Last Words: "My God, My God, Why Have You Forsaken Me?"

Editor’s Note: Today on the blog we continue a special Easter series: “Last Words.” Join us each weekday leading up to Resurrection Sunday as we reflect on one of Jesus’ statements from the cross in each post. We pray they’ll help you draw near to the One who paid so great a price to purchase your freedom. Hallelujah, what a Savior! 

Nearly twenty years ago, Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ portrayed in graphic detail the horror of the crucifixion, bringing to the big screen a depiction of the most agonizing form of execution ever conceived. In fact, our English word excruciating (literally, “out of the cross”) derives its meaning from this form of capital punishment. From the brutal scourging, barbaric whips with rocks and shards of glass, His beard being pulled out, His hands and feet being nailed to the cross, and finally to His death by asphyxiation, the physical suffering Jesus endured on Calvary surpasses anything that any of us will ever face. However, as painful and gruesome as His physical death was, that wasn’t His greatest suffering. Jesus’ first words from the cross capture the anguish that eclipsed even the physical brutality inflicted upon Him: 

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46 ESV)

The Psalmist’s Cry . . . My Cry

Before we examine this exclamation from the cross, we first need to look at its source. Christ’s agonized cry is a quotation from Psalm 22:1, a psalm of David. While a student of Scripture will likely not miss the Messianic significance of this psalm, we must remember that the psalm is still situated in a historical context. We don’t know exactly when David wrote this poem, but he was obviously being pursued and afflicted by enemies of his own. Perhaps he penned it with Saul breathing down his neck, trying to eliminate David as a threat to his throne. (If you’re not familiar with this part of David’s life, just read 1 Samuel 18–31.) Though David’s sufferings were probably more intense than yours or mine, he echoes the cries of our heart in the middle of suffering:

“God, where have You gone?”

“Why have You abandoned me?” 

In times of darkness, the enemy tempts us to believe that God has broken His promise never to abandon or forsake us. The cloak of darkness, the vice grip of our circumstances, and the cloud of anguish can overwhelm us to the point that we cry out with David, “My God, my God why have you forsaken me?” 

Though David likely didn’t know it at the time, his psalm of lament would not only find ultimate fulfillment in the Messiah, but that fulfillment would also be the answer to his question. 

Jesus’ Cry

Let’s return now to the cross. To more fully understand Jesus’ cry, we have to do some theological calisthenics. It may have been a while since you flexed these muscles, but hang with me. You’ll be able to keep up, I promise. 

First, we have to remember Jesus’ dual nature. We learn in John 1 that the Creator became flesh and dwelt among us (1:1, 14). We’re familiar with this incarnation of Jesus. We celebrate it each December as we remember Jesus’ birth to Mary in a Bethlehem stable. The second member of the Trinity—God the Son—divested Himself of all the glory and worship due His divinity and chose to take upon Himself the nature of humanity (Phil. 2:5–8). Jesus was (and is!) fully human. 

In taking on humanity, Jesus in no way diminished His divinity. Therefore, though He could be seen in human flesh, He was (and is!) still very much God Himself. He claims as much many times in the Gospels, like here in John 8: 

Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, before Abraham was, I am.” (v. 58)

While that may not seem explicit in our modern context, Jesus’ original hearers (His old pals the Pharisees) knew exactly what He meant. By using the phrase “I am,” Jesus equated Himself with the covenant God of the Jews, whose name is (you guessed it) I AM (see Ex. 3:14). For more proof that Jesus and the Pharisees both knew exactly what Jesus was saying, consider the Pharisees’ response, recorded for us in the very next verse: 

So they picked up stones to throw at him. (John 8:59)

The Pharisees didn’t believe that Jesus was God, so His claim was tantamount to blasphemy in their eyes, a sin punishable by death. Make no mistake about it, Jesus was claiming to be God. He knew it, and the Pharisees knew it.

We could consider many other proofs of Jesus’ divinity as well. Consider the first verse of John’s Gospel: 

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. (John 1:1)

Or this claim from Jesus Himself: 

“I and the Father are one.” (John 10:30)

You get the idea. 

But why does this matter to what Jesus says on the cross? 

In order for salvation to be accomplished, we need both the deity and humanity of Jesus’ nature. He had to become a man because He was paying the penalty for humanity. But He had to be God in order to bear an infinite penalty in a finite period of time. The only way for a finite human to pay the penalty for his sin is to endure separation from God for an infinite period of time (going to hell for all of eternity). But Jesus—infinite in His divine nature-—was able to endure this separation for a finite period of time (six hours on a Roman cross). 

As Jesus—the God-Man—hung upon the cross that Friday afternoon, He endured what no one on earth ever truly has before: true separation from the Father. As those words poured from Jesus’ lips—“My God, my God, why have you forsaken Me?”—He was enduring far more than physical discomfort. He was enduring hell for you and me.

Our Hope 

As Jesus hung naked, bleeding, an object of ridicule before a jeering crowd, a great transaction took place: 

He made the one who did not know sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:21)

Jesus endured the separation that you and I deserve; in turn, you and I receive the righteousness of Christ. Hymn writer Chris Anderson put it this way: 

His robes for mine: such anguish none can know.
Christ, God’s beloved, condemned as though His foe.
He, as though I, accursed and left alone;
I, as though He, embraced and welcomed home!1

Because Jesus was literally forsaken by God the Father that day, we have hope and confidence that He will never leave us. In fact, the opposite is true. Instead of being abandoned or held at arm’s length, we are invited to press into His presence: 

Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have boldness to enter the sanctuary through the blood of Jesus . . . let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed in pure water. (Hebrews 10:19, 22, emphasis added)

No matter how deep the valley, how dark the night, or how devastating the trial, we can face it knowing that Christ bore separation from God on our behalf. He was forsaken that we might draw near. 

Now we can say with David these hope-filled words from his very next psalm, Psalm 23:4 (emphasis added): 

Even when I go through the darkest valley,
I fear no danger, for you are with me.

Spend each weekday leading up to Easter doing a deep dive into the “Psalm of the Cross” on the Revive Our Hearts podcast. If you’ve ever felt like God was ignoring you, you’re in good company. Jesus Himself felt abandoned, asking the difficult question, Why? Focus on the incredible work of Christ as Nancy teaches on Psalm 22. Listen to “Psalm of the Cross.”


1Lyrics from “His Robes for Mine” by Chris Anderson, ©2008, Churchworks Media.

About the Author

Cindy Matson

Cindy Matson

Cindy Matson lives in a small Minnesota town with her husband, son and daughter, and ridiculous black dog. She enjoys reading books, drinking coffee, and coaching basketball. You can read more of her musings about God's Word at

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