The Glory of the Cross
"Eloi, Eloi, Lama Sabachthani"
Compiled from writings of Samuel Zwemer,
August Van Ryn, and J. Oswald Sanders
"I delivered unto you first of all," says the apostle Paul, "that which I
received, that Christ died for our sins" (1 Cor. 15:3). The Greek word
translated "first" can also be rendered "before all," or at the "forefront
of all truth." The death of Christ on the cross is of first importance and is
the weighiest article of the faith. It is fundamental. It is the keystone of
the arch, the cornerstone of the temple of truth. That is evident from the
place the death of Christ occupies in the Scriptures and in the apostolic
message. The evidence is cumulative and overwhelming. The cross is not
merely a univeral symbol of Christianity, it is Scripture's universal and
unmistakeable message. It is the very heart of the gospel. Nothing
convicts of sin like the cross. The cross of Christ is the searchlight of God.
It reveals God's love and man's sin; God's power and man's helplessness;
God's holiness and man's pollution. As the altar and propitation are "first
of all" in the Old Testament, so the cross and atonement are "first of all"
in the New.
Consider the place the account of the crucifixion occupies in the New
Testament. It is mentioned in every book except in three short epistles,
Philemon and the Second and Third of John. The Synoptic gospels
devote more space proportionally to it than to any other aspect of
Christ's life or teaching. Matthew relates the cross of Christ in two long
chapters of one hundred forty-one verses. Mark gives one hundred
nineteen verses contained in two chapters, the longest of the sixteen.
Luke devotes two long chapters to describe the arrest and crucifixion.
Nearly one half of John's gospel deals with the Passion Week.
The Cross and the New Testament
In the Book of Acts, all the preaching centers in the death and
resurrection of our Lord. This is the "Good News." "He showed Himself
alive after His passion" (1:3). The climax of Peter's sermon at Pentecost
was Jesus "delivered up by the determinate counsel and the
foreknowledge of God," crucified and slain "by the hand of lawless
men." "This Jesus whom ye crucified God hath made both Lord and
Christ" (2:36). Again, in the temple, Peter has the same message: "Ye
asked for a murderer...and killed the Prince of Life." Philip opened his
mouth and, from Isaiah 53, he preached the death of Christ to the
Ethiopian eunuch as the good tidings (8:35). Cornelius received the same
message about the One "whom they slew, hanging him on a tree, whom God raised up the third day"(10:40). Paul at Antioch tells of Jesus "who
suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried, and on
the third day rose again from the dead"(13:28-29).
In the epistles of Paul, we are overwhelmed by the wealth of
evidence and abundance of proof that his one message was the Cross.
He had been preaching this good news for fifteen years before any of
the New Testament epistles were written. It is the heart of his message
to the Romans as well as to the Thessalonians. He writes, "Jesus gave
Himself for our sins;" he then warns, "Though we or an angel from
heaven preach a gospel to you contrary to what we have received, let
him be anathema" (Galatians 1:8).
If Jesus of Nazareth were merely a man and not, as He is, the Son
of God and our Savior, His tragic death would still be the greatest event
in human history. The wealth of detail given in the biblical record of His
suffering and crucifixion, the seven words from the cross, the effect on
all who saw it and on all nations and all ages - these all indicate its
universal importance. Of all the Lord's sayings on the cross, His so-called
"orphan's cry" is the most searching and the most profound.
"Eloi, Eloi, Lama Sabachthani"
"Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land
until the ninth hour"(Matthew 27:45). Man had done his worst, and now
he is through. The Son of God is now shut in, in deep darkness, alone
with God as the fearful problem of sin is settled before God. All of man's
awful sin is borne by divine love. And from the darkness comes that
solemn cry: "My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?"(Matt.
27:46). That question did not ring out from our Savior's very soul for
His own sake. He knew He was forsaken of God because God is holy.
His cry had been answered long ago in prophecy, in the twenty-second
Psalm. In that hour of supreme dread, God Himself forsook His only
Son, so that those who trust Him for salvation might never be forsaken
- now or forever. There are three unique features in this cry:
1. "My God" - It is the only time, as far as we know, during His entire
life that the Lord Jesus Christ ever addressed God as "My God." On
earth He always spoke to God as "Father," which was Christ's claim to
deity. When He cried on the cross, "My God," it demonstated Christ's
claim to perfect humanity. Only as Man could He truly be said to have a
"God." On the cross He took my place, man's place, and so addressed
God as "His God," not as "Father." There on Calvary, He took the
guilty sinner's place, and so, was forsaken of God, as He bore our sins in
His own body on the cross.
2. "Why" - It is the only time the Lord ever asked "why" in regard to
Himself. He never needed to ask why, because, as Peter so well said,
"Thou knowest all things." On the cross Jesus asked "Why," not because
He did not know, but that we might never forget why He was forsaken
there. It was because he took our - guilty sinners' - place.
3. "Forsaken" - It is the only time anyone ever has been forsaken of
God this side of eternity. Hereafter, the sinner shall hear those solemn
words: "Depart from Me, ye cursed," but not on this side of the grave.
He was forsaken that we might never be; He died that we might live.
