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He was Forsaken

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Matthew 27.46 - About the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” that is, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”

Mark 15:34 - At the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?” which is translated, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?

Our Experience Vs Jesus' Experience

We are all in the ebb and flow of life. Especially when our life hits rock bottom, we may despair of life and even feel abandoned by God. It seems like we may never come back from that bottom. The Psalmists in the Bible also experienced such lowest points in their lives. Look at how one Psalmist expressed his agony, “My eye has wasted away because of affliction; I have called upon You every day, O LORD; I have spread out my hands to You” (Psalm 88:9). He goes on to say, “O LORD, why do You reject my soul? Why do You hide Your face from me?” (Psalm 88:14). I believe this is a common human experience. Even Jesus, while on this earth, was in the lowest spirits at one point. He cried, "My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?" (Matthew 27:46). Was Jesus' experience similar to ours? Did the Heavenly Father abandon him?

The experience of the deep agony of Jesus is unseen on the cross. But the question of Jesus on the cross expresses his deep agony. It is a quotation from Psalm 22:1. The Psalm was the experience of David. The last part of verse 1 shows that he is in deep agony. Verses 11-13 of Psalm 22 show us that spiteful men surrounded him. In verses 14-15, he has despaired of life. The words of David express his deep agony. The Psalm contains a good number of parallels to the events that occurred on the Cross of Jesus Christ: abandonment (22:1); Mockery (22:6-7, 16a); piercing of hands and feet (22:16b); dividing garments by casting lots (22:18). But the expression of the Psalmist is only an exaggeration. He feels abandoned by the Lord and feels that the Lord is hidden from Him (22:24). But throughout the Psalm, he still expresses his trust in the care of God.

The Father was executing his justice by punishing his Son because of our sin.

We all can identify with the Psalmist's experience. In our lowest times, in moments of despair, we all can feel abandoned by God. Because God made a covenant with his people and has proclaimed the same (1 Samuel 12:22; Psalm 37:28; Hebrews 13:5), He will not leave his people. David, like all believers, may feel abandoned by the Lord because of adverse circumstances. But in the light of God's covenant with his people, we can confidently say that God will not abandon his people. So, David used a hyperbolic expression, an exaggeration, to express his agony.

Can we say that Jesus exaggerates on the cross out of his deep agony?
If not, why did Jesus quote from the Psalm? We must never forget that the Psalms are divinely inspired; like many others, this is a Messianic Psalm. These Psalms foretell the life, ministry, and sufferings of the Messiah. These are called typological prophecies. King David and his experience of agony is a type of the antitype future Messianic King and his experience. And Jesus must have quoted the Old Testament scripture in a typological sense. Since this is typological, we should not read the experience of David into the experience of Jesus our Lord. There is an element of escalation from type to antitype. Therefore, Jesus did not exaggerate in his cry. Jesus did not cry out of despondency. But his words mirror an authentic experience of abandonment. On the other hand, even King David and we are far removed from the experience of Jesus and cannot fathom the deep agony of our Saviour.

Why did Jesus have to got through that experience?
The gospels tell us that Jesus always pleased the Father (John 4:34; Matthew 17:5), and he never committed any sin; this is the consistent testimony of the scriptures (Isaiah 53:9; cf. 1 Peter 2:22; Hebrews 4:15; Hebrews 7:26). But our Lord Jesus on the cross, he uttered these hurtful words, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” As observed, these words are not an exaggeration but an authentic experience. The Father turned his face away from his beloved Son. Why did Jesus go through this agonizing experience? The Scriptures testify that Jesus bore our iniquities (Isaiah 53:4-6). He, who was God's pleasure, became the object of His wrath on the cross. The Father and Jesus were dealing with the sins of his people on the cross. Jesus became the sin-bearer and suffered for atoning for our sins.

The cross is the sign of God's immense love towards his people who are not worthy of his grace.

On the other hand, the Father was executing his justice by punishing his Son because of our sin. God decreed it in the eternal past. Peter speaking to the gathered Jews on the day of Pentecost, said that even the trial of Jesus and the act of crucifixion by the godless men were according to the predetermined foreknowledge of God (Acts 2:23). On the cross, the Father did not spare his own Son but delivered him up for our sins.

What is this experience of abandonment?
On that Cross, Jesus bore our sins in his body. He suffered in our place and became the object of God's wrath. Our Lord had a foretaste in the garden of Gethsemane of what it is to bear our sins. In that garden, he saw a cup and prayed like this, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will” (Matthew 26:39). Jesus knew what was in the cup, and that is what he experienced on the cross. It was God's righteous judgment upon sin. And on the Cross of Jesus, the wrath of God was let loose and poured out on him. As Isaiah prophesied about the Messiah, “the LORD was pleased To crush Him” (Isaiah 53:10). Jesus, as the bearer of our sins, experienced the Father's displeasure against sin, the ultimate judgment against sin. From all eternity, nothing came in between the fellowship of the three persons of the Trinity. In his humanity, he was enabled to bear our sins on the cross and experience separation from the Father without diminishing his deity. Even in the momentary separation, they were still one in the work of salvation of the elect (John 10:30). But it is unimaginable to think that the eternal Son of God was separated from the Father. And we can never fathom the pain that Jesus went through because of that separation. Craig L. Blomberg says, “Jesus, as the sin-bearing sacrifice, must endure the temporary abandonment of the Father. Separation from God is horrible enough for any creature; when it concerns one who is uniquely the Son of God . . . , it is impossible to assess what this may have meant to Jesus. This is one of the most impenetrable mysteries of the entire Gospel narrative.”1 What troubled our Saviour on the cross was not just our sins, which must have been obnoxious to his holy soul, nor the ghastly crucifixion he endured, but the ultimate judgment of separation from God, and this is the greatest mystery of the cross. Paul describes, "He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him" (2 Corinthians 5:21). To that end, Christ suffered and tasted death for us (Hebrews 2:9).

The cross is the sign of God's immense love towards his people who are not worthy of his grace. God sacrificed his Son for our sins to demonstrate his love on the cross. Sin is appalling, grieves God, and can only attract God's fierce wrath. Jesus, as the sin-bearer, became the object of God's wrath. Thus, his atonement on our behalf satisfied God's justice. He was forsaken temporarily on the cross so that we are brought into God's fold. Therefore, the cross reminds us how immeasurably indebted we are to God forever. May we never take sin or God’s grace lightly.

  1. Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament, Edited by G.K. Beale, D.A. Carson, pg. 100.

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