The Forsaken Christ

Matthew 27:45-46

March 22, 2014 | Brian Bill

[Turn Off All Lights in Auditorium]

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.  Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.  And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.  God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness.  God called the light ‘day,’ and the darkness he called ‘night.’” (Genesis 1:1-5) 

Exodus 10:21-23: “Then the LORD said to Moses, ‘Stretch out your hand toward the sky so that darkness will spread over Egypt–darkness that can be felt.’  So Moses stretched out his hand toward the sky, and total darkness covered all Egypt for three days.  No one could see anyone else or leave his place for three days.  Yet all the Israelites had light in the places where they lived.”

Job 5:13-14: “He catches the wise in their craftiness, and the schemes of the wily are swept away.  Darkness comes upon them in the daytime; at noon they grope as in the night.”

Psalm 105:28: “He sent darkness and made the land dark–for had they not rebelled against his words?”

Proverbs 4:19: “But the way of the wicked is like deep darkness; they do not know what makes them stumble.” 

Isaiah 60:2: “See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples, but the LORD rises upon you and his glory appears over you.”

Jeremiah 13:16: “Give glory to the LORD your God before he brings the darkness, before your feet stumble on the darkening hills.  You hope for light, but he will turn it to thick darkness and change it to deep gloom.”

Ezekiel 32:7-8: “When I snuff you out, I will cover the heavens and darken their stars; 

I will cover the sun with a cloud, and the moon will not give its light.  All the shining lights in the heavens I will darken over you; I will bring darkness over your land, declares the Sovereign LORD.”

Joel 2:1-2: “Blow the trumpet in Zion; sound the alarm on my holy hill.  Let all who live in the land tremble, for the day of the LORD is coming.  It is close at hand-a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and blackness.”

Amos 8:9: “In that day,’ declares the Sovereign LORD, ‘I will make the sun go down at noon and darken the earth in broad daylight.’” 

Matthew 4:16: “The people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.”  

John 12:35-36: “Then Jesus told them, ‘You are going to have the light just a little while longer.  Walk while you have the light, before darkness overtakes you.  The man who walks in the dark does not know where he is going.  Put your trust in the light while you have it, so that you may become sons of light.’”

Matthew 27:45-46: “Now from the sixth hour until the ninth hour there was darkness over all the land.  And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, ‘Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?’ that is, ‘My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?’”

[Turn Lights On]

As we approach the fourth shout of the Savior from the cross, I’m overcome with a sense of inadequacy to fully comprehend the weightiness of these words.  When Martin Luther studied this text one day, he just sat and stared at the words for hours.  Suddenly he stood up and exclaimed, “God forsaken by God.  How can it be?” 

Allow this shout to startle, stagger, and even surprise you. 


Let’s begin with a few observations.  As we list some of the details and descriptions surrounding this shout, our sense of awe and wonder will increase, and in the process we should explode with gratefulness for what He’s done for us.

1. This is the middle shout. 

The first three are focused on others – forgiveness for those who crucified Him, last-second salvation for a criminal, and tender words to his mother.  The final four happen in rapid succession.

2. This cry comes after a three-hour period of darkness.

Matthew 27:45 tells us that from noon until 3:00 p.m. “darkness came over all the land.”  Luke 23:44 adds that the darkness was “over all the earth.”   The final four shouts are spoken in quick succession immediately before He dies at about 3:00 in the afternoon.  By the way, His death would have happened about the time of the evening sacrifice in the Temple.

3. This begins a chain reaction of several cataclysmic events. 

Matthew 27:51-52 tells us that after the seventh shout, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, the earth shook, rocks broke apart, and the tombs busted open.  We shouldn’t be surprised because Romans 8:22 says that all creation growns and labors – it’s as if all of nature was bowing in sympathy to the Savior’s death.

4. This cry is a question. 

This is the only time that Jesus asks a question from the cross.  Jesus never asked, “Why am I scourged?” He never questioned why all his disciples fled.  He didn’t even ask why the nails had to tear through his body.  He did ask why He was forsaken.

