And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”Matthew 27:46 KJV
A friend of mine in college always insisted around Easter time that when Jesus cried out “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?”, it was because God had turned His back on him. Jesus had taken on the world’s sin. But since God was “of purer eyes than to behold evil, and canst not look on iniquity” (Habakkuk 1:13 KJV), He looked away, thus abandoning or forsaking Jesus.
It made perfect sense to him, but I could never buy into that interpretation. How could God abandon His Son in his greatest time of struggle, when he had submitted completely to the Father’s will?
Referring to his relationship with God, Jesus had declared earlier in his ministry, “I and my Father are one.” (John 10:30) Did that Father-Son relationship somehow dissolve on the cross?
The bond between God and Christ is eternal and unable to be severed, even for a moment. God had not abandoned Jesus because he took on the world’s sin. Just the opposite. God was there supporting His only begotten Son in whom He was well pleased (see Matthew 3:17; 17:5).
Jesus could not have been victorious over the cross, death, and the grave if God had forsaken him.
So why did Jesus cry out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
Some people thought he was calling out to Elijah the prophet to save him, but he was actually quoting Psalm 22:1. They didn’t call it Psalm 22 back then. Jesus was simply quoting the first line. He wanted people who were paying attention to go read that Scripture.
Why? Because Psalm 22 is a prophecy of the crucifixion, sometimes quite graphically, and ultimate victory. No one had imagined that the promised Messiah would be crucified. But Jesus was pointing to how he was literally fulfilling prophecies they didn’t even realize were prophecies.
When was the last time you read Psalm 22?
Here are just a couple of the verses that describe the crucifixion scene in detail with their fulfillment in the Gospels:
- Psalm 22:7, 8 “All they that see me laugh me to scorn: they shoot out the lip, they shake the head, saying, He trusted on the LORD that he would deliver him: let him deliver him, seeing he delighted in him.”
- Matthew 27:43 “He trusted in God; let him deliver him now, if he will have him…”
- Mark 115:29 “And they that passed by railed on him, wagging their heads…”
- Psalm 22:18 “…they divide my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots.”
- John 19:23, 24 “When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took his garments and divided them into four parts, one part for each soldier; also his tunic.[ But the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom, so they said to one another, ‘Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it to see whose it shall be.'”
I repeat: When Jesus cried out “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me,” he did not feel deserted by his Father. He was talking to the crowds, especially the Pharisees I believe. He was saying, “Go read Psalm 22. You will see that prophecy is being fulfilled right under your noses.”
It was not a moment of defeat for Jesus, but a moment of victory. He had already told his disciples just hours before, “I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)
Even though Psalm 22 starts out with the plea of desperation, it ends on a triumphant note. Instead of God forsaking those who were afflicted, especially Jesus, verse 24 affirms, “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.”
The Scripture actually says God did not hide His face from Jesus.
How does this apply to you and me?
I find immense comfort in the fact that Psalm 22 bears mighty witness to the fact that God did not abandon Jesus when he was on the cross. This is a promise that God will not abandon us in our times of trial.
It may look and feel like God is a million miles away when relentless challenges come up, but God is always right with us.
It was crucial for Jesus not to run away from the cross. He could have easily escaped the night before his arrest. He did the opposite. He went right to where he knew the soldiers would come to find him.
He didn’t try to defend himself to Pilate. He knew he had to face his mission, however agonizing it was.
I realized just a few days ago that I have been running away from some of the challenges that have come my way. I have wanted to avoid any opposition to what God has called me to do. But in so doing, I haven’t done everything God wants me to do.
So, this Easter, my prayer is to face my challenges and not ignore or avoid them.
Jesus knew he would be victorious over the world’s attempt to destroy him. He knew the prophecies must be fulfilled. He was absolutely certain God would deliver him.
You and I can be just as certain that God will deliver us from the world’s hatred of Truth. We can face our challenges with complete trust in God.
I wish you a very quiet and thoughtful Easter. Ponder deeply what Jesus has done for all mankind. Drink in the lessons of the cross. And above all, remember that God will never forsake you or turn His back on you.