************ Sermon on Matthew 27:45-50 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on March 30, 2014
"My God, My God, Why Have You Forsaken Me?"
Fourth Message Lent 2014
The final sufferings of Christ Jesus started with the Sanhedrin. At their trial, Jesus was spit upon, struck with fists, and slapped (Mt 26:67).
Then to Pilate He was brought. Pilate had Jesus flogged (Mt 27:26). Physically, to be flogged or whipped was about the worst thing one could do to the human body. The whips had little bits of metal or bone sewn into the ends. The goal was to shred the flesh and expose the organs in the most painful way possible without actually killing the person being whipped.
Jesus was then mocked by Pilate's soldiers, who stripped Him, put a scarlet robe on Him, and set a crown of thorns on His head. They, too, spit on Him and they struck Him on the head again and again (Mt 27:27-30).
What followed was the crucifixion. The Romans had this down to a science. Again, the goal was to make the pain and suffering last as long as possible (Mt 27:32ff).
While Jesus hung there He was mocked by His Jewish opponents and by the robbers who were crucified with Him (Mt 27:39-44).
It ended with His death.
History states that Christ died. But it is theology that explains why Christ died. We see that theology in the fourth word from the cross.
A The trial before Pilate occurred at daybreak. The act of crucifixion happened at the third Jewish hour which corresponds to nine a.m. Roman time.
From 9 a.m. until noon Jesus hung in the light where all could see Him and jeer Him. But then a miracle happened. Usually, we think of miracles as something good – a dead son raised, a sick woman healed, a leper cured, water turned into wine, a few fish and loaves feeding a crowd of five thousand. But there was nothing good about this miracle. Yet, it was as much an act of God as were the miracles I just mentioned. I say that because of those liberals who try to explain away the miracle at the cross as being a sandstorm or an eclipse.
"From the sixth hour until the ninth hour darkness came over all the land" (Mt 27:45). This means that at twelve noon a heaven-sent darkness that lasted for three hours came over all the land. In the Bible, darkness is a symbol of judgment. Think of what happened in Egypt before the Exodus. The Bible says "total darkness covered all Egypt for three days. No one could see anyone else or leave his place for three days" (Ex 10:22-23). The darkness was so total it was darkness that could be "felt" (Ex 10:21). Think of the darkness at the bottom of a cave or mine. It feels like it is closing in on you. This is much worse than the power going off. It is total blackness, heavy blackness, a blackness in which no light can shine. It continued for three days; it was six dark nights in one. This darkness was God's judgment upon the sins of Egypt.
Similarly, it was dark for three hours during mid-day before the Lamb of God died for the sins of the world. Telling us what? Like in Egypt, this was a supernatural darkness. Like in Egypt, this darkness spoke of judgment. Like in Egypt, it was a black darkness, a dark darkness, a darkness that could be felt.
B Jesus had spoken at least three times before this darkness fell. While they were crucifying Him, He repeatedly prayed, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing" (Lk 23:34). He had spoken to the repentant thief and assured him of a place in paradise (Lk 23:43). He had also given His mother into the care of the beloved disciple, John (Jn 19:18-27). But when the darkness came, Jesus was silent for three hours. The darkness surrounding Jesus was so oppressive, not a sound from Him could be heard.
A "From the sixth hour until the ninth hour darkness came over all the land" (Mt 27:45). At its center was Jesus. This creates a problem. I say that because God is light; in Him there is no darkness at all (1 Jn 1:5). So what was Jesus doing in the heart of darkness?
Jesus was in the heart of darkness because He was experiencing God's judgment. Jesus was experiencing God's judgment upon sin. Again, this creates a problem. I say that because Jesus was sinless, perfect in every way, obeying both tables of the law. In obedience to the fifth commandment we saw Him in the third word from the cross look after the needs of His mother. So, why should He Who is perfect experience God's judgment?
B There is a Bible verse that everyone should memorize. It is a Bible verse that explains what was happening to Jesus. It is a Bible verse that explains why He was in the heart of darkness. It is a Bible verse that explains why He was experiencing God's judgment. That verse is 2 Corinthians 5:21: "God made him who had no sin to be sin for us ..."
The perfect Son of God became sin. Laid on Him was the sin and guilt of all the world. Think about all the sins since Adam's fall that have been committed against the first table of the law: other gods, idols and idol worship, taking God's name in vain, failure to keep the Sabbath. Think about all the sins since Adam's fall that have been committed against the second table of the law: failure to honor one's parents and those in authority, hatred and murder, adultery and lust, theft, lies, and covetous desires. Think of all the sins done not just by unbelievers but also by the people of God throughout the ages. Jesus took on all the guilt and all the shame and all the judgment for all these sins as He hung there upon the cross. The Apostle John can write,
(1 John 2:2) He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.The Catechism reminds us that Christ sustained in body and soul the anger of God against the sin of the whole human race (Q & A 37). He is the Lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world (Jn 1:29).
You need to realize God is angry with sin. God is angry with the sin we are born with. God is angry with the sin we personally commit. When Christ took on sin, He took on God's anger and God's judgment against sin.
Now, don't misunderstand the Bible here. The Bible is not teaching a universal salvation. The Bible is not saying anyone and everyone is saved. Paul says God made Him who had no sin to be sin "for us" (2 Cor 5:21). For us. For believers. He shouldered the sin and guilt and judgment of the whole human race but it is applied only to those who believe. He experienced this suffering so He might set us free from eternal condemnation and gain for us God's grace, righteousness, and eternal life (Catechism, Q & A 37). He experienced this suffering "so that in him we might become the righteousness of God" (2 Cor 5:21).
