About the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying,Â ”Eli, Eli,Â lama sabachthani?”Â that is,Â ”MyÂ God, myÂ God,Â why haveÂ You forsakenÂ Me?”
For years I’ve seen this verse used to teach that while Jesus was on the cross, God turned His back on Jesusâ€”His own sonâ€”because, in that moment, Jesus took our sin upon himself and became unacceptable to God on our behalf.
I think this is a fundamental misunderstanding of that scripture.
The Gospel of Matthew was written to a primarily Jewish audience, and they would have immediately recognized those words as the beginning of one of their familiar Psalmsâ€”Psalm 22.
1 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,Â saying,
8 “CommitÂ yourself to the Lord; let Him deliver him;
Let Him rescue him, because He delights in him.”
9 Yet You are He who brought me forth from the womb;
You made me trustÂ when upon my motherâ€™s breasts.
10 Upon You I was cast from birth;
You have been my God from my motherâ€™s womb.
11 Be not far from me, for trouble is near;
For there is none to help.
12 Many bulls have surrounded me;
StrongÂ bulls of Bashan have encircled me.
13 They open wide their mouth at me,
As a ravening and a roaring lion.
14 I am poured out like water,
And all my bones are out of joint;
My heart is like wax;
It is melted within me.
15 My strength is dried up like a potsherd,
And my tongue cleaves to my jaws;
And You lay me in the dust of death.
16 For dogs have surrounded me;
A band of evildoers has encompassed me;
They pierced my hands and my feet.
17 I can count all my bones.
They look, they stare at me;
18 They divide my garments among them,
And for my clothing they cast lots.
19 But You, O Lord, be not far off;
O You my help, hasten to my assistance.
20 Deliver my soul from the sword,
My onlyÂ life from the power of the dog.
21 Save me from the lionâ€™s mouth;
From the horns of the wild oxen You answer me.
22 I will tell of Your name to my brethren;
In the midst of the assembly I will praise You.
23 You who fear the Lord, praise Him;
All you descendants of Jacob, glorify Him,
And stand in awe of Him, all you descendants of Israel.
24 For He has not despised nor abhorred the affliction of the afflicted;
Nor has He hidden His face from him;
But when he cried to Him for help, He heard.
25 From YouÂ comes my praise in the great assembly;
I shall pay my vows before those who fear Him.
26 The afflicted will eat and be satisfied;
Those who seek Him will praise the Lord.
Let your heart live forever!
27 All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the Lord,
And all the families of the nations will worship before You.
28 For the kingdom is the Lordâ€™s
And He rules over the nations.
29 All the prosperous of the earth will eat and worship,
All those who go down to the dust will bow before Him,
Even he who cannot keep his soul alive.
30 Posterity will serve Him;
It will be told of the Lord to theÂ coming generation.
31 They will come and will declare His righteousness
To a people who will be born, that He has performedÂ it.
If you read this Psalm you will realize that it isn’t talking about how God is absent, or that He has actually rejected David (the writer of this Psalm), but it affirms that even when God seems absent that He can still be trusted.
This is the Jewish gospel.
God is in the fightâ€”even when it seems like all is lost and the world is caving in. That is the very moment that you can trust Him the most.
In the Matthew’s story, these words were proved true just days later when the grave was found to be empty and Jesus appeared alive to his disciples. Declaring again that evil doesn’t get the last word, and that God doesn’t require perfection from us, but that He submits to our evil and imperfection and reclaims the truth that He rescues us from ourselves.