Jesus Forsaken by God

Mark 15:34

Alan Lewis
Elon, North Carolina
April 2010

On Good Friday, we remembered the sufferings and death of Christ.  Crucifixion was one of the most barbaric forms of punishment in the ancient world. Flavius Josephus, the Jewish historian, described crucifixion as “the most wretched of deaths.” It was viewed with such horror that, Seneca wrote that suicide was preferable to crucifixion.

Jesus was on the cross for six hours. We know that because Mark tells us that he began to be crucified at the third hour (15:26) and he died just after the ninth hour (15:34). That is six hours but those six hours can be divided into two parts.

The first three hours were in the morning from nine to twelve noon. The second three hours were in the afternoon from noon to three PM. The first three hours were in the day light. The last three hours were in darkness. At noon when the Sun normally shines its brightest stopped shinning. There was darkness all over the land.

In the first three hours, the focus is on Jesus enduring THE WRATH OF MAN, how he suffered at the hands of man. That is when we see the mocking of Jesus, casting lots for his clothes, asking if he is the Messiah to come down from the cross (Mark 15:26-31; Matthew 27:32-44).

In the second three hours, the focus is on Jesus enduring THE WRATH OF GOD, how He suffered at the hands of God. Christ’s biggest suffering on the cross was not at the hands of men but at the hands of God. That is what the movie “The Passion of the Christ” could not show.

Seven Powerful Words of Jesus

They are called “The Seven Words” by Christians but they are really seven sentences, not seven words.  The first three sayings were given in the first three hours on the cross. The first three were words of love. They are followed by two words of suffering and two words of victory.

1. The First Word was a WORD OF FORGIVENESS.

When they came to the place called the Skull, they crucified him there, along with the criminals—one on his right, the other on his left. 34 Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” And they divided up his clothes by casting lots. (Luke 23:33-34 NIV)

Jesus spoke that word as the Son speaking to His Father.  It was a word of forgiveness for his ENEMIES, a word for those who did not deserve it. His first words after being nailed to a cross were words of forgiveness.  Technically, this is not forgiveness but a prayer for forgiveness.

Jesus did not say, “I forgive you.”  He did not say, “Your sins are forgiven you,” even though the Son of Man had authority on earth to forgive sins (Mark 2:10).  If Jesus did that and unconditionally forgave them, they would not need to repent or believe to be saved.  At Pentecost, Peter spoke to people and accused them of crucifying their Messiah.  He told them to repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of their sins (Acts 2:38).

It is not a statement of forgiveness but a prayer and this prayer was answered on the Day of Pentecost.  We can learn from what Jesus does here by this prayer.  Jesus prays that they would be forgiven.  He actually prays for his murderers. These were words spoken from the cross and not twenty years later. These were words spoken in excruciating pain. Jesus died with a prayer of forgiveness. Jesus thought of others in his time of greatest need.

2. The Second Word was a WORD OF SALVATION.

One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence?

We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”  (Luke 23:39-43 NIV)

This was a word of salvation to the repentant thief. Jesus spoke that word as the Savior.  It was a word of prophecy.  It was a PROMISE as well as a PREDICTION.  It was a promise of heaven given to a convicted felon who was dying.  It was completely undeserved.  This man had done nothing to merit paradise.  It was a word of complete grace.

3. The Third Word was a WORD OF COMPASSION.

When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, “Woman, here is your son,” 27 and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home. (John 19:26-27 NIV).

Jesus spoke that word as a Man.  This saying was spoken to both Mary his mother and John his disciple.  He spoke a word of compassion to his mother. He expressed concern for his mom after he died and wanted to make sure that she was taken care of. He provides a caregiver for his mother before he dies.  Jesus is obeying the Fifth Commandment.

4. The Fourth Word was a WORD OF ANGUISH.

And at three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a LOUD voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34 NIV).  The second three hours emphasizes the work of atonement.  It focuses on Jesus bearing the sins of the world.  Jesus experienced separation from God for the first time ever.  This was not a word of despair, as we will see, but a word of anguish.

5. The Fifth Word was a WORD OF PAIN.

Later, knowing that everything had now been finished, and so that Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.” (John 19:28 NIV).  The fourth and fifth words are words of pain. “My God, my God why have you forsaken me” deals with emotional and spiritual pain.  “I thirst” deals with physical pain.

Jesus does not complain about his scourging.  He does not complain about the nails in his wrist or feet.  He does not complain about the crown of thorns.

