Light for our path
What did Jesus mean when he cried out on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
James F. Pope
This was not a cry of asking for understanding: “Why are you doing this to me?” This was the exclamation of a Savior who knew he had come into the world as a human being for exactly this moment.
Your question provides an opportunity to probe briefly into one of Jesus’ seven “words” from the cross.
The details of Jesus’ suffering and death that the gospel writers record were not random events or chance happenings. Through his messengers of old, God had prophesied much about what would take place on that Friday we call “Good.” From a friend betraying the Lord to the soldiers piercing his side and not breaking one of his bones, God had foretold what would happen to his Son. Even this word of Jesus on the cross had been foreshadowed in Psalm 22.
This psalm is full of details that pointed ahead to the promised Messiah. Because Jesus came into the world to fulfill all the prophecies of the Messiah, Jesus asked the psalm’s opening question. But notice how he asked it: “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?” Those syllables sound strange to our ears, but they illustrate the everyday Aramaic language Jesus spoke. The Lord did not simply recite Psalm 22:1 as it was originally written in Hebrew. He made the prophetic words his own, verbalizing the truth that he is our Savior.
More than declaring his identity as the Messiah, this word of Jesus on the cross gives us a glimpse into the real horror of Jesus’ sufferings. To be sure, the physical sufferings Jesus endured were gruesome. But while that physical pain can make us recoil, this word of Jesus speaks of a suffering we struggle to understand. On the cross Jesus was suffering what amounts to hell. Hell is being forsaken and abandoned by God and punished for sin. That was Jesus’ experience on the cross. No human eyes could see the real extent of that suffering. Ears could only hear Jesus stating that it was taking place.
Minds could only imagine what was going on. Hearts, of the faithful, were filled with awe and praise at love like this.
At one point in his inspired letter to the Christians in Rome the apostle Paul disclosed a remarkable desire: “I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from God for the sake of my brothers, those of my own race, the people of Israel” (Romans 9:3,4). What remarkable love, right? If it were possible, Paul was willing to trade eternal places with unbelieving Jews. That is how much he loved other people.
Of course, Paul could not do what he wanted. The Bible says: “No man can redeem the life of another or give to God a ransom for him” (Psalm 49:7). But what Paul could not do, Jesus Christ did. His triumphant descent into hell would take place on Easter Sunday, but on Good Friday Jesus suffered the agony of hell. He allowed himself to be abandoned and forsaken by God his Father for the sins of the world. He did that so we would never have to know what that abandonment is like. He did that so we could be part of God’s family now and forever.
What a loving Lord to be forsaken that we could be forgiven! How do we respond to that? The hymn writer gives us direction: “Love so amazing, so divine, Demands my soul, my life, my all” (Christian Worship 125:4).
Contributing editor James Pope, professor at Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minnesota, is a member at St. John, New Ulm.
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Author: James F. Pope
Volume 102, Number 3
Issue: March 2015
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