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ELI, ELI, LAMA SABACHTHANI?

by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

A sermon preached on Lord's Day Morning, December 5, 2004
at the Baptist Tabernacle of Los Angeles

"Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" (Matthew 27:46).


I think Spurgeon was right when he said we really can't give an exposition of these words. What makes the verse so difficult is that we can't "get inside" it. It is something that happened outside of human experience and understanding. All we can do is stand outside, and make some comments about it.

We may begin by commenting on the words, "Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?" "Eli" is the Hebrew word for "God." "Lama sabachthani" is Aramaic for, "Why hast thou forsaken me?" Christ spoke these words from the Cross, as He suffered, and the light of the mid-day sun melted into darkness.

Well might the sun in darkness hide
   And shut his glories in,
When Christ, the mighty Maker died
   For man the creature's sin.
("Alas! And Did My Saviour Bleed?" by Isaac Watts, 1674-1748).

While darkness descended, Jesus cried out from the Cross,

"My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?"
     (Matthew 27:46).

I. First, these are words of deep mystery.

After Jesus was nailed to the Cross He made several statements we can understand. He prayed for those who crucified Him,

"Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do"
     (Luke 23:34).

We can understand that. We know that Jesus loved everyone, even His enemies. We can understand why He prayed for those who crucified Him.

When one of the two thieves, who hung on either side of Him, repented and believed on Him, we can understand why He would turn His head toward the man and say,

"To day shalt thou be with me in paradise" (Luke 23:43).

We know that Jesus came into the world to save sinners - so we can see why He would save the dying thief, for He said,

"This is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins" (Matthew 26:28).

When Jesus spoke to His mother from the Cross, we can understand His love for her.

"Now there stood by the cross of Jesus his mother…When Jesus therefore saw his mother, and the disciple standing by, whom he loved, he saith unto his mother, Woman, behold thy son! Then saith he to the disciple, Behold thy mother! And from that hour that disciple took her unto his own home"
      (John 19:25-27).

We can understand that Jesus loved His mother so much that He wanted His disciple John to take care of her after He was gone.

But when He cried out,

"My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?"
     (Matthew 27:46).

we are startled. There is a deep mystery connected to these words. David said,

"I have been young, and now am old; yet have I not seen the righteous forsaken" (Psalm 37:25).

When Joseph was sold as a slave, "God was with him, and delivered him out of all his afflictions" (Acts 7:9-10). When God's people were slaves in Egypt He said, "I have heard their groaning, and am come down to deliver them" (Acts 7:34). When they were trapped at the edge of the Red Sea "the Lord caused the sea to go back by a strong east wind all that night, and made the sea dry land…and the children of Israel went into the midst of the sea upon the dry ground" (Exodus 14:21-22). "By faith they passed through the Red sea as by dry land: which the Egyptians assaying [attempting] to do were drowned" (Hebrews 11:29). David was delivered from death at the hand of King Saul. Jonah was delivered from the ocean and the sea monster. Daniel was delivered from a den of lions, "So Daniel was taken up out of the den, and no manner of hurt was found upon him" (Daniel 6:23). The king trembled and said, "he is the living God…He delivereth and rescueth, and he worketh signs and wonders in heaven and in earth, who hath delivered Daniel from the power of the lions" (Daniel 6:26-27). Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were thrown into a furnace of fire, but God delivered them, so that King Nebuchadnezzar cried out, "God…hath sent his angel, and delivered his servants that trusted in him" (Daniel 3:28). No wonder David said, "yet have I not seen the righteous forsaken" (Psalm 37:25). But now the very Son of God cries out,

"My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?"
     (Matthew 27:46).

There is no answer from Heaven. There is no deliverance from affliction, as there was with Joseph, no deliverance from bondage, as there was with the Hebrews, no strong east wind to part the sea and save the day, no deliverance from the hand of the king, no salvation from the ocean waves, no miracle to take Christ from the lion's den or the fiery furnace of affliction. David could say, "[I have] not seen the righteous forsaken," but Christ could not say that! He could only cry out,

"My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?"
     (Matthew 27:46).

These are therefore words of mystery. As Charles Wesley put it,

'Tis mystery all, The immortal dies!
   Who can explore His strange design?
In vain the firstborn seraph tries
   To sound the depths of love Divine!
…Amazing love! How can it be
   That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?
("And Can It Be That I Should Gain?" by Charles Wesley, 1707-1788).

