Christ’s Fourth Word from the Cross
Darkness came over the whole land… Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” which means:
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
The hour of death was bearing down on Jesus. Brutally beaten, bruised and disfigured, dying of asphyxiation and thirst, his anguished body cries for the agony to end. Worse than the torments he endured in the flesh were the shouts of scorn and ridicule that pierced his ears and tore at his soul.
His closest friends had given up on him, perhaps to some extent, even the few gathered at the foot of the cross — surely their hope was tested too.
Jesus was left to bear the cruelest fate alone, for he alone could bear it:
He was spurned and avoided by men,
a man of suffering, knowing pain,
Like one from whom you turn your face,
spurned, and we held him in no esteem.
Yet it was our pain that he bore,
our sufferings he endured.
We thought of him as stricken,
struck down by God and afflicted,
But he was pierced for our sins,
crushed for our iniquity.
He bore the punishment that makes us whole,
by his wounds we were healed — Isaiah 53:3-5
Upon him, the Lord laid the guilt of us all.
The dark irony of Christ’s prophetic utterance, when he cried out, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” was that his tormenters did not get it. They should have recognized the words of Psalm 22. Instead, they thought he was calling on Elijah to save him. They listened, but they did not hear. They could not hear or understand the saving words spoken in their presence by the savior himself, because their hearts were deadened to God.
This was the lance that would pierce Christ’s heart. Yet still, the Lord forgives them and wants to save them.
Had they heard and recognized the words from the psalm, they would have come to realize two important things. First, that the very words of Psalm 22 were being realized — becoming actual — in their presence, as they mocked God:
- All who see me mock me…
- They ridicule him saying, “He relied on the LORD—let him deliver him; if he loves him, let him rescue him.”
- They divide my garments among them; for my clothing they cast lots.
Christ’s tormenters could not see what was happening right in front of their eyes. As a result, they missed another important thing, the point of his words. The psalm he was quoting, which begins as a psalm of misery and desolation, suddenly turns out to be a Psalm of hope, salvation, and praise.
When they heard Jesus say the first words of that psalm, they should have been able to finish it off from memory, just like when someone starts praying the Lord’s prayer (“Our Father, who art in heaven…”) or begins the Pledge of Allegiance (if you are an American), you can finish the rest by memory. How could they miss that?
They were not in tune with God. So what really happened was that God the Father never abandoned Jesus; rather, the people’s response and actions illustrated that they had all abandoned God. Their hearts were closed to him, so they could not see or hear what was happening that day.
People often ask, “How could God the Father possibly abandon his only Son?” The answer is that he did not.
Humanly speaking, Jesus felt the pain of his torture as well as the pain of abandonment. Thus he cries out as if in desperation. But his spirit was never separated from God. In spite of all his torment, his heart is always close to his Father, and we see this is so, because he prays from one of the Psalms, which happens to be a psalm of praise and hope in God. God the Father never abandoned his Son.
God never abandons us. We may feel forsaken, lonely, and lost, but God is still with us. We may even abandon God sometimes, but like the father in the Parable of the Prodigal Son, God the Father still watches and waits for us to return.
He gave us his Son to save and redeem us and also to teach us. Christ’s words from the cross are salvific and wise. They teach us about God, God’s relationship with us, and how our relationship with God should be. Listen, hear, and understand Christ’s last words from the cross. As you ponder them in your heart, let them heal you, elevate your spirit to hope in God, and teach you to be more like Christ each day.