5. This question is shouted in a loud voice. 

Of the seven cries, only this one and the last one are made in a thunderous voice.  This word (megas) refers to a “big or great” voice and means “to emphatically exclaim.” It was definitely not a whisper or a whimper.  The prophecy in Joel 3:15-16 sheds light on why Jesus used such a loud voice: “The sun and moon will be darkened, and the stars no longer shine.  The LORD will roar from Zion and thunder from Jerusalem; the earth and the sky will tremble…”

6. The shout is directed to “My God,” not “Father.” 

At the point of His greatest agony, as He becomes the sin-bearer, He calls out to God

Notice that Jesus does not call out to His father like He does in the first and last cry.  In fact, this is the only time in the Gospels that Jesus does not use the term “Father.”  At the point of His greatest agony, as He becomes the sin-bearer, He calls out to God.  The Father-Son relationship was somehow changed when He became sin for us.  But notice also the possessive personal pronoun – My God.”  This reveals relationship, though in a slightly different form.  In addition, this phrase is repeated twice for emphasis: “My God, My God.”

7. This question is preserved in the original language. 

Jesus cried out “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?” Scholars suggest that this was in Aramaic, the actual language that Jesus spoke, which is a combination of Hebrew and Syriac.  These agonizing words from the lips of our Lord are recorded for all time so we can hear His anguish.

8. This quotation is from Psalm 22. 

When Jesus said, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” He is quoting Psalm 22:1, a verse that every Jewish boy learned at a young age and recited before going to bed at night.  The New Testament contains 15 messianic quotes or allusions to this psalm.  In fact, some early church leaders referred to it as the 5th gospel.  Once again we see the linkage between the Old Testament and the New, and how Jesus precisely fulfills over 300 predictive prophecies.  In Jewish tradition, to quote the first verse of a Psalm is to quote the whole Psalm, thus intimating that the whole psalm applied to Him.  It’s like saying, “The Lord is my shepherd” and everyone knows you’re referring to the 23rd psalm.  

Psalm 22:7 predicts with descriptive detail how people would react to the crucifixion of the Messiah: “All who see me mock me; they hurl insults, shaking their heads.”  It’s amazing how closely this mirrors the language of Matthew 27:39: “Those who passed by hurled insults at Him, shaking their heads.”  

Psalm 22:14-15 specifically describes the horrors of crucifixion, hundreds of years before it was even practiced: “I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint.   My heart has turned to wax within me.  My strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth.”  Verses 17-18 are even more specific: “I can count all my bones; people stare and gloat over me.  They divide my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing.”

While verse 1 begins with a cry of desolation, the psalm ends with notes of victory, just like the abandonment of Jesus on Good Friday leads to the exclamation of Easter’s hope

This psalm actually runs through the entire crucifixion and resurrection narrative.  While verse 1 begins with a cry of desolation, the psalm ends with notes of victory, just like the abandonment of Jesus on Good Friday leads to the exclamation of Easter’s hope.  The mood moves from being God-forsaken to God-found and then God-filled.  Look at verse 27: “All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the Lord, and all the families of the nations will bow down before him.”  

The Darkness

Let’s look a little more closely at the darkness that is described in Matthew 27:45: “From the sixth hour until the ninth hour darkness came over all the land.”  How did you feel when the lights went off this morning?  It was unnerving, wasn’t it?  Your first thought was probably related to the circuit breaker or that we didn’t pay MidAmerican Energy this month.  

When I was at the library last week I picked up a book called, “The End of the Night.” I was intrigued by the subtitle: “Searching for natural darkness in an age of artificial light.”  The author makes the point that “in our world of nights as bright as day, most of us no longer experience true darkness…already some two-thirds of Americans and Europeans no longer experience real night – that is, real darkness.”

As I read through the book I kept looking for a reference to the real darkness on that Friday afternoon but I couldn’t find it.  What happened on the real “black” Friday was a deep and disturbing darkness.

