It is possible to picture the scene at Golgotha. For three hours Jesus has suffered under the blistering sun. Then God seemed to say, "Enough!" He drew a curtain of darkness over the whole earth. Out of the darkness there came that haunting, piercing, puzzling cry: "My God! My God! Why has thou forsaken me?"
It is puzzling, isn't it? Can it be that God had really forsaken Jesus? On the other hand, can it be that Jesus was mistaken?
Some say the answer lies in 2 Corinthians 5:21. Other texts tell us that He bore our sins, but that verse says He became sin. If that is to be taken literally, then how could a holy God look upon sin? It is argued that when Jesus became sin for us God had to turn away for a moment, and in that moment the cry comes. If such a view is correct it shows us the enormity of sin. It shows us that sin is no trffling matter. If sin could separate the Son from the Father, it is no triviality! If that view is true it shows us the enormity of the price paid for our redemption. If Jesus had to be separated from God, even for an instant, the price was enormous. If that view is true it shows us the enormity of God's love, and of Christ's love, too.
While that view may be true, there is another interpretation that is much simpler and much nearer at hand. The words of Jesus are identical to the first verse of Psalm 22. Perhaps Jesus was quoting Scripture on the cross. Perhaps He quoted the whole psalm and those nearby heard only the first part of it.
Jesus often quoted Scripture. He quoted Scripture when He was tempted on the mountain after His baptism. Again and again He met Satan's offers with Scripture. Do you ever quote Scripture when you are tempted? Do you know enough Scripture to quote it when you are tempted? David did. He said, "Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee."
In His debates with His enemies Jesus often quoted Scripture. "Have you not read?" He asked. "Have you not read?"
A man said that once he passed through a dark and awful night. Nameless fears gripped him. He was filled with anxiety and dread. He said that he was sustained through that dark night of the soul by quoting to himself all the Scripture he could remember. Much of it he had learned in his youth. He quoted it to himself over and over again and he was sustained by it.
So it fits all we know about Jesus to suppose that He was quoting Scripture on the cross. And that Scripture, Psalm 22, certainly fits what was happening on the cross. Look at verse 7: "All who see me mock at me, they make mouths at me, they wag their heads; he committed his cause to the Lord; let him deliver him, let him rescue him, for he delights in him!" (RSV). You can hear the very echo of that in the taunts they hurled at Jesus on the cross. Look at verse 14: "I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint. My heart has turned to wax; it has melted away within me" (NIV). And verse 16: "They have pierced my hands and feet." It sounds like an account by an eyewitness, but it is a prophecy written hundreds of years before. And verse 18: "They divide my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing." Every ring of the hammer, every shout of the scribes, every deed of the soldiers was a fulfillment of prophecy . . . and a fulfillment of Psalm 22.
Psalm 22 begins with that cry from the cross, "My God! My God! Why hast thou forsaken me?" I think the emphasis was on the word "Thou." He knew why men had forsaken Him. He could see His disciples watching from afar, just as they could see Him. He knew their frame. He remembered that they were dust. He knew how fear had chilled their hearts. He knew why men had forsaken Him. I think the cry was, "Why hast Thou forsaken me?" And if this Psalm fits perfectly Jesus crucifixion, this cry fits perfectly our experience. Surely everyone cries out at some point in life, "Why?" The hard questions of life are always the Why questions. We can answer the questions that begin with Who, What, Where, and When. It's the Why questions that puzzle us. Dostoevsky said that we can manage the how of life if only we have a why.
In a village cemetery in Austria there is a one word epitaph. The stone marks the burial place of a child. The stone gives his name, the date of birth, the date of death, and then this epitaph - one word - "Warum" - Why? Out of the depths of our own Gethsemanes and Golgothas we cry, "Why?"
We ought not to feel guilty in asking that question. We have every right to ask it. If Jesus asked it on the cross it cannot be wrong for us to ask it, too. But in asking, we must not assume that we will always get an answer. We may get an answer, we may not. And if we do not get an answer, we must not assume that there is no answer. It may only mean that we are not yet ready to receive the answer; that it lies hidden in the wise heart of God.
Was Jesus forsaken on the cross? No. Did He feel forsaken on the cross? Yes. Are we ever forsaken? Never! Do we sometimes feel forsaken? Yes. But notice that even when Jesus felt forsaken He did not stop believing in God. His response was a prayer. Neither David who wrote the Psalm, nor Jesus who quoted it, stopped believing in God. We sometimes do that in our disappointment. When life goes wrong we sometimes conclude that there just isn't any God. But Jesus did not stop believing in God, nor did He stop believing in prayer. We sometimes say, "Why pray? It doesn't do any good. It's no use to pray." But even on the cross Jesus still believed in prayer. And even on the cross Jesus still believed that God was His Father. This cry lies between the two prayers from the cross. Both of them begin with the word, "Father." "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do" and "Father, into Thy hands I commit my spirit.' Jesus never stopped believing in God, in prayer, or that God was a Father. And we must never stop believing in God, in prayer, or in the fatherhood of God.
Imagine a piece of paper saying to a writer, "Why are you making all those marks on me. I was pretty and clean, and now I m all marked up. And besides that, your pen scratches and it hurts." But the writer will say to the paper, "You are only a piece of paper. When I get through with you, you will be a masterpiece. You are worth very little now, but when I am through with you you will be worth ten thousand times more."
Imagine the clay speaking to the sculptor. "Stop pinching me! You're squeezing me too tightly. And those tools are sharp. It hurts!" But the sculptor will answer, "You are just a lump of clay. When I am through with you you will be a lovely piece of art and people will admire you for generations."
Imagine the gold saying to the jeweler, "Don't put me in the fire! I don't like the fire! Whatever you do, don't put me in the fire!" And the jeweler will say, "Only if you go through the fire can you become the beautiful thing I want to make out of you."
If ever you have to go through the fire, if ever you feel squeezed in by life, if you get marked and scratched, remember that it may be God is trying to make something out of you. Suppose Jesus had not gone to the cross. Suppose that a magic carpet had whisked Him from the courtroom. Suppose He had never felt the whip, the thorns, the nails, the spear? Would there be any Christian religion at all? We'd have to take half the songs out of our hymnbook. We'd have to take half the texts out of our Bible. There would be no Communion table. There would be no baptism. In truth, there would be no church, for we are drawn by the magnetism of the cross. It drew us to God and it drew us together.
So, when you have to take up your cross, just remember that you are only a lump of clay now, but God is going to make something out of you.
When Columbus first landed in the New World, he waded ashore carrying a cross. He stuck it in the sand and claimed that land in the name of the king of Spain and in the name of the Christ who was symbolized by that cross. Almost every place he discovered he named for a saint or a holy day.
So Christ comes into your life with a cross. He says, "I claim
this life by virtue of my cross." Are you going to acknowledge His