My God my God Why Hast Thou Forsaken Me?

Based on a sermon preached on 6 Oct 2002 in PCC Morning Worship Service

"1 My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? why art thou so far from helping me, and from the words of my roaring? 2 O my God, I cry in the daytime, but thou hearest not; and in the night season, and am not silent.

3 But thou art holy, O thou that inhabitest the praises of Israel. 4 Our fathers trusted in thee: they trusted, and thou didst deliver them. 5 They cried unto thee, and were delivered: they trusted in thee, and were not confounded" (Psalm 22:1-5)

Psalm 22 is a well-known Psalm. It is the most famous of the Messianic Psalms. In some sense, all the Psalms are Messianic, but Psalm 22 is particularly so. Hardly anyone, in the history of the church, will disagree that this Psalm is a prophecy concerning the deepest sufferings of the Lord Jesus Christ on the Cross of Calvary.

Yes, some think that David was originally describing his own sufferings, while others believe that this Psalm refers exclusively and originally to Christ. But all agree that only the sufferings of the Lord Jesus Christ can fully explain the language used in this Psalm. And moreover, this Psalm is quoted numerous times in the Gospels to show how the sufferings of the Lord Jesus Christ fulfilled ancient prophecies. Therefore, I believe it cannot be wrong to interpret the first person pronouns in the Psalm to be all referring to the Lord Jesus Christ, without a need to apply to David as a type. So we agree with Matthew Henry that:

"In singing this psalm we must keep our thoughts fixed upon Christ, and be so affected with his sufferings—as to experience the fellowship of them, and so affected with his grace—as to experience the power and influence of it."

There are 4 parts in this Psalm. The first three parts comprise three cycles describing the conflict between sense and faith in the soul of the Lord on the Cross.

I 1st Cycle:
v. 1-2 The Discouragement of Sense
v. 3-5 The Encouragement of Faith

II 2nd Cycle:
v. 6-8 The Discouragement of Sense
v. 9-11 The Encouragement of Faith

III 3rd Cycle:
v. 12-18 The Discouragement of Sense
v. 19-21 The Encouragement of Faith

IV Conclusion
v. 22-31 Praise for God’s great work of

In this first part of our study, we want to consider only the first cycle; and the Lord helping us, we would like to do 3 things.

First, let us…

1. Feel the Anguish of our Lord on the Cross

It was about 3 pm on Friday, 3rd April, A.D. 33. The place was a small hill outside the Western wall of Jerusalem, known as Calvary or Golgotha, the place of the Skull. The Lord Jesus Christ was nailed on a cruel cross. The Romans used to execute misbehaving dogs and the worst criminals in this way. Two other criminals of the worst sort were crucified with the Lord—one on his left, the other on his right. His friends had all abandoned him.

Less than 24 hours ago, the Lord Jesus was with his disciples in an upper room, celebrating the Passover. It would be the last Passover that He would eat with His disciples. Indeed it was a Passover meal that would signal the end of the Passover as a legitimate religious meal for the people of God, for the Lord in that very meal, replaced the Passover with the Lord’s Supper.

During the meal, something very significant happened: The Lord revealed that He would be betrayed by one of His twelve disciples. And then Judas Iscariots went out to look for the chief priests to betray Him.

The Lord and the rest of the disciples finished the meal. Then He took Peter, James and John with Him and went out to a place called the Mount of Olives. At that place, there was an olive grove known as the Garden of Gethsemane. There, the Lord set His disciples down at a certain place, and we are told He "began to be sorrowful and very heavy" (Mt 26:37) and He told them: "My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death: tarry ye here, and watch with me" (Mt 26:38). Then He walked a stone’s throw away, knelt down, and began to pray.

And Oh, what an earnest prayer:

"Abba, Father, [he cried] all things are possible unto thee; take away this cup from me: nevertheless not what I will, but what thou wilt" (Mk 14:36).