At high noon, at a time when it was least expected, the world became dark.  Or as Spurgeon said, “It was midnight at midday…Business stood still.  The plow stayed in mid-furrow and the axe paused uplifted.  It was the middle of the day, when men are busiest, but they made a general pause.  Not only on Calvary, but on every hill and in every valley, the gloom settled down.  There was a halt in the caravan of life!  None could move unless they groped their way like the blind.”

Three hours of light are now followed by three hours of silent “darkness that you can feel” as the light of the world becomes payment for the darkness of depravity.  

We know this wasn’t just a sandstorm because it came over “all the land.”  It also had to be something more than an eclipse because an eclipse doesn’t last three hours and this was the Passover when the moon was at its farthest distance from the sun.  In addition, Luke 23:45 says that the sun was darkened after darkness settled over the whole earth.  It’s like the darkness shut off the sun.  This was a supernatural event where the Son of God caused the sun in the sky to be extinguished.  

One pastor painted the picture this way: The sun had gotten up that morning just like it had done over 12,000 times since Jesus was born in Bethlehem.  Only this day, as it gazed down from the heavens it saw man murdering its maker.  All creation was thrown into turmoil and the sun in the sky couldn’t bear to see the Son who is Savior suffer.  For three long hours, men and women shook in their sandals and shivered as the sun’s light and warmth disappeared.  I’m sure those who gathered at Golgotha were petrified and maybe even paralyzed.  They thought the end of the world was coming.  

I can think of a few reasons why the darkness descended.  First, God turned His back on His Son when he became the sin-substitute.  Second, this would have silenced the skeptics and scoffers.  But I think there’s a deeper explanation for the darkness.  It’s as if God kept every sinful eye from gazing at the profound suffering of the Son of God.  It would have been too horrific for anyone to see our sin-substitute take on the accumulated sins of the whole world.  Perhaps the physical convulsions caused by sin’s payment were too intense for anyone to see.  It would have been repulsive and repugnant.  As Spurgeon put it, it would be too much “to see Him broken beneath the iron rod of divine wrath on our behalf.”

In the Bible, darkness is almost always connected with the judgment of God for sin.  Listen carefully.  It was midnight at midday because Jesus took on the legal guilt of our sin and was therefore judged accordingly.  It was during these 180 minutes that Jesus became our sin payment.  There were three days of darkness in Egypt before the Passover and now there are three hours of darkness before the Lamb of God dies for the sins of the world.  

  • In three hours of light, He suffered from men and now in three hours of darkness He suffered for men.  
  • In three hours of light, He suffered from man’s injustice and in three hours of darkness, He suffered from God’s justice

2 Corinthians 5:21: “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”   Jesus took the full brunt of God’s righteous judgment, paying the price by becoming a curse for us according to Galatians 3:13: “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: ‘Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.’”  Isaiah 53:6: “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.”  Everything we’ve done and all the sins that have ever been committed were placed on Jesus

That means that those lies I told my parents are settled on the Savior.  Those times I caused pain to my sisters are pinned to the cross.  My every careless word skewers His soul.  Those times of anger cause anguish to the only begotten.  The Prince of Peace takes my relational conflict upon Himself.  My failures as a father are forgiven.  All of my sins, and all of yours, were downloaded on Jesus during the darkness.

When we lived in Mexico I got to know an engineer who worked for a company that installed sewage treatment plants.  I asked him if I could tag along one day when he traveled to a town that was having some problems with their system.  I had been praying for him to come to Christ and thought it would be beneficial for me to build some bridges with him.  Our trip took about three hours and we finally ended up in a small town.  

As we drove up to the facility I was immediately overcome by the smell of raw sewage.  My friend told me that since things weren’t working right, they were unable to treat the wastewater and so it was just overflowing and dumping on the ground.  I have never smelled anything so foul in my entire life.  I was repulsed by the odor and the look of everything.  I got queasy and immediately headed for the car.  Unfortunately, we spent the entire day there.  Did I mention that it was extremely hot and there were flies everywhere?

