Episode 29: Discover Jesus in Matthew (6) My God, My God, Why have you forsaken me?
Laurence and Dan wrap up our series on the Gospel of Matthew. There’s so much that could be said about the record of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection but they focus the discussion on just one phrase that Jesus said on the cross: “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” It’s a heart wrenching moment, but what we think he meant is guided by who we think Jesus is. Join Dan and Laurence on their exploration of these words, from the Psalms, to the reflections of the Apostle Paul, through to the conclusion of Matthew’s gospel with the glory of the resurrection.
This is the end of six episodes on finding Jesus in Matthew, so Laurence and Dan reflect on the things they’ve discussed throughout the series. They particularly think about the understanding of who Jesus is, which they considered in episode five, and how this impacts on what comes next. In the gospel narrative they have reached the close of the book, which includes the death and resurrection of Jesus. This is indeed the climax of the book and is very important to how we understand Jesus.
Was Jesus forsaken by God?
They narrow the discussion down to some words that Jesus says when he is on the cross.
And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” And some of the bystanders, hearing it, said, “This man is calling Elijah.” And one of them at once ran and took a sponge, filled it with sour wine, and put it on a reed and gave it to him to drink. But the others said, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to save him.” And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit.Matthew 27:46-50
Dan reflects on how these words have inspired many different interpretations. These range from God being appalled by the sin of the world which Jesus had laid onto him, to God’s spirit leaving Jesus alone on the cross. The famous Stuart Townend hymn “How deep the Father’s love for us” echoes this in the lyrics that say “The Father turned his face away”. Dan isn’t comfortable with the interpretations that effectively agree that God forsook Jesus, although he stresses he’s happy enough that Townend’s beautiful song can be understood in a way that fits with the gospels.
Context to the words of Jesus
Laurence is keen to explore the Psalm that lies behind the words of Jesus, but Dan reins him in! They first spend a bit more time in Matthew 27 looking at the immediate context. In the build up to the death of Jesus we find that everyone has indeed forsaken him. The disciples fled and Peter even denied that he had known Jesus. The crowd of people in Jerusalem called for his crucifixion, yet they had less than a week previously been crying out for him as king. Pilate, the governor, believes he is innocent, yet he washes his hands of the matter and follows the priests’ demands. Everyone has indeed forsaken Jesus; the question in the narrative is whether God has? Has God abandoned his Son?
To explore this, Dan and Laurence eventually turn back to Psalm 22 and see how precisely this ancient poem anticipates the crucifixion scene. The challenge of this psalm is about whether or not God is “far off” (Psalm 22:11,19) and when applying this to Jesus, we find the whole message of the gospel of Matthew is at stake. Jesus was born as a sign that “God is with us” and acting to rescue his people from their sins, (see episode 2). If God had forsaken Jesus then perhaps he wasn’t with his people after all. That’s how crucial this question is.
Worship the king
Just as Psalm 22 anticipated the agonising suffering, it also anticipated the resolution. God had not forsaken Jesus, but as the psalm said:
For he has not despised or abhorred the affliction of the afflicted, and he has not hidden his face from him, but has heard, when he cried to him.Psalm 22:24
The suffering ends with a declaration of God’s kingship and sovereignty, stating that worship belongs to him. Laurence and Dan explore how the resurrection of Jesus and his subsequent appearances to the disciples fulfill this. Jesus, as we know from the gospel narrative up until this point, is the appointed king. He is the messiah and the one who was anointed by God to rule on his behalf. That’s what Jesus claimed by calling himself the Son of Man. And when he was resurrected, his claim, (and all his teaching), was vindicated by God. It proved that God had not forsaken him, and was bringing about his kingdom through this man, just as Jesus had announced and proclaimed throughout Judea for three and a half years. The disciples worship or bow down to Jesus, which actually occurs in a number of places throughout the narrative. Laurence and Dan think about how bowing down to God’s appointed king to pay homage is an excellent way to recognise God’s sovereignty, and they reflect on Paul’s words in Philippians that accurately sum up the Jesus they have been discovering in Matthew. Paul says that Jesus is now highly exalted so that “at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,” and this is all “to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:10-11). As God’s Son and God’s representative and anointed King, his disciples are among the first to bow to him and give God the glory when all authority is given to him, (Matthew 28:18).
Jesus is discovered!
Laurence and Dan think about the Jesus they have uncovered in the gospel of Matthew, and everything they have learnt about God, the kingdom and the place of humans in all of this. It’s not simply a nice story with a happy ending. It comes with a challenging call to live as Jesus taught, to be people of the kingdom and to looking forward to the full realisation of the future time when the kingdom of heaven will be fully on earth.