Halim Suh speaks on Matthew 27:45-46.
Series: The 7 Sayings of Jesus
In today’s passage, it was the sixth hour, which was high noon, and darkness was rolling in. Darkness isn’t a concept we need to be taught. We don’t teach our children to be afraid of the dark, they just are. When you’re in real darkness, you feel disoriented, unprotected and alone. It’s no coincidence that through out all Scripture darkness is associated with chaos, sin and God’s wrath. The day of God’s judgment is always depicted as a day of darkness. This is that day.
If we were to stop reading right after verse forty-five, as darkness was rolling in at high noon, we would assume God’s day of judgment was coming. All those people who nailed Jesus to the cross and were spitting on Him were about to get it.
But, as Jesus cries, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me,” we see the day of God’s judgment was not falling upon those evil sinners, but rather onto Jesus. He was the one who was crying and being forsaken and crushed by the wrath of God.
Substitution: He Took Our Place
What we’re seeing is substitution. Jesus was taking the place of sinners, our place. When it comes to the cross, we’re no innocent bystanders. It’s our sins that are nailing Jesus to the cross, hanging Him there and killing Him.
Jesus was taking our place and receiving what we deserve.
We see the price Jesus had to pay to be our substitute in His cry, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” God was forsaking Christ.
We deserve to be forsaken by God.
When we think about the cross, many times we miss the true price and payment that was being made. We tend to only focus on the physical aspects, the pain and death, and miss out on the real payment Jesus was making. There was an infinitely greater pain and price Jesus was paying.
The Physical Cost
We need to understand the physical pain Jesus went through in order to understand the true pain and price Jesus paid.
I share these things not to shock you, but to show you the price that was actually paid for you. The value of something is determined by how much you’re willing to pay for it. Let’s see how much Jesus values and treasures you.
As I describe this to you one by one, keep in mind Jesus was taking your place, being your substitute. Everything done to Him should be done to us.
Consider the state Jesus was in before the cross. While praying in the Garden of Gethsemane, distraught to the point of death, he sweat drops of blood. It’s an actual medical condition called Hematidrosis, where capillary blood vessels that feed into your sweat glands rupture, because of an extreme physical or emotional trauma. Jesus’ skin would have been highly sensitive to touch after this.
Then Jesus was betrayed with a kiss. I wonder what this kiss felt like on his sensitive skin.
He was taken captive and scourged, whipped by a cat of nine tails, a whip with many strands each having a metal ball or hook tied to the end. The metal balls would tenderize the back like meat so the metal hooks could sink in deeply. Once the hooks had sunk in, a Roman soldier would take both his hands and rip down Jesus’ back and legs, over and over again. The prophet Isaiah tells us that Jesus was marred beyond human likeness.
Then He would be mocked. A crown of thorns pressed inches into His head. A robe put on His back that would act like gauze, blood seeping in and drying until the robe was affixed onto His back, only to be ripped off again so He could carry a cross up a hill where He would be executed.
Wood was rare in Israel, so He was handed an old recycled cross, stained with the blood of countless criminals. It was an old rugged cross, splinters digging into His freshly bleeding back. He was pushed to the very edge of human endurance. He collapsed, not being able to carry the cross anymore. Simon of Cyrene had to help him.
Finally, at the top of this hill at Calvary, metal spikes (five to seven inches long) were used to nail His hands and feet into the cross, rusty iron, breaking through the most tender of nerves. The cross was dropped into a hole so He would be at eye level to people. Their spit could reach His face. Their mocking couldn’t be ignored.
As excruciatingly painful as it had been so far, the cross would deliver death by asphyxiation, by suffocating you. The only way you could get your breath was to push yourself up through the spikes in your feet. This puts the seven sayings of Jesus in a new light when you realize He had to push up on Himself to get any breath in order to say anything.
But, if our understanding of the cross stops here, it’s stops infinitely short of what was actually paid for us. As horrific as everything has been so far, the Bible describes His reaction to all of this physical pain by being, “like a lamb that is led to the slaughter…so he opened not his mouth,” (Isaiah 53:7 ESV). There was a resolute quietness about Him. There was a composure and fortitude about Him.
Then something happened that broke that silence and caused Jesus to cry out with a loud voice, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
The word Greek word for cry was only used here in the New Testament. It actually translates as scream. It’s as though the English translators couldn’t quite get themselves to translate it as that, because the thought of Jesus screaming in anguish was too much to bear. But He did scream. R. C. Sproul calls it the Scream of the damned. It’s the crucifixion within the crucifixion.
All the physical pains didn’t cause Jesus to scream. But now He was screaming.
Jesus was becoming our substitute, becoming sin for us. The result of this was being forsaken by God. This spiritual death was infinitely more painful than any physical pain or death and caused Jesus to scream out the scream of the damned.