II. Second, these are words of great importance.

"My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?"
    (Matthew 27:46).

These words of Christ are of great importance. They are important words because they are absolutely unique. It is true that many good people have been put to death. This has happened thousands of times throughout history. We have seen people on our television screens who were beheaded while they prayed. We have heard many accounts of people blown up by terrorists while they worshipped in their churches. We have seen photographs of people scalded, scarred and massacred for their faith. The Bible gives a long list of martyrdoms, from the murder of Abel to that of Zacharias.

But the death of Christ was unique - one of a kind. Why? Because Jesus was no ordinary man. He was the Son of God. All other martyrs were imperfect, "For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23). Christ was different from all others because He was impeccable, sinless, faultless, stainless, free from all sin. Christ "was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin" (Hebrews 4:15). Christ was the only human being ever born of whom it can be said that He is "holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners" (Hebrews 7:26). Even Christ's judge Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of Judea, said, "I find in him no fault at all" (John 18:38). And God the Father spoke from Heaven, saying, "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased" (Matthew 3:17). It is this one who knew no sin, who pleased God, who was guiltless before man, and who lived a sinless life, who was crucified. His crucifixion was the most remarkable event in human history. Therefore His dying words are of great importance.

"My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?"
    (Matthew 27:46).

Arthur W. Pink said,

He who hung there on the accursed tree had been from all eternity the object of the Father's love…The Father's presence had been His home, the Father's bosom His dwelling place, the Father's glory He had shared before ever the world was. During the thirty and three years the Son had been on earth He enjoyed unbroken communion with the Father. Never a thought that was out of harmony with the Father's mind, never a volition but what originated in the Father's will, never a moment spent out of His conscious presence. What then must it have been to be "forsaken" now by God! Ah, the hiding of God's face from Him was the most bitter ingredient of that cup which the Father had given the Redeemer to drink (Arthur W. Pink, The Seven Sayings of the Saviour From the Cross, Baker Book House, 2000 reprint, p. 65).

"My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?"
    (Matthew 27:46).

III. Third, these are words of unmatched suffering.

The suffering of Christ was absolutely unique, unrivaled, unmatched, incomparable, unparalleled. No human being ever experienced what Christ went through when He said,

"My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?"
    (Matthew 27:46).

He experienced the Father's removal of His felt presence. God cannot look upon sin. When Jesus spoke these words from the Cross, He was our sin-bearer.

"The Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all" (Isaiah 53:6).

"Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree"
    (I Peter 2:24).

God the Father turned away from the Son when the time came for Him to die in our place, as our substitute, to pay for our sins. God the Father turned away into the darkness, as God the Son paid the penalty for sin on the Cross.

Alone, alone, he bore it all alone;
   He gave Himself to save His own;
He suffered, bled and died, alone, alone.
   ("Alone" by Ben H. Price, 1914).

But more than this, He suffered the righteous wrath of God against our sin.

"But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all" (Isaiah 53:5-6).

"Christ Jesus: whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood" (Romans 3:24-25).

Our sins were placed on Christ, and the wrath of God against them came down upon Him as our sin-offering.

"It pleased the Lord to bruise him; he hath put him to grief: when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin"
      (Isaiah 53:10).

God the Father punishing His Son in our place? This is hardly ever heard today. And yet the Scriptures clearly speak of Christ propitiating, appeasing, the wrath of God against your sins. Yes, it should be preached, for

"It pleased the Lord to bruise him; he hath put him to grief: when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin"
      (Isaiah 53:10).

That is propitiation made plain.

"Christ Jesus: whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation"
    (Romans 3:24-25).

The Scofield Study Bible's note on Romans 3:25 is incorrect. It presents the "governmental theory" of the atonement, held by Charles Finney and his "decisionist" disciples. This is, I think, a bad note in this otherwise great study Bible. It is pure Finney rubbish. It says that in the word "propitiation," "There is no thought in propitiation of placating a vengeful God, but of doing right by His holy law and so making it possible for Him righteously to show mercy" (The Scofield Study Bible, note on Romans 3:25). That is Finney's "governmental theory" of the atonement. But that is not what the Bible teaches. The Bible says,

"It pleased the Lord to bruise him; he hath put him to grief: when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin"
      (Isaiah 53:10).

