My God, My God, Why Have You Forsaken Me? | Mark 15:33-38

And when the sixth hour had come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour. And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” And some of the bystanders hearing it said, “Behold, he is calling Elijah.” And someone ran and filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a reed and gave it to him to drink, saying, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down.” And Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed his last. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom.

Mark 15:33-38 ESV

Surely after their three-day journey to the mountain in Moriah, Isaac knew that this sacrifice was far more solemn than normal. Perhaps that is why, as father and son prepared to ascend the mountain, Isaac asked where the lamb for the sacrifice was. Abraham simply answered, “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son” (Genesis 22:8). Upon the mountain, Abraham built the altar, laid the wood, and laid Isaac upon the altar. Although this was Abraham’s sacrifice, the fact that Isaac was the one who carried the wood upon the mountain indicates that he was likely already a young man rather than a small boy. Thus, he evidently trusted his father enough to be bound upon the altar and to be slaughtered by his own father. Hebrews 11:17-19 tells us that Abraham still held onto God’s promise that through Isaac his offspring would be named so he reasoned that God would evidently bring Isaac back from the dead. Was that his comfort to Isaac? Was that faith in resurrection the hope that enabled Isaac to lay in silence like a lamb being slaughtered?

Of course, Abraham did not kill his son. An angel stopped his blade mid-air and a ram caught in a thicket to offer in place of Isaac. Abraham’s words were true; the LORD did provide the lamb. The patriarch called that mountain, “the LORD will provide.” Three thousand years later, those words were fulfilled to the uttermost. Upon another mountain, God the Father laid His only Son, the Son He loved even in the eternity before creation, upon the altar. Although the Son could certainly have called upon angels to rescue Him, like Isaac, He trusted His Father. Unlike Isaac, the knife would not be stopped. This time the Father would drive the knife into His beloved Son, for by the Son’s blood Abraham and Isaac and you and I would be ransomed from our sins once for all.

THERE WAS DARKNESS // VERSE 33

In our previous passage, we read of the crucifixion of Christ. Particularly, we noted how Mark (as well as the other three Evangelists) does not emphasize the physical torment of the cross but rather gives attention to the mockery and reviling that Jesus endured alongside the bodily agony. Mark’s Gospel now continues with these words: “And when the sixth hour had come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour.”

Here we have a supernatural darkness that came over Jerusalem for about three hours in the very middle of the day. The sixth hour was noon, and the ninth hour would have been three in the afternoon. Attempts to align this with an eclipse or some other natural phenomena miss the point. Instead, we ought to read with great wonder that the light of the world Himself was engulfed in darkness and that the Author of life was preparing to die.

R. Kent Hughes notes:

Thirty-three years earlier there had been brightness and music at midnight when Jesus was born. Now there is darkness and silence at noontide as he dies.

Why this darkness? To begin with, it was a sign of mourning. Amos prophesied there would be darkness at the time of the Day of the Lord, saying, “I will make the sun go down at noon and darken the earth in broad daylight… I will make it like the mourning for an only son…” (Amos 8:9,10). The cross is draped in the mourning sackcloth of darkness.

In concert with this, the darkness signified the curse of God. At the exodus, a plague of darkness spread over the land before the first Passover lamb was slain. Now before the death of the ultimate Passover Lamb, there again was darkness. God’s judgment was being poured out in a midday night.[1]

Indeed, to further parallel the events in Exodus, we see here that Jesus is not only the Lamb slain to ransom His people from the Destroyer, but He is also the first born of the Father, offered in our place. We may also notice that there was darkness over the whole land, which presumably meant Judea. Thus, with the plague of darkness in Egypt, the Egyptians were cast into darkness, while the land of the Hebrews still had light. Now the reverse was occurring. The land of the Jews was covered in darkness, while the Gentiles nations still had light. Perhaps this was a visual display of Paul point in Romans 3:9-12:

What then? Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, as it is written:

            “None is righteous, no, not one;
                        no one understands;
                        no one seeks for God.
            All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
                        no one does good,
                        not even one.”