His only complaint was about being thirsty and he did that so the Scripture would be fulfilled.  It is the one word that shows the humanity of Jesus more than the others.  The last time he had a drink was before his crucifixion.

6. The Sixth Word was a WORD OF ACCOMPLISHMENT.

A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus’ lips. When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. (John 19:28-30 NIV).

Jesus completed the mission God gave Him to do.  The debt to sin was fully paid.  “It is finished” was a shout of triumph.  He does not say, “I am finished.”  He says, “It is finished.”

7. The Seventh Word was a WORD OF SUBMISSION.

Jesus called out with a LOUD voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” When he had said this, he breathed his last. (Luke 23:46 NIV).  The last two words were spoken second before he died.  The words “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit” were the last words Jesus spoke before he died, as Jesus surrenders to the will of the father in His last breath.

What I would like to focus on this evening is the fourth saying of Jesus on the cross – “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Ever since I became a Christian, this saying has always fascinated me. What does it mean? I always assumed that we will just never know what that means. It is one of the great mysteries of the Bible.

Even the great Martin Luther said of this saying, “God forsaken of God, Who can understand it?” He’s absolutely right but tonight, we want to try to shed some light on this. What did He mean?  It is the most mysterious and perhaps misunderstood of the seven sayings of Jesus on the cross.

The Most Important Saying of Jesus on the Cross

The Fourth Word is different from the other six. It was accompanied by total darkness. “From noon until three in the afternoon darkness came over all the land” (Matthew 27:45 NIV).   The darkness came when the Sun normally shines the brightest.  It was not gradual but sudden.  As one person put it, “It was just like someone turned out the lights.”  It also covered the whole land.

The saying was also spoken in a loud voice.  Most people when they are about to die speak in a whisper. Jesus has been on the cross for six hours with nails through his hands and feet. He is being asphyxiated. He is dehydrated. He is in incredible pain. He is just about ready to die and he says this in a loud voice.  Several things make this saying unique.

1) It is the ONLY saying of Christ on the cross that is repeated.

All of the other sayings are mentioned only once. Apparently, this one was important enough to repeat.

2) It is the ONLY saying of Christ mentioned in three languages.

Mark records the saying in Aramaic – Eloi, Eloi (my God), lema (why) sabachthani? (have you forsaken me). Matthew records a mixture of both Hebrew (Eli, Eli) and Aramaic (lema sabachthani) and both have a Greek translation for the people who do not know Aramaic or Hebrew.

Why did they record the words in Aramaic? Because that was the language Jesus spoke. Jesus didn’t speak English. Aramaic was his native tongue. That is why the Passion of the Christ is in Aramaic.

There are many Aramaic words in the NT (raca, mammon, Rabboni, Gologotha, maranatha, Gethsemane, Cephas). When we hear the words in Aramaic, it puts us right there at the foot of the cross, so we can hear the actual words coming out of his mouth.

3) It is the ONLY saying of Jesus on the cross that is found in two Gospels.

By reading all of the Gospels, we know that Jesus said seven sayings on the cross but if we only read Matthew or Mark, we would think this was his only saying on the cross, because this was the only one they record,  Mark was the first Gospel to be written.

None of the Gospels record all seven sayings. Matthew and Mark have only one saying (Matthew 27:46; Mark 15:34). Apparently, they thought this was the most important saying of all seven. Luke mentions three other sayings (23:34, 43, 46) and John (19:26-27, 28, 30) mentions three other sayings.

Meaning of this Saying

What did Jesus mean when he said, “My God, my God, why have you FORSAKEN me? Was Jesus really forsaken? He was rejected by the nation and forsaken by his followers, his family and friends. Two of his disciples turned on his. Peter denied him. Judas betrayed him. At the time of his arrest, all his disciples deserted him and ran away (Mark 14:50).

But Jesus does not say, “My God, my God, why have THEY forsaken me? He says, “My God, my God, why have YOU forsaken me? Did God really forsake Jesus on the cross? Yes. He didn’t just think he was forsaken or feel forsaken. He was forsaken. Jesus said he was forsaken. He never lied.

Notice, while God forsook Jesus, Jesus never forsook God. He doesn’t die cursing God or renouncing God. He still calls him God and not just God but his God (“MY GOD, MY GOD, why have you forsaken me?).

