“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34)
Jesus’ words come from Psalm 22. In the Psalms, we can find expressions of our praise, our worry, our pain and our doubt as well as words of comfort when we need them. When you are unsure how to pray, looking to the Psalms can provide you with words to pray.
Here we see Jesus, the Son of God, crying out to God the Father. “For our sake [God] made [Jesus] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21). Here is a mystery: how does God forsake God? Martin Luther himself once said, “God forsaking God! Who can understand it?”
It ought to be a comfort to us and offer us hope that Jesus quotes from Psalm 22. A few verses down, we read even more desperation: “But I am a worm, and not human; scorned by others, and despised by the people. All who see me mock at me; they make mouths at me, they shake their heads; “Commit your cause to the LORD; let him deliver — let him rescue the one in whom he delights!” (22:6-8)
“I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint.” (22:14)
“I can count all my bones. They stare and gloat over me; they divide my clothes among themselves, and for my clothing they cast lots” (22:18; see John 19:24)
Yet, in the midst of this desperation, we see confidence in God:
“In you our ancestors trusted; they trusted, and you delivered them.” (22:4)
“Yet it was you who took me from the womb; you kept me safe on my mother’s breast” (22:9)
And finally, we see Psalm 22 end with divine deliverance and dominion:
“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. From you comes my praise in the great congregation . . .For dominion belongs to the LORD, and he rules over the nations.” (22:24-25, 28)
Jesus was forsaken by his Father so that you and I might not be forsaken. He became sin, took our sin and we become righteous. He was rejected and we were accepted. What love that is! “But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8).
Prayer of Reflection
Lord Jesus, there may be no other verse in all of Scripture that perplexes and moves me more than this one. By Your prayerful use of the first verse of Psalm 22, You invite us into the Holy of holies, into the mystery of the Trinity, into the immensity of divine grace.
I used to be confused by Your use of this question. Surely, I thought, You knew the answer. God the Father had forsaken You because You were bearing the sin of the world. That’s why You were be crucified, after all. As Paul puts it, You became our sin so that we might become Your righteousness. That’s why You were forsaken, Jesus, and surely You knew that. Right?
Was Your cry, “Why have you forsaken me?” less a question that required a theological answer and more a cry of anguish, the deepest anguish of all time and history. You were, after all, the Word Incarnate, God the Son, the One who had perfect relationship with the Father. Before You took our sin upon Yourself, you’d never known what separation from God was like. Yet on the cross, You suffered far worse than unbearable physical pain. You received what sin deserves. You chose to be rejected by the Father, so that we might be accepted.
This miracle escapes my understanding. How can God forsake God? How can the sinless Son truly bear the sin of the world? Though I confess these to be true, I’ll never fully know what my confessions means, at least in this world. Yet here is the core of the gospel. Here is the wonder of grace revealed: the sinless Son of God becoming as if He were sin, being forsaken by the Father. All I can do is stand back and marvel, and then fall on my knees in awestruck worship.
Dear Lord, you didn’t deserve what you experienced on the cross. You didn’t . . . but I did. I deserved the cross. I earned the rejection You received. But in Your unfathomable love, You took my place and gave me Your place.
All praise, glory, and honor be to You, Lamb of God. You took away the sin of the world. You took away my sin, taking it upon Yourself, and breaking its power. Hallelujah! All praise be to You!