As He prayed, "his sweat was, as it were, great drops of blood falling down to the ground" (Lk 22:44). He was in deep agony of soul. He was agonising in His heart as He contemplated on what He would be going through within the next twenty-four hours.

Indeed, He underwent such conflict of the soul that His consciousness of His own divinity and the divine favour of His Father were being eclipsed by a human fear and apprehension. This is why He prayed to the Father to take the bitter cup from Him. As an obedient Son, He was willing to take the cup according to the will of His Father, but humanly, He desired to be spared from it.

Shortly after that, Judas Iscariot appeared with the chief priests and the temple guards. He betrayed the Lord with a kiss. The Lord was arrested and bound. Then all His disciples forsook Him as He had predicted.

He was tried before Annas where He was slapped in the face by one of the officers. Then He was tried before Caiaphas, at which time, He was slapped in the face by someone he loved; for then Peter denied Him three times.

He was brought before the Sanhedrin where false witnesses were brought against Him. After that, He was tried before Pilate where He was again falsely accused of many things.

Then He was tried before Herod where He was mocked and arrayed in purple. But when Herod found no fault with Him, He was brought before Pilate again and was cruelly scourged with the cat-of-nine-tails and unjustly sentenced to crucifixion according to the wishes of the Jews.

Then He was stripped, forced to dress like a king with an old scarlet cape belonging to a Roman soldier. And a crown of thorns was forced upon His head. He was mocked, beaten and spitted at by a whole band of Roman soldiers.

Then greatly weakened, He was forced to carry a wooden cross to the crucifixion site outside the city. He stumbled and fell under its weight and someone (Simon of Cyrene) had to be drafted in to carry the cross for Him. Then at Golgotha, He was forcefully made to lie on the cross, and His hands and feet were nailed to the cross. Then the cross, with Him nailed to it was lifted up and planted in the earth.

Oh what pain the Lord must have experienced! He was bleeding, every muscle was aching, His bones were almost out of joint. He was exhausted, muddied through the falls He sustained along the way. The sun was beating down mercilessly upon Him. But He could not relieve Himself even a little because His hands were nailed fast to the cross.

But it was not just the physical torment. There was the emotional torment too. He was railed at by the soldiers, by the malefactors, and by all who stood by:

"He saved others; himself he cannot save. If he be the King of Israel, let him now come down from the cross, and we will believe him. He trusted in God; let him deliver him now, if he will have him: for he said, I am the Son of God" (Mt 27:42-43).

The words of Ps 22, from verses 6-8 reflect the anguish that the Lord must have felt even as He endured cruel treatment and the mocking of the people around Him:

"But I am a worm, and no man; a reproach of men, and despised of the people. 7All they that see me laugh me to scorn: they shoot out the lip, they shake the head, saying, 8 He trusted on the LORD that he would deliver him: let him deliver him, seeing he delighted in him" (Ps 22:6-8).

But there on the Cross, the Lord endured all these meekly, without so much as a word of complaint.

Yes, He uttered "words of roaring" (v.1). That is, He was silently groaning in His heart. Yes, He cried in His heart to the Lord as we are told in verse 2. In His pain, He cried out earnestly to His Father. He cried in the night-season, when He was in agony in the garden, and He cried in the day time, upon the cross. Indeed, the writer of Hebrews tells us that He "offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto him that was able to save him from death" (Heb 5:7).

But there was not a word of complaint. And we have reason to believe that from the time He was arrested, He cried silently. His prayers were mostly in His heart. This we infer from the words of the prophet Isaiah who tells us…

"He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth" (Isa 53:7).

But there was a grief in His heart that was too painful to contain. The physical pain and shame was horrendous, but nothing so horrendous as what He was experiencing that caused Him to cry out audibly: "Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani"—"My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?"

