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WHY DID HE SAY THAT?

By Lucien LeSage

“And about the ninth hour 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). Why did Jesus say this on the cross?

The word “forsaken” according to the Greek dictionary means to leave behind or abandon.

So was our Lord confused?

Was he wrong about what he said? And notice he “cried out with a loud voice,” so he was very serious in what he said.

Now, if God did forsake him then why? In Proverbs, concerning Jesus, we read, "Then I was by him, as one brought up with him: and I was daily his delight, rejoicing always before him" (Proverbs 8:30). In fact, as the eternal Son, there was never a time that he and his Father had ever been separated. From all eternity he had been the object of the Father’s love. A short time before this scene at the beginning of Christ’s ministry we hear the Father say, "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased." So why would his Father now abandon and forsake him? What could possibly be the reason?

Did Christ Jesus sin? Did he in some way slip up? Could the Pharisees have been right when they condemned him as a blasphemer? A thousand times NO!

We read in the New Testament that Jesus’ coming into this world and his actions while here on earth were all prophesied in the writings of the prophets. But they were also foretold in the law of Moses and in the Psalms.

“And he said unto them, These are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me (Luke 24:44).

So we must turn to the Psalms to find the answer to this perplexing saying of Christ. Now these very same words that Christ spoke on the cross are recorded in Psalm 22. “To the chief Musician upon Aijeleth Shahar, A Psalm of David. My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? why art thou so far from helping me, and from the words of my roaring? O my God, I cry in the daytime, but thou hearest not; and in the night season, and am not silent. But thou art holy, O thou that inhabitest the praises of Israel. Our fathers trusted in thee: they trusted, and thou didst deliver them. They cried unto thee, and were delivered: they trusted in thee, and were not confounded. But I am a worm, and no man; a reproach of men, and despised of the people.” (Psalm 22:1-6). We know this speaks of Christ on the cross because this Psalm goes on to say the following in verses 14 through 18. “I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint: my heart is like wax; it is melted in the midst of my bowels. My strength is dried up like a potsherd; and my tongue cleaveth to my jaws; and thou hast brought me into the dust of death. For dogs have compassed me: the assembly of the wicked have inclosed me: they pierced my hands and my feet. I may tell all my bones: they look and stare upon me. They part my garments among them, and cast lots upon my vesture.” Now compare verse 18 of Psalm 22 with this verse in the New Testament: “And they crucified him, and parted his garments, casting lots: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, They parted my garments among them, and upon my vesture did they cast lots.” (Matthew 27:35).

So back in Psalm 22 after we read “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me”, we find the answer as to why in verse 3 and verse 6. "But thou art HOLY" and "but I am a WORM". We read in the Old testament concerning God's holiness, “Thou art of purer eyes than to behold evil, and canst not look on iniquity:…” (Habakkuk 1:13). The holiness of God is His greatest attribute. All of God’s other attributes are adorned in His holiness. It has been said that it is the attribute of attributes. His power is a holy power. His wrath is a holy wrath and every other attribute of His is adorned in holiness. He is so holy that Isaiah declared “Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts.” One of the seraphims "cried unto another, and said, Holy, holy, holy, is the LORD of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory". When Moses wanted to see the Lord’s glory, the Lord told him “Thou canst not see my face: for there shall no man see me, and live”.

To get a fuller answer we must look at verse 6 of Psalm 22 where we read “But I am a worm”. That word “worm” is an interesting Hebrew word. It was translated “scarlet” 34 times, “worm” 8 times and “crimson” once. Strong’s says, “the crimson-grub”. In antiquity the crimson worm was used to obtain the dye that we normally associate with the word “crimson”. As the Bible says "red like crimson". To quote a Bible dictionary on this worm: “When the female of the scarlet worm species was ready to give birth to her young, she would attach her body to the trunk of a tree, fixing herself so firmly and permanently that she would never leave again. The eggs deposited beneath her body were thus protected until the larvae were hatched and able to enter their own life cycle. As the mother died, the crimson fluid stained her body and the surrounding wood. From the dead bodies of such female scarlet worms, the commercial scarlet dyes of antiquity were extracted.” When I read that description I cannot but think of the blood that the Lord Jesus shed on the cross that his people might have life everlasting. Then in Isaiah I see that sin is also associated with scarlet.  “Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.” (Isaiah 1:18). The word for “crimson” is the same as the word for “worm” in Psalm 22 verse 6. And the word “scarlet” is also associated with this same Hebrew word. So sin is as the scarlet worm. They are red like the crimson worm. "I am but a worm"; the crimson worm.

So, back to our question. Why did Jesus say these words? Truly, he was not mistaken. His intense suffering had not affected his mind. He was not confused or delirious, for the Father did indeed forsake him. The Father had to. Understanding why is all important to understanding the gospel. Herein lies the doctrine of substitution and imputation. Herein lies the very doctrine of salvation by grace. If we cannot understand the answer to this all important question, then we cannot properly understand the gospel. You see, God forsook His only begotten Son that He might not forsake me. He forsook him so that he could have mercy on those for whom the Son substituted and yet be just in doing it. Here we have mercy and justice meeting together. As the Psalmist said, “Mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other.” (Psalm 85:10). That happened in the person of Jesus the Christ. So we have in type with the scarlet worm the Lord being made sin. Paul makes it very clear when he says, “For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him” (2 Corinthians 5:21). God cannot look upon iniquity and His Son was made to be sin. Here we have the sins of all who will ever believe imputed to Christ so that his elect might be made the righteousness of God. But it is in Him, that is His Son, that we are made righteous. Again Paul says, “Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree:” (Galatians 3:13). He was made a curse and the Father forsook him for a brief time. Peter speaks of him bearing our sins when he wrote, "Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree..." (1 Peter 2:24). And again Peter writes, "For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit" (1 Peter 3:18).

To every believer who by faith is trusting in the substitutionary work of Jesus Christ, I can with confidence say that Jesus took your sins out of the way and nailed them to His cross. Paul tells us so when he said, “Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross;” (Colossians 2:14).

So why did Jesus say, “My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me?” It was for His people’s sake. It was because he took my sins and nailed them to his cross and I bare them no more. This is my peace. My peace is in Him and not my works. The writer of Hebrews says, "having made peace through the blood of his cross." Christ’s saying speaks of the absolute holiness of God and the awfulness of sin for the wages of sin is death, spiritual death. It speaks of the vast chasm between the eternally lost and the eternally saved. Sin is so serious and God is so holy that the man or woman who dies in their sins will never be able to offset the debt of sin. After a billion years it goes on and on and on. To think that the Son of God was able to satisfy that awful debt for His people is mind boggling. Even during that moment of being forsaken by the Father he still cried, "MY God, MY God." Even while forsaken he was still the impeccable Son of God who knew no sin. When we are in the presence of the Lord for one billion years we will have no less days to be with our Lord than when we first begun. It speaks of the difference between eternal horror and eternal bliss; between eternal death and eternal life.

“My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me” when spoken by the Son of God are the words of substitution by way of imputation. The Lord Jesus substituting for a people which is the heart of the gospel of salvation. Only the sinless eternal Son of God could speak such true and just words as he was securing eternal life for his children. When spoken by Christ they are the words of substitution.

May God bless.


Grace Bible Baptist Church
26080 Wax Road
Denham Springs, LA 70726

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