“Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?”

In John Stott’s book The Cross of Christ, he vows to devote his whole book to an in-depth analysis of the meaning of the cross for Christians.  In “Chapter Three” entitled “Looking Below the Surface,” he has considers the deep meaning of Jesus’ words at The Last Supper,  he analyzes Jesus’ words and acts in the Garden at Gethsemane and to end the chapter, he focuses on the “cry of dereliction” on the cross. 

If you are an experienced Christian, how many times have you wondered why Jesus cried out “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?” or “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me” [referenced in Matthew and Mark]. 

At this point, Jesus has suffered betrayal, arrest, trial, scourging, spitting, mob hysteria and mocking.  He has been forced to carry His own cross along the via dolorosa out of the city to Golgotha, the place of the skull.  There you know the process, the hammering of the nails into His limbs and the tearing that occurs as the body is lifted up on the cross and dropped into the hole that stands it upright. 

The crowd remained to watch for a while.  Jesus spoke very little, saying “Forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”   Jesus asked John to care for His mother.  He spoke words of comfort to the criminal who expressed repentance at His side.

Down below, the skeptical and the hateful shouted out “He saved others, but He can’t save Himself!” 

Good point…

Why could He not use his Divine powers to come down from the cross?

He could have…

Why did He not summon an army of Angels to assist Him?

He could have…

Why did He not have God His Father to perform a miracle and actually remove Him from His deadly perch?

He could have…

Christians know the reasons for Jesus not putting these scenarios into play.  He could not save Himself and save the rest of us at the same time.  He chose to sacrifice Himself in order to save the world.

Until “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?”

Why did He have to say that?  For a man on a mission, that utterance seems to be surprising and it is a major point of discussion for John Stott.

“The cry of dereliction”…

Some theorize that the words are a cry of anger, that Jesus wanted God to rescue Him or that God would give Him some form of comfort that would help Him endure His time on the cross.  But that was not to be.  God had truly deserted His only Son and Jesus felt it.   Some theorize that the words indicate lack of belief, but if they did, Jesus was mistaken.  He imagined that God had forsaken Him but really we know that God had not.   Looking for flaws like anger, lack of belief or even despair deny the “moral perfection of the character of Jesus.”    Really they are accusing Him of failure but believing Christians know that their Savior was not a failure. 

A second interpretation is that the cry was a cry of loneliness.  The problem with this interpretation is that Jesus knew that God never fails His people [see Joshua 1:5, 9 or Isaiah 41: 10].  He knew the permanence of covenant love.  But Jesus was a Man upon that cross, a Man who was in need of His Father.  His human side needed some Fatherly love, Fatherly kindness.  Stott points to the humanity of Jesus and writes He was having what “the saints have called the dark night of the soul” [82].  This explanation does not cast aspersions on the character of Jesus because His feelings were real; this explanation is based in His humanity.

Thirdly, the most popular interpretation is that Jesus was uttering a cry of victory.  Jesus quoted the first verse of Psalm 22 on the cross [“My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?”] and that means that He meant to represent the whole Psalm which ends with great confidence and triumph.  Stott writes that this idea is “ingenious but (it seems to me)  far-fetched.  Why would Jesus have quoted the Psalm’s beginning if in reality He was alluding to its end.”  If this was the case, no one would have understood His purpose for going to the cross.

Finally, the words of despair could be taken at their face value.    As Jesus spent His time on the cross, a darkness in the sky began to form.  This darkness could represent a true separation from God.  Why the darkness?  It was due to our sins.  Why the separation from His father?  It was due to our sins.  Why does Jesus feel forsaken?  It was due to our sins.  This abandonment was our fault; it was suffered by Jesus because it was the way that God reconciled the world to Himself through His Son Jesus Christ.  Jesus was the bridge between God and man but in order to be the bridge, He had to bear the guilt of man’s sins when He had never sinned.  It was not fair, but it was part of the Divine plan.

After the “cry of dereliction” Jesus said three more things: “I am thirsty,” “It is finished” and “Father into Your hands I commit My spirit.”  Stott writes “Deliberately, freely and in perfect love He has endured the judgement in our place.  He has procured salvation for us, established a new covenant between God and humankind, and made available the chief covenant blessing, the forgiveness of sins” [84].  The curtain of the temple which for centuries symbolized the separation of human sinners from God was torn in two in order for us to have a literal representation that Jesus destroyed that barrier. 

Jesus’ action and words at The Last Supper emphasize the importance that He attached to His death.  His words in Gethsemane certainly explain the agony He knew He was going to face on the cross and the cry of dereliction was appropriate for an innocent man separated from His Father as He bore our sins on the cross.

Stott closes this chapter with three strong statements about “ourselves, about God and about Jesus Christ.”

First, “our sin must be extremely horrible.”  A righteous God had to bear our sins in order for us to have a chance at righteousness.  We needed Jesus as our Savior.  We should put our trust in Him.

Secondly, “God’s love must be wonderful beyond comprehension.”  God could have abandoned us to our fate.  We deserved to reap the fruit of our own wrongdoing, but He pursued us all the way to the cross.  We toss the word “grace” around a lot as Christians.  That is what God did; He gave us something that we did not deserve: forgiveness. He “graced” us with forgiveness.

Thirdly, our salvation is the greatest free gift that we could ever get.  Jesus purchased it with His own blood.  There is nothing left for us to pay.  Jesus paid it all.  Some feel that the gift of forgiveness is a license to sin.  These folks can always come back to the “fold” because He offers a cleansing, time after time.  But that is not the intention.  God intends for us to live a holy life, not a sin-forgiveness, sin-forgiveness cycle.

That is not the idea of “new life.”

We never achieve the level of righteousness that is “good enough” but God intends us to try anyhow.  God intends us to use His gift for the good of this world.  Produce the fruit of our life with Him and give Him the glory.

It all begins with our trip to the cross…

Our confession of our sinning…

Our thankfulness for His sacrifice…

Then we can receive from Him our full and free forgiveness…

Thank you God…

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