Imagine that all of the world’s wickedness, lies, broken promises, greed, murder, bitterness, hatred, crime, cursing, lust and every terrible thought came pouring into this treatment plant.  Imagine a river of filth that continues to flow, replenishing the vile mixture with all the evil done every day.  Now picture Jesus on the Cross with all the accumulated stench and foulness of the world being poured onto Him.  That’s exactly what happened at Calvary.  The sewer of sin and the gutter of guilt came splashing down on Jesus when He hung on the cross.

One pastor suggests that this darkness is the shadow of God’s back when He turned around and deliberately closed His eyes to the plight of His Son.  The physical darkness was symbolic of Christ’s separation from the Father, who is light.  John Stott writes, “Our sins blotted out the sunshine of His Father’s face.”   God the Father turned His back because in His absolute holiness He could not look at the accumulated ugliness of all the world’s sins that were piled on His Son.  Habakkuk 1:13 states it this way: “Your eyes are too pure to look on evil; you cannot tolerate wrong.” God’s purity demands that He turn away from our putrid sins.

His holiness recoils from the smallest spot of sin.  When God looked down and saw His Son bearing the sin of the world, He didn’t see His Son; He saw the sin that He was bearing.  And in that awful moment, the Majesty turned His back.  He was repulsed by the raw sewage of sin splattered all over His Son.  When God looked away, the light evaporated. 

The Desolation

The link between the darkness of verse 45 and the desolation of verse 46 is very evident:  And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” that is, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” The word “forsaken” is quite strong.  A.W. Pink says that its one of the most tragic in all human speech.  It means “to desert, to disown, to turn away from, to leave behind.”   This was more than just that Jesus felt forsaken; He was literally and actually abandoned by the Almighty.  This cry, shouted out to the Heavens, is met with a holy silence

During this time of desolation on the cross, Jesus did not cease to be the eternal Son of God.  The Father never stopped loving Him.  In fact, this was the climax of His love.  This was why He had sent His Son in the first place.  And that’s what the choir reminded us of: He could have answered with your name.  John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son…”  Jesus was forsaken because we deserved to be deserted.  He endured the darkness and abandonment and judgment so we won’t have to.  He was forsaken that I might be forgiven.

The Father forsook the Son because His holiness required it.  Take a look at Psalm 22 again, in verse 3: “Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One; you are the praise of Israel.”  The prophet Nahum asked a question that finds its answer on Calvary’s cross in Nahum 1:6: “Who can withstand His indignation?  Who can endure His fierce anger?  His wrath is poured out like fire; the rocks are shattered before Him.”  Jesus took the indignation, anger and wrath of God for us.  Jesus received what rightly belonged to us so that we can receive that which we don’t deserve – forgiveness of sins and eternal life.

Did you know that a major denomination rejected the popular new hymn called, “In Christ Alone” this summer because they didn’t like the reference to the wrath of God?  Here’s the stanza they objected to: “Till on that cross as Jesus died; the wrath of God was satisfied.”  Instead they wanted to substitute: “…as Jesus died; the love of God was magnified.”  Keith Getty and Stuart Townend, the authors of the hymn, insisted on the original wording, and so the denomination denied its entry in their new hymnal.  A spokesperson from the denomination said, “The ‘view that the cross is primarily about God’s need to assuage God’s anger’ would have a negative effect on the hymnal’s ability to form the faith of coming generations.”  Friends, there’s no way to soften this shout.  God’s wrath was poured on Christ because of our sins.

To say it theologically, Jesus died a vicarious (it was done in our place) and subsitutionary death (instead of us) as an atoning sacrifice (God’s wrath has been fully satisfied) for our sins. 

We have a hard time fully comprehending this cry from the cross because we have at least two misunderstandings. 

1. We overestimate our goodness. 

Most of us believe that we’re not all that bad.  While we know we mess up, we don’t really think that our sinfulness should send us to Hell.  Friends, we should never minimize the horror of human sin.  It was our sin that Jesus bore on the cross.  It was our sin that caused the Father to turn away.  It was our sin floating in the sewage of iniquity.  Jesus became a curse, and you and I are part of the reason why He did so.

