we die.
Jesus’ soul was plunged into spiritual darkness in those three terrible hours.
It’s not as if he could have told himself—just hold on for three hours and over.
He experienced God’s abandonment as infinite and eternal suffering.
Throughout his life, Jesus had lived in unbroken communion with his Father.
He loved to pray to God. Would spend whole nights in prayer, solitary places.
Often looking up to heaven, sighing, calling out to God.
In everything he did he sought God’s praise, blessing, and pleasure.
He had a sense of God’s presence that no other person has ever had.
And God always answered him. There is never a prayer of Jesus unanswered.
Then, on the cross, in the hour of his greatest agony Jesus turned to God the Father
and found that God had forsaken him.
The merciful presence of God was gone. The listening ear of God was gone.
The warmth of God’s love was gone. The comfort of God’s acceptance was gone.
And Jesus was cast into outer darkness.
Some of you might remember a story from last time we studied this word.
It was written by Ron Snell. Ron was the son of missionaries.
His parents worked with an Indian tribe in the high jungles of Peru.
These Indians were afraid of dead bodies. They believed that the spirit of the dead
person hung around their body for a time and could do bad things to you.
They were so frightened of dead bodies that sometimes, if a person was near death,
they would bury him alive. That way, never had to deal with his body.
One day an Indian man came to see Ron’s parents. He came down a very turbulent
river on a raft. He wanted missionaries to look at his little son who was sick.
Ron’s parents examined this little boy, found advanced case of tuberculosis.
Couldn’t do anything for him. When boy’s father realized his son could not
be cured, that he was going to die—this is what happened.
“The father didn’t want his son to die close to where other people lived. Dad and Mom watched in frustrated, mute helplessness as the father pushed the raft off into the current with the boy still on it, hoping that he would be carried a long way down river before falling into the water to drown. After all, the farther away he died, the less likely it would be that his soul could make it back upriver to grab others to take with him. Years later, as I write this story, tears run down my cheeks. I see that little boy sitting all alone on a tippy raft, trembling and wide-eyed, trying for a last look at the father who had just pushed him away.”
If a friend abandons you, that is painful.
But if your father forsakes you, if he casts you away—much worse.
When God the Father cast out his Son Jesus, it was infinitely greater.
It was hell. This is what we mean when we confess: “He descended into hell.”
Think of all that Jesus suffered during the crucifixion.
He never complained about what people did to him.
When they spit on him, stripped him and crucified him he never complained.
Instead, he prayed, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
Jesus was a man with a great soul. He was a spiritual giant.
Nothing that people did to him could rattle him.
But what made him scream in the darkness?
When he realized, God is gone. The merciful presence of God is gone.
The warmth of God’s love is gone.
This word from the cross is warning and a consolation.
Going to focus in the consolation in a minute—whole second half of sermon.
But there is a warning and the warning is:
There is that nothing worse than being forsaken by God.
So you ought to flee from everything that separates you from God.
Sin is saying to God—I want nothing to do with you. Keep your hands off my life.
I’ll do what I want with my body, my possession, my time, my affections,
my words, my priorities. It’s my life—hands off!
And what does God do?
Every morning He gives you air to breathe, food to eat, clothes to wear,
houses to live in, friends to love, work to do, money to spend.
And in addition to all that He offers complete and full reconciliation with him.
Forgiveness, freedom from guilt, a clear conscience, joy, eternal life,
all free through faith in his Son, Jesus.
But when a person persistently forsakes God, after a lifetime of saying to God,
“Hands off!” The day comes when God says: You want me out of your life?
I’m out. Depart from me into everlasting darkness.
Hell is a chosen destination. Chosen by decisions of a lifetime.
God, stay away. I want to live my life and do my thing.
And then you get your wish, and God’s merciful presence is forever removed.
That’s hell. If three hours of hell on the cross could make the holy Son of God
scream, what will it do to you?
If there is anyone here who has persistently said no to God,
listen to this word of Jesus from the cross and run from sin and say to God,
Yes, I want you in my life.
Yes, I want to give every part to you.
If you do, he will always respond with mercy. That’s who God is.
Merciful and loving God. See that clearly in second point
MP#2 Why Jesus suffered
Why did Jesus suffer in this way? Why was he forsaken?
That’s the question he asked: “Why have you forsaken me?”
It’s crucial to see that this was not just a cry, it was a quotation from Scripture.
Jesus was quoting Psalm 22. We read portions of it earlier in service.
Psalm starts this way:
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?
All who see me mock me; they hurl insults, shaking their heads:
“He trusts in the LORD; let the LORD rescue him.”
I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint.
My heart has turned to wax; it has melted away within me.
My strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth;
you lay me in the dust of death.
They have pierced my hands and my feet. I can count all my bones.
People stare and gloat over me.
