Why Hast Thou Forsaken Me?

God’s Holiness in the Gospels

4 min

From the intense darkness of the most heart-wrenching hour in human history a cry came forth: “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” (Matthew 27:46). In Hebrew, Jesus was quoting the opening line of Psalm 22: “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” This question is very familiar to us from the Gospel record as one of the few sayings of Jesus as He hung from the cross of crucifixion.

While the question is familiar to many, the answer to the question is not as familiar. On the cross during those painful hours, the wrath of God the Father was poured out in full measure against the innocent Son of God Who suffered as the propitiation for our sins.

Psalm 22, the psalm that Jesus was quoting in His agony, reveals in its opening verses the answer to the mystery of why the Son was forsaken by the Father. According to verses 1–2, the psalmist wrote: “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? why art thou so far from helping me, and from the words of my roaring? O my God, I cry in the day time, but thou hearest not; and in the night season, and am not silent.”

Although the Lord Jesus did not fully quote these words while on the cross, surely they reflect the heart of the One Who was the Word of God incarnate. The next verse supplies the answer to the previous questions—an answer that must have satisfied the Lord Jesus. “But thou art holy, O thou that inhabitest the praises of Israel” (Psalm 22:3).

The holiness of God demanded that Christ, our Substitute, be nailed to the cross of Calvary. God’s holiness kept Jesus there until He could cry out again in victory, “It is finished” (John 19:30). Finally, it was the holiness of God that demanded that the atonement for sin be fully accomplished.

The Puritan pastor, Stephen Charnock, made the case that the holiness of God was “most beautiful and lovely” when revealed on the cross of Calvary.

Not all the vials of judgment that have or shall be poured out upon the wicked world, nor the flaming furnace of a sinner’s conscience, nor the irreversible sentence pronounced against the rebellious demons, nor the groans of the damned creatures, give such a demonstration of God’s hatred of sin, as the wrath of God let loose upon His Son. Never did Divine holiness appear more beautiful and lovely than at the time our Saviour’s countenance was most marred in the midst of His dying groans. This He Himself acknowledges in Psalm 22. When God had turned His smiling face from Him, and thrust His sharp knife into His heart, which forced that terrible cry from Him, ‘My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken me?’ He adores this perfection — ‘Thou art holy’ (v.3).

—Stephen Charnock

The holiness of God was perfected and displayed for all the world in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ. He was the supreme Holy One, the Lamb without blemish and without spot. When Jesus was to be born, the angel Gabriel was sent to deliver this news to Mary, “The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God” (Luke 1:35). Jesus was announced as “holy,” even before His birth.

Oddly enough, the first to announce that the Lord Jesus was the “Holy One” of the Old Testament Scriptures was a demon-possessed man! The dramatic confrontation between The Holy One and Satan, the evil one, took place in the synagogue at Capernaum early in Jesus’ ministry. As Jesus was teaching in the synagogue, the man possessed of an evil spirit loudly cried out: “Let us alone; what have we to do with thee, thou Jesus of Nazareth? art thou come to destroy us? I know thee who thou art; the Holy One of God” (Luke 4:34, emphasis added).

Surely, this announcement that the carpenter’s son from Nazareth was the “Holy One of God” sent shock waves through the people assembled in the synagogue that day. But Jesus calmly commanded the demon to “hush” and come out of the man. After throwing the man violently on the ground, the demon departed. “And they were all amazed, and spake among themselves, saying, What a word is this! for with authority and power he commandeth the unclean spirits, and they come out” (Luke 4:36).

On the cross, this Holy One of God bore in Himself the awful weight of an unholy world. When the victory was finally won, when the Just had suffered for the unjust, when the Holy had paid the debt of the unholy, the Lord Jesus cried out in victory, “It is finished.” In those moments of separation from His Holy Father, the Holy Son had established the means of eternal union between God and man. In His victory, He was united again to His Father as He said, “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit” (Luke 23:46).

Another “Holy One” prophecy found in the Book of Psalms promised that Christ would not only conquer sin but also conquer death! “For thou wilt not leave my soul in hell; neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption” (Psalm 16:10).

Christ Jesus was and is that Holy One! Because the Holy One suffered separation from the Father, we — the unholy, but now redeemed — will never suffer the same separation. Because the Holy One died, we — the unholy, but now redeemed—will never die but live forever. Because the Holy One rose again and lives forever, we — the unholy, but now redeemed — will also rise again and live forever in perfect holiness forever. Our justification, sanctification, and eventual glorification are guaranteed by Christ, the Holy One of Israel.

This article is from our Matters of Life & Death teaching series.

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