When trials and tribulations come upon us, sometimes we feel as if God has turned away and doesn’t hear our cries. Have you ever felt this way?
One year just before Easter, my husband George was asked to teach on the last words of Jesus. He chose “My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me?”, the loud cry that has echoed for centuries (Matthew 27:46, Mark 15:34). These words beg the question, Did Jesus really feel forsaken by God? And did God abandon His Son to suffer?
The Scripture reads: “At noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. And at three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, ‘Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?’ (which means ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’” (Mark 15: 33-34 NIV).
Can you picture complete darkness masking the sky for three solid hours? It must have been terrifying to see the sky turn sheer black in the middle of the day. Some scholars say this darkness must have been Jesus absorbing the sins of the entire world on his body, because there is no earthly explanation for three hours of darkness in the middle of the daylight hours. Surely God was trying to get their attention focused on Christ.
Did God truly forsake Jesus in this moment? And does He ever forsake us?
To find the answer to this question, one place we can look is Psalm 22, which gives us insight into the feelings Jesus had on the cross. All the Psalms are poetry or songs the Israelites memorized and sung for various occasions. Certainly the Israelites were very familiar with Psalm 22 as they witnessed Jesus’ death on the cross. I wonder if his loud cry, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” resonated with the Jewish people as they recalled the first verse of Psalm 22: “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?”
Please take a moment to read Psalm 22 in its entirety—it will be well worth your time.
This dramatic psalm was written by King David 200 years before Jesus’ death and resurrection. The cry of David’s heart foreshadowed that of Jesus:
Why are you so far from my deliverance and from my words of groaning?
My God, I cry by day, but You do not answer, by night, yet I have no rest….
Our fathers trusted in you; they trusted, and You rescued them.
They cried to You and were set free; they trusted in You and were not disgraced (v. 1-5).
Here we see that while Jesus felt forsaken, he also trusted God would deliver Him. David’s cries indicate the pain Jesus was also in:
Do not be far from me, because distress is near and there is no one to help….
For dogs have surrounded me; a gang of evildoers has closed in on me;
they pierced my hands and my feet. I can count all my bones; people look and stare at me. They divided my garments among themselves, and they cast lots for my clothing.
But You, LORD, don’t be far away. My strength, come quickly to help me. Deliver my life from the sword, my very life from the power of the dog (v. 11, 16-18).
In verse 24, we are assured that God DID hear Jesus’ cries, just as He hears ours.
For He has not despised or detested the torment of the afflicted. He did not hide His face from him, but listened when he cried to Him for help (HCSB).
In the end, we know that God delivered Jesus; likewise, He will deliver us. Nevertheless Jesus felt abandoned and alone. The definition of forsaken is “to leave in an abandoned condition; to depart or withdraw from.” This is exactly how Jesus felt — as if God had left him to suffer at the hands of sinful men.
God placed the sin of all mankind—past, present, and future—upon Jesus, thereby making His one and only Son a bridge, or mediator between us and God. “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 2:5 ESV). As we read Isaiah 53:4-5 (NIV):
Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.
Jesus experienced all the emotions we experience while on Earth. He was mocked, abused, rejected, belittled, disappointed, heartbroken, and his closest friends abandoned him. He felt as we often feel: hurt, rejected, despised, forsaken. Yet, it is because of Jesus that we know God will never leave us or abandon us—even in our darkest hours.
His Presence is always with us. We may not “feel” His Presence when our child rebels or a financial crisis weighs heavily upon us—or when our marriage is in crisis, health issues plague us, or close friends betray us. But the truth is that God never leaves us or forsakes us; and He will deliver us (Hebrews 13:5, Job 36:15, 1 Peter 5:10).
In times of sorrow or distress, if you are like me, you may listen to your feelings that contradict the truth of God’s unfailing love and deliverance. Our emotions are a powerful tool Satan can use to get us to question God’s goodness towards us. But the truth is: we are never rejected; never mocked by God; never at the risk of losing our friendship with Him; and He will never remove His unfailing love from us. No matter what lies the enemy has tried to come against you with, the Lord is standing by your side, ready to receive your burdens and replace them with peace. As David said, “When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought me joy” (Psalm 94:19 NIV).
Even though Jesus suffered a horrible death on the cross, His mind stayed on God’s purpose for you to be saved by grace and nothing else. That day on the cross is our ultimate victory. Even more than He wanted to spare His son of suffering, God wanted an intimate relationship with you.
When we receive Jesus, He puts a “new song” in our hearts (Psalm 40:3 NJKV). Regardless of what is going on in our lives, our lips can be full of praise to the One who saves us. By Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross and the Holy Spirit He sends to us, we receive hope in hopeless situations, unexplained joy, healing, acceptance, a forever love, peace beyond understanding, and so much more. Through Jesus’ act on the cross, we receive freedom from shame, forgiveness to blot out bitterness, comfort in difficult times, strength when we are weak, and a way to live as aliens on this earth until eternity. “I will bless the Lord at all times; His praise shall continually be in my mouth” (Psalm 34:1 NJKV).
Lord, your Word declares,“He did not spare His own Son but delivered Him up for us all” (Romans 8:32 NKJV). You sent Your Son so I may have eternal life with you in heaven and abundant life here on Earth. I do not need riches or fame to give me true joy. I have an inheritance far greater because You provided it when You sent Jesus to the cross. When I recount all the blessings and promises You bestow upon me, my lips will praise You even when I do not feel like it. For You, Oh Lord, are our Deliverer. “Amazing love, how can it be. That You, my King would die for me.” We praise you God. In Jesus’ name, Amen.