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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
Preached At:Providence Canadian Reformed Church
 Hamilton, Ontario
Title:The Word of Anguish
Text:Matthew 27:46 (View)
Occasion:Easter (Good Friday)
Topic:Christ's Suffering

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Psalm 69:1,7

Psalm 25:3 (after the law)

Psalm 22:1-3

Hymn 26

Hymn 27

Scripture reading:  Matthew 27:32-56

Text:  Matthew 27:46

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved congregation of our Saviour Jesus,

He hung there on the cross in the darkness for three hours.  Prior to that Jesus had been scourged, beaten, and mocked.  He had been condemned to death, even though the Roman governor had said not just once, but three times, “I find no guilt in him.”  Indeed, there was no guilt to be found in him -- nothing worthy of this.  His actions were always righteous.  His words were consistently characterized by integrity.  His thoughts were always pure and holy.  Though tempted in every way like we are, Jesus never sinned.  As we read Scripture and see him on the cross, we see a perfectly innocent man hanging there.  He deserved nothing of this.  Instead, if he were to receive what he deserves, he should have been exalted on a throne with ten thousand thousand saints and angels surrounding him with adoring praises.  Instead, there is the cross.

This morning, we’re looking at the Fourth Word from the Cross, the Word of Anguish.  As he hangs on the cross, just before he dies, Christ shouts these words of deep distress:  “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”  Sadly, these words are often misunderstood.  They’re misunderstood in such a way that their full significance is missed and the good news is not as good as it could be.  Let’s look closer at these words from Matthew 27:46 this morning, the Word of Anguish. 

We’ll consider:

  1. The meaning of Christ’s cry
  2. The mystery in Christ’s cry

Christ’s cry can’t be separated from the darkness which comes before.  Matthew tells us that while Christ was on the cross, a supernatural darkness came over all the land.  This darkness had no natural explanation.  It could not have been an eclipse, at least not a normal eclipse.  Moreover, this darkness lasted three hours, from noon until three.  There was a message in this darkness.  God was turning out the lights as his Son bore the curse on our sin.   Light is associated with life and blessing.  The darkness is where the sinners are cast in Jesus’ parables. Darkness is associated with death and curse.  The darkness outside was meant to underline the torment Jesus was experiencing in body and soul.  This torment inside and out was what led to Jesus shouting the words of our text.

This shout comes at “about the ninth hour.”  That’s three o’clock in the afternoon.  Has the darkness lifted already at this point?  Matthew doesn’t directly say.  It’s possible that it was still dark or that the darkness was beginning to lift.  Whatever the case may be, it’s obvious that its effects are still being felt by Jesus. 

He cries out, “Eli, eli, lema sabachthani.”  Here Matthew gives us the exact words that Jesus said in the original language.  As you may know, the New Testament was originally written in Greek.  Jesus may have spoken some Greek as he lived on this earth, but most of the time he would have spoken the same language as nearly everyone else around him:  Aramaic.  Aramaic is what we call a Semitic language.  It’s closely related to Hebrew – sort of like how German and Dutch are related.  While on the cross, he shouts these words in Aramaic and then Matthew supplies the Greek translation:  “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

Why does Matthew include the Aramaic original here?  One possibility is that the Spirit led him to do this to emphasize that Jesus really said this.  Some might find these words hard to believe.  Would Jesus really have said something like this?  Would he really claim that God had forsaken him?  After all that perfect and righteous living, would he now shout out that he has been forsaken by God?  That almost seems contradictory, unbelievable.  Is the cross about a perfectly righteous man being forsaken by a perfectly righteous God?  How could that be?  It’s very possible that under the inspiration of the Spirit, Matthew anticipated these questions and therefore included the actual words that Jesus said in Aramaic.  It was as if he was saying, “Yes, Jesus really did say this. As unbelievable as it seems, this was truly what he shouted at about the ninth hour.”

