On the cross, Jesus cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34) Today, R.C. Sproul expounds upon the spiritual weightiness of these words and the immense sacrifice they represent.
Now, it’s tradition in the church during Holy Week to hold services commemorating Jesus’ death on Good Friday. And one of the common traditions is for the preacher to give exposition concerning the so-called “words of the cross,” those statements that are recorded for us in sacred Writ that Jesus uttered while being crucified. We don’t find all of them in any one Gospel; they are sprinkled and dispersed throughout the four Gospel accounts. But I call attention to this one because this one, more than any other, has caused so much bewilderment among people who read the account. Why would Jesus, in the midst of His death, cry out, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”
Now, we know that the words are borrowed directly from the text of Psalm 22, but it seems a strange thing that a man in the midst of this kind of passion and pain would resort to quoting poetry. And obviously, the cry, as it is uttered from the lips of Jesus, though it may certainly involve an identification with the lament that is recorded in Psalm 22, directs our attention behind and beneath that Psalm to its deeper significance.
When I was ordained into the ministry, as was the custom in our church, the person who is presented for ordination, who was called the “ordinand,” is given the privilege of selecting the ordination hymn. And the hymn I chose for my own ordination is a hymn that not many people know. And the name of it is called, “‘Tis Midnight and on Olive’s Brow.”
It is a haunting hymn that speaks of the agony that Jesus endured the night before His death, as He prayed drops of blood in the garden of Gethsemane when He asked God to let that cup be removed from Him. But as much as I love that hymn, there is a verse in it—or a portion of a verse—that has always disturbed me, and that I would like to have the editorial authority to revise it because, in a spirit of triumph, the hymn writer says at one point of this Jesus who is pleading now with the Father, it says that He is not forsaken by His God. And the reason I respond the way I do to that is that I think that those words miss the significance of this cry from the cross.
When Jesus said, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” beloved, He wasn’t simply feeling forsaken, but He was forsaken, and that forsakenness is dramatized in every tiny aspect of the narrative as we read it. Jesus was forsaken because He had to be forsaken, because in order for Him to satisfy the demands of the justice of God, He had to bear in Himself the full measure of divine punishment, the full measure of divine wrath, that the sins He bore for His people actually deserved.
In and of Himself, we know that Jesus was an innocent man, and we say with Pilate, “We find no fault in Him.” But after He voluntarily took the transfer of the sins of His people and became the Lamb of God for them—once God imputes the wickedness of all of the sins of God’s people to the person of Christ—for that moment in history, at that instant that Jesus was hanging on the cross, He was the most obscene thing in all of creation because there concentrated was the corporate wickedness of us all.
You see, when Jesus was shrinking from the cross, He wasn’t shrinking from nails and thorns and spears; He was shrinking from receiving in His person the punishment of hell, the fullness of divine forsakenness.