OceanSide church of Christ
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MY GOD, MY GOD, WHY HAST THOU FORSAKEN ME?
Victor M. Eskew
As Jesus was pinned on the cross of Calvary, He spoke seven sayings. “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). “Verily I say unto thee, To day shalt thou be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43). “Woman, behold thy son!...Behold thy mother!” (John 19:26-27). “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46). “I thirst” (John 19:28). “It is finished” (John 19:30). “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit” (Luke 23:46).
These seven sayings are powerful and touching. Each one contains so much meaning. One of them has been extremely difficult for commentators to truly define. This saying is recorded by Matthew and Mark. Matthew’s gospel records the words as follows: “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?” (Matt. 27:46). Mark’s gospel is very similar. “And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani? which is, being interpreted, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34).
The words are difficult as one looks on both sides of the coin. First, would God the Father ever forsake the Christ? Surely not! Jesus had been faithful to His heavenly Father in all things (John 8:29). Even on the cross, He was fulfilling the Father’s will (Matt. 26:39). God would never forsake a disciple who was doing His will. He would always be present with him to the very end. This was especially true of that disciple who was His very Son.
Second, would Jesus ever really believe that God the Father had forsaken Him? Wouldn’t such a statement manifest a lack of trust in the Father? Would the Son of God ever really believe that His Father had forsaken Him, even for a minute? Surely not! Earlier in His ministry Jesus had said: “I and my Father are one” (John 10:30). Jesus knew God was always with Him. He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane. He prayed on the cross. He knew His heavenly Father was near.
Some have tried to explain the statement relative to the act of atonement. Jesus was offered as a sin offering for mankind. The sins of the world were place upon the Christ while hanging on the tree. Some will point to II Corinthians 5:21 as a proof-text. “For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin…” The explanation goes like this: “When the sins of the world were placed upon Jesus, the heavenly Father turned His face from Hm. In essence, He forsook Him because of the sins that were upon Him.” This is a comforting interpretation, but it still has God forsaking His faithful servant in a time of need.
Recently, this writer heard another interpretation place upon the words: “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” This interpretation seems to be one of the best explanations of these words. As Jesus hung upon the cross, He appeared to be forsaken by God. The Jews laughed and mocked Him wondering where His God was now (Matt. 27:43). In the midst of their disparaging remarks, Jesus cries out with this puzzling statement. This statement, however, was very familiar to the Jews who were versed in the Law of Moses. They had read it numerous times. It is a quote from one of their heroes, King David. These words open one of David’s psalms, Psalm 22. “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? why art thou so far from helping me, and from the words of my roaring.”
In essence, Jesus was not claiming to be forsaken by God. He was pointing the unbelieving Jews to a very familiar psalm. This psalm was not just the message of a forsaken king of old. The words of this psalm are messianic in nature. Listen to some of the words that point the Jews to the Christ. “All they that see me laugh me to scorn: they shoot out the lip, they shake the head, saying, He trusted on the Lord that he would deliver him: let him deliver him, seeing he delighted in thee” (vss. 7-8). “Many bulls have compassed me: strong bulls of Bashan have beset me round. They gaped upon me with their mouths, as a ravening and a roaring lion” (vss. 12-13). “I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint: my heart is like wax; it is melted in the midst of my bowels. My strength is dried up like a potsherd; and my tongue cleaveth to my jaws; and thou hast brought me into the dust of the earth” (vss. 14-15). “…they have pierced my hands and my feet” (v. 16). “They part my garments among them, and cast lots upon my vesture” (v. 18). Jesus was trying to get the Jews to see that He was the fulfillment of this majestic messianic psalm. They should have been able to see that the events of that very day were being fulfilled in Jesus Christ. Rather than reject Jesus as a troubler, they should have accepted Him as the messiah long predicted by the prophets. Their hearts, however, were too hard. They failed to grasp the significance of His words that day. The Jews continued to reject the Christ and rebel against God.
Let’s summarize what we believe to be the meaning of the words: “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” They were a cry of Jesus to the scornful Jews remember Psalm 22, a messianic psalm. If they had been honest, they would have immediately seen the fulfillment of David’s prophecy. They would have come to understand that Jesus was truly the Christ the Son of the living God. This interpretation makes extremely good sense. God does not forsake the Christ. Jesus does not believe that God has forsaken Him. He is merely trying to get the Jews to see that He is the fulfillment of the Jewish Scriptures. It was He who had told them in the past: “Search the Scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me” (John 5:39).