Now, these words, where did Jesus get them from?  Since we sang from Psalm 22 a few moments ago, I think the answer is obvious.  He was taking the words of Psalm 22:1 on his lips.  One might say that he was quoting Psalm 22:1, but there is a sense in which that’s not quite true.  Because, after all, Christ is ultimately the author of Psalm 22.  Yes, I know the title says it was written by David.  David was the human author of that Psalm – but behind the human author was ultimately the Divine Author.  Christ was speaking through his Holy Spirit and led David to write what he did.  So when Psalm 22:1 is heard from the lips of our Saviour on Golgotha, he’s singing his own song, so to speak.  The Psalm was crafted partly with this occasion in mind, the moment when the Messiah would offer his sacrifice.    

But what does it mean when he shouts these words?  There are two aspects to this that we need to consider.  First of all, we need to reflect on what he was doing as he uttered the Word of Anguish.  Here we need to notice the first two words, “Eli, Eli,” or “My God, my God.”  That tells us that the cross has not changed him.  He is still perfectly righteous.  You can see that in the fact that he still cries out to God.  Jesus keeps on praying.  The lights have been turned out, horrible torment has descended upon him in body and soul, and yet he does not stop praying.  Here he is, moments before he gives up his spirit and dies, and he is still obedient.  Brothers and sisters, in these words we need to see Jesus as one who was obedient unto death.  God’s law calls all of us to worship him only and him only all the time, no matter what.  That’s the First Commandment.  Good times or bad times – it doesn’t matter, as a creature of God, you’re called to worship him and prayer is part of worship.    As Jesus hangs on the cross, he continues in his perfect obedience.  He calls out to the only true God, even though he’s in the depths of suffering.  Even in his suffering, he is actively obedient.  Loved ones, he did that for you.  When you believe in him, his obedience is yours, it’s credited to your account before God.  Are you concerned that when you were having a hard time, you stopped praying and lost your focus on God?  Look to Jesus here -- trust that he did this for you.  On the cross, when he was having the hardest time imaginable, he didn’t stop praying, he continued to cry out to God and he did it for you and in your place.

So we can see what he was doing, that he was being active.  That’s the first aspect.  The other aspect of the meaning of his cry is what was being done to him.  He was not only a subject, but also an object.  He was not only acting, but also being acted upon.  This is evident from the second part of his cry, “why have you forsaken me?”  Jesus Christ was being forsaken by God.  It wasn’t merely the case that he felt he was being forsaken, but he was actually being forsaken by God.  This is an actual state of affairs.  Yes, he felt it, we can’t deny that, but he felt it because it was very real.              

What does it mean that Jesus was forsaken by God as he hung on the cross?  To understand that, we do have to go back to Psalm 22 and the word used there in verse 1.  The word for “forsaken” was often used in the Old Testament to refer to a break in covenant communion.  The word has covenantal overtones; it’s used in the context of relationships.  When someone forsakes someone else in the Old Testament, it often means that the relationship has changed for the worse. 

There are examples of people forsaking God.  For example, there’s Jeremiah 2:13, where God says his people have forsaken him, “the fountain of living waters and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.”  That “forsaking” there refers to a broken covenant relationship.  The relationship is still there, but its character has changed.  Where once there was fellowship, now there’s hostility.             

There are also examples of God forsaking his people.  If we stick with Jeremiah, there’s Jeremiah 12:7.  God says, “I have forsaken my house, I have abandoned my heritage; I have given the beloved of my soul into the hands of her enemies.”  Again, there’s a broken covenant relationship, a changed covenant relationship.  For God to forsake his covenant people means that there is no longer fellowship and communion.  Instead, there is enmity.  God does not just walk away and absent himself from these people.  Rather, he turns against them in his wrath.

