A Cry from the Cross

The inspired historian Matthew records these sad words of Jesus: “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}. No doubt, these are some of the saddest words one can read in the Bible. They picture the Savior of the world in a state of sorrow and great pain. Yet, these words are sometimes contorted to mean something they do not. It is through a study of the Scriptures that the gravity and meaning of these words can be ascertained.

The time of day this statement was made was the “ninth hour,” which would be three o’clock in the afternoon. By this time Jesus had been on the cross for six excruciating hours. The energy and breath it took to utter this fourth saying from the cross took a great deal of effort; especially when one considers He spoke the words “with a loud voice,” nearly exhausting what little air he had in His lungs.

The reader should keep in mind that Jesus has suffered much more than just the horrific six hours on the cross itself. He was in the Garden of Gethsemane in fervent prayer about the situation that was imminent {Matthew 26:36-46}. Jesus’ soul was already “exceeding sorrowful, even unto death” {v. 38} at the beginning of what is know as the Passion of Jesus. He prayed for the cup of suffering to pass from Him if it was the will of the Father {v. 39b}. Yet, He resolved to the fact that the Father’s will must be done to save humanity {vv. 39c, 42}.

Luke’s account of the Garden prayer gives even more detail about the strain that Jesus had from the situation {Luke 22:39-46}. Not only did Jesus resign to the truth that His death was the will of the Father, but He was in such physical duress over the impending arrest, trial, and death, that His vehement prayer caused His sweat to mingle with blood {v. 44}. This would explain why an angel came to strengthen Jesus during this time {v. 43}; for He had to be weak from the lack of sleep, food, water, stress, and blood loss.

Jesus endured the Garden’s stressful hours, the subsequent arrest and trial [keep in mind that from the Garden to the next day He received no sleep], a flesh-ripping scourging, a grueling trek carrying something equivalent to a cross-tie, and finally His six hours on the cross. By the time the words we have recorded as Matthew 27:46 were uttered, the Son of God had endured enough to kill most healthy men.

The phrase Jesus uttered [Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?] is one that is Aramaic in its origin. Aramaic was Jesus’ mother tongue, being a Galilean. Jesus was quoting directly from Psalm 22:1. This has great bearing on the meaning of what Jesus said. He was not expressing a new thought, but quoting from the Old Testament Scriptures and applying them to Himself. Matthew gives the interpretation of it for the Greek readers as: “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” No little speculation and controversy has come about from this phrase.

Most denominational commentators will argue that Jesus was forsaken by God because He took upon Himself the sin of the world, thus making Jesus full of sin. Hence, God could not look upon sin, and then they will quote Habakkuk 1:13 as their supposed proof. The ramifications and the audacity of such a claim are contrary to Scripture.

First of all, as has already been noted, Jesus was not breaking new ground with His words, but quoting from the Psalms. The Jewish onlookers obviously heard what He said, thus He was teaching them that He was the one about Whom the Psalmist was writing. Prophetic fulfillment of Jesus was a main-line theme of His teaching {see Luke 24:27, 44}. Why would the greatest teacher who ever lived not continue to teach, even with His final words?

The next thing that needs to be addressed is the problem of declaring Jesus as one who was full of sin. The Bible speaks of Jesus as the Lamb of God without spot or blemish {1 Peter 1:19}, the one who “did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth” {1 Peter 2:22}, and our High Priest “without sin” {Hebrews 4:15}. These passages, along with a host of others, declare that Jesus was sinless and perfect. So, how could He have become full of sin and then die as that perfect sacrifice for sin? Jesus no more became literal sin than the Father literally forsook Him.

The misunderstanding stems, somewhat, from Paul’s words to the Corinthians: “For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him” {2 Corinthians 5:21}. The apostle either quotes or alludes to, at least, the words of Isaiah in one of the most glorious chapters of Holy Writ: “Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise him; he hath put him to grief: when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin” {Isaiah 53:10}. The passage in Isaiah explains the one in Second Corinthians. It is a Divine commentary on what Paul wrote. It should be noted that Isaiah said the Messiah would be “an offering for sin.” This gives the meaning of Jesus’ death as that of an offering for sin rather than He actually became sin.

