And rightfully so. These words, though simply spoken by the mouth, compose some of the most intriguing words of all of Scripture. I don’t think that there are any can compare to them.
One thing that makes this passage so difficult is the mystery we see in it.
I. A cry of mystery
A story is told about a man who for a long time sat and thought about these words. Then finally he arose and said, “God forsaken by God; who can say anything about that?”
Yes, there is some mystery here. But it is not an unsolvable mystery. I would even suggest that the greater mystery is contained in the phrase, “My God, my God, why have you accepted me?” That is a profundity that I will never grasp.
But these words of Christ need to be addressed. For when we first hear these words we might be tempted to think that this is impossible: Christ, who we confess to be very God of very God, is said to be forsaken by God.
I admit that I cannot explain the whole of the mystery. No one can fully wrap their minds around this. But I can present some clarification on the matter. When Christ says that he is forsaken by God, we must understand that he was not forsaken as to his deity. He is forsaken as to his humanity.
Don’t think for a moment that we have a split in the Trinity. God cannot forsake God. It is impossible for God to deny (or more aptly put, sever) himself. The Son of God cannot be separated from the Father for they are one God.
You must remember that Christ had two natures. He was not only fully God, he was also fully man. And when he lifted up his voice Christ was speaking with regard to his human nature. It was man who sinned against God, it is man who deserves to be punished by God. And for this purpose Christ became man; that he might suffer this miserable curse.
And what suffering it is! While we might easily address the mystery of these words, we should not tread so lightly over the agony expressed in these words.
II. A cry of agony
I remember a time when my mother had left my friend and I at church. She had gone to a Bible study and I had to go along. Fortunately, I was also allowed to bring my friend with me. While she mingled with the grown ups, my friend and I went to the back room to play. There we enjoyed a jolly good time. I remember that we stacked the pillows and mattresses from the couch. And, after a running start, we would hurl ourselves headlong into the fluffy mix. It was one of those experiences you only get when you are not supervised properly.
I remember that it was so much fun. We had so much fun that we lost track of time. But we eventually realized that we had been there for quite a while. And we went out to see if my mother was finished with her study. The only thing was that she wasn’t around. As a matter of fact, no one was around. And as old churches can be, it was pitch black. We couldn’t see a thing. For the first time in my life I understood what they meant when they said, “I couldn’t see my hand in front of my face.”
My friend and I groped around in the darkness trying to make our way to the door. We thought we might be able to catch up to her in the parking lot. But when we got to the door we found that the parking lot was empty.
Upon witnessing this, my friend fell into a fit of hysteria. He immediately cried out, “Oh, she left us here! We’re Going TO DIE!”
My friend was in agony. But that was nothing compared to what Christ experienced. When he was forsaken, it was infinitely more painful.
The One Christ loved most; the One He most depended upon and trusted in had turned his benevolent face from Him.
We often speak of the physical torments that Christ endured. And what pains they were! He faced beatings, scourges, whips, not to mention all the horrors of crucifixion. But let’s not forget that none of those physical pains could compare to the terror he experienced in his soul. He was forsaken by the one with whom he enjoyed the sweetest communion.
Do recognize that whatever happens to your physic, is nothing compared to the loss of fellowship with God and to be denied his favorable presence. That is what makes hell so hellish.
And here on the cross, Christ expresses the pain of that hell he experienced in this lamentation.
But, you know what? The mystery and the agony expressed in this text are not the most difficult features of this text. They are not even the most poignant features of this text. You might be boggled by the mystery. You might weep at the agony. But, if anything affects you, it should be the affinity that is expressed in this text.
III. A cry of affinity
This is a prayer. It is a prayer to God; the one who has just cast him away. But though the Father has forsaken the Son, the Son has not forsaken the Father. Christ is just cast away as a reprobate. Though thrown into the outer darkness of hell away from the presence of the Father, Christ still clings to Him.
Do you hear the affinity with which he speaks? He calls him “My, God.” The word affinity denotes affection that one has for another. And that is what you have here. He cleaves to his Tormentor.
And you see in this that Christ, as the second Adam, corrects what happened in the Garden of Eden. After Adam had sinned, what did he do when he heard God coming? He ran from God. He hid himself so that he could not be found. So when God came looking for him He had to call out, “Adam, where are you?”
But not so with Christ. Christ would not run away. He would only run toward God in his darkest hour. Even though God would not listen to Him, He threw himself upon God. Even though he is forsaken by God, he would not let himself be separated from God.
In Psalm 73 Asaph cries out, “Whom have I in heaven but you, and there is nothing on earth that I desires besides you.” He expresses his yearning for God—that God is his sole desire. But Christ goes one step further than the psalmist. He cries, “Whom in hell have I but you and there is none that I desire even in the midst of your torments but you.” To put it simply, Christ demonstrates an affinity for God, even though God has none for him.
This is what lead one theologian to say that Christ was the perfect stranger. We know that He is not accepted in heaven. God will not welcome him because He has just been forsaken. But neither does he find a home in hell. When you think of hell, you must think of a place filled with people who absolutely hate God. They are like prisoners who, while being tormented, still find the tormenter utterly despicable.
But not so with Christ. On the cross—while experiencing the pains of hell, he cleaves to God. Though he cast into the deepest pit of hell, he knocks at the gate of heaven.
And this is why He is the Redeemer, not just because he endured the agony of hell, but also because He maintains this affinity for God in the midst of hell.
Yes, that is why He is our Redeemer. Though we have turned our backs on God, Christ, the perfect lamb, never turned his back on Him. He stayed true to God, even through the flames. And in doing this he became the perfect sacrifice. This is why the doors of heaven are open to us today. This is why we might be able to freely enter into Glory through Christ. Because Christ clung to his tormentor.
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Matt is blessed to be a husband, father, and pastor in Ashland, Ohio.