THE CRY OF DERECLICTION // VERSES 34-36

After spending three hours plunged in darkness, we read: “And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, ‘Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?’ which means, ‘My God, my God, why have your forsaken me?’” We call this Jesus’ cry of dereliction, and indeed it is. It notably is also the opening sentence of Psalm 22, which together with Isaiah 53 is one of the most explicit descriptions of Christ’s crucifixion, even though it was written by David around a thousand years before Jesus’ day. There are a multitude of mysteries and complexities in this cry of anguish that I suspect will never be fully grasped by finite creatures like us.

Perhaps the greatest mystery is how Jesus could be abandoned by His Father. Could the Second Person of the Trinity really be cut off? Some theologians in an effort to avoid such a thought have argued that Jesus was not forsaken at all. Instead, they argue that Jesus was really pointing to the triumphant conclusion of Psalm 22, and He was not truly forsaken by the Father. Not a few unbelievers have used this cry as proof that Jesus became disillusioned before He breathed His last. We must reject both thoughts. It was for this very reason that Christ became incarnate, so He was certainly no disillusioned self-help guru. Neither should we look upon the suffering of Christ as the Donatists look upon His humanity, as if He only seemed to have suffered. No, Jesus did truly suffer, and He was truly forsaken by the Father.

R. C. Sproul writes,

When Jesus took the curse on Himself and so identified with our sin that He became a curse, God cut Him off, and justly so. At the moment when Christ took on Himself the sin of the world, His figure on the cross was the most grotesque, most obscene mass of concentrated sin in the history of the world. God is too holy to look on iniquity, so when Christ hung on the cross, the Father, as it were, turned His back. He averted His face and He cut off His Son. Jesus, Who, touching His human nature, had been in perfect, blessed relationship with God throughout His ministry, now bore the sin of God’s people, and so He was forsaken by God.[2]

As we noted last week, upon the cross, Jesus was redeeming us from the curse of our sins by becoming a curse for us. He was becoming Himself the sacrifice for our sins. He was taking upon Himself the damnation that we rightfully have earned through our rebellion against our Creator. Again, Sproul is right in saying that, “On the cross, He was in hell, totally bereft of the grace and the presence of God, utterly separated from all blessedness of the Father.”[3]

Thus, Jesus was truly forsaken by the Father. This is what Jesus feared in Gethsemane made reality. Lamentations 1:12 says, lamenting over the destruction of Jerusalem, “Is it nothing to you, all you who pass by? Look and see if there is any sorrow like my sorrow, which was brought upon me, which the LORD inflicted on the day of his fierce anger.” Yet it is here with Jesus that we see a sorrow beyond all other sorrows. Only those who spend all eternity under the burning wrath of God will have some notion of what Christ endured here, yet even then Christ’s suffering is greater, for they will endure the condemnation for their own sins. Jesus, however, bore the fullness of the Father’s wrath though innocent. He was eternally undefiled in perfect blinding purity, and then He took upon Himself the defilement of His people. Since we know sin like fish know water, there is simply no way for us to properly understand the suffering of Christ as He hung accursed upon the tree.

Here he is, then, according to the weakness of his flesh, feeling himself forsaken by God. Nevertheless he did not fail to trust in him. We see in his words two elements which might seem contradictory, and yet they match. The words which he repeats, ‘My God, my God’, reveal steadfastness of faith. He does not say, ‘Where is God? How can he leave me?’ He speaks directly to him.[4]

As we have noted before, we are often tempted to dismiss the temptations of Jesus away because He was born as the second Adam without an earthly father and free from the inherited curse of sin. Yet it is exactly the reverse. Having never sinned His temptations were far greater than any we have ever or will ever experience throughout our lives. Likewise, Jesus’ faith here is far greater than any saint who has ever or will ever live. As the greater Isaac, He hung beneath the Father’s knife and trusted Him still. May we learn something of this faith whenever we are also tested by afflictions.