He was submissive to God the Father even until his last breath. Now before he died, Jesus said that the Father was WITH him (John 3:2; 8:29; 16:32). The question is why would the Father who LOVED the Son (John 3:35; 5:20; 10:17; 17:24) and was WELL PLEASED with the Son (Matthew 3:17) and was WITH the Son before the cross, forsake and abandon the Son while He was on the cross in his hour of greatest need, his darkest hour?

1. His Death was a Sacrifice for Sin

The only thing that separates us from God is sin. He died as a sacrifice for sin, as an offering for sin. Because Jesus was a sacrifice for sin, the Father had to forsake him. The cross was a judgment on sin. Jesus was under a curse on the cross because of sin (cf. Galatians 3:13).

Paul said that Jesus who knew no sin became sin on the cross so that we might become the righteousness of God (II Corinthians 5:21). What did he mean that Jesus became sin? He did not become actual sin. Jesus was not a practicing sinner on the cross.

He was made sin for us but he was not made a sinner for us. It was not an infusion of sin. It was an imputation of sin. Our sin was put to his account. He never committed a sin personally. He “knew no sin”. He was “without sin” (Hebrews 4:15). Jesus was holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners” (Hebrews 7:26). Jesus was made sin for us, not personally but substitutionally.

The interesting thing is the time that he died. Jesus died at the time of the Passover, which only happened once a year. He died at the NINTH hour. According to Josephus , the ninth hour was the very hour that the Passover lambs were to be killed in the Temple. Jesus died as our Passover lamb (I Corinthians 5:7). John the Baptist called him “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29)

2. His Death was a Substitute for Sinners.

He died for OUR sins, not his own. That is the gospel, that Christ died “FOR our sins according to the Scriptures” (I Corinthians 15:4). He was pierced for OUR transgressions, crushed for OUR iniquities (Isaiah 53:5), not his own. God laid on him OUR iniquity (Isaiah 53:6). He bore OUR sins in his body on the tree (I Peter 2:24).

He died FOR sins as a substitute – just FOR the unjust, the righteous for the unrighteous (I Peter 3:18). He took our place. He bore the punishment we deserve. He was forsaken by God for you’re your sins and for mine. Let’s think about that for a minute.

Think of all of the sins you have ever committed. Jesus paid the penalty for each one. If we sin three times a day times 365 is about a thousand times a year. If we are 50, it is 1000 times 50 which equals 50,0000 sins. If one person can have at least 50,000 sins, how many sins do you think all the people in the world have, all 6.8 billion people on earth today?

How many sins do you think all of the people who ever lived had? Jesus died for the sins past, present, and future. He died, not only for sins, He died for ALL kinds of sins of ALL people who have ever lived since the beginning of the world.

Jesus suffered more on the cross that anyone will ever suffer in Hell. The worst place of suffering in the Bible is not Hell. It is not the Lake of Fire. The worst place of suffering in the Bible is the cross. No one in Hell will ever say, “It is finished.” They will never finish paying the penalty for their sin. They will be in hell forever and never completely pay the penalty.

Jesus bore the penalty of the sins of everyone and he did it in just a few hours. As John MacArthur, says, “God was punishing His own Son as if He had committed every wicked deed done by every sinner who would ever believe”

The cross is a stumbling block to people. Paul said it was (I Corinthians 1:18-22). Many do not like the idea of substitutionary atonement. Critics say that it is simply not fair to transfer the penalty of sin from a guilty person to an innocent person. That may be true if God found some poor innocent person in the world and made them bear the punishment of everyone but that is not what happened.

God did not transfer the penalty from a guilty to an innocent person. Her bore it himself voluntarily at cost to himself, not at cost to anyone else. Jesus is God; He isn’t just an innocent third party. He is the judge himself. The one who determines the punishment for sin and passes judgment takes that punishment upon himself voluntarily . No one forced him to do so (John 10:18).

Liberals call John 3:16 cosmic child abuse – a vengeful Father, punishing his Son for an offence he has not even committed. The problem with this is that the Son went willingly. It is actually the greatest act of self-sacrifice the world has ever known.

Jesus said, “Greater love hath no man than this that a man lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13). Paul takes this one step forward in Romans. He points out that Jesus didn’t die for good people but for bad people, for sinners (5:6-8).


Jesus’ death does not save anyone unless we believe. We have to personally accept him as Savior. Have we believed? Either Jesus pays the penalty for sin or we pay or own penalty.

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