It was a cry of anguish, not of anger. It was a cry of distress, not of distrust. But it was a cry of infinite suffering. Christ, was suffering physically because of pain, blood-loss and thirst; and He was suffering mentally and emotionally because of the soldiers, the Jews, the two malefactors, and even His disciples who abandoned Him. But none of these can compare with the deep grief He was feeling as he cried out "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me!"

What was this experience that caused our Lord so much grief in His heart? It was the experience of being, as it were, forsaken by His Father.

Why was this experience so painful for our Lord? It was painful because it was incomprehensible. For all eternity, as the eternal Son of God, Christ enjoyed infinite blessedness in the fellowship of the Father and Holy Spirit. Then He took on human flesh, and for 33 years, though He suffered as man, He enjoyed unbroken fellowship with the Father. Never did He spend one moment out of His conscious favourable presence.

But here on the Cross of Calvary, the Father appeared to have turned His face away from Him and would not regard His suffering nor hear His cry. While His Father always heard His prayer and He was always conscious of that fact; now in His hour of greatest need, His Father instead of saving Him, appears to have forsaken Him. Instead of helping Him, His Father, as it were, turned His face from Him and would not hear Him. Heaven seemed to be shut to Him. His words of groaning seemed to drop to the ground unheard. Indeed, His Father seemed to have turned His back upon Him, in anger directed against Him.

Anyone of us who have experienced cold shoulder treatment from someone we love dearly will have tasted a little of how He felt, except that His agony must be a million times worse. It was for this reason that from the depths of His anguished soul arose this cry: "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?"

The Lord Jesus is the God-Man. He is very God Himself. As the second Person of the Trinity, He has never addressed God as God. Yes, as the God-Man He prayed. But He always directed His prayer to the Father. Never did He address Him as "God", but as "Father,"—because He Himself is God.

But here on the Cross of Calvary, the Lord’s consciousness of His own divinity appeared to be eclipsed. So, instead of crying out to His Father, He called Him "God": "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?"

There on the Cross, the Lord Jesus experienced a profound pain that is beyond human comprehension. No mere man can fully understand the deep grief and pain that He must have felt. It was this abandonment of the Father that Christ complained about, rather than all the other sufferings that He endured.

But why did the Father turn His face from Him? The answer to this question is important, for unless we understand why the Father, as it were, forsook His Son, we will not be able to fully appreciate what the Lord went through or why He went through it.

So, secondly, let us…

2. Understand why the Father, as it were, Abandoned our Lord

Why did the Father abandon His Son? The Lord Jesus gives a hint to the answer in verse 3 of our text: "But thou art holy, O thou that inhabitest the praises of Israel." Verses 3-5 contain the Lord’s arguments as to why He expects the Father to hear His cry. This was the conflict in His soul that our Lord was experiencing. He sensed, He felt, that the Father had forsaken Him and was not answering His cries (v. 1-2); but at the same time faith reminded Him of whom God is (v. 3-5).

Faith reminded Him that God is holy. He is transcendent. He stands apart. He is different. He is not as the false gods of human imaginations. He is a living and true God. The fact that God is holy implies that He does hear and answer prayers, unlike lifeless idols. Thus God said through Isaiah: "Fear not, thou worm Jacob, and ye men of Israel; I will help thee, saith the LORD, and thy redeemer, the Holy One of Israel" (Isa 41:14). The LORD, the Holy One, delights in hearing the praises of His children on account of His hearing and answering their prayers.

But there is another aspect of God’s holiness. Because God is holy, He hates sin with an infinite hatred. Because God is holy, those who would receive His favour and blessing must be holy.

Therefore God declared through Moses:

"I am the LORD your God: ye shall therefore sanctify yourselves, and ye shall be holy; for I am holy" (Lev 11:44).

Likewise Joshua warned the people against persisting in sin with words that ought to startle us:

"Ye cannot serve the LORD: for he is an holy God; he is a jealous God; he will not forgive your transgressions nor your sins" (Josh 24:19).

God is a holy God. He hates sin. The Prophet Habakkuk puts it this way even as he addresses God as the Holy One:

"Thou art of purer eyes than to behold evil, and canst not look on iniquity…" (Hab 1:13).

