My God Why?
April 8th, 1993 @ 12:00 PM
MY GOD, WHY?
Dr. W. A. Criswell
4-08-93 12:00 p.m.
The title of the message this morning; My God, My God, Why? In our series of sermons on “The Five Great Questions of the Bible,” Monday, Am I My Brother’s Keeper?; Tuesday, What Shall I Do with Jesus?; yesterday, What Must I Do to be Saved?; tomorrow, If a Man Dies, Shall He Live Again?; and today, My God, Why?
It is a cry from the cross in Matthew 27:45-46: “Now from the sixth hour,” that is at high noon, “until the ninth hour,” until three o’clock in the afternoon, “there was darkness over the land. And about the ninth hour, Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying: Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?”
You know, in your Bible, “El’ is the name for God. El, and the “i” is a personal pronoun. “Eli, My God, lama, why, sabachthani,” there is your “i” again, your personal pronoun, “forsaken Me.” “My God, My God, lama, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” That is, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” [Matthew 27:46].
Our Lord was raised, He was crucified at nine o’clock in the morning, and He was crucified naked. Our artists are very kind. They always paint our Savior covered. But not so, He was crucified naked [Matthew 27:35]. God meant for His Son to be exposed, and you cannot expose Him too much. You cannot preach about Him too much. You cannot sing about Him too much. You cannot exalt Him too much. You cannot brag on Him too much. You cannot present Him too much. In the workplace, in the play place, in the school place, in the church place, no matter where, you cannot present our Lord too much.
When they crucified Him, He had five pieces of clothing, five garments; a head piece, a foot piece, an outer robe, a sash, and an inner robe. There was a quaternary according to law, there was a quaternary of Roman soldiers who crucified Him. In their custom, each soldier got a piece of His clothing, of His garments. But there were five. The inner garment, woven without seam, and they gambled for that. And they were at the foot of the cross, gambling for the garments of our Lord Jesus [John 19:23-24].
And thus our Savior began His seven last words. The hymn writers and the historians refer to the seven last words from the cross.
- The first one: “Father, forgive them; they know not what they do” [Luke 23:34].
- The second: “Today thou shalt be with Me in Paradise” [Luke 23:43]. All the evangelists say that He was not crucified alone. And one of them turned and said, “Remember me” [Luke 23:42]. And that second word, “Today, thou shalt be with Me in Paradise.” When the Lord entered glory, He did not enter alone, He entered arm-in-arm with a redeemed convert.
- The third one: “Son, behold your mother. And mother, behold your son” [John 19:26-27]. The reason for that was His family: His brothers and sisters did not believe on Him [John 7:5], so He commended His mother to John.
- The fourth saying, my text: “My God, My God, lama, why?” [Matthew 27:46].
- The fifth one: “I thirst” [John 19:28].
- The sixth one: “It is finished” [John 19:30].
- And the last one: “Father, into Thy hands I commend, commit My spirit” [Luke 23:46].
What could be the meaning of so tragic a conclusion to the greatest life the world has ever seen? What has happened? What could it be? Oh, the grief that comes to our hearts even just to think of such a trial and such a death. The hands that blessed little children [Mark 10:13, 16], are now torn and ravaged. The feet that walked on errands of mercy [Acts 10:38], are now nailed to a cross. The brow that was so beautifully crowned with the peace of God [John 14:27], is now encircled with thorns [Matthew 27:29]. The lips that spoke such words of grace and mercy [John 7:46], are now parched and dry. And the eyes that were filled with such compassion [Matthew 15:32; Mark 1:41, 5:19; Luke 7:13] are now glazed in death.
What has happened? “My God, why?” Could this be a dramatic play like the Agamemnon of Aeschylus, like Shakespeare’s Macbeth or King Lear or the Strange Interlude by Eugene O’Neill? Is this a dramatic play? Is this a historical tragedy like Socrates drinking the hemlock, or Caesar murdered at the foot of the statue at Pompey, or Abraham Lincoln assassinated in the Ford Theater in Washington? What is this? “My God, why?” Is this a defeat?
Did you ever read Albert Schweitzer’s The Quest for the Historical Jesus? As glorious a scholar and missionary as Dr. Schweitzer, the theme of that volume is this: that Christ expected the kingdom to come down apocalyptically from heaven, and when it didn’t, He died in frustration and darkness and despair.
