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TEXT: Matthew 27:45-49
SUBJECT: Last Words #4: Why Have You Forsaken Me?
This morning, with God's blessing, we will continue our meditation on the Last Words of our Savior, Jesus Christ. He spoke seven times on the cross, and what He said summarizes who He is and who He is-to us.
The first three sayings are very much in character. They are the sort of things you would expect Him to say. Did He love His enemies? Did He love sinners? Did He love His mother? Yes He did. And so you're not surprised when He said, Father forgive them for they do not know what they do; Truly I say to you, this day you will be with Me in paradise; and Behold your son; behold your mother. The words are wonderful and touching, but they do not surprise you.
But His fourth saying does. It is completely out of character and it contradicts everything He has said up to this point. But He said it, and even liberal scholars-who take so many words out of His mouth-leave Him with these. The words are recorded, first in a mixture of Hebrew and Aramaic-
Matthew and Mark are so moved by His words they give them to us as they heard them. But then the recall for whom they are writing. Christ is not for the Jews only-He's for the whole world, and the whole world has got to know what He said. They translate the words-
My God, My God,
Why have You forsaken Me?
Before I say a word about the verse, let me remind you of where we are: this is holy ground, far holier than the ground Moses stood on before the Burning Bush. The Burning Bush was a Symbol of God suffering with and for His People. But the cross is no symbol: it is the Thing symbolized! It is God on the cross suffering as only He can.
This means we approach the words with the deepest reverence we can muster-hoping God will give us a reverence we cannot produce on our own.
The crucifixion took place between nine o'clock in the morning and three in the afternoon. From nine to noon men and demons had their way with the Lord, but He took it like a man: silently and with great courage and patience.
But then the world went dark, His enemies sat down in fear, and He faced One more terrifying than men and demons. From noon to three, God had His way with the Lord, and the sight was so appalling, He let no one see it. We cannot say what the horrors were He faced at that time and I will not speculate on them.
The only thing we can compare them to is hell, but even this won't quite do. The damned are sinners and, while they hate their torments, they don't love God. But our Lord does love God, and never more than now. For Him, losing God was a flame hotter than any kindled in hell.
What Jeremiah knew in a lower sense is fully known to none but Christ, Lamentations 1:12--
Is it nothing to you,
all you who pass by?
Behold and see
If there is any sorrow like my sorrow,
Which has been brought on me,
Which the Lord has inflicted on me
In the day of His fierce anger.
Our Lord was forsaken by His Father. He didn't merely 'feel forsaken'; He was forsaken. When He needed God most, God was not there for Him.
What does it mean, to be 'forsaken by God'? No one but Christ knows that-and He's not telling. But if we cannot explain what it means, we can say what it includes (though the list is far from complete).
For three years, our Lord was the most wanted man in Israel. While ordinary people (mostly) approved of Him, the people who counted did not. The leaders of Israel hated Him and, from early on, tried to silence Him by any means necessary. They tried to arrest Him, they incited riots against Him, they accused Him to the Romans, and more. But nothing worked.
Do you know why? There are secondary reasons, of course. Our Lord was a crafty man at times, He knew when to step back, and the Rulers were sometimes checked by the people. But the primary reason is found in John 7:6-My time has not yet come!
He was protected from His human enemies, until the hour had come and God removed His protection.
If some men hated Christ, all demons did, including their prince, Satan. While the demons shouted out against Him, the Holy Spirit enabled Him to cast them into pigs and otherwise make fools of them. In the Wilderness Satan himself came to the Lord with cunning temptations, preying on His human weakness, but the temptations had no power over Him and the devil left Him for a season.
But during the last hours of His life God removed His protection and the devil released all the pent-up rage of hell!
While we always affirm the full Deity of Jesus Christ, we must never forget He is also fully human, and It is not good that man should be alone. We need friends. Our Lord had them-the twelve, Lazarus, Mary, Martha, and many others. Like our friends, they were a real help and joy to our Lord.
But, when the end came for Him, they went the other way. What a heartache it was for our Lord to hear one of His best friends cursing and swearing he didn't know Jesus of Nazareth! And, then, when the cross was first set up, not one single friend was there for Him. Later, a few came-and He was glad to have them-but why only a few? If John was there, why wasn't Peter? If His mother was there, where were His brothers and sisters?