A Go back to the cross. Christ is hanging there. In darkness. Laid on Him is the anger of God against the sin of whole human race.
So, what did He experience? How would you describe what He went through?
In the fourth word from the cross it is Christ Himself who explains His experience. Once the darkness has lifted, it is Christ Who tells us what He went through:
(Mt 27:46) About the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, "Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?" – which means, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"This is a direct quotation from Psalm 22:1.
What did Christ undergo? What did He experience? He was forsaken by the Father.
That word "forsake" has a rich history among the people of God. God's promise to Jacob is that God would never leave or forsake him (Gen 28:15). God's promise to the children of Israel is that
(Deut 31:8) the LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.Joshua warned the people of God:
(Josh 24:20) If you forsake the LORD and serve foreign gods, he will turn and bring disaster on you and make an end of you, after he has been good to you.Remember the two complaints of the Apostle Paul?
(2 Tim 4:9-10) Do your best to come to me quickly, (10) for Demas, because he loved this world, has deserted me [that is, forsaken me] and has gone to Thessalonica.We look at this history, and we see that forsake means to abandon. Forsake means to be unfaithful. Forsake means to desert and leave all alone.
(2 Tim 4:16) At my first defense, no one came to my support, but everyone deserted me [that is, forsaken me]. May it not be held against them.
I know there are some in our church family who have gone through tough times or tense situations. In the midst of those circumstances they have felt forsaken by all. Even in these worst possible moments of life, though, when all seem to have forsaken us, we can usually comfort ourselves with the thought that our parents or our spouse still understand and care. And, if even those closest to us forsake us, we know there is always One – God – Who will never leave us or forsake us (Deut 31:6; cf Heb 13:5b).
At the end of His life Jesus didn't even have this comfort. He was totally on His own. The crowds had turned against Him. His disciples had left Him. His family did not believe in Him. And now, now He cries out that even His God has forsaken Him! "Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?" – "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (Mt 27:46). Of everything He suffered, this was His greatest pain and sorrow.
What does it mean that Christ was forsaken by the Father? We believe and confess that during the three awful hours of darkness Christ experienced the pain and agony of hell. As the Catechism puts it, Christ suffered unspeakable anguish, pain, and terror of soul (Q & A 44). For three hours He experienced what we know as the descent into hell. For three hours He experienced the total absence of God and all that is good. For three hours he experienced all of God's wrath and fury against the sin of the whole human race. For three hours He was made a curse for us (Gal 3:13).
B Time after time God is presented on the pages of Scripture as being so faithful. His promise to His people is,
(Heb 13:5) Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.Never once did God fail to live up to this. When the people of Israel cried out to God because of the cruel bondage they suffered in Egypt, He heard and delivered them. When the children of Israel stood helpless between the Red Sea and the Egyptian army, God came to their defense and delivered them from their enemies. When the three Hebrews were cast into Nebuchadnezzar's fiery furnace, the Lord was with them. But here, at the Cross, with His only begotten Son hanging there, God has forsaken and abandoned Jesus.
"My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (Mt 27:46). Isn't this amazing and perplexing and strange and confusing? That the eternal Son is crying this out to the eternal Father? Isn't theirs an eternal Father-Son relationship? We confess the Father was never without His Son (Belgic Confession, Art 8). We confess Christ's divine nature remains forever united to His human nature and that His deity never ceases to be in Him (Belgic Confession, Art 19). So we need to ask, "How can this be? How is this even possible? How can the Father abandon the Son?"
C "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (Mt 27:46). This wasn't a whisper from Christ. We are told He "cried out in a loud voice" (Mt 27:46). Why? Because of the pain and anguish. Because He demands an answer. Because it matters.
"My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (Mt 27:46). The answer is so wonderful, so amazing, so beautiful: He did this for you and me. He has delivered me from the anguish and torment of hell. He suffered the torments of hell so I don't have to. He did this to set us free, body and soul, from the eternal condemnation we so richly deserve.
It should be you and I upon the cross. It should be you and I suffering the torments of hell but instead He has the stripes, He has the pain and anguish, He has the torment. We should be forsaken, but instead He is. I repeat, isn't this wonderful?
"Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?" "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (Mt 27:46). Some of those standing near the cross misunderstood Jesus. They thought Jesus was crying for Elijah. The Greek word "Elijah" sounds more like "Eloi" than it does in the English.
Why would Jesus be calling for Elijah? Some rabbis back then thought that Elijah was like the angels – that he was sent as God's messenger to serve the elect. According to extra-biblical literature, it was even believed that Elijah delivered pious rabbis from trouble.
Immediately one of them give Jesus a drink of wine vinegar. The rest said, "Now leave him alone. Let's see if Elijah comes to save him" (Mt 27:49).
Of course, Elijah did not come. Why not? Because Jesus must suffer and die. Because Jesus must be forsaken by the Father. Because Jesus must take your place and my place upon the cross. Jesus must or you and I aren't saved.
I read the book "Killing Jesus." I watched the movie, "The Passion of the Christ." Both of them emphasize the suffering of Jesus before He came to the cross. Both of them emphasize His sufferings in the body and in the flesh.
"Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?" "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (Mt 27:46). Of everything He suffered, this was His greatest pain and sorrow. Because it was especially then that He sustained the anger of God against the sin of the whole human race. Because it was especially then that He suffered unspeakable anguish, pain, and terror of soul.
"Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?" "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (Mt 27:46). Thank God for this, thank God I say. Because He has delivered me from the anguish and torment of hell.
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