My God, My God! Why Have You Forsaken Me?
A sermon on Mark 15:16-39 by Coty Pinckney, Community Bible Church, Williamstown, MA 9/10/00
What is the greatest injustice the world has ever seen? There are several candidates from just the last sixty years:
But I suggest that none of these three is the greatest injustice the world has ever seen. That distinction belongs instead to the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.
Last time we saw that Jesus was the victim of a gross miscarriage of justice:
But there have been many instances of innocent men condemned to death over the years; why select this one as the worst of all?
The difference is that Jesus not only was innocent of the charge against Him – He was completely innocent. He was sinless. Think about this: Jesus never committed an outward sin – stealing, adultery, lying – or an inward sin – coveting, lust, deceitfulness. He was never selfish, never greedy, never disobedient to parents. Furthermore, every minute of every day He loved God with all His heart, soul, mind, and strength, and loved His neighbor as himself.
Try to imagine a person like this – perfect, without blemish, spotless. Think about yourself, and those you admire most, and how far short of you and all your heroes fall.
Now consider what this perfect man, this sinless man, this gracious, loving, kind man had to face in the account we just read:
The greatest injustice the world has seen.
Mark’s account of the crucifixion is the briefest of the four gospels. Instead of trying to be comprehensive, Mark continues the pattern of the previous section, emphasizing the ways different groups of people respond to Jesus. Then, in the midst of this account of the reactions of others, Jesus makes one monumental statement, and God performs two miraculous acts of great significance. This will be our outline:
What was Jesus to the soldiers? Just another man condemned to death. These soldiers were used to putting people to death, and they probably treat Jesus about the same as all the others. Here is an opportunity to have fun at the expense of someone who is weak and powerless. So they beat Him and berate Him. They must think, “It doesn’t really matter. He’s not worth anything anyway. He’ll be dead in a few hours.”
And then Jesus also provides them with an opportunity to make a buck, from taking His few personal belongings. So they gamble for his one-piece garment, with the blood of the Savior of the world dripping around them, right at the foot of the cross.
What was Jesus to these soldiers? An object for the pleasure. That’s all.
Look at verses 29-32 again:
29 And those passing by were hurling abuse at Him, wagging their heads, and saying, "Ha! You who are going to destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, 30 save Yourself, and come down from the cross!" 31 In the same way the chief priests also, along with the scribes, were mocking Him among themselves and saying, "He saved others; He cannot save Himself. 32 "Let this Christ, the King of Israel, now come down from the cross, so that we may see and believe!" And those who were crucified with Him were casting the same insult at Him.
What do these characters focus on? Jesus’ powerlessness! Jesus becomes an object for their gloating.
After years of competition, after trying for months and months to get rid of Jesus, finally the priests have won (so they think). This dangerous upstart is hanging on the cross, exposed for what they believe Him to be: a weak, dying man.
How do they judge His power? Why do they believe Him to be weak? By the ability to save Himself! “Surely anyone with any power will first of all use it in self-defense – that’s only natural. Self-preservation is the fundamental purpose of power. So if Jesus is dying on the cross, if he is not saving Himself, then clearly He has no power! He’s done with! All the talk about having authority and being the Son of God – clearly that was all nonsense, since He can’t even save Himself!”
Even the insurrectionists being crucified with Him mock Him for His lack of power. They were trying to overthrow Rome – at least they tried. This fellow, this supposed King, did nothing. They have no use for an impotent pseudo-King.
Note that the priests and passers-by tempt Jesus in the same way as Satan. Recall at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, Satan suggested to Jesus that He throw Himself off of the top of the temple. The angels would protect Him, and then by the miraculous display, everyone would believe in Him! Here, the same temptation is offered: “Use your power to save yourself, to perform a great miracle that no one can deny – right in front of the crowd. Then we’ll believe!”
Now, Jesus was able to do that. He could have come down from the cross. But if He had done so, even if the priests would then have believed – what good would that faith do? Without His death, they would all still be in their sins.
So the priests see Jesus as an object for their gloating. Weak. Powerless. Unable to save even Himself.
Look at verse 36:
36 And someone ran and filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a reed, and gave Him a drink, saying, "Let us see whether Elijah will come to take Him down."
Why does he do this? Is this man moved by mercy? Is he trying to relieve Jesus’ sufferings?
No. This man sees Jesus as an object of entertainment. He hopes that Elijah will come, so that he can witness the thrilling event. He wants to see the spectacular – he’s not looking to see God.
So these characters around the cross use Jesus for their purposes, as an object of pleasure, and object of gloating, and an object of entertainment. And many do the same today: Jesus is a way to sell merchandise and make a buck; Jesus is an object of scorn; Jesus is a source of thrills.
Jesus’ execution on the cross is the greatest injustice the world has ever seen. And the injustice continues to multiply in our present day.
Mark records only three statements by Jesus after His trial begins. His general silence serves to emphasize the few sentences recorded here. We looked at two of those statements last time. The final statement, the only words of Jesus spoken on the cross recorded by Mark (or Matthew), is momentous. This statement left such an impression on his listeners, that the gospel writers record the exact words he used in Aramaic: “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?” “My God, My God, why have you forsaken Me?”