After this cry, we read:

And some of the bystanders hearing it said, “Behold, he is calling Elijah.” And someone ran and filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a reed and gave it to him to drink, saying, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down.”

Whether the bystanders did not hear his cry of “Eloi” clearly or whether they were simply reviling Him yet again, we do not know. Since there was a crowd around His cross, it is quite possible that both occurred, some misunderstanding and others reviling. Th sour wine was likely a kind of wine vinegar, and as John 19:28-29 notes, it was given to him after He said, “I thirst.”

“Sour wine” (Gk. oxos, “wine vinegar”; Mark 15:36) is given to quench thirst and perhaps even to prolong the agony of the crucified person (see John 19:28; cf. Ps. 22:15). As stated above, sour wine is to be distinguished from wine mixed with myrrh or bile (onion meta choles, “wine… with gall”; (Matt. 27:34), the latter of which is intended to numb the senses of the suffering person. Even though Jesus is near death (Mark 15:36-37), he still accepts the wine vinegar (John 19:28-30), while never accepting numbing wine mixed with myrrh.[5]

THE CURTAIN WAS TORN // VERSES 37-38

And Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed his last. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom.

The other Gospels tell us that Jesus’ loud cry was the declaration, “It is finished!” Indeed, so it was. There is an idea, which seems to be more common among prosperity gospel circles, that Jesus’ suffering continued after His death and that He was tormented by the devil in hell until His resurrection. This, however, arises from a misunderstanding of what makes hell hell, namely, that Satan is hell’s ruler who torments the souls of the damned. The biblical reality is that the lake of fire, which is what we might call Hell (the eternal punishment of the damned), was created for Satan and his angels, that is, for their torment, not to be a realm of their own. Hell, in other words, is sharing the eternal punishment of Satan, not being punished by Satan. As we have been seeing, Jesus endured that punishment fully upon the cross; therefore, His work of giving His life as a ransom for many was indeed finished.

While the priests and scribes demanded Jesus to come down from the cross to prove Himself and while the bystanders wanted to see Elijah rescue Jesus. They missed the actual signs that were occurring around them. Their darkened hearts kept them from understanding the midday darkness or the torn curtain.

Indeed, the tearing of the curtain from top to bottom is the miraculous divine affirmation of Christ’s sacrifice. This curtain was most certainly the enormous veil that separated the Most Holy Place (also called the Holy of Holies) from the rest of the temple. We ought to remember here that the temple was commanded to be decorated with much garden imagery in order to remind those worshiping that God was dwelling with His people as He once did in Eden. However, just as Eden was guarded by cherubim from ever being reentered, so was the curtain to the Most Holy Place decorated with cherubim as warning against any from entering.

These preparations having thus been made, the priests go regularly into the first section [that is, the Holy Place], performing their ritual duties, but into the second [the Most Holy Place] only the high priest goes, and he but once a year, and not without taking blood, which he offers for himself and for the unintentional sins of the people. By this the Holy Spirit indicates that the way into the holy places is not yet opened as long as the first section is still standing (which is symbolic for the present age). According to this arrangement, gifts and sacrifices are offered that cannot perfect the conscience of the worshiper, but deal only with food and drink and various washings, regulations for the body imposed until the time of reformation.

Hebrews 9:6-10

Jesus’ death signaled the removal of that first section, of all the former religious rituals for worshiping within the temple. All sacrifices and washings are now not only pointless but blasphemous because Christ’s death was the once for all sacrifice that removed any need for those former shadows. Hear how the Hebrews 10:11-14 describes it:

And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.

