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?” Matthew 27:46
Pause and consider the profound mystery of Jesus’ words: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” It was the deepest of laments, from the most forsaken of men, yet behind these four Aramaic words lies an unexpected glimmer of hope.
Jesus’ heart cry is a direct quotation from Psalm 22:1, and is the crescendo of Matthew’s account of the crucifixion, which is carefully woven with other fulfillments of Psalm 22. Forsaken by his God and Father, Jesus takes the words of the psalm as His own.
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Did Jesus know the answer to his question? Yes, he knew why he came to earth: to die for the sins of his people, in obedience and love for the Father. So he was forsaken by God while bearing all of our sins and enduring God’s righteous wrath for us. Surely this tearing of the Trinity was more painful to Jesus than the extreme physical torture that he was also experiencing. As we consider the need for Jesus’ body to be broken to pay for our sins, let us also remember the indescribable pain of being utterly forsaken by his Father.
Yet in his cry of anguish and desolation, there is a sign of hope, even in the moments of Jesus’ death. In quoting the very first verse of Psalm 22, Jesus is pointing us to the entirety of the Psalm. Recall the entire chapter, which alternates between despair and trust, leading to verses 22-31 proclaiming victory and praise, including: “The afflicted shall eat and be satisfied; those who seek him shall praise the Lord! May your hearts live forever!” So while on Friday afternoon Jesus is truly forsaken by His father, he is pointing to the victory of Sunday morning, that proclaims that He will indeed live forever.
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Why did God forsake His only begotten son? In some ways the answer is simple: because he loves the world so much. Why did the only Son of God submit to being utterly forsaken? That same love: it was the only way to rescue me, to rescue you, to rescue all his people from our sins.
Yet it is clear from the next verse that many did not understand, just as many do not understand today. They continued mocking, unable to conceive of what was happening right before their eyes. The very Son of God was paying for their sins even as they mocked him. Only by opening our hearts does God change us from being a mocker, to one who says “Truly, this is the Son of God.”
While Jesus’ cry was a brutally honest call of anguish, it is a question that points us to the God’s love for us. As we tell the good news of the gospel to ourselves, our loved ones, our neighbors and any around us, let us pray that God will change the hearts of all who hear, and reveal this profound mystery to all who call on Him, and cause us all to respond in faith. Just as Romans 5:8 says “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”