Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour. 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?” And some of the bystanders, hearing it, said, “This man is calling Elijah.” 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. But the others said, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to save him.” And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit.
(Matthew 27:45-50 ESV)
Yesterday Jesus cried out from the cross “Eli, Eli, lema sabacthani”. The bystanders thought He was calling Elijah. As we learned a few days ago when we studied the effects of crucifixion on the body, it would be very difficult to breathe while hanging on a cross. As we speak we are exhaling and exhalation on a cross required one to raise himself up through excruciating pain, making speech difficult and rare.
But Jesus did speak while on the cross and He did so, understandably, in short phrases. Those who heard Him misunderstood what He said. This is not unusual when it comes to Jesus.
Earlier in His life Jesus said “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up again.” He was referring to His own body but the people thought He was speaking of the actual temple in Jerusalem [John 2:19-21]. Right before He raised Lazarus from the dead He told the people there that Lazarus was sleeping; they thought He meant literal sleep [John 11:11-13]
Right up until the end of His life Jesus was misunderstood. In fact, 2,000 years later Jesus is still misunderstood. This is not because the things He said were mysterious or cryptic (although they do require some thought and investigation). Jesus is misunderstood because people aren’t paying close attention to what He says. They think they know what He said. But they don’t. And their resultant misunderstanding causes them to reject Him, just like people did 2,000 years ago.
One example of this is many people mistakenly believe that Jesus came to bring peace on earth. And since they don’t see peace on earth today they conclude that Jesus is a fraud or a myth. But Jesus didn’t come to bring peace; He even told us so [Matthew 10:34]. But one can only know that by studying Jesus’ words instead of relying on mistaken information provided by others.
There is an old, but true, adage in the computer business: garbage in, garbage out (GIGO). When we start with bad information, the only possible result is bad conclusions.
One of those standing near Jesus took a sponge, filled it with sour win and put it on a reed and gave it to Jesus to drink. The person who did this was almost certainly a woman as charitable women often attended to crucifixion victims while they were on the cross to provide some relief to their suffering. Often this was in the form of something to drink. Unfortunately this often only delayed the person’s death and prolonged his agony.
From John’s account of these events we learn that the reed was a hyssop. And while the exact plant in question is not known, we can learn something about crucifixion from this information.
All the candidate plants have stems that are not very long (perhaps 18″ or so). This tells us that crucifixion victims were not very far off the ground since such a short reed could reach the person’s lips.
Rather than being raised high off the ground, the feet of a crucifixion victim were likely just a few inches off the ground.
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