From noon until three in the afternoon darkness came over all the land. About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”).
When some of those standing there heard this, they said, “He’s calling Elijah.”
Immediately one of them ran and got a sponge. He filled it with wine vinegar, put it on a staff, and offered it to Jesus to drink. The rest said, “Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to save him.”
And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit.
I imagine we have all felt forsaken at times, but not like Jesus. It hurts when those you love seem to have forgotten you or when people you thought you could trust seem to abandon you in a moment of need. Those are deeply painful violations of what binds us to other people. To be forsaken is to be left for dead. That’s where Jesus was on the cross, but his sorrow went far deeper than any breach of trust we may experience. For Jesus, it was God the Father who looked away as He died. The theological implications of this are profound, as the Trinity seems to have fractured. The Son felt cut off from the Father, a condition never before and never again to be experienced by the Godhead, Three in One. Aside from the shocking theological reality of that moment, Jesus also suffered more grievously than any person ever has. In his humanity, Jesus felt the torment of death physically, emotionally and spiritually.
When Jesus cried out, He was quoting Psalm 22, a prophetic passage that describes a number of the indignities that Jesus endured, including the agony of death on a cross. As hard as it is for us to understand how God could forsake Jesus, it is also remarkable that this was God’s own plan, decided upon long beforehand and prophesied about in the Old Testament. God turned away from Jesus on the cross, not because He couldn’t bear to watch or because He felt defeated by the forces that nailed his Son there. No, God looked away because Jesus had taken our sin on himself, allowing the curse and filth of our transgressions to cover his holy, righteous body. “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us” (2 Corinthians 5:21), and in that moment, God couldn’t look at or be near his beloved Son.
As we contemplate this terrible scene, we need to remember why Jesus went to the cross and what He accomplished there for us. Jesus chose to die in our place, suffering so we would not have to bear the eternal burden of our sin. He was forsaken so we will never be. The sorrow of the cross is also the promise of God’s perfect, gracious love. How much does He love you? Enough to send his Son to suffer and die, even to be cut off from the Father’s presence. Jesus took all that pain on himself for you, me and everyone who will put their trust in him. Jesus was forsaken and He died, but we know that’s not the end of the story…
Father, I struggle to understand how You could love me this much. Thank You for sending Jesus to be my Savior. Thank You for grace, forgiveness and salvation. I rejoice in Your love and commit my heart to follow Jesus today and forever. Amen.
Pastor Mike Mirakian