The Incomparable ChristThe Word of Dereliction
Leslie Basham: Nancy Leigh DeMoss says Jesus was forsaken by God so that we would never be forsaken.
Nancy Leigh DeMoss: We may feel that we are; we may think that we are, but we never will be truly forsaken because He was forsaken for us.
Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss for Friday, March 27,2015.
For several weeks, we’ve gained a new appreciation for the person and the work of Jesus. Nancy has led us through a series called "The Incomparable Christ." To hear any one of the programs you may have missed, you can catch them at ReviveOurHearts.com. Let’s continue with "The Incomparable Christ."
Nancy: During the first three hours that Jesus hung on the cross there on Calvary, from 9 a.m. until noon, Jesus broke the silence just three times that we know of. His first three words from the cross were in relation to the souls and the needs of others. Remember how He prayed for forgiveness for His enemies? He assured the penitent thief that he would be with Him in Paradise. And He provided so wonderfully, so tenderly for the care of His mother.
Now it was high noon, and the sun was at its highest point in the sky. I want us to continue in Matthew’s account, Matthew chapter 27, as we come to this next word of Christ from the cross.
Matthew 27, beginning in verse 45: “Now from the sixth hour [which in our reckoning would be noon] there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour.”
From noon until 3 p.m.—this is the second half of Jesus’ six hours on the cross. So He says those first three words, ministering to the needs of others, during those morning hours. Now we have the sun at its peak, and now darkness comes over all the land for those three hours from noon until 3:00.
One commentator says, “Jesus had done with the Human aspect of His Work and with earth. And, appropriately, Nature seemed now to take farewell of Him, and mourned its departing Lord.”1 So you see even nature entering into what was happening there on the cross.
Now, the text doesn’t tell us how widespread this darkness was, whether it was just that region or if it was a universal darkness. There are several accounts in extra-biblical writings that suggest that the darkness may have been worldwide. We’re going to take a closer look at this supernatural darkening of the sun next week when we look at four Calvary miracles, but I want to just stop here to say that it wasn’t just the earth that was in darkness.
Here’s this pitch black darkness at noonday that is a picture, I think, and a symbol of the darkness that fell upon Jesus during this most painful, difficult part of His redeeming work from noon until 3:00.
He had already suffered cruelly at the hands of men, and now during these three hours He is going to be subjected to the Hand of God. Jesus, the Light of the world, is plunged into deep, intense, unfathomable darkness of body, soul, and spirit. For three long hours the sun is blotted out, and at 3 p.m.—3 in the afternoon—we come to the flood crest of Jesus’ agony and His sufferings.
The prophet Joel speaks of this moment hundreds of years earlier. Joel chapter 2, verse 15 says: “The sun grew dark and the Lord roared out of Zion!” Now the question is: What did He roar? What did He say?
The Scripture tells us in the next verse here in Matthew 27, verse 46:
And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, "Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?" that is, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" And some of the bystanders, hearing it, said, "This man is calling Elijah." And one of them at once ran and took a sponge, filled it with sour wine, and put it on a reed and gave it to him to drink. But the others said, "Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to save him.”
So it’s now 3 p.m. The earth has been covered—at least that region of the earth if not the whole earth—has been covered in darkness from noon until 3. It’s 3 p.m., the hour when in the nearby temple priests were plunging knives into the sacrificial lambs at the Passover at that very moment when the Lamb of God was being put to death for the sins of the world.
As we’ve said, during those hours before noon, Jesus had already cried out three times on behalf of the souls and the needs of those around Him. Now, having endured three hours of excruciating darkness, Jesus cries out to God about His own anguish of soul.
I’ll be the first to say, after spending weeks of studying and pondering and meditating on this passage, that this is mystery. There’s mystery in these words. There is no way to fully fathom the depth and the meaning of this fourth word of Jesus from the cross.
Here’s what we do know: We know that these words are a quote from Psalm 22, verse 1, that says: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” And then that psalm continues: “Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest” (v. 2).
