And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, "ELI, ELI, LAMA SABACHTHANI?" that is, "MY GOD, MY GOD, WHY HAST THOU FORSAKEN ME?"
"My God, My God, Why Hast Thou Forsaken Me?"
My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
Tonight we consider the most extraordinary words in all of Scripture. They are not the most delightful. "It is finished," or "Your sin have been forgiven," or "You, too, shall rise" would be among the most delightful words. These words from the cross are not delightful at all. They are not pleasant to hear. They are horrible, and striking, and important, and filled with the wonder of the Incarnation and of the Gospel. They are the words Jesus cried out in the midst of His pain and torment, at their depth, just shortly before He died.
It is interesting to note that only two of the Gospels report these words. If you study the accounts, it appears that the original audience to whom the Gospels were written determined which words of Jesus were recorded. John, the Apostle of Love and family, tells us that Jesus spoke the words, "Behold Your Son" and "Behold, Your mother." He recorded the words which would make sense to a Gentile audience, as did Luke. Matthew and Mark were writing to Hebrews who had become Christians, or to Hebrews to evangelize them into the faith, and so the words that Matthew and Mark record are words that would be specifically meaningful to Jews.
Matthew tells us that Jesus in the ninth hour, just before He gave up His life, Jesus cried out with a loud voice, "My God, My God, why has Thou forsaken Me?"
These are no ordinary words, not even ordinary words of anguish. Jesus was enduring something we cannot imagine. He knew no sin of His own, and yet He was dying. He was Love Incarnate, and yet He hung by nails through His flesh and endured the mocking of others, and was abandoned by almost everyone who loved Him. Emotionally and psychologically, this was extreme anguish. He was enduring something that nothing about His life could have prepared Him for, in order to make it easier to endure.
These were not merely words of sorrow. Repentance is deep sorrow. It is sorrow over sin because it is sin, not just because one has been caught. Jesus was bearing true sorrow over sin. He is holy, and holiness cannot abide sin and cannot be mixed with sin. Nevertheless, Jesus became sin for us and carried all our sin to the cross. He died not just for the little sins that you commit, the actions of pettiness or the thoughts of lust and selfishness. He did not die even for just the wicked words and deeds that you and I have done - and we have done them. He died for the fact that we are corrupt, and our nature is sin. He died for our wicked desires and the way we just naturally avoid God and lean toward evil. He died for Sin with a capital "S", and not just those many sins which we have committed. His physical pains and sufferings on the cross were just part of the suffering He endured, and these words reflect just a bit of the deep sorrow Jesus endured over Sin as well as over each sinful deed. But that is not all these words are about.
These sound like words of despair . He would have reason, seeing where He was and how He was dying. Yet these are not words of despair. Despair is unbelief, and Jesus never went there. He bore tremendous burdens on the cross, but not once did He forget who He was, or why He was on the cross, or where He was going next. I know that because of later words from the cross. But these words, as full of anguish and sorrow as they may have been were not words of despair.
They are the words of Psalm 22. This is how the believers of His day would have identified Psalm 22. They would have recited the opening words of the Psalm, just as Jesus did here. It is not a magnificent coincidence that Jesus spoke these words - or that the Psalmist could prophesy them a thousand years before they were uttered from the cross. Jesus was quoting the Scriptures. He was saying to those who stood around and watched His death, "Look at Me! Recognize that what is happening here is what David prophesied!"
Yes! Even from the cross, in the midst of awful anguish and penetrating pain, Jesus kept a clear head about what was happening, and where He was, and why. Even on the cross, Jesus grounded His understanding of His life in the Word of God! And He did not allow them to miss the moment. He would not let it happen that they would fail to make the connection - nor that we would! Look and see; here is the Messiah doing His great work! Here is what David meant - and God through David.
They were expected to examine the Psalm in their memories. They were to see His pain there, and His faith. They were to read there that the mocking words with which they tried to torment Jesus were predicted. They were to read about the pain and the dislocation of His joints, how the soldiers divided His clothing by casting lots were all prophesied by God so that they would not miss the truth of what God was doing here - that this was the Savior, promised from the Garden of Eden and through all the long years since. Even from the cross, Jesus was teaching.
