Why Did Jesus Say “Eli Eli lema sabachthani” (My God My God why have You Forsaken Me?)
One of the most jarring Scriptures in the bible is found in Matt 27:45-46. Jesus, in His final moments on the cross, calls out words that make us all shudder. He says “Eli Eli lema Sabachthani” which translates to “My God My God why have you forsaken me?”
Now from the sixth hour darkness fell upon all the land until the ninth hour. About the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, ‘Eli Eli lama sabachthani?’ that is, ‘My God My God why have You forsaken Me?’
(Matthew 27:45 – 46, NASB)
As Christians, it is difficult to imagine the pain that Jesus endured on our behalf. He was deserted by His friends, beaten, mocked, and spit on. He stood before the very people who just a few days prior lay palm leaves in His path declaring Him King only to yell “Crucify Him!”. The religious leaders of that time broke nearly every rule in Jewish law to falsely imprison and accuse Jesus. Ultimately, we know the end of the story.
The Savior of the world died one of the most excruciating and humiliating deaths by crucifixion as only a handful of friends and His mother looked on helplessly.
Let’s take a look at a few theories around Jesus’ final words and then end with what He actually meant.
Evangelist Jason D’Ambrosio breaks down why Jesus said “My God My God why have you forsaken Me?”
“My God My God Why Have you Forsaken Me?” | Did God Abandon Jesus?
I have heard it preached that God had to look the other way, leaving Jesus alone to die on the cross. Could that be why Jesus cried out “Eli Eli lema Sabachthani”? Some bible translations use the word “abandon” instead of forsaken. Both technically mean the same thing.
God, however, makes promises in Scripture that we cannot ignore. He promises to never turn His back on us, even when times seem their toughest. Look at these verses.
Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”
“No man shall be able to stand before you all the days of your life; as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you nor forsake you.”
“Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.”
God didn’t turn His back on Moses, Joshua, and the early Christians amidst their challenges. He most certainly did not abandon Jesus. Therefore, although it is sometimes taught that God had to “look the other way” and forsake His Son. That explanation isn’t biblically accurate. God doesn’t break His promises.
Eli Eli lema sabachthani? | Did Jesus Have to Sin to “Give up His Spirit”?
Another theory that you might hear in modern Christian teachings is that Jesus uttered “My God My God Why have you forsaken me?” in a moment of weakness. Some go as far as to say that it was a sinful act of non-belief. This is very dangerous territory and also like God’s abandonment, certainly puts us in danger of implying a biblical contradiction. Even worse, that Jesus was a sinner. Yikes.
An argument in favor of “My God My God why have you forsaken me?” being a necessary sin is the Apostle Paul’s teaching in 2 Corinthians.
For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
2 Cor 5:21
This is also an extremely problematic claim and certainly out of context. Scripture clearly tells us Jesus was sinless.
For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.
You know that He appeared in order to take away sins; and in Him there is no sin.
1 John 3:5
The sins of the world rested on the sacrifice of Jesus at the cross. It was the price He had to pay, not an act He had to commit. Jesus did not give up His Spirit through the sin of momentary doubt. So why did He say “Eli Eli lema Sabachthani”?
Psalm 22 | My God My God Why Have you Forsaken Me?
Now that we have addressed common misconceptions to Jesus’ final words, we will find the reason for them in plain sight. Jesus was directly quoting Psalm 22.
My God my God why have You forsaken me?
Far from my deliverance are the words of my groaning.
2 O my God, I cry by day, but You do not answer;
And by night, but I have no rest.
3 Yet You are holy,
O You who are enthroned upon the praises of Israel.
4 In You our fathers trusted;
They trusted and You delivered them.
5 To You they cried out and were delivered;
In You they trusted and were not disappointed.
6 But I am a worm and not a man,
A reproach of men and despised by the people.
7 All who see me sneer at me;
They separate with the lip, they wag the head, saying,
8 “Commit yourself to the Lord; let Him deliver him;
Let Him rescue him, because He delights in him.”
Jesus is the ultimate example of what we should strive in our day to day life. When He called out “My God My God Why have you forsaken me” He wasn’t saying God abandoned Him. He wasn’t having a moment of weakness. Far from it. Eli Eli lema Sabachthani was a song of praise for God’s faithfulness to save us in the toughest times. A psalm is a song unto God and that is exactly what Jesus was proclaiming in His final moments. That changes the perspective, doesn’t it? Context is so important.
Imagine if we took the same approach as Jesus and trusted God in our hardest moments. “My God My God why have You forsaken Me?” was a song of celebration that God is always with us. Eli Eli lema Sabachthani was a shout to God’s unending faithfulness in our time of trouble. The next time you feel like the world is against you, look to the example of our Savior and give God praise. He is faithful.
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