Now, it appears that Jesus had been meditating on this psalm during those hours of darkness as He was hanging on the cross. It may be that he recited this whole psalm in His mind. And if you look at it, it's not a short psalm. Jesus knew the Scripture.
There is a tradition that has it that while on the cross (we don't know this, because the Scripture doesn't tell us) Jesus may have quoted a longer portion of Scripture, beginning with Psalm 22 and continuing all the way through Psalm 31:5 that says, "Into your hand I commit my spirit."
Let me encourage you over this next week, a week between now and what we call Good Friday, to read those psalms from 22 through 31 over this next week and to mediate on them and to ponder what it was that Jesus may have been meditating on during those hours when He hung on the cross.
I’ll just say parenthetically that Jesus knew the Scripture. He quoted it frequently.
- He quoted it when He was in the wilderness being tempted.
- He quoted it when He was responding to questions from His opponents.
- He quoted it when He was teaching His disciplines.
- He quoted it when He was suffering.
- He quoted it now when He was facing the deepest, most intense part of His suffering.
We see in the life of Christ the value of memorizing and meditating upon Scripture because then we find that when we come to times of crisis, that Scripture that we have hidden in our hearts will sustain us. It will comfort us. It will point us in the right direction. It will tether us to truth when our emotions and our sense will tell us that everything is out of control and the world has gone crazy. We can’t hang on, so we think. If our hearts are tethered to the Word of God, as Jesus’ heart was, then we’ll find that that Scripture ministers to us in our time of crisis.
Now, notice to whom this prayer is addressed. Jesus says, “My God.” Now, I will remind us that His first prayer from the cross, He prayed, “Father, forgive them.” And we’ll see next week that His final prayer, He prayed, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” (Luke 23:46).
But at this moment when His sufferings were their most intense, He didn’t call God, “Father.” Instead, He cried out, “My God.” This is the only time recorded in the Scripture that Jesus addressed God as “God” rather than “Father.” That’s clearly because at this point He was experiencing a profound sense of alienation and abandonment from His Father.
The poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning put it this way: “Immanuel's orphaned cry his universe hath shaken.” Immanuel’s orphaned cry . . . Immanuel . . . God with us . . . is orphaned, and His cry has shaken His universe.
As we talk about the cross, especially at this time of year, we often focus on the psychological or the physiological aspects of what Jesus suffered, but I want to remind us that crucifixion was common in the Roman era.
I read recently that an estimated 30,000 people every year were put to death by crucifixion in this period, so there were others—30,000 that year alone—who suffered equal or greater physical pain, whether it was deserved or not. So horrendous as was the physical suffering that Jesus endured, that suffering doesn’t begin to compare to the spiritual suffering. And it’s that suffering that makes Jesus incomparable.
Others have suffered physically—not many others over the span of time, and most of us will never suffer physically to that extent, but it is possible. But no one ever has suffered in the way that He did spiritually and in what we see expressed in this word from the cross. What was the nature of this suffering? It was the separation from His Father from whom He had never since all eternity past ever experienced a single second of separation.
We saw that earlier in this series when we studied the eternal preexistence of Christ, and we read in Proverbs 8 where He says, “I was always with Him, daily at His side.” He’d never been separated from His Father. He’d always only done the will of His Father, and now that fellowship is broken. There’s a breach that He’s never before experienced. Never before had His Father been far from Him or turned a deaf ear to Him. Jesus had been forsaken by others. He’d been abandoned by His very own disciples, but never, ever by His Father—until this moment.
Until this moment, when others had misunderstood or forsaken Him, He had always depended on the closeness and fellowship with His Father. That’s where He would run. That’s where He found a refuge. But now that refuge was no longer available to Him. Others could claim in their times of suffering the promise of Psalm 27, verse 10, “My father and my mother have forsaken me, but the Lord will take me in,” but Jesus was denied that provision that was available to everyone else. At this moment He is utterly alone and forsaken.
