My God, My God, Why Have You Forsaken Me — Vespers Sermon by Pastor Rolf Preus

Wednesday Vespers
March 2, 2016
“My God, My God, Why Have You Forsaken Me?”
Matthew 27:45-49

The Christian faith rests on a truth that mystifies the wisest of men but provides deep comfort to millions who suffer pangs of guilt. God forsook his innocent Son on the cross as punishment for the sin of the world. It is not so difficult to think of God forsaking a sinful man. It is more difficult to think of God forsaking a holy man. We Christians believe that God forsook the only perfectly holy man who ever lived. We trust in a truth that defies human understanding. We believe that the holy God took on holy human flesh and blood. We believe that there was and is a personal union of the divine and human natures in one Lord Jesus Christ. We believe that this one Lord Jesus Christ, true God, begotten from the Father from eternity and true man, born of the Virgin Mary took upon himself the sin of the whole human race. Since the sin of every sinner of every time and place was reckoned to him, he became by that divine reckoning the greatest sinner who ever lived. If all the sinners were one sinner what a great sinner that would be! And all sinners were one sinner and as such a great sinner, he suffered what all sinners deserved. He was forsaken by God.

The Scriptures teach this with unmistakable clarity. Isaiah writes concerning Him:

Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, every one, to his own way; and the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.” (Isaiah 53:4-6)

St. Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5:21, “For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us.” He writes in Galatians 3:13, “Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us (for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree’).” St. Peter writes concerning Him,

Who committed no sin, nor was deceit found in His mouth; who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously; who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree. (1 Peter 2:22-24)

When the sin of all sinners of all times was imputed to Christ, Christ became the greatest sinner who ever lived. He was in his own person and life free from all sin. He was conceived and born without the taint of original sin. He was innocent of all evil thoughts, sinful or malicious words, unkind or impure deeds. But he did not suffer and die for his own sake. He suffered and died for the sake of sinners. He suffered and died in the place of sinners. And so he suffered and died as a sinner.

Were Jesus merely a man he could not possibly bear the sin of all mankind. Only God in the flesh could do so. God in the flesh had to become the sin and the curse. God in the flesh had to bear in his sacred body all the sin of all the sinners. And then God in the flesh had to be forsaken by God.

The very idea is too horrifying to contemplate. God forsakes God? How on earth or in heaven could such a thing happen? It is inconceivable! The unity of the Holy Trinity is a unity of eternal love. God cannot forsake God! But when God becomes a man and takes upon himself the sin of mankind he does so precisely for this purpose: to be forsaken in his suffering.

Look and see the wages of sin! Look and see your own personal sin and sins. Look and see the fruit of every selfish ambition, proud desire, and shameful lust. See what must happen because you thought you knew better than God how you should run your own life as if you were your own god. Look and see what justice requires and remember that it is your sins that cried out to heaven for justice and that justice was meted out on the cross. You don’t receive justice. Jesus did. And ponder with me and with all sinners throughout the world the words of the hymn:

Ye who think of sin but lightly
Nor suppose the evil great
Here may view its nature rightly,
Here its guilt may estimate.
Mark the Sacrifice appointed,
See who bears the awful load:
’Tis the Word, the Lord’s Anointed,
Son of Man and Son of God.

There is no more powerful indictment of sinners than the cry of him to whom God imputed the world’s sin: “My God, My God, why have you forsaken Me?” “Eli” is Hebrew for “My God.” They thought he was crying out to Elijah for help. There was no help for him from Elijah or any other prophet. Indeed, it was to fulfill the prophetic word that he was forsaken by God. While only the first verse of Psalm 2 is recorded by the Evangelists in the Gospels, the entire psalm was written of Christ and the nature of his suffering. Listen to some words of this psalm.

My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me? Why are You so far from helping Me, and from the words of My groaning? I am a worm, and no man; a reproach of men, and despised by the people. All those who see Me ridicule Me; they shoot out the lip, they shake the head, saying, “He trusted in the LORD, let Him rescue Him; let Him deliver Him, since He delights in Him!” They gape at Me with their mouths, like a raging and roaring lion. I am poured out like water, and all My bones are out of joint; My heart is like wax; it has melted Within Me. My strength is dried up like a potsherd, and My tongue clings to My jaws; You have brought Me to the dust of death. For dogs have surrounded Me; the congregation of the wicked has enclosed Me. They pierced My hands and My feet; I can count all My bones. They look and stare at Me. They divide My garments among them, and for My clothing they cast lots.

David wrote this psalm, but these are not David’s words. These are the words of David’s Son and David’s Lord, Jesus Christ, who was forsaken by God as he bore the sin of the world.

What does this mean for those who take refuge in the suffering of Jesus? What does this mean for Christians who have been baptized into this death and have thereby been washed in the blood of the Lamb? What does this mean for those who believe that Jesus died for them? What it means is simple. We know that God forsook Jesus instead of us. Since God forsook Jesus, he won’t forsake us.

God’s law always accuses. No matter how holy our lives in this world are, God’s law will always accuse us because we are never holy enough. We never love enough. Our hearts are never pure enough. We repeatedly fall into sins of thought, word, and deed. When we do our conscience accuses us because our conscience – if it is in working order – is informed by God’s law and God’s law always accuses us. It makes us afraid of God. It makes us think that perhaps God is no longer willing to forgive us, that he wants nothing to do with us, that we have failed him too often for him to continue to love us as his dear children. The law accuses us because of our sins and since we cannot rid ourselves of our sins we cannot shut up the accusations of the law.

But Jesus did. “My God, My God, why have you forsaken Me?” Do you want to see where God’s anger against you went? Look back to Calvary and see! That’s where it went and that’s where it died. It died when Jesus died. He was forsaken in his suffering. You won’t be forsaken in yours. It is not possible for God to forsake his Christians. He has already forsaken his Son instead.

Leave your sin where God placed it. When you suffer loss, pain, sickness, and other troubles of life do not believe that God is forsaking you. He cannot. Christ was forsaken in your place. God cannot forsake you, abandon you, forget you, or refuse to forgive you when you come to him in Christ’s name. Don’t be afraid of God! When you confess your sins to God you should forget them and forget God’s anger against them. They are gone. God’s anger is gone. You are at peace with God. Listen to Christ’s cry of abandonment and know that on account of it you are safe in the hands of your gracious Father with nothing to fear from him now or ever. Amen

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