Matthew 27:46 “About the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?”–which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
Every word Jesus had spoken from the cross up to this point had been shockingly positive: a word of forgiveness, a promise of paradise, expressions of love for mother and friend. These words are shockingly frightening: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” And in them we get a glimpse of the true nature of both sin and salvation.
What does sin look like, really? Ordinarily we see sin dressed in all its glittering promises, its true face hidden behind inches of make-up that disguise its grotesque and hideous appearance. Its promises of pleasure and power enchant us and draw us like a moth to a light. No amount of warning can completely convince us that the gorgeous young lady we think we see is really an ugly and deadly old hag.
Here Jesus unmasks sin. Here he shows us where it really leads. Here he suffers its true consequences in our place, not the fake promises it makes. Forsaken, utterly forsaken by God. How this is even possible for the divine Son of God defies all human explanation or understanding. There is nothing so dreadful, so terrifying, so unbearably painful in all of human experience as the total abandonment, the God-forsakeness, that Jesus endures for our sins here. His question is not, “Why have you crucified me?” or “Why have you turned me over to my enemies?” or “Why have you let me suffer such torture and pain?” It is “Why have you forsaken me?” The extremely depressed think that God has left them. That is only their faulty perception. Jesus alone, of anyone still alive on earth, knows the real abandonment of God. He alone knows the difference between little hope, imperceptible hope, and absolutely none whatsoever. He alone knows what it is that not a single sensation anywhere in the body or in the soul can perceive anything good or even tolerable, with no prospect of relief. This is sin carried out to its natural and logical consequence. This is hell, and the remote prospect of suffering what Jesus expresses here ought to be, to borrow a phrase from C.S. Lewis, enough to send any soul flying to its prayers in nightmare terror, pleading to be spared.
Yet here we see the true nature of salvation. This is how much God loved you. God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son…to this. God’s love is measured by something infinitely greater than a willingness to bear crucifixion for you. Thousands of people have been crucified throughout history. Only one endured the God-forsakeness of the damned in hell for you.
Jesus’ words here may seem heavy, not light. They may seem more serious and somber than joyful and uplifting. But they are still good news. For you who believe, they are a promise that there is not even a remote prospect of suffering what Jesus expresses here, for God has forsaken him to embrace you and me.