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“About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, ‘Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?’ (which means ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’).” Matthew 27:46
In my New Testament theology class in university, I remember a skeptical student questioning these last words of Jesus on the cross.
My professor’s response was to chuckle good-naturedly: “Jesus was just being a good Jew.”
He reminded us that the Psalms were the prayer-book of Israel. He said that the Jews at the foot of the cross would hear “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani!” (Psalm 22:1) and recognize the psalm even if Jesus’ breath ran out before He could finish it.
My professor read Psalm 22 out to us from his bible. To someone who knows the Passion narrative, the twenty-second psalm is all too familiar:
“‘He trusts in the Lord,’ they say, ‘let the Lord rescue him.’” (22:8)
“I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint.” (22:14)
“Dogs surround me, a pack of villains encircles me; they pierce my hands and my feet....They divide my clothes among them and cast lots for my garment.” (22:16,18)
Not only does it seem like a foretelling of Christ’s pain, but for the Jews listening it was a message of hope, ending with the words “He has done it” (22:31) preceding His own “It is finished” (John 19:30). And, what has He done? What is finished? King David’s words tell us that He has listened to the cry of his servant (22:24) and come quickly to help him (22:19).
Christ’s words, which on the surface seem discouraging, are the ultimate message of hope. They announce God’s victory over sin, the completion of salvation, without bypassing the necessary pain on the road to glory.
Father, thank You for remaining near to me even in pain and struggle. Today I remember Your great sacrifice in a special way. Help me to understand the depth of Your love and the pain You endured to show it. Teach me to see the pain in my life as an opportunity to unite myself to You. In Your Son’s precious name, amen.
Take some time to meditate on the passion Jesus has walked you through. Unite your own suffering with His on the cross through fasting today; try turning off the data on your phone or skipping dinner.
When have you felt forsaken by God? How does He remind you of His presence and plan?