The 4th Saying of Jesus on the Cross - Matthew 27: 45-50
V.46 "Jesus cried out with a loud voice "Eli, Eli, Lama-sabacthani", that is "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me". This is one of the most intriguing statements of our Lord, having bearing on the Nature of the Trinity itself, and on the Nature of the penalty for our sin, which our Lord carried. The language is generally taken to be Aramaic, but it has similarities to the Hebrew. It is a personal plea to Almighty God, 'My God' as He twice cries.
It was pitch black from the 6th to the 9th hour - namely 12noon to 3pm, coming to the very climax of our Lord's suffering. The darkness mirrored the darkness of His soul, and it is around 3pm that our Lord cries out to His heavenly Father. And it was loud v46 tells us. What an atmosphere must have been generated. It was a miracle that a man who had suffered so much and was physically weakened, could cry out as loud as this.
He addresses God the Father as MY God - a uniquely personal relationship between God the Father and God the Son. God in 3 Persons, blessed trinity. One Person of the Godhead speaks to another Person within the Godhead. In the early days of doing "Christian Basics" courses in the 1980's I used the illustration of Yorkshire as a county - West, South and North parts (East Yorkshire did not exist - all to do with Humberside changes.) But it falls well short of a good example because the 3 Persons of the Godhead are essentially One and indivisible in a way we don't understand until Glory - "My Father and I are one".
1.The Nature of Hell
The Scripture is clear, that as our Lord was crying out He was suffering Hell for His people - there and then. He did not descend to the place called Hell. What our Lord suffered on the cross is what we deserved as sinners. It was a straight substitution. "In my place condemned He stood", suffering what we would have suffered, banished from the Presence of the Father, indescribable agonies of body and soul. He was made sin for us; He was made a curse; the Father laid on the Son the sin of us all - namely all those who over time would become His people - from the Old Testament to the real church today.
In the light of all that, we can understand our Lord's cry "My God, my God, why have you forsaken Me?" His knowledge of JOY to come was in the background. As a Perfect Human being who can't abide sin, the question comes WHY? In His Divine nature, of course, He knew the answer. But in His experience of a Human Being like us, like for like - human for humans' suffering, this was the cry out of His head and body's experience. The Eternal Son of God suffering for what would have been our eternal suffering - for ever! "Forsaken" is a terrible feeling. If a wife leaves a marriage partnership by adultery followed by desertion, the husband feels forsaken because He loves her, and she's gone. Similarly if a husband leaves the relationship with his wife, self-worth goes out of the window, desolation rules, but you have to press on - my mother knew that, left with four children. Imagine, then, if the very Godhead seems to be split asunder, when the Son and the Father were united in perfect love from before the world began. And, there was NO answer to the question given which could alleviate His suffering.
2. A counter argument
Please turn to Psalm 22 and read it. Absolutely Messianic and Prophetic about our Lord Jesus, the Messiah. v 1 says exactly what our Lord cried out "My God, My God", why have you forsaken Me?" written 1,000 years before our Lord cried out. There are so many prophesies here. V 8 "They divided My garments among them. And for my clothing they cast lots". And then v 24 - "Nor has He hidden His face from Him", as though our Lord was aware of the Father's face and His support during His time of agony. Some have taken it to mean exactly that - that there was at least strengthening during His suffering. But, that is precisely what Hell is all about - punishment WITHOUT comfort. So how do we interpret Psalm 22 : 24.Firstly, God certainly did not despise the afflicted Christ. Although He turned His face away from the Presence of one bearing our sin. He also accepted the sacrifice of our Lord as a pleasing sacrifice - atoning sacrifice. Not a rejected sacrifice. Secondly, God the Father did not FINALLY turn His face away from His Son. The Father continued to love the Son, even if the Lord Jesus was temporarily unaware of it. He temporarily had to turn His face away, so that the Lord Jesus could feel Hell. This is the way that eminent men of God have taken it. Thirdly of course the Father heard the cry of His Son, but the Son was not aware of it. As when we pray, the answer might be amber (wait) as well as green (Yes!). The answer came when the Father raised Him from the dead because death could not contain Him, and when the Father exalted Him to His Right Hand victoriously. Why forsaken? Its temporary. But our Lord did not experience that comfort and we read nothing of the comfort and strengthening of the Holy Spirit, the third Person in the Trinity.
3. Where does Elijah come into this? (v 47 & 49)
Of course Elijah was held in very high regard amongst the Jews. He was, after all, like Enoch, carried up to Heaven without dying. In Enoch's case, it was certainly because he pleased God. Some thought that Elijah would re-appear on earth to announce Jesus as the Messiah. It was of course John the Baptist who was the herald or messenger of Jesus, but the particular reason why they thought our Lord was crying to Elijah is the start of the name Elijah - ELI, the very well our Lord shouted out. It was very similar to the expression "My God". Elijah means "God of Jehovah", so there could have been some confusion. It is even possible that the experts in Aramaic could wilfully mislead the people in thinking that our Lord was crying out to Elijah, when they knew it was as we have it here - "My God".When somebody took up a sponge, some objected. "Don't help Him - let's wait and see if Elijah comes from Heaven to help Him." Very soon after, our Lord died - as God intended. 4th saying - Eli, Eli, lama sabacthani" - "My God, My God, why have you forsaken Me?" Answer - to bear my sin; to bear my Hell. How much He must have loved us.