Why Have You Forsaken Me?


Sometimes there is a lot of debate as to exactly what the last thing a dying person has said. When the playwright Oscar Wilde died, there were a number of last words attributed to him. One story has him sipping champagne in his bed and saying "Alas, I am dying beyond my means.” Another, more famously has him saying "Either this wallpaper goes, or I do!" He may well have said either, both or neither at some point in the whole process… they certainly sound like him… But they are unlikely to be his very last words as he is said to have converted back to Catholicism on his deathbed and a priest was with him up to the very end, and because of the sanctity of the confessional relationship between priest and parishioner, the priest never disclosed what words were exchanged between them.
Throughout this week I've been looking at the 7 recorded comments of Jesus on the cross. As I wrote earlier, they’re drawn from all 4 Gospels, because no one contains them all. Indeed Matthew and Mark share one between them, while John and Luke have three unique ones each.

As an aside, the fact that the four gospels have slightly differing accounts of the crucifixion (and indeed the resurrection) is one of the things that convinces me that they are offering an authentic record, based on early oral accounts… When police are checking statements about events and accidents, they don’t just watch out for differences in accounts… they also watch out for statements being too similar, because that tends to suggest that people have got their heads together to get their stories straight… and the question then is “Why would they do that?”
So if, as some suggest, the gospels have been carefully chosen and edited by the church to offer an “official” picture of what happened in the life of the church, then frankly, they weren’t very good at it… Why did they leave in such glaring inconsistencies?
But actually it is good to get the differing perspectives on the life, death and resurrection of Jesus… because only then do we begin to get a complete… three dimensional picture of the whole story… But it does mean that we cannot be sure exactly what the VERY last thing that Jesus said was. The single comment recorded by Matthew and Mark "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (Mark 15:34), John's brief "It is finished" (John 19:30) or "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit" as recorded by Luke (23: 46a).

i'm going to take them in the order that most commentators suggest is most likely the order that Jesus would have said them... and so begin with, arguably, the most controversial.

"Why?" is probably the hardest question for any parent to answer adequately… Around 3-4 most children start to ask those questions and with some children they never stop… Here we find Jesus asking it of his heavenly Father on the cross… And if ever a question was difficult to answer “Why the cross?” is one of those… Nicky Gumbel devotes an entire evening to that question in his Alpha course and a full chapter in his Questions of Life… But I don’t have the space, time or inclination to cover all that ground here…
Jesus specifically asks "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"(Mark 15:34). On top of being betrayed and denied by his followers, mocked by the soldiers, the people and even by at least one of those crucified with him, here was Christ feeling deserted by God.

Traditional evangelical teaching tells us that this was because of the sins of the world on Jesus’ shoulders… That our holy God cannot look on sin and so could not look at his son in his hour of deepest need…
We must remember that any description of what happened on the cross is severely limited by human understanding and emotions (and the amount of space on any blog)… And that any idea of Jesus being a sacrifice for sin, is not a case of a vengeful God unjustly punishing his son, but father and son together cooperating to remove the barrier of sin that separates humanity from an eternity with the God who loves us…
But do I believe that this means that as Stuart Townend puts it “The Father turns his face away”? No… but I believe that that is exactly how Christ felt… because, at that time he felt the full weight of what it was to be a sinful, suffering human being… lost and alone in a hostile universe… with no loving heavenly Father anywhere to be seen.
And at that point he uses the words of the lament in Psalm 22 that seem so appropriate for the circumstances:
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, and am not silent.

Psalms 22:1-2

I’ve said before that we need to recover the sense of lament that you find in the Psalms… we have few modern praise or worship songs that adequately express that strand of human experience… that strand of human experience that Jesus experienced on the cross… that strand of human experience that drives so many people to seek fulfilment in drink and drugs… in one night stands and disposable relationships… that strand of human experience that drives far too many young people today to suicide…
But through all that Jesus went through we can enter into a relationship with a God who, according to the writer to the Hebrews, says to us:

"Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you

So we say with confidence, "The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?"

Hebrews 13:5-6



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