Between Two Thieves: "My God My God..."
"My God My God why have you forsaken me"
In this post we will stare directly at the cross as we will hear Jesus cry out “My God My God why have you forsaken me?” But, in order for us to get there and to understand the weight of these words we me must begin in another scene that happens just before Jesus' crying out these words.
I am going to make one point about this phrase, which is considered to be by some, the most significant words ever uttered by a man. I believe this is true. However, this is not the first time these words were used. In fact Jesus is quoting a Psalm of David. Psalm 22:1 to be exact. With reference to the entire Psalm as it's full meaning.
I could make this post really short by saying these words are simply the fulfillment of a trinitarian covenant made between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Jesus would live a perfect life of obedience, die a gruesome death, as if disobedient. After which, God the Father would give to Jesus, as a gift, all of the people that he died for. That's a crazy thought to think about.
The OT can be summarized as promise made. God makes the promise. And the NT would then be the equivalent of promise kept. But in order for us to begin to understand more deeply that Jesus’ death was the fulfillment of a promise made, we must go to a place in between promise made and promise kept. We begin at the garden of Gethsemane where the promise is simply dreaded
39 And he came out and went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives, and the disciples followed him. 40 And when he came to the place, he said to them, "Pray that you may not enter into temptation." 41And he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed, 42saying, "Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done." 43And there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him. 44And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground. 45And when he rose from prayer, he came to the disciples and found them sleeping for sorrow, 46and he said to them, "Why are you sleeping? Rise and pray that you may not enter into temptation."
Our familiarity with this story can make us miss an amazingly important part of scripture. This scene can help us understand why Jesus will shortly cry out to God "Why have you forsaken me?" What makes this scene strange is that throughout Jesus’ life we see nothing but boldness. He made it clear that he was on the mission. Everything he said and did was connected to His relationship with the Father. Even when he was a child you could see this.
48And when his parents saw him, they were astonished. And his mother said to him, "Son, why have you treated us so? Behold, your father and I have been searching for you in great distress." 49And he said to them, "Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?"
Jesus says this in front of Joseph his dad. In the unique circumstances surrounding his death and life, he makes it clear he was on the mission. Throughout the gospels we see nothing but a 30-33 year old man, rebuking religious leaders, casting out demons, healing the blind and the deaf. We see him even extending forgiveness of sin to people. We see nothing but a bold man proclaiming his mission that he will die and three days later rise again.
In John 10 he says I lay down my life as the good shepherd. This was all Jesus talked about. Christ knew he was the fulfillment to receive the wrath of God. Before anyone else knew that Isaiah 53 was walking among them Jesus knew that he would be dying before them. In Luke 9:22 he says, saying, "The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised."
He knew this.
He rebuked Peter, calling him Satan, just for saying he wasn’t going to die. Jesus knew what his mission was. He knew it was to die and rise from grave and he was confident that he was doing the will of the father from start to finish. That is, until we get to the garden of Gethsemane., and now we see a different Jesus.
The promise that was made in the OT was about to take place and it was so dreadful that even this bold messiah cringed at the reality that was just moments away. In Luke 23:37 Jesus quotes Isaiah 53 acknowledging that he was the one Isaiah is speaking of. 37 "For I tell you that this Scripture must be fulfilled in me: 'And he was numbered with the transgressors.' For what is written about me has its fulfillment." He knew he was the fulfillment, and yet here is he at the garden asking that the cup (God's wrath) be removed from him.
All that Jesus was supposed to do in his earthly ministry was coming to an end. The divine agreement was that the savior would live a perfect life and obey God fully, but that’s not where it ended. It would end with him receiving the full wrath of God. It is in these moments, when his soul is so grieved, that we would see Jesus appearing to be dependent on the disciples.
All other times Jesus was the one being brave…
However, in this moment, Jesus essentially says to them, I need you. Stay awake and pray. It's almost as if the reality of being identified with sin for the first and only time, thus receiving the full weight of God's wrath, had settled in.
And if anyone knows how serious the wrath of god is, who better but God himself? He knows the extent of the wrath of God. And he knows that it is going to be unbearable, so he is on his knees, in utter agony, asking for the cup to be taken from him. Luke tells that his drops were like blood as he anticipates the fulfillment of the wrath that is to come.
The problem is, these drops of blood, in Luke 22, are insufficient. They cannot sustain nor prevent the wrath of God. They are simply the precursor to the main event. These drops of blood, that reveal the anguish in Jesus' soul, cannot and will not satisfy the wrath of a holy God. It simply is just not enough blood. In the OT, the priest would sprinkle the blood of the sacrificial lamb on the altar to atone for the sins of God's people. But Jesus was no ordinary lamb, so the mere prinkling of blood was not enough. For Hebrews 10:4-5 tells us "4 For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. 5 Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said, "Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body have you prepared for me;
So the Father ignores the prayer of His son Jesus for probably the first and only time. Or better, he says no. If for no other reason, because those drops of blood would not be the blood drops required to redeem his I eople. This scene and these blood drops merely set the stage for the Crucifixion.
