“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
These words of Jesus spoken on the cross must be some of the most gut-wrenching words in the entire Bible. They are so shockingly different than most anything else we hear Jesus speak during his ministry. Spoken by a man in unimaginable, excruciating pain, they reveal the agony Jesus is experiencing.
And indeed, Jesus has been forsaken. He has been forsaken by the religious and political systems of his day. He has been forsaken by his closest friends. And, as he bears the sin of humanity, he is, for the first time ever, forsaken by his Father. Jesus has become sin on our behalf. Because sin can never come into God’s presence, the One bearing sin is forsaken by God.
When Jesus utters these words, people mistake them as a cry to the prophet Elijah. Jewish custom suggests that Elijah might return to earth in a crisis to help those who are righteous. So the people hear Jesus calling for help. The irony is that not only do the people misunderstand Jesus’ words as referring to Elijah, they do not see that they are the ones needing help. And the One dying on the cross is doing so to help, to rescue the unsuspecting people around him.
Did you notice that while all this is happening, an eerie darkness has fallen over the land for three hours? It’s as though creation itself cannot bear to watch. The literal darkness parallels the darkness of the forsakenness being experienced on the cross.
But, digging deeper, it turns out that forsakenness is not the end of the story. Yes, Easter is coming in the next chapter, but there is a glimmer of hope already in Jesus’ words on the cross. The words Jesus says do not just come off the cuff. Jesus is quoting Psalm 22. It’s a psalm of lament, a psalm expressing pain over things going terribly wrong. So terribly wrong that the poet feels like he has been forsaken by God. However, like most psalms of lament, Psalm 22 moves from expressions of pain to declarations of confidence in God’s deliverance. If Jesus could have, I think he would have recited the entire psalm. By quoting its opening line, yes, he describes his pain, but he is also referencing the entire psalm which also includes these lines:
…He has not despised or scorned
the suffering of the afflicted one;
he has not hidden his face from him
but has listened to his cry for help…
All the ends of the earth
will remember and turn to the Lord,
and all the families of the nations
will bow down before him.
In a surprising way, the words of Psalm 22 on the lips of Jesus on the cross offer us hope. They help us see beyond the unjust suffering Jesus is experiencing to hear instead an expression of faith in the God who listens to cries for help and comes to rescue. That means forsakenness is not the last word in Psalm 22 nor for Jesus.
The Gospel records that Jesus speaks these words during the third hour of darkness. That means he speaks them as the darkness is beginning to break and the sky is lighting up again. The growing light reflects how Jesus’ faith in God is not misplaced. Like the darkness, the forsakenness has an ending, and God’s glory and grace will be revealed through the death and resurrection of his Son.
In the face of brokenness in the world and brokenness in my own life, my faith in God is also not misplaced. I find hope in knowing and experiencing the deep love of the Father for us, vast beyond all measure, that he should give his only Son to make a wretch – you and me – his treasure.