"Why Have You Forsaken Me?" (Mark 15:33, 34)
Topic: One Lord: So Great a Salvation Passage: Mark 15:33–15:34
“Why Have You Forsaken Me?”
Mark 15:33, 34
(One Lord: So Great a Salvation)
April 14th, 2019
I. To Forsake
The word “forsake” is not one most of us use in our everyday conversations. We're more likely to use synonyms like abandoned or deserted, or related words like disowned or desolate. For example, we don't say, “I just noticed a forsaken vehicle on at the end of the street.” No, we say, “I just noticed an abandoned vehicle...”. We're more likely to talk about a a husband whose wife deserted him, rather than a husband whose wife forsook him.
But forsake is word used all throughout the Bible. Deuteronomy 31 is a good example of this. In verses 6 and 8 of that chapter, we hear Moses encouraging God's people toward faith and faithfulness because Yahweh “will not leave you or forsake you.” But when the reader gets to verse 16, we hear God anticipating the people's inevitable faithlessness: “they will forsake me and break my covenant”. This leads directly to the chilling reality of the very next verse, verse 17: “Then my anger will be kindled against them in that day, and I will forsake them and hide my face from them...”.
In fact, when the Bible uses words like forsake and forsaken, they are far more likely to refer to people forsaking God and his word and his ways, than the other way around. As Zechariah the priest would later tell the people, “Because you have forsaken the LORD, he has forsaken you.”
In light of this possibility, David would later pray: hide not your face from me. Turn not your servant away in anger, O you who have been my help. Cast me not off; forsake me not, O God of my salvation. (Psalm 27:9)
Keep that word and those ideas in mind as we look together this morning at Mark 15.
II. The Passage: "Forgive Them" (23:34)
You may recall that this month we're thinking together about what I'm calling the “passion prayers” of Jesus. These are four statements that Jesus, while hanging on the cross, directed toward God his Father. Last week, we talked about Jesus' powerful please for his persecutors in Luke 23:34... “Father, forgiven them. For they know not what they do.”
This morning, we are looking at Christ's passion prayer in verse 34 of Mark 15. Let's pick up the account in verse 33. We read this about the crucified Jesus...
And when the sixth hour had come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour.  And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:33–34)
So as you can see in verse 34, unlike the first prayer, this passion prayer is not a plea for pardon. It's a cry of confusion... of anguish... of grief. But what exactly does it mean? Well, to better understand this cry of Christ, I'd like you to think about three aspects of this passage: first, I'd like us to consider the scene of his cry. Second, I'd like us to think about the source of Christ's cry. And finally, third, I'd like us to meditate on the severity of his cry. But to begin...
1. The Scene of His Cry (v. 33)
Verse 25 records that it was the third hour of the day when they crucified Jesus. That was the Roman way of saying 9:00 in the morning. So based on that, verse 33 indicates we are now three hours into the slow execution of Christ. But verse 33 also takes us another three hours beyond that by describing what took place from noon to 3:00pm on that Friday of Passover. What does that verse tell us? We read... there was darkness over the whole land.
That was the setting for the cry of Jesus in verse 34. And we know there was nothing light about that cry. And the afternoon sky over Jerusalem was just as gloomy. In his Gospel, Luke describes these taking place “while the sun's light failed” (Luke 23:45).
Now, beyond these simple statements, we know nothing else about this darkness. But a passage like Amos 8:9, 10 reminds us that darkness was often understood as a harbinger of judgment: “And on that day,” declares the Lord GOD, “I will make the sun go down at noon and darken the earth in broad daylight. I will turn your feasts into mourning and all your songs into lamentation...”.
This imagery of course would have pointed the Hebrews back to the Exodus and God's judgments against Egypt, one of which was darkness (Exodus 10).
So, I don't think it's a stretch to say that the scene here is one set in terms of divine judgment. God's displeasure evident in the sky above seems to point us to God's displeasure with what is happening on the earth below. Keep that in mind as we also consider...
2. The Source of His Cry (v. 34)
In talking about the “source” of Christ's cry, I'm thinking about the fact that these words are actually a quotation from the OT. Just as Jesus did with the devil in the wilderness at the beginning of his ministry, just as he did throughout his ministry with both his followers and foes, so now he does again here at the very end, with his final breath: he quotes Scripture. God's en-scriptur-ated words give voice to God's en-fleshed Word, as he hangs dying on the cross.
What verse is Jesus quoting in verse 34? He's quoting from a psalm of David, Psalm 22. David cries out in verse 1 of that psalm... My God, my God, why you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning. His lament continues in verse 2: O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest.
What's interesting about this psalm is that we find traces of it all throughout the Gospel accounts of Christ's crucifixion. For example, listen to Psalm 22:7, 8...
David writes, All who see me mock me; they make mouths at me ; they wag their heads; “He trust in the LORD; let him deliver him; let him rescue him, for he delights in him. This of course is very similar to what we read in verses 29-32 of Mark 15.
Psalm 22:18, They divide my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots. Again, that reminds us of what we read in verse 24 of Mark 15.
Psalm 22:16, For dogs encompass me; a company of evildoers encircles me; they have pierced my hands and feet.” I don't think I need to explain the connection there.
Why is all this important? Because the cry of Jesus is just one more reminder that the man suffering here is the Messiah of Israel, the son of David, who assured his followers, after his resurrection: “everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” (Luke 24:44) Thus, that just as David's words a thousand years earlier point us to the coming Christ and the suffering Christ, we can rest assured that whatever is happening here, it is part of God's plan; God's purposes.
And that idea drives us to consider, lastly...
3. The Severity of His Cry (v. 34)
Listen again to Mark 15, verse 34...
