“My God, My God, Why Have You Forsaken Me?”

Posted: March 26, 2017 in Uncategorized

This is our fourth week of doing sermons based on Adam Hamilton’s book, “Final Words from the Cross”.  When I first saw the title to this chapter, “My God, My God, Why Have You Forsaken Me”, I wondered how it could possibly result in a positive message, but Rev. Hamilton came up with a perspective that I found to be completely powerful and uplifting.  The more I thought about it, the more I realized that it was a perspective that everyone needed to hear.  More than ever, I hope that today’s message, inspired by this book, will touch your heart and give you hope.finalwords

Between the four Gospels, there are a total of 7 statements made by Jesus from the cross.  For many today’s statement is the most moving, disturbing and powerfully haunting of the seven: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  The book says that “These words reflect not only the darkness of the horrific experience Jesus endured, but also the darkness within those who surrounded Jesus at the cross.”  Before Jesus made this statement, he had been tortured by the Roman soldiers, mocked and ridiculed by the crowd, insulted by the religious leaders and even taunted by the thieves being crucified with him.  This was more than just death by crucifixion … everyone seemed intent on destroying him, dehumanizing him and stripping him of any dignity.  It would be easy to say that the people involved were just bad people, but the ones behind the execution and much of the humiliation were the religious leaders … the priests and the scribes.  These were deeply committed Jews, the most pious and holy people of the day, people who studied and memorized the scriptures.  And the passersby?  They were Jews on their way to celebrate the Passover.  They would be praising God and thanking him for saving their ancestors, and then spewing hurtful words and hatred at Jesus. It has been said that in the trial and execution of Jesus, it was not really Jesus on trial, but humanity.  The rise of evil within the crowd and the passersby was the evidence of something wrong with humanity as a whole.  It wasn’t just first century Jews.  This scene is designed to hold a mirror to our own souls. We are as guilty as they were and we still inflict pain on others.  We need to confront our affinity for hurtfulness and strive to love others as Jesus challenged us to do.

“The cry ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” is sometimes called the cry of dereliction or the cry of abandonment.  In that moment, as He prayed those words, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Savior of the world, felt abandoned or forsaken by God.”  This is hard for us to understand since we believe that Jesus and God are one. It’s important for us to know that Jesus, Son of God was actually experiencing the feeling of being abandoned by God,  a feeling that every one of us experiences at some point in our lives.  He knew what it felt like to be left alone in the depth of pain and despair.  He knew what it felt like to be hopeless.  Have you ever been in that place?  I know I have.  “We have all felt abandoned by God at some time in our lives – when someone we love dies, when we find ourselves facing a battle we never wanted to face, when we’ve been humiliated and made to feel small.  There are a thousand other ways we might experience a sense of being forsaken by God – times when God is conspicuously silent and absent.  In those times we can pray to Jesus Christ, because he knows what we are experiencing and feeling.  We can pray to the One who sympathizes with us in that moment while, at the same time, saying to us, ‘God didn’t forsake me and He has not forsaken you.’”

Jesus’ words reveal that in the moment when he felt abandoned and forsaken by God, he chose to pray.  What we call the cry of dereliction is actually the first verse of a psalm that Jesus must have been praying from the cross.  The typical human response to tough times is to become disappointed with God.  We may feel abandoned by God, so we respond by abandoning him.  But Jesus didn’t do that.  Even though he was questioning God – “My God, my God why have you forsaken me?” – he was still praying.  Questioning God in prayer is an act of faith, even when we are confused about what is happening.  Actually Jesus was doing more than praying, he was worshiping.  The words he spoke are the first few words of Psalm 22, a scripture that most of the Jews in Jesus’ day would have known.  Those Jews standing around the cross would have been familiar with that Psalm.  They would have heard him speak the first lines, and they would have been able to complete the rest in their minds.  If you overheard someone say “I pledge allegiance to the flag …” the rest of the words would come to you naturally.  Jesus’ use of the phrase, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” tells us that he was thinking of and praying Psalm 22.  David wrote this psalm, describing a time when he was suffering at the hands of his enemies.  The words parallel what Jesus was experiencing on the cross.  But it is not a song of despair – it begins darkly, but throughout it affirms the psalmist’s trust in God.  All of the Jews around the cross would have known that Psalm 22 ends not in a cry of dereliction, but in a note of confidence that God had not abandoned the psalmist.  Listen to verse 24: “For he did not despise or abhor the affliction of the afflicted; he did not hide his face from me, but heard when I cried to him.”  In the book, Rev. Hamilton poses the question, “Is it possible that Jesus chose to pray the opening words of Psalm 22 as he suffered on the cross to point not only to his pain and despair but also to his trust that God had, in fact heard him and would deliver him?”

“When we feel abandoned by God, we, too, must choose to trust that God has not really forsaken us.  We must trust that God will not hide his face from us, and that God hears us when we pray.  And that leads us to confidence in a future yet unseen.  So when Jesus suffered there on the cross, preparing for his imminent death and burial, he likely recounted in his mind the final verses of Psalm 22: ‘Before him shall bow all who go down to the dust, and I shall live for him.’  These words pointed to the confident hope that death would not be the end for the psalmist, death would not be the end for Jesus and death would certainly not be the end for the gospel, for as the psalmist noted with confidence, ‘Future generations will be told about the Lord and proclaim his deliverance to a people yet unborn.’”

The book points to three things we are meant to remember when we hear Jesus praying from the cross “My God, my God why have you forsaken me?”  First, we are meant to find ourselves in the crowd among the religious people who were taunting Jesus.  We’re meant to recognize the darkness that lurks within each of us and the ease with which even the most devout and religious people can be swayed to treat others with cruelty and hate.

Second, we are meant to understand the costliness of God’s grace.  Jesus’ pain was not just physical; it was also psychological and spiritual.  The price of our salvation was steep and the wounds by which we are healed cut deep.

Finally, we remember that the one to whom we pray in our darkest hour knew firsthand the feelings of hopelessness, doubt and despair.  Jesus himself cried out to the heavens “Why?”  Yet as he made this cry, he was using the words of a psalm that points to God’s ultimate deliverance.

When you face the worst that life can throw at you, consider these words from Deuteronomy 31:6, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.”  And remember: At your lowest, God is your hope; at your weakest, God is your strength; when you are feeling your worst pain, God is your comfort.  Amen.

 

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