My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? (Matthew 27:46)
Easter has passed, but our series on the cross continues. That’s significant. It would be easy to view Easter like passing “Go” on the Monopoly board. Every year we go round and pass this place where we pick up good things through the death and resurrection of Jesus.
We don’t come to the death and resurrection of Jesus to pass by—our life is here. Christ is our life. And His life comes to us through His death and resurrection. We’re exploring the love of Christ through the seven words He spoke from the cross…
“Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34)
“Today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43)
The third word Christ spoke from the cross was a tender word of compassion that He spoke to His mother…
“Dear woman, here is your son,” and to the disciple, “here is your mother.” (John 19:26-27)
That fits with Mother’s Day, so we will come to it next weekend.
The fourth word from the cross
It was the “third hour” when they crucified Jesus (Mark 15:25). A day began at six o’clock, so it would have been nine o’clock in the morning. They nailed Jesus to the cross, lifted it up and that’s when he said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”
The morning wore on with jeers from the crowd and insults from the robbers. Nine o’clock, ten o’clock, eleven o’ clock… sometime that morning, one of the thieves began to fear God and asked Jesus to remember him. Christ said, “Today you will be with me in paradise.”
Then at noon, after Christ had endured three hours of agony and insult from the hands and mouths of men, something new happened and Christ entered into the heart of his passion.
From the sixth hour [midday] until the ninth hour [3 in the afternoon], darkness came over all the land. (Matthew 27:45)
This was not an eclipse. An eclipse does not last for three hours. God turned off the light. When Christ was born there was light at midnight.
When he was crucified, there was darkness at noon.
The sudden darkness tells us that something entirely new was happening. Up to this point it has all been about physical suffering—the scourging, the nailing and the mocking—all at the hands of men. Now Jesus was entering into the heart of his atoning work as our sin-bearer.
The darkness reminds us that the events that took place in these hours are beyond our understanding. But there are some things that we know, because God has told us…
He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree (1 Peter 2:24).
God made him who had no sin to be sin for us (2 Corinthians 5:21).
The Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all (Isaiah 53:6).
The punishment that brought us peace was upon him (Isaiah 53:5).
God presented him [Christ] as an atoning sacrifice (Romans 3:25).
Christ is the atoning sacrifice [propitiation] for our sins (1 John 2:2).
Christ endured the punishment for sin on the cross. That means he endured hell on the cross because that is the punishment for sin. All that hell is, he experienced right there during these hours of darkness in which he bore our sin and endured our punishment.
The disciples had forsaken him, but now Jesus enters into an even deeper isolation, he is forsaken by God. Luther says, “God forsaking God. What man can understand this?” Earth has rejected him and heaven has given him up. He cries out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
This abandoning of Christ meant two things…
The Father did not cease to love him. Jesus said, “The reason my father loves me is that I lay down my life” (John 10:17). How could the Father then cease to love Jesus while he was in the act of laying down his life?
The Father did not stop loving the Son in these hours of darkness. But Christ is separated from this love. He is outside of it. The love that the Son has enjoyed with his Father for all eternity is now beyond his reach.
To be our sin-bearer, Christ received in himself the hell that our sins bring. Klass Schilder says God was “directly sending the torments of hell against the Christ.” Here’s the deepest mystery in the darkness of the cross. How could the Father plunge the Son he loved into these torments?
Just last Sunday, a grandmother in the congregation asked me to pray for her grandson, who is undergoing extended medical treatment for a severe condition. It involves a procedure that brings great pain to the little boy.
This grandmother said, “My son has to hold him down while the doctors do what needs to be done.” She described the father holding his son down, and how, when the boy screamed, the father had to turn his face away, “I think that is what it was like for God the Father at the cross.”
Try to take in what’s happening, because it goes to the heart of your faith. When Christ becomes our sin-bearer, he’s plunged into all the torments of hell. The Father, who loves him, turns his face away and all the comforts of the Father’s love are beyond the Savior’s reach. In the depths of his agony, Jesus cries out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
These words of Jesus open four windows into what was happening in these hours of darkness. My prayer for today is that as you look through these windows you will be changed by what you see.
Letting go of sin is hard because something in it attracts us. Repentance is difficult because part of us enjoys our sin. Sometimes, even when confessing our sins, there’s some desire to return to them. How can we learn to hate our sins, so that we do not keep going back to them again and again?
How can you get to the point where you really change? The law won’t get you there. The law can tell you what sin is, but it cannot make you hate it. In fact the law can actually provoke sin.
When the waiter at the restaurant says, “Don’t touch the plate. It’s very hot,” what’s the first thing you want to do? There’s something in me that wants to touch the plate. Why is that? What makes me want to do the very thing he just told me not to do?
Everyone who has children knows about this. Give a child a rule and he or she will see it as an invitation, “When the commandment came, sin sprang to life” (Romans 7:9).
Morality can tell you what sin is, but it cannot teach you to hate it. So, how can I learn to loathe sin so that I really turn from it? Listen to these words of Richard Sibbes,
If you would… see the most ugly colors of sin, then see it in Christ upon the cross, see… how bitter a thing it was… forcing Him to… send forth strong cries to His Father, “My God, my God why have you forsaken me.
That indulgent greed, that cherished pride, that settled envy, that secret lust, that subtle lie, that grumbling, that fault-finding, that deception—look at it now! Look at what that sin cost and learn to hate it at the cross. This is what my sin did to my Savior. Look at how Christ was forsaken for your sin. Now, what sin is there you cannot forsake on account of him?
When Christ bore our sins, he entered into the judgment for our sins.
Christ endured all that hell is on the cross.
