Charles Wesley wrote the following words of a famous hymn: “’Tis mystery all! Th’ Immortal dies! Who can explore His strange design? In vain the firstborn seraph tries to sound the depths of love divine!” And to know the full wonder of the cross is beyond our human abilities also. Who can comprehend the sufferings of the Lord Jesus on the cross? Even if we cannot understand, we may at least worship. As Wesley continued: “’Tis mercy all! let earth adore, let angel minds inquire no more.” Yes, we on earth should adore, for it was for sinners like you and me that the Christ suffered, bled and died.
In this article we will consider one of the seven sayings of the Savior on the cross. Of the seven, one is a statement, another is a word of pardon, two are exclamations, and two are prayers to his Father in heaven. But the one written in our text for tonight is an awesome question, an inquiry into the holy wisdom of God: “‘Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?’ (Which means ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?)’” [All quotes are from the NIV.]
Let us seek to understand the question. By understanding, I mean understanding in the sense of gaining the full Biblical significance of the words. We cannot comprehend fully, for there is mystery here. God has not revealed its depths to us. We should notice how Jesus spoke these words. He “cried out in a loud voice.” Surely we should catch some of the intensity of the moment. The words reveal both extremity of his pain, and the earnestness of his spirit. In other words, these words reveal something of the “suffering of his soul” (Isaiah 53:11). It is to this we now turn.
The question itself has three parts. First, is the repeated “my God”. This is the cry of the suffering one calling on his God (Psalm 22:1). Christ Jesus retained his confidence in the Father. Even when at his lowest, he still called on the Holy One as his God. How this precisely relates to his being “forsaken” is a question not answered by the Scriptures, and thus beyond our ability to answer. There is mystery here. Second is the horrible word “forsaken.” What does this mean? Two texts shed more light on this event. Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree” (Galatians 3:13). Whatever he suffered includes the stark reality of becoming “a curse for us.” He bore the curse of God that we deserved. Think for a moment about the fearful nature of eternal punishment in the Lake of Fire. The horror of this curse, we followers of Christ cannot know; and glory to God, because of the Lord Jesus, we never will! When he suffered he redeemed us from the curse of the law. This cry of anguish shows something of its meaning for the Redeemer. Surely he took up our infirmities, and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. Yet it was the LORD’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the LORD makes his life a guilt offering, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the LORD will prosper in his hand (Isaiah 53:4,10). Think deeply on the words “stricken, smitten, afflicted, crush and cause him to suffer.” Whatever these words mean, they tell us of the turning aside of the wrath of God. In Christ’s death, God’s wrath was satisfied, and his holy righteousness honored. We should all exclaim, “Thank you, Lord Jesus!”
Third is the pronoun “Me.” Who said these words? They were said by the One in whom the Father had eternally delighted. Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him and he will bring justice to the nations (Isaiah 42:1). In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning (John 1:1-2). Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world (John 17:24). The One of whom the Father had always approved said these words. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17). While he was still speaking, a bright cloud enveloped them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!” (Matthew 17:5)
A poem by E.B. Browning says: Yea, once Immanuel’s orphaned cry his universe hath shaken. It went up single, echoless, “My God, I am forsaken!” It went up from the Holy’s lips amid his lost creation, that, of the lost, no son should use those words of desolation. [My emphasis]
The Holy Spirit in the Bible answers the Son’s question. With all reverence, we should know the answer of God’s word to the Son’s inquiry. First, it was the purpose of God. This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross (Acts 2:23). Two concerns are included in God’s purpose: the glory of God’s name. For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen (Rm 11:36); and the salvation of God’s people, The salvation of the righteous comes from the LORD; he is their stronghold in time of trouble (Psalm 37:39). Why was Christ forsaken? It was the purpose of God.
Why did God determine to act this way? It was because of the love of God. For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16). This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins (1 John 4:9-10). Both of these texts tell of his immeasurable love to guilty, ungodly rebels. Why was Christ forsaken? It was the love of God for his people.
But why did a loving Father deliver his beloved Son over to the death of the cross? Why did he not merely forgive the sins of his people by an act of will, without sending his dearly loved Son to death on Calvary? The justice of God required this event. Christ was bearing our sins. So Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him (Hebrews 9:28). He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed (1 Peter 2:24). God’s wrath against sin had to be satisfied. God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished — he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus (Romans 3:25-26). Why was Christ forsaken? It was God satisfying his own justice.
Was Christ in agreement with this purpose of God? Did he die willingly for his people? Yes, the Lord Christ loved his church, his sheep. And live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God… Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her (Ephesians 5:2, 25). See also John 10:14-18. Why was Christ forsaken? It was because Jesus loved us and wanted to save us!
So then, since Christ was forsaken of God, let us think about the value of our salvation. We were rescued at great cost, the sacrificial death of Jesus, the Son of God. Since Christ was forsaken of God, his chosen people can be sure they will never be forsaken. Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5).
Grace and peace, David