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Question: In Matthew 27:46 Jesus is quoted as saying from the cross, "My God, why have you forsaken me?" If Jesus is God, how can God forsake himself?
Even though the question itself is rhetorical, the fact remains that this quote from Jesus is one of the most misunderstood and misinterpreted verses in Scripture.
Matthew 27:26 reads:
“About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, ‘Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?’ (which means ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’).”
Jesus was only minutes—perhaps seconds—away from death (v.50), yet He had the presence of mind to quote Psalm 22:1 in His native tongue of Aramaic. Why this Psalm? Why this verse?
Psalm 22 was written as a song by king David for already existing music (Ps. 22:0). In this song David describes his own feeling of rejection by God (vv.1-5), as well as rejection and ridicule by his own people (vv. 6-8). He had been raised from birth to trust God (vv. 9-10). To suddenly be deserted by God, and by God’s people, left him so emotionally and spiritually drained that he felt as if his heart was being drained from his body like melting wax. His mouth got so dry he could barely speak (vv. 14-17). All the while, his enemies gloated over him:
Ps. 22:17-18 “…All my bones are on display; people stare and gloat over me. They divide my clothes among them and cast lots for my garment.”
David’s agonizing experience foreshadowed what Jesus would experience centuries later on far greater scale upon the cross. Yet even in the midst of his feeling of abandonment David did not give up calling upon God to rescue him (vv. 19-21). In fact, he fully expected to be delivered by God; and he fully expected one day to personally and publically praise God for his deliverance (vv.22-25). David knew, even in the midst of personal agony and feeling forsaken by God that God would one day work out all things for good (vv. 29-31).
For Jesus’ followers and family at the foot of the cross to hear “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me…” coming from Jesus’ parched, dying lips, the words would have sounded very familiar—much the same as “Jesus loves me, this I know…” would sound to us today, bringing to mind the entire song and its reminder of God’s faithfulness and promised salvation.
Jesus, who never sinned, needed to experience separation from God that sin caused—the greatest depth of human weakness—on a personal level:
Heb. 4:15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.
It is ironic that Jesus, who was fully human, yet “being in very nature God” (Phil 2:6), demonstrated His Divine nature by not taking advantage of it. Instead, taking the sin of the human race and the separation from God it caused, Jesus willingly “humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross” (Phil. 2:8b)!
Hallelujah! What a savior!