Artists and poets have speculated over the centuries about hell (“Dante’s Inferno,” etc.), but the clearest revelation of hell is given at the cross. Hell has six dimensions and Christ experienced all of them on the cross. Let me remind you of them briefly…
That is hell.
Hell is conscious suffering in blackest darkness, surrounded by demonic powers. It is bearing the guilt of your own sin under the judgment of God.
But the hell of hell will be to know that there is a God of love, and that you could have known his love, but now it is beyond your reach.
I preach this today, because I do not want you to know what that is like, ever. Christ endured this on the cross, so that you would never know what it is like. It is beyond what anyone here can begin to imagine.
People are talking about hell these days, and the discussion is all about whether or not it is real. Hell is as real as the cross. Jesus Christ entered all the dimensions of hell on the cross. This happened. Christ received in himself what was due us.
When people say, “There is no hell,” I ask, “Then, what was this about? Why did the cross, the darkness, the forsakenness and the guilt-bearing happen?” The reason it happened is that there is wrath, forsakenness, darkness and there is hell. All of this was poured out on Jesus. He absorbed it in himself in order to save you from it. Richard Sibbes says,
Whatsoever was done to Christ… shall be done to all that are out[side] of him.
This is as plain a statement as you can get and it is faithful to the Scriptures. That is why you must come to him, and be in him because
you cannot be saved without him.
You say, “That sounds like an incredible jump—from hell to love.” Keep in mind that the mercy of God and the justice of God meet at the cross.
One way to measure the love of God for you is by the price that was paid to redeem you. Here again we are staring into an unfathomable mystery. What did this mean to the Father to give up his dearly loved Son to this hell on the cross? What did it mean to the Holy Son of God to give himself up and become the sin-bearer, shut out from the love of the Father?
Sometimes I hear Christians say, “I know Jesus died for my sins, but I don’t feel God loves me.” I want to say, “Slow down.” Before he created the universe, God the Father had you in view and planned for you in love.
Before you were born, God the Son took your flesh, he lived a perfect life and he went to the cross for you. Your sins were laid on him and he entered into your hell. He was shut out from the Father’s love for you and in the dark he cried out, “My God, my God why have you forsaken me?”
He was there for you and you don’t think that he loves you? I want you to see this love and learn to enjoy it. You’ll never see it more clearly than at the cross.
How can I enjoy this? Jesus is not on the cross now. He is risen and exalted at the right hand of the Father. His suffering is over. His triumph is complete.
God’s righteous judgment for sin fell on Jesus. He absorbed it and drained it. He exhausted it and came through it. Here’s where you rejoice. Christian, hell burned itself out on Jesus, as far as you’re concerned. Christ was not overcome. He triumphed over hell for you on the cross.
At the end of these three hours of darkness, the light returned. Then he said, “It is finished,” and he gave into death. There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
In the darkness, your Savior says, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Think about this: The Father’s love is, at this moment, beyond his reach. He has been shut out from it, and yet he says, “My God, my God…” Robert Murray M’Cheyne says,
These words show the greatest faith that ever was in this world. Faith is believing the word of God, not because we see it to be true, or feel it to be true, but because God has said it.
This is important for our faith. God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5). That’s his promise. But there will be dark times in your life when you cannot feel the love or presence of God. When these times come, you need to know Jesus has been there.
I would like to put this personally to any tried child of God here. Are you going to let go your God because you have lost His smile? Then I ask you, ‘Did you base your faith upon His smile?’ For if you did, you mistook the true ground of faith. The ground of a believer’s confidence is not God’s smile, but God’s promise.
Spurgeon had a special sensitivity towards Christians who suffer from the darkness of depression, and sometimes feel that God has forsaken them. He knew about this in his own experience. He would speak about the “black dog” that was too often with him, and he urged his congregation to be gentle with people who find themselves in great darkness,
Some strong-minded people are apt to be very hard upon nervous folks, and to say, ‘They should not get into that state.’ And we are liable to speak harshly to people who are very depressed in spirit, and to say to them, ‘Really, you ought to rouse yourself out of such a state…’ I hope none of you will ever have such an experience of this depression of spirit as I have had; yet I have learned from it to be very tender with all fellow sufferers.
Spurgeon says being in this darkness made him very tender towards others who feel that they’ve been forsaken by God. If that was true for Spurgeon because of the darkness he endured, how much more is it true of Christ!
Look at the darkness he was in when he said, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken Me?” and you’ll see that you have a Savior to whom you can come in the darkest moments of your life—when you feel God is nowhere near you. He’s been there! Your Savior has a tenderness towards you that no one else in the world could ever have for you.
On the cross, Christ said, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” so that today, with worship and wonder, you can say, “My God, my God, why have you accepted me—with all my sin and all my failure?”
And the answer is—you are accepted because he was forsaken. You are righteous, because he bore your sin. You will enter his heaven because he endured your hell. Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift.
© Colin S. Smith
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 Martin Luther, cited in C. H. Spurgeon sermon, The Saddest Cry From the Cross, #2803, Jan. 7, 1877
 Klass Schilder, Christ Crucified, p. 404, Sovereign Grace Pub., 2001
 Richard Sibbes, The Works of R.S. (Vol. 1), p. 354, Banner of Truth, 1973
 Robert Murray M’Cheyne, Sermons of R.M.M., p. 44, Banner of Truth, 1961
 C. H. Spurgeon sermon, Our Lord’s Solemn Enquiry, #3507, Apr. 13, 1916
 C. H. Spurgeon sermon, The Saddest Cry From the Cross, #2803, Jan. 7, 1877