What is this? The suffering and the crucifixion of our Lord, “My God, why?” [Matthew 27:46]. Our blessed Bible reveals to us the everlasting answer. This is the denouement of God’s eternal program for our redemption. This is the Lamb slain from before the foundation of the world [Revelation 13:8]. This is the stated Son who will crush Satan’s head [Genesis 3:15]. This is the blood of the Passover Lamb [Exodus 12:3-7, 13, 22-23]. This is the atoning sacrifice of the new covenant [Matthew 26:26-28]. This is the consummation of God’s eternal purpose for our salvation and redemption [John 19:30].
When He was crucified and the blood poured from His face, His hands, His feet and His side, the blood dropped to the ground [John 19:16-35]. And the dust of the ground whispered to the herbs, “It is finished.” And the herbs whispered to the trees, “It is finished.” And the trees whispered to the birds in the limbs, “It is finished” [John 19:30]. And the birds climbed to the clouds in the sky and repeated our Lord’s word, “It is finished.” And the clouds in the sky repeated to the angels in heaven, “It is finished.” And the angels in heaven, marching up and down the streets of gold in glory, shouted the glad refrain of our Lord, “It is finished.” This is the consummation of God’s eternal program for the salvation of the world [John 19:30].
What is this? “My God, My God, why?” [Matthew 27:46]. This is the judgment upon our sins [1 Peter 2:24]. Who did that? Who crucified our Lord? Who allowed the encompassing of His death? Well, you could answer, “God did it. God is omnipotent and God is righteous. God did that.” If He did, He is not righteous or He is not omnipotent. A good God could not do so terrible a thing. And if He were omnipotent, He could have prevented it. “God did it” [Luke 22:42; Acts 2:23]. No! “It’s His own fault. He did it. He should have been a better manager. He should have brought a more triumphant climactic conclusion to His life. He did it. It’s His fault. He could have maneuvered away from such a tragic death” [Matthew 27:43].
Who did that? “Pilate did it. He was the governor and the ruler, and he had the power to liberate Him [John 19:10-16]. Pilate did it. It’s his fault.”
“Judas did it. He sold Him for thirty pieces of silver. He encompassed and planned and delivered Him to death [Matthew 26:14-16, 47-50]. Judas did that.”
“The Jews did it. Didn’t they cry, ‘His blood be on us, and on our children’? [Matthew 27:25]. The Jews did it. They slew Him.”
“The soldiers did it. Who planted that crown of thorns? Who drove in those nails? [Matthew 27:27-31]. Who thrust that spear into His side? [John 19:34]. The soldiers did it.”
And I can hear Pilate reply, “I am innocent of the blood of this just Man. I wash my hands” [Matthew 27:24]. And I can hear the Jews say as in the fifth chapter of the Book of Acts, “Would you bring this Man’s blood upon us and upon our children? [Acts 5:28]. We didn’t do it.” And you can hear the soldiers reply, “We’re but men under authority. We were doing what we were commanded to do [Matthew 8:9]. It is not our fault.”
“My God, why?” [Matthew 27:46]. Who did that? Who crucified our Lord? Who drove those nails in His hands? Who pressed on His brow that crown of thorns, and who thrust that spear into His side? I did it! We did it! This is the judgment of God upon our sins [Isaiah 53:5]. We did it! And that brings to us a humility of heart that is almost indescribable. You have to feel it to know it.
Let me illustrate it: in the days of Dwight L. Moody, holding those great revival, evangelistic crusades in the cities of America, there was a layman by the name of John Vassar, and wherever Moody went John Vassar also accompanied him. And Moody preached, of course, to the throngs. And John Vassar went up and down the streets of the city, knocking at the door, inviting people to come and attend the services, and he would hand out a gospel tract.
There was a woman who heard of it, and she said, “If he comes to my house and knocks at my door, I’ll slam my door in his face!” Without knowing, John Vassar, going up and down the street, knocked at the door of her home, and she came to the door, and he invited her to the revival and offered her a tract. And she said, “Are you John Vassar?”
And he said, “Yes, ma’am.” And she slammed the door in his face just as she had said. He didn’t leave. He sat down on the step outside the door and sang this song:
Was it for crimes that I have done—
Was it for sins that I have committed?-—
He groaned upon the tree?
Amazing pity! grace unknown!
And love beyond degree!
But drops of grief can ne’er repay
The debt of love I owe:
Here, Lord, I give myself away,
Tis all I can do!