2. We underestimate God’s holiness. 

God is utterly holy, perfectly pure and He finds sin repulsive and repugnant.  He cannot lower his standards and begin grading on a spiritual curve.  He is holy, holy, holy and completely just.  He does not tolerate sin and must therefore punish it by enforcing the penalty.

This past Wednesday I served on the phone team for Moody Radio’s Share campaign.  I was eager to help and was put in the first chair at 6:00 a.m.  I received my training and helped a couple callers but then was demoted to chair #6 for some reason and someone else took my place.  The only thing I could think of was that I had made some mistakes or didn’t bring in enough shekels and someone better needed to fill in for me.  Brothers and sisters, someone filled in for you and for me.  He took our place so we don’t have to pay the price for our sins.  

Check this out.  God maintains His holiness and justice without sacrificing His standards for righteousness.  He demands payment and the payment has been made.  He exhibited His holiness and satisfied His justice by pouring out His wrath on the One who was made sin for us.  Listen to the beautiful words found in Romans 3:25-26: “God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood.  He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished-he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.

Our Deliverance

I vividly remember an experience I had when I was about 8 years old.  My bedroom was down in the basement, which was really cool because I got to get away from my four sisters and have some privacy.  The only thing that was tough about this was that it was really dark down there.  I was normally pretty adept at finding my way around in the dark and used to like feeling my way past my dad’s workbench, the furnace and the woodpile in order to get to the bathroom in the middle of the night.  I got used to living in deep darkness.

One night however, I woke up when nature called and got out of bed.  But, without realizing it, I had gotten out on the wrong side of the bed.  Instead of finding the door, I was on the other end of my room, frantically searching for the light switch or the door.  I started to panic.  I couldn’t figure out who moved the door on me – it must have been one of my sisters!  The more I searched the more upset I became.  Finally I couldn’t take it anymore.  I started screaming at the top of my lungs for my mom and dad.  Eventually they came running down the stairs, opened my door and turned the light on.   I’ll never forget how glad I was to see them!  

This experience taught me a few lessons.

  • I was in the dark and I knew it – I was blind.  I couldn’t get out on my own.  Do you recognize that you’re in the dark spiritually with no way out?  
  • I knew I needed some help and I knew someone could help me – I had beliefDo you know you need some help?  Do you believe that Jesus can help you?  Do you have faith in who He is and in what He can do for you?  
  • I knew I had to scream and shout in order to get that help – I was bold.  Are you willing to boldly ask Jesus for the help you so desperately need? 

When you have Jesus in your life, you no longer have to stumble around in spiritual darkness. 

“I am the light of the world.  Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12)

In the middle of darkness and desolation, you and I can be delivered.  God is holy and will not look upon sin.  He is just and therefore must judge sin.  But God is love and has designed a way where justice can be fully satisfied.  Jesus went through the darkness so that we can have light.  He was cursed that we might be blessed.  I am accepted in the Beloved because God the Father accepted the sacrifice of His beloved Son.  He was desolate so we can be delivered.  He was condemned so we can know the truth of Romans 8:1: “Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”  

Here’s the deal.  Sin always exacts a payment.  Either Jesus bears your sin or you do.  If the Father turned His face away from His Son when He took our sin, He will certainly turn away from every sinner who refuses to be washed by the blood of His Son.  The wrath of God will either fall on you or upon the sinless subsitute.  If anyone goes to Hell, it’s in spite of what Jesus has done.  He’s already paid the penalty.  He took the blow.  He took the pain and the suffering.  The worst thing about Hell is that it is the one place in the universe where people are utterly and forever forsaken by God.

But, the good news is that you don’t have to go there.  Jesus took your punishment with Him to the cross.  He died as full payment for all your sins.  It’s no accident that Jesus died on the memorable night of the Passover.  As the Lamb of God, His blood applied to your life will cause the Lord’s righteous judgment to pass over you.  Why did He do it all?  Because He loves us.

I’m forgiven because you were forsaken

I’m accepted, you were condemned.

All because of His amazing love.

Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?