Although God’s holiness ought to be a ground of confidence that God will hear and answer our prayers; it is ironically also the reason why the Lord sometimes does not hear our prayers. The Psalmist says: "If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me" (Ps 66:18).

And for the Lord Jesus Christ on the Cross of Calvary, it was precisely the holiness of God, that caused Him to turn His face from Him.

But the Son of God is holy as God is holy. YES, He was in all points tempted like as we are; but NO, He did not at any point give in to the temptations. He was without sin (Heb 4:15). Why then did His Father turn His face from Him?

It was because the Lord Jesus Christ was there on the Cross of Calvary as a representative of all the elect of God throughout the ages. All of God’s people are born in sin, and live in sin. Sin separates us from God. In order that we might be reconciled to God, our sin must be removed from us and paid for.

This is, precisely, the reason Christ our Lord went to the Cross. For God "hath made Him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him" (2 Cor 5:21). All our sins were imputed to Christ so that, in the eyes of the Law, He was the most guilty being who ever lived. All our sins from the least to the greatest were upon Him. All our sins so black, so vile, so evil, so hateful, so terrible, so sickening, so detestable, so abominable… were upon Him. Every kind of sin imaginable was upon the head of Christ, the holy Son of God.

It is no wonder that God the Father, had to, as it were, turn His face from His Son. He is of "purer eyes than to behold evil, and canst not look on iniquity." It would be against His holy nature and contrary to His glory to look upon His Son with favour while He was bearing the sin of the church.

Christ our Lord was being judged for our sin against the Holy God. He was, in the words of Paul, made "a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree" (Gal 3:13). Christ on the Cross, was accursed of God even as the ancient serpent was cursed. This was why the serpent, which Moses lifted up in the wilderness could be an appropriate symbol for Christ—for Christ was made a curse. He was accounted a sinner for our sakes and was being punished for our sin. "He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him" (Isa 53:5).

Christ was paying the wages of our sins in order that we may have peace with God. What is the wages of sin? It is death; not just physical death, but spiritual death which is separation from God.

There on the cross, before receiving the punishment of physical death on behalf of His people, Christ was receiving the punishment of spiritual death on their behalf. What is spiritual death? It is not annihilation of the soul; it is to be forsaken by God. But what is it to be forsaken by God when God is all seeing, and in Him we live and have our being? The Psalmist has rightly said: "if I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there" (Ps 139:8). To be forsaken by God therefore must mean something other than God leaving us alone. No, the Scripture shows us that being forsaken by God is equivalent to being outside of God’s favourable presence, and instead, facing the fierceness of His wrath.

The reprobates in hell are forsaken by God. They do not enjoy God’s favourable presence. Instead, they constantly experience the fierceness of God’s wrath.

At the cross of Calvary the Lord Jesus experienced that wrath of God for His Church. Was it not for Christ taking upon Himself the punishment due to our sins, one day we shall all be faced with the great wrath of God. And God would be perfectly just to punish us. But He would not do so, because the Son of God has suffered infinitely on our behalf.

Many martyrs have been crucified as Christ was. Many others were burned at the stake. Some were boiled alive. Some were made to don animal skins and torn to shreds by wild animals. And many in recent history were tortured for their faith with the most inhuman, painful and humiliating methods ever invented by man. Some of these methods are so horrendous that they cannot be mentioned in the pulpit.

Humanly speaking, many of these martyrs have been treated in a worse manner than our Lord was. But we can be sure that their souls have not been so overwhelmed, nor their sufferings so intense as that of our Lord.

Christ suffered as the God-Man, never has any man suffered in this way. Never has man experienced the fierceness of the wrath of God against sin as did Christ.

