************ Sermon on Matthew 27:46 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on March 22, 1998
"The Fourth Word From the Cross: Forsaken"
Do you think Jesus whispered this 4th word from the cross? Do you think He barely croaked it out from sore lips and a cracking throat? Do you think He said it with a normal voice? No. No. No. The Bible tells us He said them in a "loud" voice.
"Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?" (IN A LOUD VOICE)
Here we have the original words of Jesus in the original language. There is no translation of the Aramaic into the Greek language here. Rather, what we have are the actual words used by Jesus.
This does not mean that the words of our text are more holy than any other part of Scripture. For, as the Apostle Paul says in 2 Timothy 3:16, "All Scripture is God-breathed." All of the Bible is the holy and inspired Word of God. No part of the Bible is more holy and more the Word of God than any other part. That's one of the reasons I cringe about those red-letter editions of the Bible — you know, those Bibles that have the words of Jesus in red — as if the words of Jesus are more holy or more special than any other part of the Bible.
Nevertheless, we are now faced with the question of why God's Holy Spirit inspired the Gospel-writer Matthew to here preserve the actual and literal words of Jesus. Two answers spring readily to mind. First, it is the Holy Spirit's intention to drive home to us the intensity of Christ's sufferings; can't you hear the anguish: "Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?" Second, the Spirit wants us to see the fulfillment of the Old Testament Scriptures; you see, the Lord's fourth word from the cross is a direct quote from the Hebrew of Psalm 22:1.
I A Cry of Agony
A Jesus' fourth word from the cross is first of all a cry of agony: "Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?" — "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"
Sabachthani, forsaken: do you know what this means? It means "to abandon, to let go, to leave."
It is awful to be forsaken. We like to say that no man is an island; that is to say, it isn't natural for anyone to be totally alone. We have a God-given and a God-created need for others and for God Himself. But when you are forsaken you are on your own, you are an island in the flowing stream of humanity. To be forsaken means that no one is able or willing to help you. You are totally alone.
When the late Duke of Windsor abdicated the throne of Britain to marry the woman he loved, a woman who was not acceptable to the Royal Family, he went into a self-imposed exile. As a result of his own bitter experience, he declared that "forsaken" was not simply a matter of being alone, but rather the feeling that no one really cares what happens to you. It is not necessarily caused by a set of circumstances -- it is a state of mind.
Being alone involves only physical separation, but being forsaken includes both spiritual and psychological isolation. It produces a solitude of heart, the feeling of being cut off from others whom we should like to have as friends.
So many today are forsaken. Babies are abandoned on someone's doorstep or in a park or garbage dumpster somewhere. An increasing number of people abandon or forsake their marriage partner. Elderly parents are abandoned in a nursing home or hospital — rarely thought of or visited.
I know there are some in our church family who have gone through tough times or tense situations. In the midst of those circumstances they have felt forsaken by all. Even in these worst possible moment of life, though, when all seem to have forsaken us, we can usually comfort ourselves with the thought that our parents or our spouse still understand and care. And, if even those closest to us forsake us, we know there is always One — God — Who will never leave us or forsake us (Deut 31:6; cf Heb 13:5b).
At the end of His life Jesus didn't even have this comfort. He was totally on His own. The crowds had turned against Him. His disciples had left Him. His family did not believe in Him. And now, now He cries out that even His God has forsaken Him! "Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?" — "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" Of everything He suffered, this was His greatest pain and sorrow.
B In one way Jesus was not abandoned or forsaken by the Father. The cross, you see, was God's will and plan for Jesus. The way of the cross was the path that God had chosen from eternity for Jesus to take. And, it was in obedience to this plan that Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, "My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will" (Mt 26:39).
Three times Jesus predicted His death to the disciples (Mt 16:21f; 17:22f; 20:17f; cf Mk 8:31; 9:31; 10:32). The first instance, recorded for us in Matthew 16, says,
(Mt 16:21) From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.Notice, Jesus said He must suffer and He must be killed. It is a must because it is God's plan.
It was God's will, then, that Christ be crucified. In this way God did not forsake or abandon Christ; instead, He continued to carry out His divine plan devised from eternity.
C Yet, we cannot deny that Jesus cried out from the cross, "Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?" — "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"
According to His divine plan God physically forsook Jesus. And, it was because God abandoned Jesus, that Jesus could be betrayed by Judas. Because God had abandoned Him, Jesus was mocked and spit upon and falsely accused. Because He was abandoned by God, Jesus, though innocent and found to be innocent, was still treated as though being guilty. Because Jesus was abandoned by God, He was whipped, mocked, had a crown of thorns shoved on His head, and had nails pounded through His wrists and feet. Because Jesus was abandoned by God, He died the cruel death of the cross.
D "Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?" — "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" Jesus' sufferings are unique, so He cannot have just physical abandonment in mind here. For many others have suffered physically as much as has our Lord. I think of what happened in A.D. 71. The slave Spartacus led a revolt of slaves against the Roman Empire. When the Roman Legions defeated his rag-tag army, all 6,000 prisoners were crucified along the Appian Way. Every hundred yards down this 350 mile road saw a cross put up and a prisoner crucified. Or, consider all those Christian martyrs who died in agonizing ways for the Lord. And, in our own circles, many loved ones have suffered through cancer, pneumonia, strokes, and heart-attack.
"Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?" — "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" Our Lord is speaking here of a spiritual abandonment, a spiritual forsakeness, by the Father. The Father forsook Him — physically and spiritually, in body and soul.
To be forsaken by God in this fashion is to suffer the pangs and torments of hell. Hell, you see, is the complete absence of God and all that is good; hell is a total separation from God.
Notice when and where it was that Christ cried out. He cried out upon the cross and after the three hours of darkness in the middle of the day. Both are signs that God has abandoned and forsaken Christ. Both are signs that God has even cursed Christ. Galatians 3:13 tells us, "Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree." And, the story of the plagues in Egypt reveal to us that darkness during the day is a sign of God's curse (Ex 10:22).
"Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?" — "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"
E These words of our Savior are nothing less than amazing. Time after time God is presented on the pages of Scripture as being so faithful. His promise to His people is,
(Heb 13:5) "Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you."Never once did God fail to live up to this. When the people of Israel cried out to God because of the cruel bondage they suffered in Egypt, He heard and delivered them. When the children of Israel stood helpless between the Red Sea and the Egyptian army, God came to their defense and delivered them from their enemies. When the three Hebrews were cast into Nebuchadnezzar's fiery furnace, the Lord was with them. But here, at the Cross, with His only begotten Son hanging there, God remains silent.
"Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?" — "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" This cry startles, staggers, and surprises us. Imagine, the only begotten of God, the eternal and natural Son of God, making such a cry! Didn't God say at the baptism and the transfiguration of Christ, "This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased" (Mt 3:17; 16:5)? Didn't Christ live in the bosom of the Father? From eternity, and during the thirty some years here on earth, didn't Christ enjoy unbroken fellowship with the Father? Never once did Christ have a thought, a word, a deed out of harmony with the Father's will. Jesus lived not one second out of the conscious presence of the Father. But now, now the beloved Son is forsaken by the Father: "Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?" — "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" This cry, I say, startles, staggers, and surprises us.
F This cry also demands an answer. Why did God forsake Jesus in both body and soul? Why was Jesus physically and spiritually abandoned by God? What broke the bond of perfect communion that has existed from eternity between the Father and the Son? Why did Jesus have to suffer the pangs and torments of hell — of life without God? Why was the Father's curse upon the Son? What was the barrier that now existed between the first and second persons of the Triune Godhead?
The barrier was sin. It was sin which broke the bond of communion between the Father and the Son. It was because of sin that Christ was forsaken and abandoned by God. I think of 2 Corinthians 5:21 which says, "God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God." Jesus became sin for us. He became sin, He took on our sin, He was cursed and abandoned and forsaken, all to save us from our sin.
"Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?" — "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" The answer: sin — your sin, my sin.
II A Cry of Coming Triumph
A Jesus' fourth word from the cross is not only a cry of agony. It is also a cry of coming triumph: for Christ, and for us because of Christ.
So you can understand this, I have to tell you a very important principle of Biblical interpretation. The principle is this: when the New Testament quotes an Old Testament verse, the entire passage and not just the one verse is in mind.
As I mentioned earlier, Jesus' fourth word is a direct quote from the Hebrew of Psalm 22. Though it is especially the first verse that Jesus has in mind, He is also thinking of the rest of the psalm.
If we turn to Psalm 22 we see so much there that applies to the sufferings of Christ upon the cross. Think of our Lord upon the cross as I read selections from this Psalm:
(Ps 22:6-8) But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by men and despised by the people. (7) All who see me mock me; they hurl insults, shaking their heads: (8) "He trusts in the LORD; let the LORD rescue him. Let him deliver him, since he delights in him."
(Ps 22:18) They divide my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing.
B In verses 22-31 this Psalm takes on a decidedly positive note. Listen to brief selections as I read them:
(Ps 22:22) I will declare your name to my brothers; in the congregation I will praise you.
(Ps 22:25) From you comes the theme of my praise in the great assembly; before those who fear you will I fulfill my vows.
Why this change from suffering and pain to praise and worship? Why can the psalmist start off with,
(Ps 22:1) My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning?and end with,
(Ps 22:27) All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the LORD, and all the families of the nations will bow down before him,What accounts for this change?
We are given the answer in verse 24:
(Ps 22:24) For he has not despised or disdained the suffering of the afflicted one; he has not hidden his face from him but has listened to his cry for help.
In crying out from the cross the opening words of Psalm 22, our Lord most certainly has in mind the triumphalism of verse 22 on. In other words, even in the agony of being abandoned and cursed and forsaken by God, even then and there Christ is thinking of the victory of Easter Sunday.
C This fourth word from the cross is a word of triumph not only for Christ but also for us because of Christ. We see our victory in the triumphant conclusion to Psalm 22 when it speaks communally: it speaks, for instance, of brothers, congregation, descendants, great assembly, families of the nations, future generations, and so forth.
In being forsaken by God Christ took on our sin. He was crucified in our place. He was cursed in our place. He was forsaken in our place.
Precisely here is our victory in and through Christ: Christ took our place! He was forsaken so we don't have to be. He was separated from God so we don't have to be. But more than that, as the Spirit inspired Apostle makes clear in a couple of places, we share in Christ's victory on Easter Sunday in that we are raised in and with Him.
"Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?" — "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"
What suffering our Savior went through — just to save us from our sin. Hallelujah! What a Savior!
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