“And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, ‘Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?’ that is, ‘My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?’” (Matt. 27:46).
For three insufferable hours, Jesus was on the cross. With every minute, His agony was increasing. The wounds in His hands and feet, exposed to the atmosphere and the sun, grew barked and hardened. The blood, impeded in its circulation, swelled in His heart and brain until these organs were ready to burst. The slightest attempt to move His body from one intolerable posture to another caused pains to shoot along His quivering nerves. But all the while, He remained silent.
Then an unearthly darkness fell over the land, for nature, in sympathy with its Creator, refused to shed its light upon the crime of deicide. Mankind, having condemned the Light of the World, now lost the cosmic symbol of that Light, the sun. At Bethlehem, where He was born at midnight, the heavens were suddenly filled with light; at Calvary, when He entered into the ignominy of His crucifixion at midday, the heavens were bereaved of light. Centuries before, the prophet Amos had said: “‘And it shall come to pass in that day’, says the Lord God, ‘That I will make the sun go down at noon, And I will darken the earth in broad daylight’” (Amos 8:9).
During this part of the crucifixion, Jesus was repeating the psalm of David, which prophetically referred to Him, where the signal feature was His desolation and solitude (see Ps. 21:13-19). Then “Jesus cried out with a loud voice . . . ‘My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?’”
What did this anguished cry of the Fourth Word from the cross mean? I suggest it was a cry of abandonment, a cry of substitution, and a cry of victory.
I. IT WAS A CRY OF ABANDONMENT
Jesus was accustomed to finding Himself forsaken. Early on, the members of His own household rejected Him. So did His fellow-townsmen in Nazareth. Ultimately, the nation at large followed the same course. The multitudes that at one time followed Him wherever He went and hung on His words eventually took offense and went away. At last, in the crisis of His fate, one of His closest followers betrayed Him, and the rest forsook Him and fled. But, in these disappointments, though He felt them keenly, He had always had one resource: He was always able, when rejected of men, to turn away from them and cast Himself with confidence on the breast of God. Even at the Last Supper, with reference to the impending desertion of the Twelve, He said, “Indeed the hour is coming, yes, has now come, that you will be scattered, each to his own, and will leave Me alone. And yet I am not alone, because the Father is with Me” (John 16:32). Now, however, the hour had come; and was this expectation fulfilled? The disciples were scattered as He had predicted, and He was left alone; but He was not alone. Was the Father still with Him? His own words supply the answer: “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?”
Earth had already abandoned Him by lifting His cross above it, and Heaven had already abandoned Him by veiling itself in darkness; yet, suspended between both, He united both. As He entered the extreme penalty for sin, which is separation from God, it was fitting that His eyes be filled with darkness and His soul with loneliness. The records of time and eternity do not contain a sentence more full of anguish than this Fourth Word from the cross.
II. IT WAS A CRY OF SUBSTITUTION
The notion of substitution is that one person takes the place of another, especially in order to bear his pain and thus save him from it. We admire the altruism of Moses to have his name blotted out of God’s book if only thereby Israel might be forgiven (Exod. 32:32). We also respect an almost identical wish expressed by Paul (Rom. 9:1-4). Likewise, the blood sacrifices of the Old Testament prefigured the ultimate substitution when Jesus, “the Lamb of God” as man’s substitute, would be slain, have laid on Him the iniquity of us all, and be counted as a transgressor. The guilt of every descendent of Adam was placed on Him and, like the scapegoat on whose head the sins of the whole community were laid, He went out into the land of forsakenness, thinking He would be eternally separated from God. “It was the sense of sin, bringing the Father’s wrath upon Him as man’s substitute, that . . . broke the heart of the Son of God.1” No wonder He cried!
This Fourth Word of the cross epitomizes the heart of the atonement: Christ in our stead being treated as we deserve and regarded as sin itself!
III. IT WAS A CRY OF VICTORY
We stand beside the dying Savior and say, “This is what we ought to have suffered; our life was forfeited by our guilt; thus, our blood deserves to flow; we might justly have been banished forever into the desert of forsakenness.” But as we make confession, our forfeited life is given back to us for Christ’s sake, the peace of God is shed abroad in our hearts, and the new life of love and service begins. “This is my blood of the new testament . . . shed for many for the remission of sins” (Matt. 26:28, KJV). So, in the profoundest sense, the Fourth Word of the dying Savior was a cry of victory. The cry itself, though an utterance of despair, yet involved the strongest faith. See how He lays hold of His Father with both hands; “My God, My God!” It is a prayer. A thousand times He turned to this resource in days of trial, and He does so in this supreme trouble. Feeling forsaken of God, He rushed into the arms of His Father; and those arms closed around Him in loving protection. “By faith He rested in Him whom it had been His joy to obey. And as in submission He committed Himself to God, the sense of the loss of the Father’s favor was withdrawn. By faith, Christ was the victor.”2 Never forget: No one is forsaken who can pray, “My God.” He was forsaken that we might never be. Therefore, however overwhelming our grief and bewilderment, let us, like Christ, hold on, crying, “My God, my God.”
In each of the other three words, Jesus acted as the divine mediator. Now, in the Fourth Word, He acted as mediator for sinful humanity. The Old Testament had prophesied that He who hangs upon a tree is cursed. He would remove the curse by bearing it and triumphing in the resurrection (2 Cor. 5:21; Gal.3:13). “As the flower, by being crushed, yields up its fragrant essence, so He by taking into His heart the sin of the world, brought salvation to the world.” Now, Jesus, as our Mediator, comes to stand by our side when we cry “My God, My God” and encounter pain, misfortune, bereavement, and death. Should we not hate sin that brought such agony to Him who loved us so and love Him more and more? Do you want to accept Jesus as your Saviour, our substitute and victory? May God bless you! Let’s pray.
1 Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages, 753.
2 Ibid., 756.
Rex D. Edwards is a former vice president for religious studies at Griggs University.