#4: “My God, My God, Why have You Forsaken Me?” Mark 15:33-34 (Psalm 22)

Have you ever gotten separated from a group or someone dear to you, and experienced the panic of being profoundly lost? I’m sure we all have had that experience, either as a child who wandered away from your parents, or as a parent who was somewhere with your children in a large crowd, and suddenly become aware that your child is nowhere to be seen!

Terri and I have had that experience at some time with each of our children, but Joanna is the child we have managed to misplace the most.

One time when we were living in LaBelle, and Joanna, was only four or so. Terri TOLD her that she was stepping out the house for just a moment to put something in our mailbox at the end of our driveway – but Joanna HEARD mom say she was going to the Post Office.

So Joanna decided to take a little walk – by herself – several blocks to the Post Office.

Imagine the panicked phone call I got from Terri when she couldn’t find Joanna anywhere! We sent out search parties to comb the neighborhood, but to no avail.

Finally, a police car drove up with Joanna inside. The Post Office personnel figured out that Joanna was all alone, and had called the police. Fortunately, she was able to direct him as he drove to our house and delivered her into the waiting arms of her mother and father!

Then, MAYBE 15 years ago, our family and Terri’s parents were at Sea World, and it was a day when the park was especially crowded. We were passing through a narrow passageway where there was a steady stream of wall-to-wall people going both directions.

We tried to keep our group together, but when we got to a clearing, we noticed that Joanna was missing. We split up and walked in all directions, but could not find her.

We began to become very concerned, and notified one of the employees, who put out a call for all employees to watch for Joanna. After nearly an hour of anguish, Joanna was located safe and sound, and we were all reunited.

Perhaps there is nothing more agonizing than for a parent to be separated from his or her child, – unless of course – it is the agony a child feels when she is separated from her parents.

If you can identify with that anguish, perhaps you can begin to feel something of how Jesus must have felt on that awful day as he struggled to make sense of what was happening to him.

Just think about it: As the only begotten Son of God, Jesus had never felt separation from his Father. From the dawn of creation – even before time began – Jesus and the Father were one.

Even when he had been born into our sinful world as one of us, Jesus was always in fellowship with the Father. You and I may succumb to the temptation to sin, – but Jesus didn’t. Since Jesus never sinned, he never experienced the agony of being separated from God that comes as a result of sin.

Until that moment. On the cross, Jesus willingly took upon himself the sins of the world, and when he did, our sin blinded his view of the Father – for the very first time, he knew what it felt like to be separated and alone, abandoned by his friends – and even, it seemed, by God himself.

In his book, Thank God Its Friday, William Willimon describes the rupture of the unity of the Trinity that took place as Jesus was suffering and dying in this way:

“The Father is one with the Son, in the power of the Holy Spirit. Yet the Father, in infinite love, has sent the Son out to the far country to us sinners. Away from the Father in order to be close to those who have abandoned the Father, the Son risks separation from the Father, risks not only abandonment but also dismemberment from his true identity.

“The Son comes very close to us, so close that he bears our sinfulness, bears the brunt of our viciousness. And the Father, who is complete righteousness and holiness, cannot embrace the sin that the Son so recklessly, lovingly bears, so the Father must abandon the Son on the cross because the Father is both love and righteousness. (He continues…)

“Here, in this word from the cross, is the unthinkable: a separation, because of love, in the heart of the fully loving, inseparable Trinity.” 1

Paul described what happened on the cross that day with these words (from 2 Cor. 5:21): “For our sake (God) made (Jesus) to be sin who knew no sin, so that, in him, we might become the righteousness of God.”

We shouldn’t be surprised that Jesus cried out. – He felt separated from his Father. For one awful moment, he could no longer feel God’s presence, and cried out in agony.

Yet, in spite of everything he had to endure, Jesus never lost his trust in his Father. I think it is easy for us to misinterpret this passage (and it is very common to do so) suggesting that Jesus was in despair – that, in his crying out, he was doubting God’s faithfulness — that he was abandoned by God.