God is perfectly just. He must punish sin against Him, according to what sin deserves. To reconcile God to His church, therefore, Christ must be punished with the sum total of the punishment and torment, which all the elect owe to God on account of their sin. God is an infinite God, therefore sin against Him is of infinite wickedness and deserve infinite punishment. Christ our Lord had to suffer the infinite fierceness of God’s wrath multiplied by the number of elect in the church.

The prophet Nahum has said: "Who can stand before [God’s] indignation? and who can abide in the fierceness of his anger?" (Nah 1:6). Here on the Cross of Calvary we have the answer: Only Christ who is God and man at the same time could stand such wrath and live.

But why did Christ our Lord have to endure such terrible suffering? The answer is all around us this morning: You and I, and all the children of God throughout the ages. It was for our sakes that the Father forsook His only begotten Son!

Think of this for a moment, and…

3. Marvel at the Privileges that Christ Purchased for us

Here was the Son of God on the Cross of Calvary. He was, as it were, forsaken of God. He cried out: "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me." But faith reminds Him that God is a prayer hearing God, because, that is what God has always been doing. The history of the people of God of old testifies to that fact. So our Lord reminds His Father:

"3 But thou art holy, O thou that inhabitest the praises of Israel. 4Our fathers trusted in thee: they trusted, and thou didst deliver them. 5 They cried unto thee, and were delivered: they trusted in thee, and were not confounded" (Ps 22:3-5)

But how is it that God heard their prayers, so that they were not disappointed, whereas He would not hear the cry of His only begotten Son? Did not Solomon remind us: "The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the LORD: but the prayer of the upright is his delight" (Prov 15:8).

Does not the Scripture remind us that all men, i.e. including the fathers, are sinners and children of wrath by nature? There is none righteous, and none that seeks after God. Even the most righteous deeds of the most righteous man descending from Adam by natural generation are tainted with sin. Since God is a holy God, how could He accept the sin-tainted prayers of the fathers?

Christ our Lord, on the other hand, is holy. He alone is perfectly righteous; He alone loves God with a perfect love. None of His deeds, words or thoughts is tainted with the least impurity. Christ our Lord alone is righteous in Himself. He alone deserves to be heard of God. Why then did God reject His plea? Why then did God turn His face from Him?

There on the cross of Calvary, for a moment, everything seemed upside down: the righteous Son of God was not heard, whereas the children of wrath had their prayers heard.

How do we explain this perplexing situation?

The answer lies in the unfair exchange that is part of the Cross of Calvary.

There on the Cross, Christ experienced what we ought to experience for our sin, in order that we might experience the privileges of the sons of God. Christ did not deserve God’s punishment, but He took it upon Himself. We do not deserve God’s favour, but He gave it to us.

There on the Cross, Christ took our sin, and gave us His righteousness. And not only so, but, He suffered the equivalent of eternal death in order to purchase eternal life for us. And what is eternal life, but knowing God and enjoying all the privileges of the sons of God, including prayer.

Christ did not only turn God’s wrath from us so that when we die we will not face God’s punishment. He also procured for us the very basis of our living as Christians before the face of God. That is to say, on the Cross of Calvary, Christ not only procured for us life after death, He also procured for us life in this life, i.e. an abundant life of knowing and enjoying God.

So, turning back to our text, we see that…

It was on account of what Christ went through, that Israel had reason to praise God, so that it may be said that God "inhabitest the praises of Israel." To inhabit the praise of Israel is to delight in the praise of Israel. But none will praise God acceptably except those whom God causes to praise Him. As Calvin puts it: "Unless God cause us to taste of his goodness by doing us good, we must need become mute in regard to the celebration of his praise."

It was on account of what Christ did that the fathers in the faith trusted in God. For otherwise there are none who will seek after God.

It was on account of what Christ would go through, that the imperfect faith of the fathers became a basis of God’s delivering them. For all fall short of the glory of God.

It was on account of Christ’s suffering that they were not confounded or disappointed.