Let me just say parenthetically that we grieve over how much physical and emotional suffering and abuse there is in this world, and we ought to care about that. But I want to remind us that by far the greatest torment ever that any human being will ever experience in time or eternity is to be separated from God, to be separated from God for all of eternity. It is far greater than any physical need.
So as we care for the physical and emotional and psychological needs of people, as we’re concerned about injustice in this world—as we ought to be—let’s remind ourselves that for a soul to be eternally separated from God is the greatest torment by far. That’s why we’ve been commissioned to share the good news, the gospel, with people that they do not have to be separated from God for eternity because Christ endured that separation for us.
So Christ is enduring this unspeakable anguish and torment and suffering and being separated from His Father, and yet, in this anguished cry, we also hear ringing an unshakable statement of faith as He says: “My God, my God”—my God. There’s an earnestness there as He uses that name El—the name for God that emphasizes the might and the power and the strength of God.
In the midst of His agony, experiencing separation from His Father, Jesus still cries out to God. The Father’s face has been eclipsed—yes; but Jesus knows that God is still there and that God has the power to carry Him through this experience. He is still confident, even though everything screams contrary. He’s still confident that He is “my God.”
So it’s a cry of distress—yes; but not a cry of distrust. Or as one commentator said, “A cry of dependence, but not a cry of disillusionment.”
As Charles Spurgeon said, “Oh that we could imitate this cleaving to an afflicting God.” To trust God and to cleave to Him and cling to Him when you cannot see, you cannot hear, you have no basis for knowing in your emotions that He is there, to cleave to this afflicting God.
So even as Jesus cries out in anguish and grief and pain, “Why?” at the same time, He does not for a moment doubt the reality or the goodness of God, even as that God is punishing His Son for sins that He did not commit.
Now, the answer to this question, “Why have You forsaken me?” is found, again, back in Psalm 22, which is the passage Jesus was quoting. I read to you earlier the first two verses: “Why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far? Why don’t you answer?” But verse 3 gives us the answer.
Verse 3 of Psalm 22: “Yet you are holy.” Holy—God is holy. And on the cross, Christ was bearing our sin. That’s what caused Him to be separated from a holy God.
Isaiah 53:6: “The Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” He not only bore our sin, but He actually became sin for us in a way that we cannot comprehend, but the Scripture tells us it’s true.
Second Corinthians chapter 5, verse 21: “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” Oh—an incredible exchange.
So, as the sin-bearer, as the one who became sin for us, He was separated from His Father as He was experiencing the consequences that we deserved for our sin, as He drank the full cup of God’s wrath.
Robert Murray M'Cheyne says: “From the broken bread and poured-out wine seems to rise the cry ‘My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken Me?’ [The answer?] For me—for me!”2
I want to just pause here and say I’m looking into the eyes of some women who have heard and known these things for as long as you can remember . . . as have I. But the danger is that we lose the wonder of what all this means—why He did it; what He did. So we go through one Passion Week after another, as we will this next week. Yes, we try and feel it a little bit, but we don’t get the weight of what it means that He did this for me. That’s why He was separated from His Father. That’s why He was forsaken by His Father—for me. Oh Lord, restore the wonder.
There are those who would say that Jesus in this moment was not really forsaken, that He just felt forsaken for these moments. To which I say, “No, no, no!” Jesus did not just feel forsaken—He was forsaken by His Father. He had to be forsaken in order to redeem us from our sins. He had to have fellowship and intimacy with God broken because God was judging Him and rejecting Him as we deserved to be judged and rejected for our sin.
In fact, sometimes we hear it said, and I have said it myself, that the Father turned His face away from the Son. Let me give you a little caution about that phrase. Saying that phrase could suggest that God was passively uninvolved in the judgment of our sin in Christ, but nothing could be further from the truth.
We know, for example, that Scripture tells us it pleased the Father to crush His Son and to put Him to death (see Isa. 53:10). That doesn’t sound like passive uninvolvement. Second Corinthians 5 says that the Father imputed our sin to His Son (see v. 21). Galatians 3 says that the Father executed the curse we deserved on His Son (see vv. 10–13).