They divide my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing.
So this Psalm, written 1000 years before Christ describes his suffering.
But, Psalm 22 ends this way—and Jesus would have had it all in mind—
Posterity will serve him; future generations will be told about the Lord.
They will proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn—for he has done it.
So when Jesus said: “My God . . . why have you forsaken?”
saying two things: I am suffering infinitely.
But other thing saying: Though God is damning me, I’m sticking with the plan.
Though God is condemning me, holding on to his Word.
That plan, the Father’s loving plan, was the salvation of sinners who deserved
hell through the willing, substitutionary death of Jesus Christ.
Why did Jesus suffer? He suffered for you.
You are his passion—in the old sense of the word.
You are what he suffered for. Didn’t just suffer, suffered for love.
On the cross he was not just crying out—He was quoting.
He was saying—I’m suffering, I’m being forsaken.
But I’m doing it for a reason, for a purpose—that purpose is you, your salvation.
This word from the cross shows that Jesus is willing to take infinite suffering,
in obedience to God’s plan, out of love for you.
This changes things. When you believe Jesus suffered for you, it changes things.
One of the big things it changes is how you face suffering.
You can go through the worst and know that that because Jesus was forsaken
by God—you never will be. And even in the depths of suffering, that lifts you.
William Cowper is a name you might know.
He was one of the most famous English hymn writers of 18th century.
He wrote There Is a Fountain Filled with Blood, O For a Closer Walk with God,
and God Moves in a Mysterious Way, which we sing often.
Cowper experienced a lot of suffering.
He lost his mother as a child. He fell in love with his cousin but the match
forbidden by her father. They never got over each other, romantically crippled.
He studied law and showed a lot of promise but then when he went to take the
bar exam he fell to pieces. He was never admitted to the bar.
After that there were times sank into deep depression.
And he often felt that God had forsaken him.
His best friend was none other than John Newton—writer of Amazing Grace.
Newton was an Anglican minister. Sometimes Cowper would live with
John and Mary Newton in the church manse.
Newton was always telling him—
William, even though you may feel like God has forsaken you, he hasn’t.
Jesus was forsaken so that you never will be.
Out of those conversations and Cowper’s suffering came God Moves.
Judge not the Lord by feeble sense, But trust him for his grace;
Behind a frowning providence He hides a smiling face.
Cowper was saying something about suffering for Christians.
No matter how circumstances might make you feel God is frowning on you—
he’s not. He’s smiling on his children.
Here’s why: Because one time, on a hill outside Jerusalem,
during three hours of darkness, God did frown on his Son.
His divine judgment for sin was poured out on a perfect substitute.
And then, when it was finished, the smile of his face broke again—
never to be removed.
There may be times in your Christian life when it seems God has deserted you.
This is the experience of many believers—
“The dark night of the soul” as St. John of the Cross called it.
Even the Psalmists felt this way. We read those Psalms at the beginning.
There are times when it seems that prayers are not heard, God seems far away.
But because of your union with Jesus, you are not really forsaken.
Sometimes God “hides His face from His children”? He has his reasons.
May be to make you eager to pray,
or to strengthen you against a coming trial,
or to make you long for Him.
But you can know that he has not forsaken you.
And so no matter how deserted you feel, don’t desert God.
Christ was truly forsaken in those three hours of darkness in a way that
you will never be. He suffered hell. But even in hell, he didn’t desert God.
He called Him, “My God, my God.” Even though God had forsaken Him,
He still clung to God, claimed Him and called out to Him.
In other words, it was Christ’s faith that sustained him.
Didn’t see God anywhere, but still called out to Him.
Has to be the same with you. You must continue to call out to God in faith.
No matter how deserted you feel, no matter how spiritually dry you feel.
This is one of the evidences of true Christian faith—when a person
continues to cry out to God, even when He seems to be so far away.
Remember, you will not feel deserted forever.
Praise God that the fourth word of the cross is not the last word.
The last word is, “Father, into Your hands I commit my spirit.”
The darkness lifted. The light of God’s mercy, warmth of His love,
His fatherly presence was restored to Christ. God did not desert Him forever.
If you are right now in a dark, lonely valley and God seems far away.
Remember that God did not leave his Son and He won’t leave you.
Cling to all those great Bible promises:
“Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning.”
“Never will I leave you. Never will I forsake you.”
Move ahead in faith.
What did Jesus suffer?
He suffered God’s rejection for sin. He descended into hell.
Why did Jesus suffer?
He suffered for you.
So that by faith in him, you will be forgiven and never forsaken by God.
As we approach Holy Week. As the eyes of believers around the world
are turned by faith to the events of Jesus’ suffering and death and resurrection—
Ponder this word from the cross, and rejoice in Jesus—
and be glad for all he has done for you.