Welcome back to the Ask Pastor John podcast with John Piper. Podcast listener Bridgette writes in to say: “Pastor John, I love the Lord deeply and my faith continues to grow, but I’ve always struggled with Matthew 27:45–46. Why would Jesus call out to the Father ‘why have you forsaken me?’ when Jesus knew the answer? It was for this very reason Jesus came, to be forsaken on our behalf! Could you give insight into this, so that this hurdle in my faith can be removed?”
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
Those terrifying words occur in two gospels — Matthew 27:46 and Mark 15:34 — as Jesus is hanging on the cross near death. So it says, “About the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice,” — Amazing. How did he have any strength to do it with a loud voice? — “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” — the Aramaic form — “that is, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46).
Now, one very important fact to remember is that these words are the exact first words of Psalm 22. And that is important because Jesus seems to have known that the whole psalm in some way or other was about him, because at least three other parts of this psalm are quoted in the story of his death. So you have got verses 1–2. This is what the psalm says: “Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest.” “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
And in verse 7: “All who see me mock me; they make mouths at me; they wag their heads” — and those are exact words. “They wag their heads,” quoted in Matthew 27:39: “And those who passed by derided him, wagging their heads” to show that this psalm is being played out in the death of Jesus. And in verse 16 of the psalm, “They have pierced my hands and feet.” And in verse 18, “They divide my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots.”
So the words, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” are part of this psalm that contains, as it were, a script for Jesus’s last hours. Now, why did he say it? She wants to know why. Why did he say it? And here is a three-part answer.
First, this was a real forsakenness. That is why. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” means he really did. He really did. He is bearing our sin. He bore our judgment. The judgment was to have God the Father pour out his wrath on us, and instead, he pours it out on him — and that necessarily involves a kind of abandonment. That is what wrath means. He gave him up to suffer the weight of all the sins of all of his people and the judgment for those sins. And we cannot begin to fathom all that this would mean between the Father and the Son. To be forsaken by God is the cry of the damned, and he was damned for us. So he used these words because there was a real forsakenness. That is the first reason.
Second, the why, it seems to me, is not a question looking for an answer, but a way of expressing the horrors of abandonment. A couple of reasons for thinking this: Jesus knew ahead of time what he was doing and what would happen to him and why he was doing it. His Father had sent him for this. This very moment. And he had agreed to come, knowing all that would happen. Listen to these words. This is John 18:4: “Then Jesus, knowing all that would happen to him, came forward and said to them, ‘Whom do you seek?’” He gave himself up. So he knew. He knew it was coming. He knew everything. And another reason is the moment was one of agony, not theological curiosity. The moment was one of agony.
Third, the fact that he is not asking a question so much as expressing a horror is that the words are a reflex of immersion in Psalm 22, it seems. They are a direct quotation, but when you are hanging on the cross you don’t say: Oh, I think I am going to quote some Scripture here. It either is in you as the very essence of your messianic calling or it is not. And if it is in you, then you give vent at the worst moment of your life with the appointment of your Father scripted in Psalm 22. That seems to be right at the heart of what is going on.
Let me read Psalm 22:22–24. It goes like this: “I will tell of your name to my brothers; in the midst of the congregation I will praise you: You who fear the LORD, praise him! All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him, and stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel! For he has not despised or abhorred the affliction of the afflicted, and he has not hidden his face from him, but has heard, when he cried to him.” In other words, this psalm ends with a note of triumph. Jesus isn’t curious about wondering, How is this going to turn out? He had embedded in his soul both the horrors of the moment of abandonment and he had embedded in his soul for the joy that was set before him: I have got a promise. And God will not despise me in the end. He will take me back.
So at some level he knows it is not a final cry or an ultimate cry. He endured the cross for the joy that was set before him and the “Why?” is not a request for a theological answer. It is a real cry of spiritual desolation with words that were second nature because his whole life was scripted by God.
And I think the last reason we should say this, therefore, is that this psalm was his life. Crying out reflexively in agony with these words of this psalm shows that, as horrible as it is, it was all going according to plan. All of it was the fulfillment of Scripture — even the worst of it was the fulfillment of Scripture, and that moment was probably the worst moment in the history of the world, and it was Scripture-fulfilled.
So he said these words, one, because there was a real forsakenness for our sake. Two, he was expressing desolation, not asking for an answer. And three, he was amazingly fulfilling Scripture in the horror of it all and witnessing to the perfection of the plan of salvation.
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