Those who say this (even a few preachers I have heard) haven’t done their homework!

I think the people who misinterpret these words of Jesus from the cross do so because they haven’t taken the time to really consider the whole of the Bible, the full context of the words Jesus utters. Jesus isn’t saying these words in isolation. He is quoting Scripture.

The phrase is actually from Psalm 22, a psalm Jesus no doubt knew by heart – as a boy in synagogue school, he would have had to commit all the psalms to memory. When Jesus cries out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” he is quoting the opening verse of that psalm.

Even though he only spoke one verse, I believe it is safe to assume that Jesus had the entire psalm in mind – just as when we say, “The Lord is my Shepherd…” we are using scriptural shorthand. Even without reciting the rest of the psalm, the entire Psalm is brought to mind and gives us comfort.

I’ve heard preachers look at this statement from the cross and argue that Jesus was driven to despair. But, if you believe, as I do, that Jesus was thinking of the entire psalm, you will come to a very different conclusion.

This psalm of David is far from despairing. To the contrary, – it is full of confidence in the protection and mercy of God. Listen as I share with you what else this psalm says, and see if it doesn’t give you a different feeling about what Jesus had meant when he spoke from the cross:

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from helping me,
from the words of my groaning?
O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer;
and by night, but find no rest.

(Do you see how this Psalm might come to Jesus’ mind?)

Yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel.
In you our ancestors trusted; they trusted, and you delivered them.
To you they cried, and were saved;
in you they trusted, and were not put to shame…
But you, O Lord, do not be far away!
O my help, come quickly to my aid! ….

I will tell of your name to my brothers and sisters;
in the midst of the congregation I will praise you:
You who fear the Lord, praise him!
All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him;
stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel!

(Now hear this part!)

For he did not despise or abhor the affliction of the afflicted;
he did not hide his face from me, but heard when I cried to him….

To him, indeed, shall all who sleep in the earth bow down;
before him shall bow all who go down to the dust,
and I shall live for him.

Posterity will serve him;
future generations will be told about the Lord,
and proclaim his deliverance to a people yet unborn,
saying that he has done it.

You see what I mean? I think we may have missed the whole point of Jesus’ words from the cross!

Yes, Jesus felt the agony of being separated from God as he bore the weight of our sins. And we can take comfort that Jesus knows exactly how hopeless our lives are if we are separated from our Father.

But there’s a more positive and hopeful message here. If Jesus means for us to hear the entire Psalm he began to quote, then the message is this: God NEVER forsakes you! Even when your world collapses around you and you FEEL forsaken, know in your heart that God is still there and will see you through.

We hear the words of God himself assuring us of this in the book of Hebrews (13:5), where he says to us: “I will not leave you, nor forsake you.” It may be through dark and anguishing times. It may even be through “the valley of the shadow of death,” But even there, God will never abandon you!

The surprising good news hidden in this anguished cry of Jesus is this: That, in spite of the fact that, in that moment, he may have felt alone in his agony, Jesus was never forsaken by his Father.

God was standing in the wings, allowing the awful drama to play out so that Satan’s grip on the world might be broken once and for all – and you and I might live a new life. And, when you get right down to it, isn’t that the very thing we celebrate on Easter?

So take heart in the hopeful words of the Psalmist, which must have been on the heart of our Lord as he hung on the cross, when he cried out in anguish: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

“I will tell of your name to my brothers and sisters;
in the midst of the congregation I will praise you:
You who fear the Lord, praise him! …

“For he did not despise or abhor the affliction of the afflicted;
he did not hide his face from me, but heard when I cried to him….

“To him, indeed, shall all who sleep in the earth bow down;
before him shall bow all who go down to the dust,
and I shall live for him.

“Posterity will serve him;
future generations will be told about the Lord,
and proclaim his deliverance to a people yet unborn,
saying that he has done it.”

Was Jesus forsaken by God? NO!

And God promises never to forsake you, either.

1 Willimon, William. Thank God It’s Friday. Abingdon c. 2006 pp 45-46.