"When Jesus Was Abandoned"
"Now from the sixth hour until the ninth hour there was darkness over all the land. And about the ninth hour Jesus cried, 'Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani!' That is to say, My God, My God, why have You forsaken me?"
This text is taken from Matthew 27:45-46, and describes the darkest hour in the life of our Savior. An hour when He had to be left alone with His load of anguish. A time when no earthly man could come to His aid either to deliver Him or comfort Him. A time when even heaven itself must turn a deaf ear to His cry, and caused the Christ Himself to cry aloud in acknowledgment that even His Father had abandoned Him.
I suppose all gospel preachers have been asked at one time or another to explain this pitiful plea of the Matchless One. Many have read this citation with wonderment -- How can His Father, the author of every good and perfect gift; the personification of love and pity and mercy, turn His back on His only begotten Son in an hour like this? To leave Him alone on that lonely hill called Golgotha to suffer and die for crimes for which He shared no guilt, seems quite strange to some, while others can and do appreciate what both the Son and the Father had to suffer because of sinful suffering humanity. Let us address ourselves to the task of exploring this text for a few moments, and then perhaps bow our heads in thanksgiving for all that heaven has done for us in making us free from the bondage of sin and thereby giving us hope of eternal life.
In turning the pages of time back to the days of David, we read where the "man after God's own heart" foresaw this dark hour that we have just read about. Listen to the sweet singer of Israel as he prophesied: "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? Why art thou so far from helping me, and from the words of my roaring? O my God, I cry in the daytime, but thou hearest not, and in the night season, but am not silent. But thou art holy, O thou that inhabitest the praises of Israel. Our fathers trusted in thee; they trusted, and thou didst deliver them. They cried unto thee and were delivered: they trust in thee and were not confounded. But I am a worm; and no man; a reproach of men, and despised of the people" (Psalms 22:1-6). There are some seventeen Messianic Psalms each bearing the marks of prophecy. Our Lord Himself testified that there are things written concerning him in the Psalms. (Luke 24:44).
David's life was not exactly a life of ease and freedom from fear. There were times when he was sought after by Saul or by Absalom and no doubt in fear for his life. He declared on one occasion, "....and as thy soul liveth, there is but a step between me and death" (I Samuel 20:3). It was natural therefore, that David should cry, "My God, my God, why has thou forsaken me?" Yet as natural as it may be, God never did forsake David. In fact, the faithful Jehovah had promised "...as I was with Moses, so I will be with thee, I will not fail thee, nor forsake thee" (Joshua 1:5). Notwithstanding this truth, David still felt that God had left him.
Now, a thousand years has passed and a son of David hanging limp on a Roman cross loudly cries, "My God, my God, why have You forsaken Me?" While in the case of David, where he only imagined that Jehovah had left him alone, in the case of the Son the abandonment was actual.
Kenneth S. Wuest tells us that the Greek word "forsaken" is a composite of three words. They are "to leave," "down," and "in." He informs us that the first carries the idea of forsaking one. The second suggests rejection, defeat, and hopelessness. The third word refers to some place or circumstance; hence, according to Wuest, the total meaning of the word "is that of forsaking one in a state of defeat or helplessness in the midst of hostile circumstances."
Interestingly enough, the Greek word, according to Joseph Thayer (pg. 166), means "to abandon, desert, to leave in straits, leave helpless--to leave in the lurch." This is the word used by the Christ of God--the word uttered from the cross: "forsaken" (ENKATALEIPO). This word is also translated in the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament) and remained constant in meaning for three hundred years.
When I read the twenty-second Psalm, I see the whole chapter running the account of the crucifixion like an artist painting with every stroke of his brush. The reader needs to read the entire chapter for himself to get the same panoramic view of the events to happen a thousand years later. This was not a saying by Christ on account of what David had said years prior to the event. This was a fulfillment of the prophecy uttered by the Psalmist. Yes, David told the account a thousand years before it became a reality.
Turing back now to the original statement inspiring this treatise, let us try to understand this mystery. Why would God the Father abandon His only begotten Son in this moment of hopelessness -- in an hour of hostility? I have read a number of explanations, none of which truly satisfy this scribe, and none of which I will burden the reader with just here. I shall move on from those to my own concept of the "why" for this utter forsaking by Jehovah. Just here I think of Jesus as being covered with the sin of the world; sin which belongs not to Himself but rather to a suffering and hopeless humanity who could do nothing to save themselves. The matchless Son of God bore our sins and its curse in His human nature having the blessing of heaven while doing so.
In II Corinthians 5:21, Paul declared, "For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him." Again, "Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us; for it is written, 'Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree'." (Galatians 3:13; Deuteronomy 21:23). To be forsaken by the Father is to taste the full impact of His wrath, and this Jesus certainly felt. But let the reader understand that the penalty Christ paid was a penalty paid for my sins and your sins and not any of His own. Once that penalty had been paid God turned back to the Son. This ought to show the world that God will turn His back on those who are covered with sin.
When we are reminded of the price that the Master paid for our sins then we are much more impressed with those passages which remind us of the redemptive price. "In whom we have redemption through His blood, even the forgiveness of sins according to the riches of His grace" (Ephesians 1:7). Christ never deserved the treatment He received on Calvary. The people to whom the stroke of death was due went free. "All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned everyone to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all" (Isaiah 53;6). "...for the transgression of my people was He stricken (Isaiah 53:8). In His more delightful days the Savior had said, "I knew that thou hearest Me always" (John 11:42), but on the cruel cross God turned His ear away and left Him alone--so very much alone; and Jesus knew and felt that loneliness! However, Jesus knew that He must become sin and in doing so would have to be forsaken by the Father.
Going back now to our original passage and the language "Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani," we would observe that the cry is recorded only by Matthew and Mark. We shrink instinctively from an over-curious analysis of the inner feelings in the Savior's humanity that answered to this cry. Many will ask: "Was it the natural fear of death or the vicarious endurance of the wrath which was the penalty of the sins of the human race, for whom, and instead of whom he suffered?" In all probability, none of these questions and their answers are satisfactory, and we may well be content and wise to leave the mystery unfathomed, and to let our words be wary and few. But we can know that our blessed Lord was willing to die for us--the innocent for the guilty.
No wonder then that it is so grievous to all who love the Lord and strive to live in honor of His name to see others curse His name--live so irreverent, and deny His divinity! And to think that the Christ of God died in vain so far as the rebellious are concerned. Thanks be to God for this marvelous token of His grace: "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on Him should not perish, but have eternal life" (John 3:16).
(From Expository Review, October, 1982)
By Leon Odom
From Expository Files 2.6; June, 1995