In our study of Exodus, we heard the words of Philip Ryken that essentially describe the whole story of God’s people: “God wanted to do something more than get his people out of Egypt; he wanted to get Egypt out of his people.”[6] Indeed, such a divine rescue was nothing for the Most High, but as we noted, the Israelites did not actually want to leave Egypt. They loved Egypt, and many of them loved Egypt’s gods. That remains the tension for the remainder of the Old Testament. God brought His people out of slavery, yet they remained enslaved to their sin. Pharaoh may have been drowned in the sea, but a greater Pharaoh still lurked in their hearts. They needed a greater exodus performed by a greater Moses.

This is that greater exodus, and Jesus is the greater Moses. This was the great work that Christ came to accomplish. This is the giving of His life as the ransom for many. As both the great high priest and the once for all sacrifice, Jesus ended for all time the sacrificial system (which was only meant to point toward Him anyway), and access to the Most Holy Place is now open for all who are cleansed by His blood. Eden is open again.

Christ the true and better Moses
Called to lead a people home
Standing bold to earthly powers
God’s great glory to be known
With his arms stretched wide to heaven
See the waters part in two
See the veil is torn forever
Cleansed with blood we pass now through.[7]

This also is the answer to the previous question that we have left unanswered. Why did the Father forsake Christ upon the cross? To restore us back into communion with Him. Christ was forsaken, so we would not be. The Blessed took our curse, so that through Him, we can be blessed before God. As Isaiah 53:10-11 says,

            Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him;
                       he has put him to grief;
            when his soul makes an offering for guilt,
                        he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days;
            the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand.
            Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied;
            by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant,
                        make many to be accounted righteous,
                        and he shall bear their iniquities.

With the curtain torn in two because Jesus was forsaken by the Father in the darkness of sin in our place, what then are we to do? Hebrews 10:19-25 tells:

Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

Notice the threefold “let us.” Let us first draw near to God, for His presence is now open to us. Christ’s blood has washed the guilt of our consciences clean so that we can come boldly to God’s throne in prayer as a throne, not of judgment but of grace. Because Christ has paid the penalty of our sins and imputed His righteous upon us, we ought now to pray with full assurance that our Father will hear us.

Let us, second, hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering. In 6:19-20, the same writer said, “We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.” We ought to look back upon the torn curtain as a blessed reminder of the cost of our ransom back to communion with God, and the sight of that great cost ought to foster in us an even greater hope, a hope that “he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6).

Let us, finally, consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, gathering together, and encouraging one another as the Day draws near. That Day is the return of our Lord, no longer as the suffering Servant but as the triumphant King. Through Christ, God redeemed for Himself a people for His own possession, and in Christ, we belong to that people. Although it is true that everyone will ultimately stand before the judgment seat of God alone, we have not been left to walk through this life alone. Jesus endured the cross alone, but He calls us to take up our crosses and follow Him together.

That is what the death of Jesus purchased for us with the tearing of the curtain. Full assurance to come to God as our Father, a sure and steadfast hope that will endure even the end of all things, and a place among the congregation of the righteous. And as we come to our King’s Table, we are given a visual sermon of these blood-bought truths.

To remind us of our place among the people of God, we break this bread together as Christ’s gathered body.

To remind us of our great hope, we drink the cup of the new covenant in Christ’s blood, a mere sip of what is still to come at the Wedding Supper of the Lamb.

To remind us of our assurance before the Father, let us see that the table before us is no longer a bronze altar where sacrifices must be made; rather, we have before us only the reminder of the sacrifice made once for all.


[1] R. Kent Hughes, Mark: Jesus, Servant and Savior, 392.

[2] R. C. Sproul, The Truth of the Cross, 133-134.

[3] Ibid, 135.

[4] John Calvin, Crucified and Risen, 115.

[5] Iain M. Duguid. ESV Expository Commentary: Matthew–Luke (Kindle Locations 23846-23854). Kindle Edition. 

[6] Ryken, Exodus, 311.

[7] “Christ, the True and Better” by Matt Boswell, Keith Getty, & Matt Papa

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