And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice [in Aramaic], “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabach-thani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
Even if you knew nothing about why Jesus uttered this statement, there are several clues here that point us to the severity of the cry. First, we read “Jesus cried with a loud voice”. This was no careless whisper or passionless proposition. Jesus is CRYING out with a LOUD voice. The way he speaks points us to the severity of what's spoken.
Second, as we've already discovered, Jesus is using Psalm 22 to give voice to what he feels. That psalm describes the severe suffering of God's anointed.
Third, the way Jesus addresses God here points us to the severity of his cry. In all the places where the Gospels preserve the prayers of Jesus, God is addressed as “Father” every time. That's 19 times in 10 passages. The cry of Christ recorded in Mark 15:34 is the only exception; this is the only time Jesus did not call out to God as “Father”.
So what do we make of this? Why would Jesus cry out like this? Why would he believe that God had forsaken him; that God had abandoned him; that God had deserted him?
Well, to understand this, the first thing we need to understand, to whatever extent we can, the relationship between Jesus and God the Father. In John's Gospel we discover that relationship existed before the man Jesus existed:
No one has ever seen God; the only God [or “the only Son”], who is at the Father's side, he has made him known. (John 1:18)
Jesus would later pray in light of that eternally existing relationship:
“... Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed... Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.” (John 17:5, 24)
Given that relationship, it's no wonder that the 12-yr-old Jesus asks his worried parents, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house?” (Luke 2:49)
And this ongoing relationship was evident throughout Jesus' ministry:
“The Father loves the Son and has given all things into his hands.” (John 3:35)
“All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son...” (Matthew 11:27)
“For the Father loves the Son and shows him all that he himself is doing.” (John 5:20)
And just before his crucifixion, Jesus prayed for us in light of that special relationship:
“...Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one... so that they world may know you sent me and loved them even as you loved me... O righteous Father, even though the world does not know you, I know you... that the love with which you loved me may be in them, and I in them.” (John 17:11, 23, 26)
Think about all that for a moment. Can you imagine that kind of connection and closeness and commitment; the kind of intimacy, the kind of bond, the kind of everlasting love between the Father and the Son? Even our most precious and powerful examples of human connection are only a slight shadow of this divine relationship.
So if that's true, what in the world could so drastically affect that connection that it would drive Jesus to cry out as he did, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
To make any sense of this severity, we need to go back to what the OT revealed about God forsaking those who forsake him and his covenant. That's the foundation for understanding the cry of Jesus. Using the language of Deuteronomy 31 and Psalm 27, I think we can say that God has hidden his face from Jesus. But why? Has Jesus forsaken God and God's covenant? Absolutely not. Paul would later explain what caused this cry...
Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us... (Galatians 3:13)
He put it this way in another letter: For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (II Corinthians 5:21)
Jesus never forsook God, ever. But you have. I have. All of us have. Therefore, in a way we cannot fully understand, as Jesus hung there on that cross, he carried our curse, he shouldered our shame, he bore our sins to such a degree that communion with the Father became condemnation from the Father. Relational warmth was replaced with fiery wrath.
III. What Sin Does
Brothers and sisters, as the hymn writer expressed: What wondrous love is this, O my soul, O my soul... What wondrous love is this, that caused the Lord of bliss, to bear the dreadful curse, for my soul, for my soul.
As we talked about last time, these passion prayers of Jesus are ultimately so powerful because of what they tell us about the One who prayed them. And doesn't what we've seen this morning simply deepen what we celebrated in the last lesson: the heart of Jesus? How exactly does it do this? Our understanding and appreciation of the heart of Jesus is deepened as we understand the severity of the suffering of Jesus. No, not simply his physical suffering. And no, not just his spiritual suffering, as we might normally think about it.
Yes, to suffer the full fury of God's righteous wrath is unimaginable. But in doing so, to be cut off from the reassuring warmth of that connection, that closeness, that commitment that He always knew? This morning, I hope all of us can stretch and strain our hearts and minds in an attempt to grasp something of that horrific loss that Jesus experienced.
You see, it's critical that your heart and my heart by undone by the heart of Jesus. But it's also critical that you and I am undone by the horrific nature of sin. Friends, this is what sin does. Brothers and sisters, this is what sin does. It comes between us and God. It hurts and hinders that relationship. You may not like dealing with the consequences of your sin, or someone else's sin. We may not like what we see doing to our world. But the true evil of evil is precisely what this cry of Jesus point us to: sin severs; sin stifles; sin separates our connection with the God who made us. That is ultimately why we are called to... forsake sin. Isaiah 55:7...
...Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the LORD, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.
Look, I can't explain to you exactly what Jesus was feeling, or exactly how his relationship with God was affected when he became the sin-bearer. I think that will always be, to some extent, a mystery. But I can hear, and you can hear, his cry. We can hear the anguish, the grief, the confusion, the searching, the brokenness. And based on God's word, we know why he cried out. Brothers and sisters, friends, we may not be able to fully grasp everything that Jesus was experiencing, but we can grasp, we can lay hold of, we can cling to both the One who cried out, and to the prize he obtained for us.
On the cross, in spite of the fact he suffered for our sins, Jesus endured the loss of that eternal closeness with the Father in order that we might taste that very thing. Do you treasure the divine connection, the divine closeness, the divine commitment Jesus died to give you? And do you hate what stifles and severs that? This morning, some of you are separated from God because of that God rejecting, me-centered heart. Others of you have trusted Christ and don't have to worry about being severed. But you are still allowing sin to do what it does: to stifle your relationship with God.
For all of us, this morning is the morning to confess that sin to God, to acknowledge how poisonous it is, to accept that, because of it, we have no hope apart from the One who took the curse for us. This morning is the morning to cry out along with Jesus, “my God”. Let's pray, turning to God in a spirit of confession, but also confidence in the work of Jesus.