Forsaken By God For Our Salvation
The press reported a heart-rending story, telling of a young father who shot himself in a telephone booth. James Lee had called a Chicago newspaper and told a reporter he had sent the paper a manila envelope containing the story of his suicide.
The reporter traced the call, but it was too late! When the police arrived, the young man was slumped in the booth with a bullet through his head.
In one of his pockets, they found a child’s crayon drawing, much faded and worn. He wrote, “Please leave this in my coat pocket. I want to have it buried with me.” The drawing was signed in a childish print by his little blonde daughter, Shirley, who had perished in a fire just five months before.
Lee had been so grief-stricken that he asked total strangers to attend his daughter’s funeral so she would have a nice service. He said there was no family to go to because Shirley’s mother had been dead since the child was two years old. The grieving father could not stand the loneliness or the loss, so he took his life. -Tan, P. L. (1996)
As heartbreaking as this story is, I can’t imagine how lonely and filled with agony Jesus felt on that first Good Friday. His fourth words from the cross were a cry out to the Father.
Now, from the sixth hour, there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour. And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” And some of the bystanders, hearing it, said, “This man is calling Elijah.” And one of them at once ran and took a sponge, filled it with sour wine, and put it on a reed and gave it to him to drink. But the others said, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to save him.” And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit. (Matthew 27:45–50)
The Romans had perfected crucifixion. Not only was it a humiliating way to go, but it was also a painful way to go. We get the impression that Jesus’ death came quickly, but in reality, the hours were slipping past. It is Mark who is most precise in his note of the time. He tells us that Jesus was crucified at the third hour, that is at 9 am (Mark 15:25), and that he died at the ninth hour, that is at 3 pm (Mark 15:34). Jesus hung on the cross six hours. For him, the agony was brief. It was not uncommon for criminals to hang on their crosses for days before death came to them.
In verse 46, we have what must be the most staggering sentence in the gospel record, the cry of Jesus: ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ That is a saying before which we must bow in reverence, and yet, we must try to understand. There have been many attempts to penetrate behind its mystery; we can look at only three.
(1) It is strange how Psalm 22 runs through the whole crucifixion narrative; and this saying is the first verse of that psalm. Later on, it says: ‘All who see me mock at me they make mouths at me, they shake their heads; “Commit your cause to the Lord; let him deliver—let him rescue the one in whom he delights!” ’ (Psalm 22:7–8). Still further on, we read: ‘They divide my clothes among themselves, and for my clothing they cast lots’ (Psalm 22:18). Psalm 22 is interwoven with the whole crucifixion story.
Some suggest that Jesus was, in fact, repeating that Psalm to himself; and, though it begins in complete dejection, it ends in soaring triumph—‘From you comes my praise in the great congregation … For dominion belongs to the Lord, and he rules over the nations’ (Psalm 22:25–8). So Jesus was repeating Psalm 22 on the cross, as a picture of his own situation, and as a song of his trust and confidence, knowing that it began in the depths, but finished on the heights.
It is an attractive suggestion; but on a cross, a man does not repeat poetry to himself, even the poetry of a psalm; and besides that, the entire atmosphere is one of unrelieved tragedy.
(2) At that moment, the weight of the world’s sin fell upon the heart and the being of Jesus; that this was when he who knew no sin was made sin for us (2 Corinthians 5:21); and that the penalty which he bore for us was the inevitable separation from God which sin brings. No one may say that this is not true; but, if it is, it is a mystery that we can only state and at which we can only wonder.
(3) Maybe there is something—if we may put it so—more human here. Jesus would not be Jesus unless he had explored the uttermost depths of human experience. As humans traverse life, and severe hardship arises, we often feel that God has forgotten us. Moments when we are so engulfed in a calamitous state that is far beyond our comprehension and feel bereft even of God. This befell Jesus here. We have seen in the garden that Jesus knew that he had to go on because to go on was God’s will, and he must embrace what the plan the Father had designed to redeem mankind. Here we see Jesus exploring the deepest depths of the human situation so that there might be no place that we might go where he has not gone before.
Those who listened did not understand. Some thought he was calling on Elijah; they must have been Jews. One of the great gods of the pagans was the sun—Helios. A cry to the sun god would have begun ‘Helie!’ and some suggest that the soldiers may have thought that Jesus was crying to the greatest pagan gods. His cry was a mystery to the watchers a mystery.
But here is the point. It would have been a terrible thing if Jesus had died with a cry like that upon his lips—but he did not. The account tells us that he gave up his spirit when he shouted with a great shout. That resounding shout left its mark upon people’s minds. It is in every one of the gospels (Matthew 27:50; Mark 15:37; Luke 23:46). But there is one gospel that goes further. John tells us that Jesus died with a shout: ‘It is finished’ (John 19:30). It is finished in English three words; but in Greek, it is one—Tetelestai—as it would also be in Aramaic. And tetelestai is the triumphant yell So, Jesus died a victor with a shout of triumph on his lips.
Here is the precious thing. Jesus passed through the uttermost abyss, and then the light broke. If we too cling to God, even when there seems to be no God, desperately and invincibly clutching the remnants of our faith, quite certainly the dawn will break and we will win through. Those who refuse to believe that God has forgotten them, even when every part of their being feels they have been deserted, will experience true triumph. Victory comes to those who will never let go of their faith, even when they feel its last grounds are gone. Those who have been beaten to the depths and still hold on to God will win the victory, just as Jesus did.
Barclay, W. (2001). The Gospel of Matthew (Third Ed., pp. 429–432). Edinburgh: Saint Andrew Press.
Tan, P. L. (1996). Encyclopedia of 7700 Illustrations: Signs of the Times (p. 754). Garland, TX: Bible Communications, Inc.