This saying of the Lord on the cross is recorded in both Matthew and
Mark; the same words occur in the opening verse of Psalm twenty-two,
yet neither gospel writer refers to them as a fulfillment of prophecy.
That there is something of singular force and feeling in these words of
Jesus on the cross is evident from the fact that both Matthew and Mark
give us the very words in the language the Lord used while here on
earth. The cry expresses suffering that was never at any other time felt
in this world and never will be again. To the believer, however, this cry
is a revelation of the deep suffering and anguish our Savior bore, and a
proof of His deep love for sinners. It challenges us, with all the saints, to
sound the depths of "what is the length and breadth and height and
depth of the love of God which passes knowledge."
The Answer to our Lord's Question "Why"
Never before in addressing the Father had this word crossed His lips,
nor did it ever again. This experience was unique and unparalleled. We
find in part the answer to this question in the early verses of Psalm 22.
The answer to the "why"in verse one is found in verse three: "But Thou
art holy, O Thou that inhabitest the praises of Israel." He was forsaken
that we might learn from the anguish of His experience the greatness of
our sin that made it necessary, and that we might know how entirely He
took it and bore it away. During the hours of darkness "He who knew
no sin was made sin for us" (2 Cor. 5:21). That was the cause of His
Father's averted face. It was not that God was ever hostiile to His wellbeloved
Son - it was holiness turning away from sin.
The exact time of the uttering of this statement is not absolutely
clear. It is possible that this cry occurred at the close of the three hours of
darkness - if indeed they did not terminate them. The word "hast"
could be appropriately rendered "didst." With the agony of desolation
now past, the Savior looks back at the woe and sorrow of that which He
had experienced. He could redeem us from the curse of the law only by
being "made a curse for us" (Galatians 3:13). This necessarily involved
His being forsaken of God who "hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all"
It was no new experience for the Lord to find Himself forsaken.
His own brothers neither believed in Him nor followed Him. His fellowcitizens
in Nazareth had tried to kill Him. The nation to which He came
would not receive Him. Many of His disciples went back and walked no
more with Him. Judas betrayed Him. Peter denied Him. "They all
forsook Him and fled." In this cry it were as if He was saying, "I can
understand my kinsmen and fellow-citizens and my nation forsaking
Me. I can even understand my own disciples, because of the weakness of
the flesh, forsaking Me. But why didst THOU forsake me? " Up till this
moment, when He was forsaken by men, He had been able to turn to
His Father; but now even that refuge is denied him, and He is absolutely
ALONE. Who can fathom the depths of that anguish?
When an expression is sought to describe a secene of utmost
desolation, it is termed "God-forsaken." The word means the forsaking
of someone in a state of defeat or helplessness, in the midst of hostile
circumstances. Who can assess the content of the word when it is applied
to the Lord? A child forsaken of his parents, a friend forsaken by a
friend in the hour of deepest need-those are poignant enough sorrows. But a man forsaken by his God! And what shall we say of the sinless
Son of Man when He was forsaken by the God with Whom He had
enjoyed eternal fellowship?
It is recorded of the Reformation leader, Martin Luther (1483-
1546), that he once set himself to a study of this profound saying of
the Lord Jesus. For a long time he continued without food, in deepest
meditation, and in one position on his chair. When at length he rose
from his thoughts, he was heard to exclaim with amazement, "God
forsaken of God! Who can understand that?"
For the first time, an eternity of communion had been broken.
The wrath of hell had already broken upon His soul in wave upon
wave, but now it is the wrath of heaven! The Psalmist claimed, "I
have not seen the righteous forsaken" (Ps. 37:25), but the only One
who was truly righteous is now forsaken. Ineffable love made Him
willing to endure even this desolation of His soul for our salvation.
There would be no mystery in God forsaking us, for we
would be receiving only "the due reward of our deeds." But why
should God forsake His Son who "knew no sin," "did no sin," "in
whom was no sin," the Son in whom He testified that He found
perfect delight? There is only one explanation. He was taking my
place - and yours.
While the gospel story was being told to a South African tribe,
the chief listened with great interest. He called for a repetition of the
story of the cross. While the missionary was again preaching, the
chief rushed forward crying, "Hold on! Hold on! Take Jesus down
from the cross - I belong on the cross!" The Lord Jesus Christ was
forsaken that we might be forgiven.
Compiled from: Samuel M. Zwemer, The Glory of the Cross,
(Oliphants: London, GB, 1959); August Van Ryn, Meditations in
Matthew, (Walterick Press, Kansas City, KS, 1995); J. Oswald Sanders,
The Incomparable Christ, (Moody: Chicago, IL, 1971)
"The death of
Christ on the
cross is of first
article of the
faith. It is
is the keystone
of the arch, the
the temple of
Samuel M. Zwemer
"That question did
not ring out from
our Savior's very
soul for His own
sake. He knew He
was forsaken of
God because God
is holy... In that
hour of supreme
His only Son, so
that those who
trust Him for
never be forsaken
-now or forever."
August Van Ryn
Author and preacher
claimed, 'I have
not seen the
37:25), but the
only One who
righteous is now
endure even this
His soul for our
J. Oswald Sanders
from Incomparable Christ, Moody Press
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