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The Fourth Word:
My God, Why Have You Forsaken Me?

April 7, 2020 • Life for Leaders

At three o’clock Jesus cried out with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

Mark 15:34 (NRSV)

 

Today’s devotion is the fourth in a Life for Leaders series that is focusing on the seven last words of Christ from the cross. If you missed the previous entries in this series, you can find them here: First Word; Second Word; Third Word.

Now, let’s turn to Mark 15:34, where we read, “My God, my God, what have you forsaken me?” As Jesus was dying on the cross, he echoed the beginning of Psalm 22, which reads:

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning?
O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer;
and by night, but find no rest (Psalm 22:1-2).

In the words of the psalmist Jesus found a way to express the deep cry of his heart: Why had God forsaken, or, as other translations say, “abandoned” him? Why did Jesus’s Father turn his back on his Son in his moment of greatest agony?

This side of Heaven, we will never fully know what Jesus was experiencing at this moment. Was he quoting from Psalm 22 because, in the mystery of his incarnational suffering, Jesus didn’t know why God had abandoned him? Or was his cry not so much a question as an expression of profound agony? Or was it both?

What we do know is that, on the cross, Jesus entered into the Hell of separation from God. The Father abandoned him because Jesus took upon himself the penalty for our sins. In that excruciating moment, Jesus experienced something far more horrible than physical pain. The beloved Son of God knew what it was like to be rejected by the Father. As we read in 2 Corinthians 5:21, “For our sake [God] made [Christ] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

I can write these words. I can say, truly, that the Father abandoned the Son for our sake, for the salvation of the world. But can I really grasp the mystery and the majesty of this truth?

The brilliant fifth-century theologian, Augustine of Hippo, once wrote this about the fourth word of Christ: “In his most compassionate humanity and through his servant form we may now learn what is to be despised in this life and what is to be hoped for in eternity. In that very passion in which his proud enemies seemed most triumphant, he took on the speech of our infirmity, in which ‘our sinful nature was crucified with him’ that the body of sin might be destroyed, and said: ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ . . . Thus the Psalm begins, which was sung so long ago, in prophecy of his passion and the revelation of the grace which he brought to raise up his faithful and set them free” (Augustine, “Letter 140 to Honoratus,” 5).

Yet, no matter how many brilliant theologians we read and how much we meditate upon the fourth word of Jesus, we will never fully grasp the truth, horror, and wonder of what Jesus experienced on the cross. As Martin Luther once said, “God forsaking God. Who can understand it?” Yet even our minuscule grasp of this reality calls us to confession, humility, awe, worship, and adoration.

The fourth word of Jesus from the cross discloses a sense of hope when we remember the whole psalm from which it comes. Psalm 22 does indeed begin with desperation: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning?” (Psalm 22:1). The psalm writer struggles with what feels like God’s complete absence during his suffering. But, in time, the psalmist comes to a deeper experience of God’s gracious presence: “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” (Psalm 22:24). Thus, the psalmist comes to praise the Lord who “rules over the nations” (Psalm 22:28). Jesus chose Psalm 22, not only because of its gut-wrenching cry of anguish, but also because it bears witness to Jesus’s own conviction that, somehow, the Father will exonerate his Son. The abandonment that Jesus experienced on the cross was not permanent. Something else was coming. One who knows Psalm 22 hears in the fourth word of Jesus a subtle allusion to what will happen on Sunday morning after Good Friday has passed.

Something to Think About:

What does this “word” from the cross mean to you?

Have you ever felt forsaken by God? When? Why?

In the difficult times in which we find ourselves, do you sense God’s presence? Or does it feel more like God has abandoned you?

Something to Do:

Let me encourage you to read all of Psalm 22. With this psalm in mind, read and reflect on Mark 15:33-34.

Prayer:

O Lord Jesus, though I will never fully grasp the horror and wonder of your abandonment by the Father, every time I read this “word,” I am overwhelmed with gratitude. How can I ever thank you for what you suffered for me? What can I do but offer myself to you in gratitude and praise? Thank you, dear Lord, for what you suffered. Thank you for taking my place. Thank you for being forsaken by the Father so that I might never know what that’s like. How amazing you are, dear Lord!

When I survey the wondrous cross,
On which the Prince of glory died,
My richest gain I count but loss,
And pour contempt on all my pride.

Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast,
Save in the death of Christ my God;
All the vain things that charm me most,
I sacrifice them to his blood.

See, from his head, his hands, his feet,
Sorrow and love flow mingled down;
Did e’er such love and sorrow meet,
Or thorns compose so rich a crown.

Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were a present far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all. Amen.

“When I Survey the Wondrous Cross” by Isaac Watts (1707). Public domain.

You can access all of our Life for Leaders devotions HERE. You can also learn more about the De Pree Center and its resources HERE.

Explore more at the Theology of Work Project online
commentary:
The Cross and Resurrection (Mark 14:32-16:8)

2 thoughts on “The Fourth Word:
My God, Why Have You Forsaken Me?

  1. JONATHAN RUSSELL says:

    Thanks for the good word today, Mark. Certainly, theologians have different takes on the meaning of this utterance, but I like the idea that Christ was simply referencing this messianic psalm as being fulfilled before all to see. Similar to when we might say, the first line of a song– your mind goes immediately to the rest of the verse (When I in awesome wonder…; or on a hill far away… we are so familiar with the words we complete the rest) For Christ, perhaps by mentioning the familiar line, he hoped the rest of us would finish the verse and remember. . .

    13 Roaring lions that tear their prey
    open their mouths wide against me.
    14 I am poured out like water,
    and all my bones are out of joint.
    My heart has turned to wax;
    it has melted within me.
    15 My mouth is dried up like a potsherd,
    and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth;
    you lay me in the dust of death.

    16 Dogs surround me,
    a pack of villains encircles me;
    they pierce my hands and my feet.
    17 All my bones are on display;
    people stare and gloat over me.
    18 They divide my clothes among them
    and cast lots for my garment.

    19 But you, Lord, do not be far from me.
    You are my strength; come quickly to help me.
    . . .

    24 For 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.

    25 From you comes the theme of my praise in the great assembly;
    before those who fear you I will fulfill my vows.
    26 The poor will eat and be satisfied;
    those who seek the Lord will praise him—
    may your hearts live forever!

    27 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,
    28 for dominion belongs to the Lord
    and he rules over the nations.

    29 All the rich of the earth will feast and worship;
    all who go down to the dust will kneel before him—
    those who cannot keep themselves alive.
    30 Posterity will serve him;
    future generations will be told about the Lord.
    31 They will proclaim his righteousness,
    declaring to a people yet unborn:
    He has done it!

    What a powerful fulfillment reminder in “real-time”. HE HAS DONE IT! HALLELUJAH.

    • Mark Roberts says:

      Jonathan, thanks for including much more of Psalm 22. This is surely part of what Jesus intended when quoting from the first verse. Blessings to you!

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