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God’s Word for You

Psalm 22:1-2 Why have you forsaken me

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Sunday, March 26, 2023

1 My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
  The words of my groaning do nothing to save me.
2 My God, I call out by day, but you do not answer.
  I call out by night, but for me there is no repose.

Here is the agony of the cross. Here at the center of his suffering, at the bottom of the pit of hell, the Son of God is separated from God his Father and from the Holy Spirit. They are nowhere to be found. God has hidden his face from his own Son.

The second half of verse 1 presents some of the most theologically important words in all of the Scriptures. David says of his own experience, “The words of my groaning do nothing to save me.” David, a mere man, perhaps a captain by now in Saul’s army, sees that his own moans and groans of weariness don’t do anything to help. But taking these words along with the beginning of the verse and flinging them to the mind of Christ on the cross, David’s prophetic language strikes horror into our minds: The very words of Christ (divrey means “my words”), the word of God, could not spare Christ from his suffering.

How could this be, that the word of God, the very words of Christ (whether from groaning or not) could not rescue him from the agony of the cross?

Could it be that the Father is more powerful than the Son, and that the power of the Father kept Christ’s might at bay on the cross, nailed there as he was in his suffering? No. This cannot be, because the will of Father and Son are never and were never at odds. The Son had asked to be released from this cup of suffering, the Father’s answer was No, and the Son accepted this: “Not my will, but your will be done” (Luke 22:24). In addition to this, the omnipotent Christ is not lesser in power than the omnipotent Father; they are equal in power and omnipotence, as we confess in the Athanasian Creed: “The Father is almighty, the Son is almighty, the Holy Spirit is almighty; yet they are not three who are almighty, but there is one who is almighty.”

So we must understand this terrible truth: Once condemned and sent to hell, the judgment of being condemned to hell cannot be lifted. The Son had to suffer the pain of hell, but his personal suffering was different from any ordinary man’s suffering, because he is God. The paradox of how God could be separate from God, of how God eternal could experience death, of how Christ without sin or guilt could pay for sin and guilt, is all caught up in the historical fact of his physical death. Therefore, his suffering of hell lasted only until his death on the cross released him from that suffering. We do not say this with perfect understanding or comprehension, but only with the comfort and knowledge of what actually took place. His resurrection showed all these things to be true.

This is why his word, his words of groaning, were so far from saving him. He had to suffer and groan in order for our sins to be paid for, and it was his will that this should happen. This brings us to the famous words of Paul, “The Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express” (Romans 8:26). This passage teaches humble, sinful mankind that even when we are not certain what to pray for, or how to express it, the Spirit comes to our aid and fills in the proper language, so to speak, to come to the ears of the Father. But for Christ on the cross, the Spirit did not do this. He, too, turned his face from the Son, and allowed the suffering to take place—the horrible suffering that certainly had to take place, for the sake of mankind. God is not parsimonious; he is gracious to the very dregs of the cup of Christ’s suffering. Therefore, David adds: “My God, I call out by day, but you do not answer. I call out by night, but for me there is no repose.” Christ obeyed God and submitted to God’s punishment, because the law obligates either to obedience or punishment. “Nevertheless,” one of our ancient professors said, “it must be noted that the active and passive obedience in the satisfaction of Christ are most closely connected, since his suffering was active and his active obedience involved suffering.”

Here on the cross, Christ shed his own blood in submission to the will of the Father. “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us” (Galatians 3:13), “and the blood of Jesus, God’s Son, purifies us from all sin” (1 John 1:7).

In ancient times, the preening of the pelican was mistakenly thought to be the bird pricking its own breast to supply drops of blood for its offspring. This led the medieval theologian Thomas Aquinas to write:

    O pious Pelican, Lord Jesus,
    Cleanse impure me with your blood
    One drop of which is able to save the whole world
    From all wickedness.

Aquinas’ ornithology was lacking, but his theology in this case was correct. Christ’s blood did indeed pay for all our sins. (This is why the pelican can sometimes be seen in stained glass windows and perched in a branch in paintings of the crucifixion.)

Since Jesus Christ is not only a human man but also God (God and man in one undivided person), he was not under any obligation to the law because he is Lord of the Law. Nor was he obligated to suffer and die for us. But he did it out of love; he placed himself obediently under the law and kept the law. This voluntary and loving keeping of the law was “in so perfect a fashion that, reckoning it to us as righteousness, God forgives our sins, accounts us holy and righteous, and saves us forever on account of this entire obedience” (Formula of Concord III:15).

“Why have you forsaken me?” This is the pain, the loss, the emptiness of hell. The words echo in the vast chambers of suffering, without companionship, without compassion, and without a single friendly word. With jeering and spitting and punishment, “terror on every side.” The leaders of the Jews turned against him. The high priests and all the chief priests. The people. The scholars. The lawyers. Even the criminals. His apostles fled. His friend betrayed him.

But we look upon his cross with faith and tears of thankfulness. “O Lord, you took up my case; you redeemed my life” (Lamentations 3:47). The punishment that brought us peace was upon him.

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim Smith
About Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please visit the St. Paul’s Lutheran Church website.


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