We know there is nothing more devastating than losing a lifetime love. Some of you have gone through that. You would welcome and embrace any amount of physical pain if it meant you would get that love back. There are married people who have lost their spouse, parents who have lost their children, those who have lost parents. The loss is devastating. There’s a soul wrenching that takes place because your souls were bound up with one another.
If I were to lose my wife Angela, I know there’s not going to be any physical pain, but I would welcome it and endure any amount of it, if it would mean I didn’t have to lose her. The closer the relationship, the greater the pain. If I were to lose Angela thirty years from now, the pain wouldn’t be any less because I got to enjoy and know her for longer. It’s exactly the knowing and enjoying her that’s going to cause my pain to be that much greater.
We hear stories of old faithful couples that have been married fifty to sixty years. When one of them passes away, the other soon follows. Their souls were bound up with one another.
Jesus relationship with the Father wasn’t just a fifty-year relationship. It was one of intimacy, knowing and loving, from all eternity. It was a bounding up to the extent we could never know. He was a son who utterly lived for His Father. He was a father who utterly delighted in His Son. Yet, in this moment of human history, because of a plan they had made long ago, Jesus became sin. He went to the cross. Instead of forsaking us, the Father forsook His Son. He poured out His wrath on Him instead.
4 Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. 5 But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. 6 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 (ESV)
Let’s not miss out on the true worth of the payment being made on the cross when Jesus took our place. There was something inestimably precious paid for you. God loves you.
As we hear Jesus scream, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me,” we ought to hear Him scream to us, “This much is how much I love you!” His love for us is no sentimental kind of love. It’s a ferocious love, the kind that says, “I will take your place, no matter what hell or wrath I will face.”
Through His scream we see substitution. We see Jesus taking our place and experiencing the true heart of hell, being forsaken so that we’ll never be.
Substitution is not simply Jesus taking our place, but it’s also us taking His place. He took our place, becoming sin for us, but we also took His place, becoming righteousness.
21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. 2 Corinthians 5:21 (ESV)
We also need to see the perfect obedience, the perfect righteousness Jesus was accomplishing for us.
On the surface, His scream doesn’t look like obedience. It looks like Jesus had finally reached His breaking point and was questioning God. It seemed like His unwavering faith was finally breaking and He had lost His grip on God.
However, the very opposite was happening. He wasn’t losing His grip on God; He was double gripping onto Him as He screamed out, “My God, my god!” Charles Spurgeon called this the mighty double grip of His unhesitating faith. Jesus wasn’t crying out against God. He was crying out to God. He also cried out to Him twice.
He also wasn’t just saying, “God, god,” but rather, “My God, my God.” It was a language of intimacy, of a biblical covenant. When God delivered the Israelites out of Egypt, He said to them, “And you shall be my people and I shall be your god.”
We also know Jesus wasn’t losing His faith, questioning everything because His cry, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” comes directly from Psalm 22:1. In those days, they didn’t have the Bible like we do. The way you would refer to a chapter or section of the Scripture was by quoting the first words of it.
By quoting the first words of Psalm 22, Jesus was saying, “this psalm is what I’m all about; this psalm reveals what I’m here to do, what I’m doing right now,” (Tim Keller).
In the time of Jesus’ sharpest grief and greatest pain, He went to God’s word. When we’re struggling and in pain, the last thing we want to do is go to God’s word. Yet, Jesus did. This is obedience.
Let’s look deeper into Psalm 22 to see the extent to which Jesus was obeying.
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning? 14 I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax; it is melted within my breast; 15 my strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to my jaws; you lay me in the dust of death. 16 For dogs encompass me; a company of evildoers encircles me; they have pierced my hands and feet—17 I can count all my bones— they stare and gloat over me; 18 they divide my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots. Psalm 22:1, 14-18 (ESV)
David wrote this psalm thousands of years before Jesus, perfectly describing what Jesus went through. Yet, it seems so dark with no hope. But then…
19 But you, O Lord, do not be far off! O you my help, come quickly to my aid! 20
Deliver my soul from the sword, my precious life from the power of the dog! 21 Save me from the mouth of the lion! You have rescued me from the horns of the wild oxen! 22 I will tell of your name to my brothers; in the midst of the congregation I will praise you. Psalm 22:19-22 (ESV)
Jesus hasn’t lost faith, He was trusting in the resurrection that God would not leave Him dead, but that He would rescue and deliver Him.
