Eli, Eli
Based on Series of Sermons on the Repetition of Name and Titles
Preached in PCC Worship Service, 19 Jan 2014
Part 1 of 3


In this article and in the next two, we continue with our study of repeated names and titles in the Bible by considering the account of the sufferings of Christ upon the cross.

Our text is Matthew 27:46, which reads, “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?”

The four gospels record for us a total of seven sayings of Christ from the cross. This verse contains the fourth. Of these seven, the fourth saying is the only one that is found in more than one gospel. Both Matthew and Mark record it.

I’ll like us to see three things from our text. First, what it does not mean, second what it does mean and third, what it means for us.

But before we look at the words of the text itself, let’s briefly review its context.

Context

Pontius Pilate, the Roman Governor of Judea, had tried, on a number of occasions, to set Jesus free. He was convinced that Jesus was innocent of both the charge of treason and the charge of blasphemy. But the Jewish religious leaders and crowd kept on pressurizing him until he gave in to their demands. Pilate’s loyalty to Caesar was being called into question by them and a big riot was threatening to break out in Jerusalem during that very busy festive period. Pilate’s career in the Roman Empire was at stake.   

And so he gave up trying to free Jesus and gave in to the demands of the crowd. But before he handled Jesus over to be crucified, he took water and washed his hands before the multitude and said, “I am innocent of the blood of this just person.”

Now the practice of washing one’s hands as a symbol of one’s innocence was not a Roman custom, but rather a Jewish one. For example in Deuteronomy 21:6-7, we read, “And all the elders of that city, that are next unto the slain man, shall wash their hands over the heifer that is beheaded in the valley: And they shall answer and say, Our hands have not shed this blood, neither have our eyes seen it.”

Pilate used a Jewish custom so that the Jews would clearly see and understand that he did not want anything to do with the death of Jesus. The Jews understood this and they said, “His blood be on us, and on our children.”

Jesus was then flogged by the soldiers. Remember that earlier during his trial, He had already been flogged. But now, He is flogged again and most likely, this second round was much more severe and cruel.

After that, Jesus was taken into the Praetorium, which was Pilate’s headquarters, and there, a whole company of soldiers perhaps over a hundred men awaited Him. They stripped Him and put a scarlet robe on him and then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on his head. They put a staff in his hand and knelt in front of Him and mocked Him. They spit on Him and took the staff from His hand and struck Him on the head repeatedly. Finally, they took off the robe and put his own clothes on and led him away for crucifixion.

When they arrived at Golgotha or Calvary, they offered Jesus wine mixed with gall, which was a bitter herb, but after tasting it, He refused to drink it. The reason he refused it was so that He might keep His senses undulled or intact as He endured the full sufferings of the cross. Jesus was then crucified. According to Mark, it was the third hour or 9am. The soldiers divided up his garments and cast lots to decide who would get what, and then they sat down to keep watch over him.

Crucifixions in those days were always carried out publicly as a warning to others. Jesus was crucified outside the city gate, where many people passed by. Verse 39 tells us that those who passed by hurled insults at Him, shaking their heads and saying, “thou that destroyest the temple, and buildest it in three days, save thyself. If thou be the Son of God, come down from the cross.”

In the same way, the chief priests and scribes and elders mocked Him saying, “He saved others; himself he cannot save. If he be the King of Israel, let him now come down from the cross, and we will believe him. He trusted in God; let him deliver him now, if he will have him: for he said, I am the Son of God.” The robbers who were crucified with him also joined in the abuse and insult. 

Next, Matthew tells us that from the sixth hour, which is 12 noon, until the ninth hour or 3pm, there came a darkness over all the land. This was a supernatural darkness. Midday suddenly became as dark as midnight. Now this was not a natural eclipse of the sun since the Passover was observed at a time of the month when solar eclipses do not occur.

This supernatural physical darkness that came upon the land pointed to a deeper and more profound and indeed more fearsome spiritual darkness that came upon the soul of Jesus for three hours. It was the deep darkness of God’s fierce wrath against sin.