But He cried these words with a loud voice because He was experiencing genuine agony, and something we can talk about but cannot even really imagine; He who is God was forsaken by God.
God's holiness always responds to sin with wrath. He was made sin for us, so Paul reports in 2 Corinthians. Keep in mind, Jesus is holy - Paul said, in 2 Corinthians, that He knew no sin of his own. This being made sin for us is part the deepest part if His humiliation - his humbling of Himself for us. He was born human. He was poor. He was despised by men, abused - but to become sin - the holy One becoming sin! What humbling. What humiliation - for you!
He became a curse. Leviticus says, "cursed is anyone who hangs on a tree." Jesus was bearing our sins and so He was enduring the wrath of God against such sin. As He suffered, hanging between heaven and hell, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity was alienated from and abandoned by even God Himself! What agony of heart and soul He must have experienced! He endured the true pains of hell - for Hell is that place where God is not, and those who are in hell do not have the comfort of the presence of God. And God was not there with Jesus.
We cannot know what it was like. Our worst days are brightened by God. Light and air and pleasure and every good flows from God. He is with us no matter how we feel, no matter what we do. Paul tells us in Colossians that, In Him we live and move and have our being. Jesus endured the torments of hell for us - and He endured it alone! He endured the wrath of God against sin and unrighteousness -- your sin and unrighteousness, and my sin and unrighteousness. He endured the hatred of men while enduring all of this for them and on their behalf! He who is God was forsaken by God! How amazing!
His suffering was also eternal. It seemed short - six hours, while crucifixions often took three or four days to end a life by infection and thirst and suffocation. Jesus gave up His life in just six hours. How could it be eternal? This is how: His torments, though endured in this world, were shared by God because God and man are united in one indivisible person in Jesus Christ, and as God Jesus was also in eternity. As Jesus suffered for us on the cross, on Golgotha, just outside of Jerusalem, He suffered also in eternity. He suffered eternal torment for us.
That suffering has eternal value for us. For when Jesus won the victory demonstrated for us in His resurrection, he won eternal victory for us as well! Our salvation is forever, because the payment made and the victory won is eternal.
Some men say that God cannot suffer, even some who call themselves Christians insist that God cannot die. But He did - in the person of Jesus Christ. That is part of the wonder of the Gospel! It was God suffering and God dying on the cross — but He died a human death, which He could do only because of His union with the human nature in the person of Jesus Christ. The death that He died was just like the death that you will one day die - the separation of body and soul. He did not die according to His divine nature, but according to His human nature. Still, because of the personal union, it is truly said that God died on the cross for our sins.
Jesus spoke these words in Hebrew, "ELI, ELI, LAMA SABACHTHANI?". He did so because only in Hebrew would the reference be clear - only by quoting the text in the original language would all the scholars know that He was pointing them to the text of God's holy Word. It reminds us, too, that Jesus probably spoke in Greek, most of the time. If He had spoken Hebrew or Aramaic generally, there would have been nothing unique here, and no reason to transliterate the Hebrew for the reader.
Some men say that Jesus sinned in this cry. They imagine that He cried out in despair and unbelief in His agony. Not so. He only spoke the truth, and He spoke it for our benefit. He told us where to look to find out precisely what was happening. He was not driven to this cry by pain or despair! He did it for us.
And we see our sins reflected here - their true depth, their true power, their true seriousness. God, on the cross, abandoned by God Himself, so that He might bear all the pains of hell and endure all of the wrath of God against our sins. Behold what your sins cost!
Behold how great the Love of God for you is!
Behold, . . . and marvel, . . . and repent, . . . and believe.
Hear the Words of Christ again, "ELI, ELI, LAMA SABACHTHANI?" that is, "MY GOD, MY GOD, WHY HAST THOU FORSAKEN ME?"
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
(Let the people say Amen)
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