Here is the marvel and mystery of the Cross of Calvary. Christ our Lord, faced with the abandonment of His Father, was strengthened in His faith by considering the fact that God has in the past heard the prayers of the fathers and had delivered them.

But ironically, it was what He was going through at that moment on the cross of Calvary that purchased that privilege of answered prayers for the fathers! If you think about it for a moment, you will understand why the Lord found comfort from answered prayers in the past. He found comfort because if God answered the prayers of the fathers, it means that what He was doing then on the Cross was not in vain.

But dearly beloved brethren, think with me for a moment how the unfair exchange on the cross has to do with you.

There on the Cross, the Father refused to listen to His Son, in order that He might listen to you.

There on the Cross, the Father poured His wrath upon His Son, in order that He might pour His blessings upon you.

There on the Cross, Christ laid down His life in order that you may have life.

There on the Cross, Christ suffered in order that you might be freed from pain

There on the Cross, Christ emptied himself, in order that you may be full.

There on the Cross, Christ felt like a worm, in order that you may not have a destiny that is worse than that of worms.

There on the Cross, Christ was pierced in His hands and feet, in order that your hands and feet may not be burned in eternal fires.

Is the Cross of Calvary only a historical phenomenon? Is it only a matter of academic interest? Far from it! The Cross of Calvary is everything to us!

Were it not for the Cross, we are of all men most miserable, for our religion would be vain, meaningless and powerless.

Were it not for the Cross, we can have no justification: We would still be guilty before God, and can have no relationship with God. Christ procured for us a peace with God, by His suffering on the Cross.

Were it not for the Cross, we can have no sanctification: We would be living powerlessly like the rest of the world. Christ procured for us a full-orbed Christian life by His suffering on the Cross.

Were it not for the Cross, we can have no glorification: We would still be liable for eternal punishment. Christ procured for us hope of everlasting life by His suffering on the Cross.

And not only so, the Cross is a demonstration of the love of Christ for His church, for "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends" (Jn 15:13).

Christ our Lord, not only laid down His life in the physical sense of the Word, but laid down His life in a spiritual sense. Not only did He have to endure being counted guilty for all the sins of His church throughout the ages, but He had to endure being forsaken by His Father. Never has man suffered the way He did. So much does Christ love the church that He gave Himself for it.

The love of Christ for you, dearly beloved brethren, cannot be doubted. The question is: Do you love Him? Does His love constrain you so that you strive to live your life for Him in every aspect?


Dearly beloved brethren, this morning as you come to the table of Lord, will you not think of how much Christ loves you? He loves you so much that He went to the Cross of Calvary, though He knew He would experience the horror of being forsaken by His Father, and the terror of facing His infinite wrath against sin.

The words of man fail to adequately describe how deeply He must have suffered. But I leave you to ponder in your minds, the words of the Son of God on the Cross: "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?"

And if you are here this morning with us, but are still outside Christ, may I impress upon your mind two things:

Firstly, consider God’s hatred for sin. God’s hatred for sin is demonstrated by His sending His Son to live and to die for sinners He would reconcile to Himself. And not only so, but He even required His Son to experienced His infinite wrath against sin because He was their covenant representative. If God hates sin so much that He poured out His wrath on His beloved Son as He hung as the representative of His people, we know, He will certainly pour out His wrath against any who is not represented by Christ.

But secondly, consider God’s love for sinners. This love is also demonstrated in His sending Christ to die for those He would save. You see, the Cross is not necessary in the absolute sense of the Word. The Cross would not be necessary, if God chooses to deal with all men according to strict justice. But God condescended to redeem men unto Himself, and in order to do so, Christ His only begotten Son, had to take on human flesh, suffer in human flesh and die in human flesh. Because He did so, He calls upon sinners to come unto Him that we may have life. "All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out" (John 6:37), says our Lord.

Knowing these things, and the great privileges that God has reserved for His children, will you not repent of your sin and come immediately to Christ, for the day of reckoning is drawing nigh for you. Amen.

—JJ Lim