Matthew 27:46 About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?”(which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”)
It’s the most gut wrenching cry in the Bible. Jesus, enduring the suffering of the cross, cries out to his Father in distress. This cry referenced the opening verses of Psalm 22, a Psalm of David. We categorise this Psalm as a “Messianic Psalm” – because not only did Jesus quote it, but he fulfilled it, he lived this Psalm. The Gospel writers recognised this too, because elements of this Psalm are evident in the crucifixion story: Jesus cry, in the opening verses of the Psalm (Psalm 22:1); the mocking and derision he experienced, including the wagging of heads (Psalm 22:7/Matthew 27:39) ; the piercing of his hands and feet (Psalm 22:6/Luke 24:39) and his clothes being divided by his enemies (Psalm 22:18/Matthew 27:5).
It is a tragic Psalm of humiliation, agony and abandonment. It is a Psalm that Jesus lived.
If Jesus’ suffering on the Cross was simply a case of humiliation, incredible physical torture, and abandonment by His closest friends, it would be a tragic story – but no different to the stories of the other men and women who’d been crucified by the Roman empire. What made Jesus’ suffering unbelievably worse was that he became the sacrificial lamb, taking on the sin of the world; taking on the wrath of God. Jesus, who “had no sin became sin for us.” (1 Corinthians 5:21)
What does sin do to us? Sin causes shame. It breaks the very core of us, diminishes the image of God in us. It separates us from God. And there was Jesus, the perfect, sinless man, the second person of the Trinity, experiencing the effects of sin as he carried our sin.
With his body physically broken; his innocent Godly self stained by sin; having endured the abandonment of his friends and the rejection of the very people he came to save, Jesus looked to God… and could not find Him. Jesus, who for all of time had enjoyed perfect fellowship with the Father was separated from Him: from all of His goodness, all of His love, all of His power. The physical pain was excruciating, the separation from the Father was worse.
And so He cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?”(which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”).
To a lesser extent, I know what it’s like to feel God forsaken. Life has brought it’s share of difficulties, but also a sense of spiritual emptiness and desolation. In those seasons, fellowship feels dry and forced. My Bible reading– which should be a source of connection with God- make no sense to me. And it is so hard to pray, when the words I say feel so empty.
And I know this isn’t just my experience. Like Psalm 22, the Bible is full of God’s people crying out to Him, “where are you? Have you abandoned us? Have you forgotten us? Do you not hear us?”
It’s not because God has turned away from us. It’s because of sin. Sin leads us back to the garden, hiding in the bushes, thinking God can’t see us. That God can’t reach us. That perhaps, God might forget all about us.
But just like in the garden, the Bible is full of pictures of God reaching out to His people. We sin and we sin and we sin, but He does not forget us. He keeps turning His face towards us, He keeps pursuing us, He keeps calling us back to Him.
Jesus experienced the wrath of God, abandonment by God, forsakenness by God, so we don’t have to. Because Jesus was forsaken by God, you can cling to His promise that He will never leave you or forsake you (Deuteronomy 31:6); that He will be with you to the end of time (Matthew 28:20).
Psalm 22 is a Psalm of agony, a Psalm that was fulfilled in Jesus who suffered so that we might be spared from the wrath of God. And Psalm 22 is the necessary precursor to Psalm 23. Because Jesus cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” We can say with confidence, “even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me… Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell with the Lord forever.” (Psalm 23:4, 6).
This article is available to listen to on the podcast, More Than a Cake Stall.