We’ll examine each part of the statement, saving “Why” until last:
“My”: Jesus, in the depths of His sorrow, refers to God as “My God.” Through all the darkness, through all the pain and suffering, He holds on to what He knows is true: God is His God. The relationship is still there.
“God”: When we suffer, we are tempted to reject God. We are tempted to think that He is not there, or He doesn’t care, or He is unable to do anything for us. But Jesus does none of that. By calling out to God as God, by referring to Him as “El,” He acknowledges God’s power and might.
“Have You forsaken”: Here is the contrast: “My God, the One who loves Me and is all-powerful, has abandoned Me, has deserted Me.”
“Me”: Me. He has deserted His son, the One whom He loves, the One to whom He said, “This is my beloved Son; with Him I am well-pleased.”
27 All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the LORD, And all the families of the nations will worship before Thee. 28 For the kingdom is the LORD’S, And He rules over the nations. . . . All those who go down to the dust will bow before Him, Even he who cannot keep his soul alive. 30 Posterity will serve Him; It will be told of the LORD to the coming generation. 31 They will come and will declare His righteousness To a people who will be born, that He has performed it.
Mark records two acts of God, two miracles that take place while Jesus is on the cross. The first is darkness. Passover takes place in the spring in Palestine, when there is little or no rain. So the sky is clear. Jesus was crucified at the third hour, that is, 9AM; then at the sixth hour, noon, suddenly darkness covers the land. There are no clouds, no rain, the sun is at its zenith – but darkness covers the land. Note that all the mocking and ridicule of Jesus takes place prior to darkness descending on Golgotha. Something is going on here, and everyone at the cross knows it.
The last words Jesus utters in His public ministry in the book of John are these:
Jesus therefore said to them, "For a little while longer the light is among you. Walk while you have the light, that darkness may not overtake you; he who walks in the darkness does not know where he goes. 36 "While you have the light, believe in the light, in order that you may become sons of light." These things Jesus spoke, and He departed and hid Himself from them. (John 12:35, 36 NASB)
Now, with the end of Jesus’ life at hand, God underscores that statement. The light is departing; without Him you are in utter darkness! Pay attention!
The second miracle is recorded in verse “And the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.” This is clearly a miracle – how can the veil in the temple be torn in two – beginning at the top? But why does God do this?
Recall that he veil separated the Holy of Holies, the place that signifies the dwelling place of God, from the rest of the temple. No one could enter this sacred place, except the High Priest – and He could only enter it once a year, after following strict instructions for His purification. But now that veil is torn in two, opening the way to God’s very presence! We have direct access to God!
Think back to my opening question: Was the crucifixion of Jesus the greatest injustice the world has seen? Yes – but it is always the greatest display of justice the world has seen – justice for you and for me. For all those things we said previously were not true about Jesus are true about each of us: Outward sins. Inward sins. Failing to honor God. Greed. Self-righteousness.
But Christ’s death pays the penalty for all those sins. So God is “just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Romans 3:26). God maintains His hatred of sin, He ensures that every sin receives its just punishment – but He also saves for Himself a people for His own possession by Jesus’ death on the cross.
Perfect mercy. Perfect justice. The tearing of the veil pictures the offer of unlimited access to God, of complete forgiveness, based not on our own merit but on the merit of the one who suffered for us -- Jesus.
And this offer of complete forgiveness extends even to those at the foot of the cross who mock Him!
“Even for them?” you ask. Are you thinking, “Surely God doesn’t choose them!” Consider each group:
The soldiers: Their commander, the centurion, upon seeing the darkness, seeing how Jesus responded to the outcry against Him, seeing how Jesus gave up His spirit instead of being forced to die, says, “Surely this man was the son of God!” A true believer? We cannot be sure, but I believe so.
The thieves: Luke tells us that one of the thieves being crucified turned to Jesus near the end, and said, “Remember me when You come into your kingdom!” And Jesus tells him, “Today you will be with me in Paradise.” This same thief mocked Him only a few hours previously.
The priests: Surely God won’t save these priests, Jesus’ enemies for years! But Acts 6:7 tells us “a great many of the priests were becoming obedient to the faith.”
As it was in 1st century Palestine, so it is today: God’s offer of forgiveness through the shed blood of Jesus extends to those who mock Him, to those who consider Him a madman, to those who consider Him impotent. Salvation depends not one whit on our own merit; every one of us is guilty; we too have participated in the sins of those at the foot of the cross: failing to glorify Jesus, failing to appreciate Him, acknowledge Him, and respect Him; we were created to glorify God, but we have failed to do so. Whenever we fail to glorify God in our lives, we join the mockers
But God’s justice is perfect. Because Jesus cried out, “My God, My God! Why have You forsaken Me?” – because He was forsaken on the cross, we will never be forsaken – if we trust in Him. God now can accept you – He can be true to His righteous character and love you as His own precious child. The one who forgave the thief, the priests, and the centurion can forgive you.
Among us this morning are three types of persons:
This sermon was preached at Community Bible Church in Williamstown, MA on 9/10/00. Ray Stedman's sermons on the passage were very helpful. Charles Spurgeon's comments on Psalm 22 in The Treasury of David suggested the idea of looking word by word at Jesus' statement.
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