Ever feel forsaken by God? “God, where are you now? Where could you be?”
My first bout of this happened about three weeks after I became a Christian. I started attending church because a girl I was dating invited me. Within three weeks of becoming a Christian we broke up. Then my family split up. My old friends didn’t want to hang out. I felt totally alone.
I remember thinking, “If coming to Jesus makes life better then why has my life gone so wrong?” I wondered, “Why is this happening?”
Maybe that’s where you are right now. Let me remind you that you aren’t alone. Even Jesus felt isolated. Consider this enigmatic statement Jesus made while he was on the cross. It’s found in Matthew 27:46.
“About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, Eli, Eli Lema Sabachthani? Which translated means, “My God my God, why have you forsaken me.”
What did he mean by that?
I’ve heard a variety of explanations for this. The evangelist would say that this was the moment the sins of the world were place on the Savior and for that brief moment the Father turned his head. God, they would say, cannot look at sin.
That explanation never really satisfied me. If God can’t look at sin then how would he ever see me?
In order to comprehend this you have to understand that people of Jesus’ day were tri-lingual. They learned the Scripture in Hebrew, they wrote in Koine Greek, and they spoke Aramaic. Look closely at Jesus’ words on the cross. The disciple that recorded them had to translate their meaning for his audience. “Eli, Eli” is spoken in Hebrew. “El” is the generic word for God in the Hebrew and “i” is the possessive. It meant simply, “My God, my God.” The second part of the statement was given in Aramaic. “Lama sabachthani” meant, “Why have you forsaken me?”
Why would Jesus start the phrase in Hebrew and finish it in Aramaic?
The Jews standing at the foot of the cross learned the Scripture in Hebrew. Jesus is quoting the Bible and since their childhood these Jews that had memorized large portions of it. They would remember those two words. Psalm 22 begins in the Hebrew, “Eli Eli.” Jesus had given them the first words to spark their memories in much the same way I might say, “Amazing grace how sweet the sound,” and you would intuitively finish the line, “…that save a wretch like me.”
Psalm 22 begins, “My God, my God why have you forsaken me?” The passage goes on to describe in stunning detail how a person feels when he is being crucified. It’s remarkable because Psalm 22 was written at least 800 years before crucifixion was invented.
The Psalm includes phrases like, “my bones are out of joint,” and “my tongue cleaves to my jaw.” Jesus also said that he was thirsty. The Psalm even talks about his clothing being divided by lot. If you remember the stories of the gospel you would recall that while Jesus was dying the soldiers at the foot of the cross cast lots for his robe.
So why did Jesus bring up Psalm 22 while he was dying on the cross?
He wanted us to know how he felt. This statement expresses his humanity. The pain, anguish and betrayal truly felt as if he had been forsaken. I think sometimes we tend to over-spiritualize things and say, “Jesus died of a broken heart” or something like that. Truly, his heart was broken, but he didn’t die of a broken heart. He died of suffocation and excruciating pain brought about by the most heinous form of corporal punishment ever conceived in the dark twisted places of the human heart.
So yeah, he’s explaining how he felt.
But it was more than that. Psalm 22 is Messianic. That means it predicted something about Jesus the Messiah. Jesus wanted them all to know that this experience had been predicted 1000 years before it occurred. The crucifixion was no accident. It was part of God’s sovereign plan.
If you read the rest of Psalm 22 you will find that it ends with a shout of triumph. In essence it says, “This is how I feel. I feel isolated and abandoned.” But this is what I know, “I know that nothing that is happening in my life is outside of God’s control and that ultimately my experience will result in His glory.” In other words, “This is how I feel, but this is NOT what is real!
Why is this important to us?
Sometimes you will come to those dark moments when it seems as if God has forgotten you or that He has somehow abandoned you. That’s how you will feel. But what you feel is not what is real. Even in those darkest moments God is still in control of your life and He is orchestrating the events of your life. You feel abandoned, but you aren’t abandoned. In time the clouds will part and you will see that God was with you the whole time. Until that day comes, trust Him when you can’t see and remain faithful to what He has revealed to you.