Matthew 27:45-46: Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour. And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, la′ma sabach-tha′ni?” that is, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”
As one ponders these last words of Christ on the cross, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” it can make you wonder, what is so good about Good Friday? It makes me think that the words above, uttered by the Son of God, have to be the strangest in all of Scripture. Here is Jesus, the holiest of all men, innocence personified, human and divine yet totally obedient to God. Here is Jesus crying out to His heavenly Father, words that sound strangely out of place to me.
I am not sure I can fully comprehend it all.
They sound more like something I would say, but not the Son of God! As someone who asks many “why” questions, I must ponder — why did Jesus ask that one?
Theologians tell us that this very day and hour in history is THE reason Jesus came. He endured the mocking, the pain, and, even as these words suggest, the abandonment by God. He suffered all of this for us. As St. Paul says in 2 Cor. 5:21, “For our sake, He made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.” So, it is at this very moment, when Jesus became sin on our behalf, that God the Father turned His back upon His Son.
How significant are these words?
In the Gospel of Mark, which gives a much briefer account of the crucifixion, these are the only words St. Mark quotes from Jesus on the cross.
Still, other theologians are quick to point out that Jesus, despite the agony of being crucified, was also quoting Psalm 22:1, drawing attention to the fulfillment of this prophetic description of a crucifixion, hundreds of years before it became a means of execution.
While I admit to being fascinated with the theological explanations and historical references, I still have more questions than answers — a timeless topic for meditation for sure.
- How often have I felt abandoned by God?
- How many times have my prayers gone unanswered?
- How often have I asked God a “WHY” question and received nothing but silence?
True, there are times when God’s absence is best explained by bumper sticker theology. You know the one. “If God seems far away, guess who moved?” Sure, there are times when my sins or my preoccupation with worldly things has weakened my faith walk and dampened my enthusiasm for spiritual devotions. There have also been painful times when my tears and quivering lips whispered a succession of “why” questions.
- Why did my wife suffer so much and die prematurely from cancer at 59?
- Why did my niece die in a car wreck at age 15?
- Why did my cousin drown at the age of 4?
- Why is the world in such a mess?
Each time I ask such a question, I am keenly aware that no answer will be forthcoming this side of heaven. Still, from my perspective, I have come to realize that these words, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” are but the universal cry of all humanity trying to come to grips with the reality of evil and suffering.
Yet, of all the words that Jesus said on the cross, I think these are the ones I can identify with the most.
Having suffered and died a cruel death, He knows the misery of undeserved suffering, He knows the pain of separation, and He knows the agony of abandonment.
He knows! HE KNOWS!
And He is with me, whether I feel His presence or not. I may see these same words in Psalm 22, but in Psalm 23, I am reminded, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil; for thou art with me…”
I may not fully comprehend the meaning of these last words of Jesus from the cross or appreciate the excruciating pain He endured. But what I do know, what I firmly believe, is that God the Father turned His back on His Son so that He could open his arms to me.
Is it possible that, at least in part, the answer to Jesus’ question, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” is the same answer to my question of “How can God forgive a sinner like me?”
So, what is so good about Good Friday?
Jesus was forsaken so that I could be forgiven.
Amen and Amen! Thanks be to God!
Note: All Scripture references are from the RSV. The artwork shown is provided by Steven Larson.