It’s important that we keep this in mind as we look at the words Jesus shouts in Matthew 27:46.  Too often people read these words and conclude that Jesus was completely alone on the cross.  In other words, God was no longer present with him.  He has been entirely abandoned.  Related to that is a view of hell.  The pain of hell is sometimes said to be the fact that God is absent there.  Well, if God is absent in hell, whose wrath is being poured out there?  Whose justice does hell represent?  No, we can’t say that God is absent in hell.  That’s not biblical.  After all, isn’t Scripture clear that God is omnipresent – by nature he is present everywhere.  He fills the universe says Jeremiah 23:24.  So God must somehow be present in hell.  Similarly, if Jesus experienced hellish agony on the cross, we can’t say that God was absent there.  His words here mean something different, something at the same time far more terrifying and yet far more comforting.

His forsakenness should be viewed in negative terms, in terms of God taking things away from him, “omission” you could say.  Jesus has had everything removed from him.  As we saw already, the lights were turned out.  Before that, his friends had turned against him, denied him, left him.  One of his disciples had even betrayed him.  Even the angels were gone – there was no one to support him or encourage him.  His dignity and honour had been removed.  He hung on the cross naked.  Yes, he wore a crown, but a crown of thorns.  He was publicly mocked and humiliated.  Every comfort that God offers his creatures in this life was gone.  It had all been taken away and he was left with nothing.  Certainly that is part of what it means that he was forsaken by God.  God turned against him by withdrawing everything good.

But his forsakenness must also be viewed in positive terms, in terms of God doing things to him, “commission” you could say.  Here you need to remember that everything about Jesus at this moment screams “cursed.”  He is hanging on a cross – a crucified one was cursed by God.  He is the reason the lights went out, why darkness fell – because he was cursed.  He wears the crown of thorns – thorns were part of God’s curse on creation after Adam’s fall.  The one cursed by God is not merely ignored by God, abandoned in the sense that God walks away and becomes absent.  No, God actively turns against the accursed.  He bears down on him with his wrath.  God is very present on Golgotha, but in the most terrifying way he can be present.  He’s not present to love and bless, to live in fellowship and communion, but to punish sin with his just wrath.  That punishment God brings down to bear on the crucified Jesus.  God is there in his wrath, the expression of his justice against sin.  Being forsaken by God means that Jesus experiences the full wrath of God against sin.  Let that sink in.

Now also let it sink in that Jesus did not experience this God-forsakenness against sin in the abstract.  What I mean is that he didn’t suffer this horrific torment just for a nameless mass of humanity.  This is where the comfort starts.  The comfort starts with the fact that as Jesus cried out in his anguish, he had the names of every elect person on his heart.  You and I should be the ones receiving all the forsakenness I’ve been describing.  We deserve to have every good comfort removed from our lives for eternity.  We deserve to have God’s wrath bear down on us forever in hell.  Yet, look and wonder:  as you believe in him, Jesus took all this in your place.  He did it conscientiously with you in mind, you personally brother, you personally sister.  He knew your name on Golgotha.  He had your name in mind, he had love for you on his heart as he shouted these words in Matthew 27:46.  It’s as if he’s saying, “You should have been forsaken.  But I loved you so much that I chose to be forsaken for you.”  Loved ones, trust his good Word to you.  Believe this gospel message that your Saviour was forsaken in your place.  He had everything withdrawn, so that you could be filled with God’s blessings.  God turned against him in his wrath, so that you could be received in mercy.  What gospel encouragement we have here!  What rich comfort!

At the same time, there is mystery in the cry of Christ.  A long time ago, as a young man, I remember hearing a Good Friday sermon on this same passage.  I approached my pastor afterwards and asked him, “How is it possible that Jesus Christ, the second person of the Trinity could be forsaken by God?  Was there a break in the Trinity on the cross?”  I remember that my pastor said something like, “It’s impossible to know how this worked, but certainly we can’t go in the direction of saying that there was a break in the Trinity.  That would mean the end of God.  The Trinity is fundamental to God’s being.”