The Cross (Mark 15)
It was important to understand the reality of his agony in the garden for us to appreciate Jesus saying "My God, My God why have you forsaken me?"
The strengthening of the angel in the garden must’ve been helpful because we get to mark 15:23 "And they offered him wine mixed with myrrh, but he did not take it. And they crucified him."
Roman soldiers would offer a narcotic to numb the pain. This was so the person being crucified wouldn’t feel the shock of sharp pain racing through the nerve endings. Everyone took that pain killer to ease the pain but Jesus refuses. Had he taken it, he would not experience the full wrath of God for sins. He did not and could not.
So here is Jesus, back ripped open, and in extreme physical pain. The physical pain was not what he dreaded though. What he dreaded was we can't express or understand in mere words. There is no description fit to explain the relationship with the Father. It is far more unique than we being his sons and daughters.
How do you capture that? How do we understand what he was feeing? No one-can bcuz no ever experienced the wrath in this way. God himself, in the flesh, dreaded the wrath of God. It was the severest wrath that has ever taken place. And the best way for us to understand how severe is to compare the wraths of God's judgment for sin.
In Genesis 6:5-8 "5 The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. 6 And the LORD regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. 7 So the LORD said, "I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens, for I am sorry that I have made them." But Noah found favor in the eyes of the LORD."
This story is one of the most familiar stories in scripture, so I'll spare you the play by play and just get right to the point. In the greatest demonstration of God's wrath, recorded in the OT, God destroys all human beings on the whole earth except Noah, his three sons, and their wives. Not to mention only two of every animal was spared, meaning a lot more were killed.
If we step back and think about that reality it should startle us. Especially if we've seen footage of Hurricane Katrina or the Tsunami, or even some Hollywood movie that shows water annihilation. It is a breath taking thought. Countless people dead. Drowned in the pleasures of sin, experiencing God's wrath. Can you imagine the many bodies floating, decaying, bleeding, and diseased all around the Ark, as a demonstration of God's wrath?
But there was one more thing about this scene that is shocking. It is also incomplete. Despite how devastating it was, one thing it was not was full. See, Noah and his family were spared. Their sins were not judged in the flood. So, in essence, the judgment of God, though devastating, was incomplete. The sins of the whole world weren't atoned for, so even though the flood presents us a comprehensive picture of wrath, it does not measure up to the full wrath of God poured out on Jesus at the cross.
Somehow, those six hours that Jesus hung on the cross, were more severe than God flooding the entire world, killing just about everything and everyone in it. There was no sin that wasn't punished on the cross. There was no one righteousness enough to avoid this judgment. There are no exceptions. Jesus is experiencing the full wrath of God on the cross. This is why he hesitated in the Garden of Gethsemane. This is why he cried out in agony in the cross. This judgment is significant. Interesting in contrast is that we don't read that the world got dark in the flood. But at the cross, this darkness, though it was broad daylight, was significant.
33And when the sixth hour had come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour. 34And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, "Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?" which means, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"
Darkness throughout scripture often meant severe judgment. Pharaoh, Mt. Sinai, outer darkness…darkness means the judgment of God has come. Scripture make it clear that Jesus was no ordinary man, but he was also experiencing no ordinary judgment.
It's almost as if darkness covered everything because God wanted it to be known that the implications of his death cover the sins of the entire world, since in fact all of sin is being judged. In the original language (Greek) land was translated earth, so the reason the darkness was covering the whole land may be that God is holding responsible more than the Jews for Jesus’ death. the world is responsible for this death and accountable for their life.
God was keeping his promise
Why did Jesus cry this out? Why not, "This is painful? Why, "My God, My God?" This was the divine agreement. Jesus would be abandoned, rejected, wounded, and crushed by the Father. Jesus was fulfilling scripture. But in order to fulfill it he must also be it. As well, being the son of David, he fulfills even David's feelings of despair. In the most literal sense possible, completing the phrase like father like son.
In that experience of the unbearable wrath of God Psalm 22 captures what Jesus is experiencing. This is a Psalm written by David a righteous man that feels abandoned by God. And in this Psalm, there are 3 verses that highlight the crucifixion account.
1My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning? 2O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest. 23Yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel. 4In you our fathers trusted; they trusted, and you delivered them. 5To you they cried and were rescued; in you they trusted and were not put to shame. 6But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by mankind and despised by the people. 7All who see me mock me; they make mouths at me; they wag their heads; 8 "He trusts in the LORD; let him deliver him; let him rescue him, for he delights in him!"
There are striking similarities between David and Jesus.
But there is also a huge difference between David and Jesus, his Son whom is his descendant, promised by God to rule forever. When Jesus says these words, he was abandoned by God. David, the one who actually wrote Psalm 22, should be abandoned but it is Jesus who is actually reject by God.
Jesus is experiencing what David on his worst day could not. How significant the cross is. Six hours were sufficient enough to extend forgiveness to an untold number of people. Thank you Lord!