So far as we have studied Jesus’ questions, we have looked at several questions he asked other people- questions which cut to the heart of the matter, which challenged them, which left them changed.
Today’s question is slightly different. It is a question addressed to God- a cry from the heart as Jesus hung on the cross: “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” (Matthew 27:46 NLT)
Like many of the other questions, it seems strange. It’s understandable that Jesus would have felt abandoned as he hung on the cross, but he knew why he was doing it… and if he was God’s Son, fulfilling God’s plan, could God really have abandoned him?
As usual, when we look deeper, there is a lot we can learn from this question.
Firstly, it quotes the opening verse of Psalm 22. Jesus’ intention could have been to remind people of this Psalm, which contains several references prophesying events that were taking place that Good Friday:
- “Everyone who sees me mocks me. They sneer and shake their heads, saying, “Is this the one who relies on the Lord? Then let the Lord save him!” (Psalm 22:7-8 NLT)
“The people passing by shouted abuse, shaking their heads in mockery…”If you are the Son of God, save yourself and come down from the cross!”” (Matthew 27:39-40 NLT)
- “They have pierced my hands and feet…They divide my garments among themselves and throw dice for my clothing.” (Psalm 22:16,18 NLT)
“After they had nailed him to the cross, the soldiers gambled for his clothing by throwing dice.” (Matthew 27:35 NLT)
To those who recognised the reference this could have been a clue that the terrible events of that day were not just a random set of circumstances, that what was happening to Jesus was not a mistake, but a crucial part of God’s plan.
Secondly, the question shows the weight of our sin and the severity of its consequences. The separation and abandonment Jesus experienced on the cross was the punishment we deserved. Jesus, who had lived a perfect life and always experienced perfect communion with the Father was now cut off from him because of our sin.
- “When he was hung on the cross, he took upon himself the curse for our wrongdoing.” (Galatians 3:13 NLT)
- “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us.” (2 Corinthians 5:21 NIV)
He took on himself the curse and he became sin. The price he paid was high, but it was for us and our freedom. Because of Jesus’ separation from God, that is something we never need to experience: “As a result he has brought you into his own presence, and you are holy and blameless as you stand before him, without a single fault.” (Colossians 1:22 NLT)
Finally, Jesus’ question shows us that it is okay to be honest with God. We all have times when we feel alone and abandoned, and this reassures me that we can come to him with our pain, our disappointment, our fears and our questions.
After all, Jesus knew why he was suffering; he had willingly chosen to go to the cross. But in that moment, in the midst of intense physical and emotional pain, this was the cry of his heart. He felt alone and abandoned
Several years ago I took part in a school assembly as part of a team sharing a message about Easter. Some pupils were chosen to take part in a challenge and the forfeit for the loser was to have an egg cracked over their head. Just as the egg was about to be cracked over the head of the pupil, my part was to come from the back of the assembly hall and volunteer to take their place, as an illustration of Jesus’ sacrifice in taking our place on the cross.
I felt excited to be taking that role. It seemed like a noble thing to do, a good thing, and it was a privilege to illustrate to the pupils what Jesus had done. I knew why I was doing it but, in the moment, it felt very different from what I expected. As I sat at the end of the assembly covered in egg, with members of school staff looking in disgust, the janitor angry at the mess, leaving me frightened to move in case I made it worse, I didn’t feel noble or honourable or that I had done a good thing. I felt disgusting and shameful and dirty.
It was a horrible experience but it was also profound. It opened my eyes in a new way to what it must have been like for Jesus and gave me the tiniest glimpse of what he experienced. He knew why he was going to the cross and that it was to fulfil a good purpose but, in that moment, it must have seemed a distant thought in comparison to the present reality of agony and anguish, the jeering of the crowd and the pain of carrying the weight of the world’s sin on his shoulders.
We all have moments when the pain is so great we struggle to see beyond it, when we know the truth but all we can feel is the pain. This question encourages me that it is okay to cry out to God and express our feelings in the midst of the pain.
This week as we think about the cross and Jesus’ sacrifice, we remember the pain and suffering he endured and the magnitude of the price he paid for us, but we also remember all that it achieved and that, in the end, he concluded that it was worth it:
“When he sees all that is accomplished by his anguish, he will be satisfied. And because of his experience, my righteous servant will make it possible for many to be counted righteous, for he will bear all their sins.” (Isaiah 53:12 NLT)
This is part 7 of a series reflecting on questions Jesus asked. Click to read the other posts:
What Do You Want Me To Do For You?
Do You Want To Get Well?
How Much Bread Do You Have?
Who Touched My Robe?
Can Worry Add To Your Life?
Do You Believe That I Am Able To Do This?