My pastor was correct.  There is mystery here.  The one who uttered these words was Jesus, the Son of God.  The one who experienced this was both true God and true man.  He has these two natures:  divine and human.  They are closely united to one another.  Yet Jesus was forsaken by God on the cross.  Not only were all comforts removed, but God’s wrath bore down on him.  Now one might say that he experienced all that only with his human nature.  Certainly, there is truth in that.  Our Catechism summarizes biblical teaching in QA 17 by saying that Christ bore in his human nature “the burden of God’s wrath.”  True.  Yet there still is this very close connection between the two natures of Christ.  How could he experience the wrath of God in his human nature and not feel it in his divine nature?  Or how could he experience the wrath of God when his divine nature is divine?  Isn’t that like divine nature attacking his human nature or something like that?  You see, there still are questions that we can’t fully resolve.  There is mystery here that we can’t penetrate with our puny human minds.  This reminds us that when we speak about spiritual things, sometimes we run up against mystery.  In these situations, we have to back away respectfully and say, “I don’t fully understand it, but God has revealed it and he knows what he’s talking about, so I will take him at his Word.  I will simply believe what my Father has said.  My Father knows best.”  That’s the response of faith.

There’s also some mystery in the fact that Jesus asks this question and the way he asks it.  He says, “why have you forsaken me?”  The question “why” is somewhat mysterious.  After all, didn’t Jesus know that he was going to the cross?  Aren’t there passages like Mark 10:32-34 where he shows a deep awareness of what is to come?  He knew that he would be crucified – in fact, we could even say that he agreed to it before coming into the world.   He knew that saving us would require him bearing the wrath of God in our place.  He agreed to give his life as a ransom for us.  So why does he ask “why” on the cross? 

One could say that the word is incidental because it appears in Psalm 22.  He included it because it was there in Psalm 22 and it’s not a real question for him.  However, keep in mind what I said earlier about the ultimate author of Psalm 22 – it’s Jesus himself.  So this approach really doesn’t help.  When Psalm 22 was first written, the ultimate author could have used a different word or expression knowing that he would utter these words on the cross a thousand years later.

A better approach might be to remember that Jesus shouts these words in the common language of the people.  He shouted them – he wanted everyone to hear.  He said them in Aramaic – he wanted everyone to understand.  Perhaps the “why” is not so much an expression of his bewilderment at what’s happening as it is a stimulus for those watching and reading later to ask themselves:  indeed, why?  Why did God forsake him?  That’s the question the gospel answers.  The gospel here is:  love.  Love for lost sinners is why God forsook him.  Love for you and me.  Amazing love that we can never fathom.  We can only stand in awe and love this Saviour, this God who had a plan for our redemption from the beginning.

Loved ones, his cry of anguish from the cross is crucial for our understanding the gospel.  The One who said it was undeserving of it.  He had done nothing to earn this accursed forsakenness.  But he did it in the place of those undeserving of heaven.  Jesus did it for those who have done nothing to earn blessed fellowship into eternity.  Brothers and sisters, not only today on Good Friday, but always look to this Saviour and rest and trust in him only as your eternal hope.  AMEN.


Our beloved Saviour Jesus,

On the cross, you humbled yourself and took our hell.  We should have had every blessing and comfort taken away from us.  This is what we have earned with our sin.  We should have had divine justice and wrath poured out on us.  We deserve to be forsaken eternally.  Thank you, dear Saviour, for your amazing love for us.  You loved us to death.  Thank you for taking our place and bearing our curse.  We also praise you for your obedience in our place.  Even in the depths of hell, you were faithful and true.  There is no Saviour like you, none that can even come close.  Lord, you are eternally deserving of our devotion, our love, and our praise.  We trust in what you have done and thank you for the comfort and assurance it brings us.

LORD God, thank you for your Word to us this morning.  Thank you for giving us this gospel encouragement, and please lead us with your Spirit always to believe it.  Help us also to boldly share it with a world desperately in need of it.                                                                  

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

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