To be an offering for sin does not mean one has to be riddled with sin. When the goat of the sin offering was slain on the Day of Atonement it did not mean the goat was full of sin {Leviticus 16:15}. The goat was a stand-in or substitute for the sin of the people. Scripture teaches that Jesus was offered as “a lamb without blemish and without spot” {1 Peter 1:19}. He had no sin in Him.

Jesus’ death was the will of the Father {Matthew 26:42}. Jesus was foreordained in eternity to die for the sins of the world {1 Peter 1:20; Revelation 13:8}. His death took away the sin of the world {John 1:29}. His death thus fulfilled all the prophecies about Him {Isaiah 53; Psalm 22}.

Jesus predicted His death: “Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life, that I might take it again. No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This commandment have I received of my Father” {John 10:17, 18}. Jesus knew He was going to die and He knew that He would rise from the grave. He also states in this text that it was the Father that commanded that He die.

With all of that said, when Jesus was about to breathe His last the words He uttered about being forsaken were no more than a fulfillment of prophecy. The Father did not forsake Jesus in His hour of need; but allowed to happen what had already been foreordained to take place. Without the death of Jesus at that moment all would have been lost. Hope would have been dashed if Jesus did not die.

Keep in mind as well that Jesus was human. The cry from the cross showed the human side of Jesus. He was suffering in the worst way and felt every cut, bruise, and nail in His human body. John stated the humanity of Jesus thus: “And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth” {John 1:14}.

Much ado is made about the statement of Jesus when He said “why hast thou forsaken me?” in regards to this verse. As has already been stated, Jesus was quoting from Psalm 22:1. His quotation revealed Who He was, the Messiah about whom the psalmist was writing. Thus, Jesus was still teaching even with His dying breath. However, to feel forsaken and to actually be forsaken are two entirely different things.

The soon-to-be victorious nation of Israel was promised (through Joshua) that they would never be forsaken {Joshua 1:5, 9}. Yet, Israel went into ruination and almost extinction on various occasions [read the book of Judges]. The Christian has the identical promise concerning our walk {Hebrews 13:5, 6}; yet, how many trials does the average Christian face in his or her life {James 1:2-4}? The trials and tribulations we face do not come from God {James 1:13-16}, but from the fact that we are children of God {2 Timothy 3:12}.

Just as the Christian may feel forsaken from time to time, the faithful are never forsaken by God {1 Corinthians 10:13}. Israel felt forsaken during their walk of faith but was never really forsaken, for God always remembered the covenant He made with their fathers {Genesis 12:1-3; Galatians 3:8-29}. Jehovah remembered the promise He made with the world that His only begotten Son would die and shed His blood for the sins of the world, too {Hebrews 8:8-13; 9:12-15, et al.}.

Jesus had to die for all to obtain forgiveness. When God did not bring Jesus off the cross it was not a sign of being forsaken in the sense that God “turned His back on Jesus”; rather it declares with full force the faithfulness of Jehovah. The latter phrase is uttered by many, yet there is not one syllable of biblical proof to assert such. Denominational preachers en masse have said this for years. Is it not high time we return to the Bible to understand biblical principles? To say Jehovah turned His back on His only begotten is tantamount to saying He did just what He promised He would not {Psalm 16:7-11}.

Jesus was not forsaken in the sense that Jehovah had to turn His back on Him because He was full of sin. This would make Jesus the greatest sinner of all time, would it not? Jesus fulfilled every prophecy made about Him. Jehovah God fulfilled every prophecy made about Jesus so all could have eternal life.

Jesus may have felt alone in His final moments, but He was not. He could have called more than twelve legions of angels to His side had He wished {Matthew 26:53}. However, He knew all that was happening (including His imminent death) was according to the Scriptures {v. 54}.

The death of Jesus is the saddest event in history. And, it is one of the happiest, for at that time the blight of sin had been lifted to free all persons to have absolution of sin. What a glorious day!

 

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