When Peter rose to His defense in the Garden, our Lord told him to put his sword away because he didn't need his help. Why not? Because more than twelve legions of angels waited for His signal to rescue Him. The signal was not given, of course, but it must have been a real comfort to know they were there for Him.
But on the cross they were not there for Him! This must have been a terrible blow His confidence. They had helped Him before-first in the wilderness when He was worn out with hunger and loneliness and temptation; then in Gethsemane when He was overcome with weariness and dread. But no help came to the cross, for, in those three hours, the Promise was put on hold-
He will give His angels charge of You,
Lest at any time You should dash Your
Foot against a stone.
In the Sermon on the Mount, our Lord told His disciples to love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you. Why should they do that? Because God does it-He makes His sun rise on the evil and the good.
God's love is so great that everyone gets a piece of it-except Christ.
Other men have been godforsaken in a certain way. You remember the Holy Spirit leaving Saul and evil spirits coming in His place to torture the wicked king. He was forsaken God. You remember, in the visions of Ezekiel, the Spirit of God leaving Israel and moving away till they repented of their sins. Then, in a story I have loved all my life: Samson, shorn of His hair, boasting 'I will go out and shake myself as before'-for he wist not the Spirit left him.
While God forsook these men, He did not forsake them fully. When Samson's hair grew back, the Spirit came with it. When Israel returned from the East chastened, God rejoined them. And, while King Saul was not a saved man, the Lord was still with him, helping him against his enemies (to some degree), and He would have saved him had the king sought His mercy.
Thus, when God deserted other men, He quit them only in part. But when He forsook Christ, He left Him with nothing-not a trace of His Spirit, not a pinch of His mercy, and no glimmer of hope.
No wonder He cried, screamed, howled-
My God, My God,
Why have You forsaken Me?
What's the answer? Why did God forsake His Son when He needed Him the most? Why wasn't He there for Him? Why did He turn Him over to men and devils? And why did He pile on, adding His own wrath to theirs?
Some of the men who were there that day had a quick and easy answer, jeering-
He trusted in God,
Let Him deliver Him,
Seeing He delights in Him.
They said He believed in God's approval, but foolishly, because He did not have it! God did not delight in this phony Messiah. That's what they said.
But they were as wrong as they could be. At His baptism God publicly owned Him-
This is My beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.
But maybe, like that boy king, our Lord started good but ended bad? No, that's not it, for only a few days before He said the same thing on the Mount of Transfiguration, adding a heavenly sheen to His appearance.
Three days later this theory would be decisively refuted, when God raised His Son from the dead.
The Jews were as wrong as they could be. God did not forsake Jesus because He was an unfaithful Man.
A second theory is more disturbing: God forsook Christ because God was unfaithful. Over and over again, God promises to be with His People and to never, ever leave them. Joshua 1:9 is a striking example, to which many others could be added-
Be strong and of good courage: Do not be afraid or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.
It may not wise to take a specific promise and generalize it. If God said that to Joshua, it doesn't mean He says it to everyone. But how do you limit Psalm 34:7?-
The angel of the Lord encamps all around those who fear Him and delivers them.
If God promises to be with the saints, and if Christ is a saint, how could He be forsaken-unless God Himself is unfaithful?
God promised to stay with the faithful, Christ was faithful, but God did not stay with Him. The problem seems unsolvable.
Until you remember who Christ is. He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
Lamb does not refer to His meek and gentle character, but to His Office. To us, a lamb is an animal; but to the Jews, it was.a sacrifice. And a sacrifice means: His life for ours.
Thus, God did not forsake our Lord because God was unfaithful or because our Lord was unfaithful. He forsook Him because we are unfaithful! We deserve to be forsaken by God, but neither He nor His Son wanted us to be, and so they hit on a plan. Christ would take our place and God would forsake Him.
The plan was drawn up in eternity and revealed in the Old Testament. But its glory eluded the people who first read it. They had to wait, and wait they did, in faith. When their faith was about to fail them, they heard an inhuman cry-
And they understood. God will not forsake us-and cannot-because He forsook His Son in our place.
You are not forsaken. You may feel like it, books may say you are, your friends might pile on, but God has not deserted you, because He deserted Christ for you.
Rejoice, dear Christian! For the promise is true and it cannot be reversed-
I will never leave you nor forsake you.
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