Then after bearing the full brunt of that wrath and after experiencing the very essence of hell all by Himself without His Father’s comfortable presence, the Lord Jesus cries out in great anguish the words of our text, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”

This statement represents the lowest and most awful point of His humiliation and sufferings on the cross. It is the most extreme kind of suffering ever experienced in all of human history. But what does our Lord’s statement actually mean and what are some of its implications?

Now right from the very outset, we must recognize and admit that there is deep and profound mystery in our Lord’s words and we will never fully understand it. One commentator says of these words that they are “Some of the most profoundly mysterious words in the entire Bible.” Another writer wrote, “How much rather would I lie prostrate on my face in silence before this awful incident, than write or speak upon it!” And then he said, “You know what happened to Luther, when he plunged himself in profound meditation on this most enigmatical and affecting part of the whole of our Saviour’s sufferings. He continued for a long time without food, and sat wide awake but as motionless as a corpse, in the same position, on his chair. And when at length he rose up from the depth of his cognition, as from the shaft of a mysterious mine, he broke into a cry of amazement, and exclaimed, ‘God forsaken of God! Who can understand it?”

Before we try to understand even just a little of what our Lord’s statement means, I think it might be helpful to consider briefly what His statement does not mean:

What it does not mean

We can say at least four things that this statement does not mean.

First, it does not mean that Jesus in any way diminished in His deity. In other words, He did not cease to be fully God even as He hung on the cross and went through those three hours of total darkness.

Jesus is the eternal Word of God. He is from everlasting to everlasting. In Revelation 1:8, He says, “I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending, saith the Lord, which is, and which was, and which is to come, the Almighty.” Jesus is eternal and He is unchangeable in His divine being and attributes. If Jesus ceased to be fully divine for even one moment or if His deity was diminished in any way on the cross, then He cannot truly be God. But that is not so for He was and is and always will be God almighty.  

The second thing that this verse does not mean is that His human nature was somehow divided or separated from His divine nature during those three hours. The union of His two natures was never and can never be broken. Once the Son of God assumed or took on human nature, He never parted with it. Romans 9:5b says, “as concerning the flesh Christ came, who is over all, God blessed for ever. Amen.”

Jesus Christ is God in human flesh and He will remain so for ever. This means that even on the cross, the two natures were not separated or divided, not even temporarily. Christ suffered throughout as the God-man.

Third, this verse does not in any way destroy or split up the Trinity. We do not have a duality or a bi-nity for a season as if the Godhead was reduced to the Father and the Holy Spirit with the Son taken out for a while. 

Remember that the living and true God is a Triune God. He does not exist apart from His Trinitarian nature. To remove one person from the Triune Godhead would mean that the true God would cease to exist. The theologian Robert Reymond writes, “we confess the existence of the one living and true God who eternally exists as the one God in Trinity and as Trinity in Unity.”   

 Fourth, this verse does not disavow or deny or destroy the mission of Jesus. Both the Father and the Son from all eternity knew and indeed decreed that the Son would someday come into this world to be the Lamb of God, to suffer and to die for His people.

Acts 15:18 says, “Known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world.” And again, Revelation 13:8 speaks of the lamb that was slain from the foundation of the world.

What took place on the cross did not take either the Father or the Son by surprise. His cry, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me” does not in any way mean that the mission of Christ had somehow failed.

Indeed there are some people who interpret it that way. They say that Jesus of Nazareth was mistaken about His true identity. He thought that He was the Messiah but when things didn’t quite work out as He hoped and He was eventually crucified on the cross, He finally realised that His mission had failed and that God had failed Him for the last time and so He cried out in utter despair and disappointment and disillusionment those words of our text.

But that is not the case. Jesus knew all along that this abandonment on the cross would take place, which explains His great agony in the Garden of Gethsemane.

And so the words of our text do not mean at least these four things. They do not mean that Jesus ceased to be God or that His human and divine nature were separated or that the Trinity was split up or that Jesus’ mission had failed. 

In our next article, we will consider five things that this text does mean….

…to be continued, next Issue

—Linus Chua