"He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities" (Isaiah 53:5).

Who wounded Him? Who bruised Him? The answer comes in verse ten of Isaiah 53,

"It pleased the Lord to bruise him; he hath put him to grief" (Isaiah 53:10).

Zechariah also prophesied that the Lord would "smite the shepherd," the Son of God (Zechariah 13:7).

God the Father said He would "smite the shepherd." God the Father said He would "bruise him" and "put him to grief." The most oft-quoted verse in the New Testament teaches the same thing. It says that "he gave his only begotten Son" (John 3:16). God "gave" Him over to the hands of His enemies. God "gave" His back to those who scourged Him half to death. God "gave" Him over to the soldiers who nailed Him to the Cross. God "gave" Him to bear the burden of our sins. God gave Him to feel the fulness of Divine wrath against sin. God "bruised" Him and "put him to grief" and "wounded" Him and "smote" Him in that hour of propitiation, when Jesus cried out,

"My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?"
    (Matthew 27:46).

Away with the "governmental theory" of the Pelagian heretic Finney! Expunge it from the Scofield note with black ink! Stand by the old Bible doctrine of our Baptist and Protestant forefathers, the doctrine of the Bible, the doctrine of propitiation! It was God the Father who put Him through this grief, and bruised Him with His wrath!

W. G. T. Shedd, the nineteenth century theologian, untainted by the heresies of Finney, said,

The Son of God was bruised, wounded, and smitten by God the Father, as the officer and agent of divine justice; and the effects of it appear in that extraordinary mental distress which [Christ] exhibited, particularly in the last hours of His earthly life…when God reached forth His hand and darted his immediate rebukes into his very soul and spirit, then he cries out, my God, my God, why [hast thou] forsaken me! The nature of this suffering is inexplicable, because it has no parallel in human consciousness (William G. T. Shedd, Dogmatic Theology, P and R Publishing, 2003 reprint, page 718).

"My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?"
    (Matthew 27:46).

These are words of unique suffering, the suffering of Christ on the Cross, to make atonement for your sins. God

"…spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all"
    (Romans 8:32).

But Arthur W. Pink said that God will not "spare him who rejects the Saviour. Christ was separated from God for three hours, and if you reject Him as your Saviour you will be separated from God for ever" (ibid., pp. 83-84).  Either Christ propitiates God's wrath for your sins, when you are truly converted, or else they must be propitiated by your eternal torment in the flames of Hell.

Come to Christ! Be washed clean from all sin by His precious Blood!

"He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned" (Mark 16:16).

May you sing truly, and with all your heart, the words of the hymn on the last page of your song sheet as we stand together. It is number eighteen on the song sheet. Sing it out with all your heart to Jesus.

I hear Thy welcome voice, That calls me, Lord, to Thee
For cleansing in Thy precious blood That flowed on Calvary.
I am coming, Lord! Coming now to Thee!
Wash me, cleanse me in the blood That flowed on Calvary.
    ("I Am Coming, Lord" by Lewis Hartsough, 1828-1919).

(END OF SERMON)

Scripture Read Before the Sermon by Dr. Kreighton L. Chan: Matthew 27:35-46.
Solo Sung Before the Sermon by Mr. Benjamin Kincaid Griffith:

"Alone" (by Ben H. Price, 1914).

THE OUTLINE OF

ELI, ELI, LAMA SABACHTHANI?

by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

 

"Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" (Matthew 27:46).

I.   These are words of deep mystery, Luke 23:34, 43;
Matthew 26:28; John 19:25-27; Psalm 37:25; Acts 7:9-10, 34; 
Exodus 14:21-22; Hebrews 11:29; Daniel 6:23, 26-27; 3:28.

II.  These are words of great importance, Romans 3:23; 
Hebrews 4:15; Hebrews 7:26; John 18:38; Matthew 3:17.

III. These are words of unmatched suffering, Isaiah 53:6; 
I Peter 2:24; Isaiah 53:5-6; Romans 3:24-25; Isaiah 53:10; 
Zechariah 13:7; John 3:16; Romans 8:32; Mark 16:16.

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at www.rlhymersjr.com. Click on "Sermon Manuscripts."