“About the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, ‘Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?’- which means, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?'”
Jesus’ cry of dereliction on the cross is among the most mysterious sets of words throughout the entirety of scripture.
Fall of 2011 marked the beginning of my studies at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. Almost immediately into my experiencing a first lecture, I found myself feeling overwhelmed, wondering whether or not I was mistaken in thinking that I could actually handle what was coming academically the next 2 years. This feeling was not too dissimilar to how I feel reading these poignant words of Christ. What in the world does Jesus mean when he asks, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
Is there a sense of abandonment in Jesus’ last words? Or, is Jesus simply using the words of the psalmist as a source of strength, and as a reason for encouragement on our part? Could the answer to both of these questions be yes? To briefly comment on the first possible reading of the text, our understanding must include that to some extent, Jesus’ favor and fellowship with the Father had to be cut off because Christ was bearing the sins his followers and enduring God’s wrath. A song that we sing in our church, How Deep the Father’s Love for Us, depicts this thought in a digestible way. Consider the first verse which reads:
How deep the Father’s love for us
How vast beyond all measure
That He should give His only Son
To make a wretch His treasure
How great the pain of searing loss
The Father turns His face away
As wounds which mar the Chosen One
Bring many sons to glory
This understanding of the Father turning his face away certainly lends as motivation to a cry of dereliction. In some capacity, Jesus cries out ‘My God, My God, Why have you forsaken me?’ so that we will never have to. However, this is not a cry solely of defeat, there is something else going here as well: Jesus’ quoting of the 22nd Psalm is a sign of the victory that is to come!
Throughout his public ministry, we see Jesus continually quoting the scriptures, from the temptation of Jesus in the desert (Matt. 4) on through his interaction with the disciples, Pharisees, and others- Jesus is seen as quoting the scriptures as a source of personal strength, as a means of teaching, and as a means of exhibiting his authority over the law. Because of this, there must be more to these words. In quoting Psalm 22, Jesus almost certainly has the entirety of Psalm 22 in mind. Psalm 22 begins as a cry of lament, which moves to cry of victory (v21-31)! Jesus knows that even in the bleakest moment of his humanity, victory is coming!
Victory has come. Even in our darkest moments we can look to Christ and see that the victory has been won! Let us continually remind ourselves of the victory that is found in Jesus, by doing what our Savior did throughout his ministry, and in this moment on the cross: Use scripture to strengthen us and to strengthen our fellow brothers and sisters.
For further meditation: Psalm 22, Matthew 4:1-11