[“At the Cross,” Isaac Watts]
Moody had a way when he got through preaching; all of those who wanted to give their hearts to the Lord were invited to a private witnessing session. And in that group that night, that woman stood up and described what John Vassar had done, and said, “When he came to those drops of grief, it seemed to me every one of them fell on my heart and broke my heart in twain.”
There is something about the death of our Lord for us that humbles us, brings us to our knees, makes us feel so unworthy of the love and grace of our Lord; that He should do that for me [1 Corinthians 15:3]. This is the love and grace and mercy of our Lord Jesus [John 15:13]. Do you notice the cross? The arms outstretched as far as the east goes east and as far as the west goes west, so the arms of God’s love and mercy are extended. It includes everybody. It includes us [John 3:16; 1 John 2:2].
The Iron Duke of Wellington, who defeated Napoleon and delivered England, a great man—the Iron Duke of Wellington—did you know the established church of England, when they have communion, the Lord’s Supper, they come and kneel and are served the elements of the Lord’s Supper? Well, the Iron Duke of Wellington, the greatest hero in British history, knelt to receive the elements. And by his side knelt a ragged flotsam and jetsam of humanity. And the priest walked over to that ragged, dirty, street man and tapped him on the shoulder and said, “Don’t you know whom you’re kneeling by? You move over. You move over. You’re by the Iron Duke of Wellington, you…”
And the Duke heard the priest, what he said. And he replied, he said, “Your Reverence, leave him alone. Leave him alone, we’re all the same here. The ground is level,” he said, “at the cross.” How true that is! In God’s sight we’re all lost sinners [Ezekiel 18:20; Romans 3:23]. And when we are saved, we are all lost sinners saved alike [Romans 6:23; Acts 4:12]. And the arms of the cross are outstretched to all humanity, to the ends of the earth [1 John 2:2]. And this is our gospel of hope, and salvation, and praise, and glory, and promise: the cross [Matthew 27:32-50].
“If in Flanders fields, the poppies grow, it will be between crosses row on row.” Do you sometimes wonder why a cross at a grave? It’s a sign of triumph, and of promise, and of hope, and of a glory yet to come. In the shadow of that cross, those first mourners and apostles took their stand. “God forbid,” they said, “that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified to me, and I unto the world” [Galatians 6:14]. It’s our blessing, our promise, our hope, our glory, the forgiveness of our sins [Ephesians 1:7].
Rock of ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in Thee;
Let the water and the blood,
From Thy wounded side which flowed,
Be of sin the double cure,
Save from wrath and make me pure.
Could my tears forever flow,
Could my zeal no languor know,
These for sin could not atone —
Thou must save, and Thou alone;
In my hand no price I bring,
Simply to Thy cross I cling.
[ “Rock of Ages,” Augustus Toplady]
“My God, why?” [Matthew 27:46]. He did it for me! Oh, bless His name, my wonderful and precious Savior! Now, may we stand? Our Lord in heaven, we could never praise Thee too much, exalt Thee too much, preach about Thee too much, sing about Thee too much, witness of Thee too much. O God, we owe our souls, our life, our eternity to Thee. Love Thee, Lord, bless us in the pilgrim way till we see Thee and one another in heaven [Revelation 22:1-5]; in Thy saving name, amen.
THE CRY FROM THE CROSS
Dr. W. A. Criswell
A. Our Lord was crucified at nine o’clock, naked and exposed
1. Soldiers gambled for His garments
B. The seven last words of Jesus(Luke 23:34, 43, John 19:26-27, Matthew 27:46, John 19:28, 30, Luke 23:46)
C. What could be the meaning of such a tragedy?
1. A dramatic play?
2. An historical tragedy?
3. A defeat, failure?II. This is the atonement toward which all time and eternity moved
A. This is the Lamb slain from before the foundation of the world
B. This is the blood of the new covenant shed for remission of sins
C. This is the consummation of God’s eternal program for salvationIII. This is the judgment upon our sins
A. Who did it?(Matthew 27:24, Acts 5:28)
B. We all had a partIV. This is the love and mercy of God
A. Arms of the cross outstretched as far as east and west
B. Iron Duke of Wellington – “The ground is level at the cross.”V. This is the emblem of our hope; the heart and substance of our preaching
A. Our promise, hope and glory, the forgiveness of sins(Galatians 6:14)