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“Questions at the Cross: My God, My God, Why Have You Forsaken Me?”
Matthew 27:46


Pastor Kevin Vogts
Holy Cross Lutheran Church
Dakota Dunes, South Dakota
Lent Service VI—March 20, 2013

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

Tonight [in our sermon series “Questions at the Cross”] we once again journey to Jerusalem, this time to meditate on the only QUESTION from [question actually FROM] the cross, uttered by Jesus as he hung there dying, as recorded in the 27th chapter of Matthew.

Matthew first gives this question as it was actually spoken by Jesus, in the everyday language of Aramaic: “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?”  Then Matthew explains for us what these words mean: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

Each year during Lent we hear those words, meditate on those words, and ask ourselves: “What does that mean?  What does it mean for ME that Jesus was forsaken by God?”

When Jesus asked the only question from the cross, he was quoting from Psalm 22, the psalm we read a few moments ago.  Psalm 22 was written hundreds of years before the crucifixion of Christ.  But, it is an amazingly detailed prediction, a prophecy of the extreme agony the Savior would suffer on the cross.

Verses 7 and 8 of Psalm 22 foretell the crowd around the cross, taunting Jesus even while he is dying:

“All who see me mock me; they hurl insults, shaking their heads: ‘He trusts in the Lord; let the Lord rescue him. Let him deliver him, since he delights in him.’”

Verses 14 and 15 describe the physical torture of crucifixion, the bones yanked out of joint, the heart pounding under great stress, the body dehydrated by a high fever:

“I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint. My heart has turned to wax; it has melted away within me.  My strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth.”

Verses 16 and 18 prophesied the nails driven through the Savior’s hands and feet, and his clothing divided among the soldiers by casting lots:

“They have pierced my hands and my feet. . .  They divide my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing.”

Hundreds of years before the fact, Psalm 22 describes in detail these events of our Savior’s suffering.  But, the greatest suffering of all came when Jesus cried out the only question from the cross, the first verse of Psalm 22:

“Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?”; “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

Why? Why did Jesus suffer and die? Why was he forsaken by God? Not because he was a sinner. Not to pay the penalty for any wrong he had done. Jesus Christ was without sin.  He was completely innocent of any wrongdoing. As the thief on cross next to Jesus said: “We are getting what our deeds deserve, but this man has done nothing wrong.”  The centurion carrying out Jesus’ crucifixion exclaimed: “Surely this was a righteous man.” Even Pontius Pilate declared: “What crime has this man committed? I have found in him no grounds for the death penalty.” 

Then why?  Why did he suffer and die?  Why was he forsaken by God? He gave himself for us, as a sacrifice for our sin. As the Apostle John says, “He appeared to take away our sins, and in him is no sin.”  He paid the penalty for all the wrongs we have done. He even suffered for us the ultimate torture—the pain of being forsaken by God. 

To be forsaken by God is to be separated from God on account of sin. That is what hell actually is: Separation from God for eternity on account of sin. Jesus Christ literally went through hell as he hung on the cross, bearing alone the guilt and sin of the whole world.  Sin so black, guilt so ugly, that God the Father could not look upon his Son.

The ultimate punishment for sin is separation from God.  For Jesus Christ to completely suffer in our place the punishment that our sins deserved, he had to endure for us even the pain of hell—the pain of separation from God.  Of course, Jesus himself is God, the second person of the Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Exactly how God himself was at the same time forsaken by God is a mystery we don’t understand. But, we do know this: It did happen, Jesus did suffer for us the punishment of hell, separation from God, at that moment on Good Friday when he cried out from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

On Easter morning he rose from the dead. That is God’s way of telling the world, “I have accepted the sacrifice of my Son. For a time he was forsaken by me, for your sake, so that your punishment would be paid in full by him. Now he is risen from the dead, winning for you the battle over sin, death and the devil.”

The Resurrection of Jesus means that the sins of the whole world are all forgiven. They are all forgiven because the punishment for sin has already been suffered, the price for sin has already been paid in full by the Savior of the world. Everything that had to be done to appease God’s wrath has been accomplished by Jesus. He suffered in your place, even to the point of suffering the greatest agony of all—separation from God, the torment of hell.

The Roman philosopher Seneca lived at about the same time as Jesus.  This is what Seneca wrote about crucifixion, which was a common practice in the Roman world:  “Can any man be found willing to be fastened to the accursed tree?  Can any man be found who would waste away in pain, dying limb by limb, losing his life drop by drop?”*  Seneca didn’t know it, but a thousand miles away in the Roman province of Palestine there was indeed found a man willing to be nailed to the accursed tree, willing to waste away in pain, dying limb by limb, losing his life drop by drop.  There was indeed found a man willing to literally go through hell for you, on the cross.  As Jesus said, “No one takes my life from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. . .  For the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

What does it mean for YOU that Jesus was forsaken by God?  It means you will never be punished by God for your sins. You will never be separated from God on account of your guilt. You will not be condemned to hell, because Jesus Christ already went through hell for you, on the cross.  Because Jesus was forsaken by God, you never will be.  Because Jesus suffered on the cross the torment of hell, you will enjoy forever the bliss of heaven.

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”   Why? For YOU, for your salvation.

Amen.

*Freely quoted from Dale Meyer, “Can Anyone Be Found?” The Lutheran Layman, April, 1996, p. 2.  Meyer is quoting from Martin Hengel, Crucifixion (Fortress, 1977).

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