23 You who fear the Lord, praise him! All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him, and stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel! 24 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. 25 From you comes my praise in the great congregation; my vows I will perform before those who fear him. Psalm 22:23-25 (ESV)
Jesus was saying, “All that we plan to do to save these people, all that I promised to do for their salvation, I will fulfill my vows, I will stay the course, so that…”
26 The afflicted shall eat and be satisfied; those who seek him shall praise the Lord! May your hearts live forever! 27 All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord, and all the families of the nations shall worship before you. 28 For kingship belongs to the Lord, and he rules over the nations. 29 All the prosperous of the earth eat and worship; before him shall bow all who go down to the dust, even the one who could not keep himself alive. 30 Posterity shall serve him; it shall be told of the Lord to the coming generation; 31 they shall come and proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn, that he has done it. Psalm 22:26-31 (ESV)
By quoting the first words of Psalm 22, Jesus wasn’t losing His faith He was declaring it. He was doing what He was doing so all the ends of the earth, all the families of all the nations might believe and be saved.
This is obedience.
Not just obedience in life, but also in death.
We’re so used to the thought that if we obey God, we’ll be blessed. That’s what God told Adam, “Adam, if you obey me about the tree, you will live.” But what did God tell Jesus? He said, “If you obey me about the tree, you will die. You will be crushed. You will become the filth of sin. You will be forsaken.”
For Adam, obedience meant life, but he disobeyed, just like we do. For Jesus, obedience meant death, but He still obeyed. Having lived a life of perfect and absolute obedience with no mark of sin on His life, instead of being blessed with heaven, He was cursed with hell. Though being cast into the heart of hell, His response was, “My God, my God, though you slay me, I will bless you. Though you’re crushing me, You’re still my God. Though you’re forsaking me, I will still be faithful. I will continue to kiss the hand that has thus afflicted me.”
This is a level of obedience that is unimaginable. Who could obey more than this?
Substitution: We Take His Place
Remember, substitution isn’t simply Jesus taking our place. We take His place also.
We’re taking a place of absolute and utter obedience, trust and faith. Because of the substitution of Jesus, when God looks at us, He looks at us just as if we had obeyed in the way Jesus obeyed.
When bad things happen and we run from God’s word, God treats us as if we ran to His word, because that’s what Jesus did.
When you’re experiencing suffering and you cry out against God, God treats you as if you cried out to Him, because that’s what Jesus did.
When you’re experiencing physical, spiritual or emotional pain and your faith begins to crack and you have doubts, in that moment God treats you as if you were crying out to Him, “Though you slay me, I will bless you. Though you crush me, I will still be faithful to you. I will continue to kiss the hand that has thus afflicted me.”
Jesus took your place. This means God is not angry with you; He’s not in the heavens shaking His head at you with disappointment. If you’re in Christ, this isn’t true. Jesus received all the wrath we deserve, including all the disappointment from a God that we deserve.
Not only that, but you took Jesus’ place. This means God utterly delights in you. Some of you need to hear that. Some of you live as if God is just putting up with you. He may have forgiven you, but you’re just hanging on by a thread. If you’re in Christ, this isn’t true. God sings over you with joy. When life is over, you won’t be met by God saying, “Ok, fine I’ll let you in.” You’ll be met by God saying, “You’re here! You made it! My good and faithful son, enter into your daddy’s house!”
On the cross, Jesus was treated just as if He had sinned in all the way we sin, now God treats us just as if we had obeyed in all the ways Jesus obeyed.
What a glorious exchange! That’s the gospel!
16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16 (ESV)
Do you believe this? Do you believe in Him?
If you do, everything that happened to Jesus on the cross is a picture of what you will never have to face. All of heaven, righteousness and God are yours. You can call Him, “My God.”
Yet sadly, if you don’t believe, everything that happened to Jesus on the cross is a picture of what will happen to you one day.
Some ask, “If God is so loving, how can He send anybody to hell?” This is a question both unbelievers and believers ask. We hope that perhaps God would be so loving that even if somebody rejects Jesus for the rest of their lives, God would still forgive them. This thought and hope keeps us from sharing the gospel in the way we should, with a fervency and urgency.
How can a loving God send people to hell? Let me ask you another question. How can a just God forgive people who have rejected such a beautiful Jesus? After all that He did?
You’re sins are real. God’s wrath is real. Hell is real.
If God did not spare His own Son, as He’s bearing our sins, what hope is there that He’s going to spare anyone that’s going to reject Jesus? If God would pour out His wrath on His own Son, surely He will pour out His wrath on you, if you reject Jesus.
God is so holy that He demands payment for sin. Sin has to be dealt with. But because He’s also so loving, He has provided us a substitute, a Jesus that will take our place, become our sin, so that we might become righteousness. But if you reject this Jesus, what else would be left over, but the wrath of God?
The good news is that as long as there is life in your breath, God is offering you this Jesus. He’s offering you this hope. Right now, as you sit, if you believe in Jesus, that He took your place, you’ll get to take His place. If you take His place, you won’t ever have to wonder if you’re saved or forgiven. You won’t ever have to wonder if God will accept you.
Your sins, God’s wrath, and hell are real. But so is the forgiveness of sin found in Jesus for the salvation for all that trust in Him.