None of that has the passive tone to it that the Father turned His face away might suggest. Rather, the picture we have in the Scripture is that of the Father actively, intentionally, directly, attentively involved in imputing our sin to His Son and executing our judgment upon His Son.
So when the Son cries out, “My God, why have You forsaken Me?,” He truly feels the weight of this imputed sin and this divine judgment. It wasn’t ultimately the Romans or the Jews who put Jesus to death. Ultimately, it was God who put His own Son to death. And that forsakenness He cried out about in this word was not just a turning from the Son—just the opposite. It was a turning to the Son and against the Son in a hostile outpouring of condemnation upon our sin in His Son.
And yet, at the same time, ironically, the Father would never have been so pleased with His Son as He was in this moment of His forsakenness. Right? Here was the ultimate test of faith, the ultimate act of obedience. The Son had fulfilled exactly what the Father sent Him to do. So the forsakenness Jesus felt must also have been accompanied with a deep sense of satisfaction that He knew He was doing the Father's will, and that the Father would be pleased with the sacrifice . . . “who for the joy set before Him, endured the cross.”
Now, we know that Jesus was not forsaken forever—thank God! Shortly after saying these words, He committed His spirit into God’s hands and took His final breath. Fellowship with God had been broken. He had endured the Father’s wrath. The price for sin had been paid. Now fellowship could be reestablished, and He was soon to be raised from the dead, would ascend to heaven and to the right hand of the Father. That fellowship was to be restored.
J. C. Ryle says,
We can have no stronger proof of the sinfulness of sin, or of the vicarious nature of Christ’s sufferings, than His cry, "My God, My God, why have you forsaken Me?" It is a cry that should stir us up to hate sin, and encourage us to trust in Christ, to flee for mercy to the one who endured God’s wrath, God’s judgment against our sin.3
You see, He was forsaken by God because of our sins, and if we have trusted Him as our substitute, our sin-bearer, the fact is you and I will never truly be forsaken. We may feel that we are; we may think that we are, but we never will be truly forsaken because He was forsaken for us.
So, “though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me” (Ps. 23:4). No forsakenness there.
He has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you,” so we can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear”—never, ever, ever forsaken (Heb. 13:5–6).
And so we sing:
How deep the Father’s love for us,
How vast beyond all measure;
That He should give His only Son,
To make a wretch His treasure.4
Thank You, thank You, thank You, Lord. Amen.
Leslie: “My God, why have You forsaken Me?” Nancy Leigh DeMoss has gone in depth on this phrase from Jesus during the crucifixion, and today’s message is part of a series called "The Incomparable Christ."
If you’ve missed any of the programs in this series, I hope you’ll catch them at ReviveOurHearts.com. You can stream the audio or download the podcast. It’s been a rich series, one that could greatly affect your worship and thankfulness this Easter season.
The same is true for a book Nancy recommends. It’s called Comforts from the Cross by Elyse Fitzpatrick. This book will show you how deep truths from Scripture can affect your day-to-day regular tasks. This book helps women find freedom from condemnation. Women are discovering why they don’t have to try harder to be good enough for God.
We’ll send you Comforts from the Cross when you make a donation of any amount to the ministry of Revive Our Hearts. Just visit ReviveOurHearts.com, or ask for Comforts from the Cross when you call 1–800–569–5959.
“I thirst.” It sounds like a simple request, but when Jesus uttered these words on the cross, it was a profound statement. Nancy Leigh DeMoss will show you why the thirst of Christ is so significant. That’s Monday on Revive Our Hearts.
Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.
All Scripture is taken from the English Standard Version.
1Alfred Edersheim. The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. (Hendrickson Publishers, 1993).
2Robert Murray M'Cheyne. Sermon titled, "My God, My God."
3J.C. Ryle. Commentary of Matthew.
4Stuart Townend. "How Great the Father's Love for Us."Offers available only during the broadcast of the radio series.