Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour.46 And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” 47 And some of the bystanders, hearing it, said, “This man is calling Elijah.” 48 And one of them at once ran and took a sponge, filled it with sour wine, and put it on a reed and gave it to him to drink. 49 But the others said, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to save him.” 50 And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit. – Matthew 27:45-50
I learned to say it: Ā-lē (long “a” long “e”) lema … Others speak it “Ē-lī (long “e” long “i”. However you pronounce those words, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthaini” are a cry of Jesus’ soul to his heavenly Father. “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” These are the words of one in deep anguish of mind, body, and soul.
Jesus is calling to his God who has, in fact, forsaken him. This is the pit of utter despair and gloom. Jesus had done all things the Father had required of him. His work was nearly finished. But in the face of that, God the Father had forsaken his Son. God turned his back on his beloved Son. God abandoned himself on the cross in Jesus’ hour of deepest need.
I need very little to abandon faith in God’s goodness when I am tested. Or at least I am too easily given to going my own way and making my own path. I’ll take matters into my own hands. This is not the way of true faith. This is the way of self-help, self-determination, and self righteousness. If God isn’t coming to my rescue soon enough or dramatically enough all bets are off. I say this to my shame.
Thankfully Jesus did not do this. He held perfectly to his faith in this darkest of hours. He may have cried out to God in apparent despair: Where are you, my God? Why are you so far off? Don’t you see how they are abusing me? Don’t you see how wrong they are? Don’t you see how I am suffering unjustly? Read the whole of Psalm 22 (from which this quote comes) to get the full measure of Jesus’ lament.
But read carefully. For Jesus says, “My God, my God…” God has abandoned Jesus. For he bore the sins of the world and it was God’s will to crush him and to cause him to suffer (cf. Isaiah 53:10) for our sake and for our sins.
In Jesus’ hour of despair and deep distress – abandoned by God – he does not lose faith. He still trust in God. He still calls him, “My God.” He still calls out to him.
That is perfect faith. This is a faith that fills up what is lacking in our too-quickly-abandoned-trust in God. Jesus kept the faith in his darkest hour. He trusted in God and yearned for his salvation even when God had abandoned him.
If the devil can trick us into trusting in our faith – rather than trusting in our Savior, he has won a great battle. For although we say faith saves us, it does so not because it’s perfect. Faith saves because it is focused on and holds to a perfect Savior. He has perfect faith. Our faith – however weak and weary it may be – lays hold of Jesus’ righteousness and connects us with the One whose perfect faith, innocent suffering and death, holy and righteous life, and resurrection from the grave earned our salvation and secures an eternal and glorious future for all who believe.