It has been called the “cry of dereliction” or of “desolation.” Amid the unnatural darkness that fell over his crucifixion, Jesus cried out in the language of his people, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46). He was quoting scripture, Psalm 22:1. It was a prophecy being fulfilled.
Angels had supported Jesus when he was tempted by the devil in the wilderness. They helped him as he prayed in the garden of Gethsemane. The New Testament tells us a voice from heaven spoke approvingly of him on several occasions.
But on the cross no angels attended him. There was no voice saying, “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased” (Mark 1:11). Instead there was the pall of darkness at noon and the consciousness of being abandoned.
Jesus’ cry was not one of unbelief, despair or cowardice. At the last Supper and in Gethsemane Jesus had expressed his intention to fulfill the Father’s will through his death. He had repeatedly predicted to his disciples the death he would die in Jerusalem. This cry of dereliction was a fulfillment of another prophetic word: “We considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted” (Isaiah 53:4).
J.C. Ryle of England explained it this way, “There is a deep mystery in these words which no one can fathom. They express the real pressure on his soul of the enormous burden of the world’s sin.” His suffering was not merely physical, but spiritual. He was forsaken by God because he was bearing our sin.
The famous hymn of Isaac Watts describes it: “Well might the sun in darkness hide and shut his glories in/ when Christ the mighty Maker died for man the creature’s sin.” This is Jesus becoming a curse for us to redeem us from the curse of the law (Galatians 3:13). Until then, he could always say, “My Father is with me” (John 16:32). But now he is absolutely alone, abandoned, forsaken.
Why? Because “We all like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6). In suffering the abandonment of the Father, Jesus endured the very sufferings of hell. “God made him who knew no sin to be made sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21).
Yet despite the desolation, we recognize his belief that the essential unity of the Trinity was not broken. Jesus never lost the knowledge that God was his God. Fellowship was broken by our sin, but not his relationship. Not long after these dreadful words were spoken, Jesus would call God his Father again, praying, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit” (Luke 23:46).
This season of the year is an annual reminder of what our Lord endured for us in dying for our sins. As we meditate on his words from the cross, let us humble ourselves in grateful worship, deep faith and confident witness. He was forsaken so that we might be accepted. This is good news.
Years ago I wrote these lines: “How the glory once was muted/ when upon a tree, accursed/ in the terror of earth’s darkness/ Jesus took God’s wrath for us.”
Pastor Randy Faulkner