Today’s reading: Mark 15-16.
“Did God abandon Jesus on the cross?”
At the sixth hour darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour. And at the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, ” “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani? ” “–which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” When some of those standing near heard this, they said, “Listen, he’s calling Elijah.” One man ran, filled a sponge with wine vinegar, put it on a stick, and offered it to Jesus to drink. “Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to take him down,” he said. With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last. Mark 15:33-37
Jesus hung near death after hours of torture. Jeering crowds looked on. Unnatural darkness covered the land. With some of his last breaths he cried out loudly, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Was he declaring the reality of his suffering or compelling the crowds to compare his death to an Old Testament prophecy?
The Agony and the Victory (with thanks to David Guzik)
Psalms 22, 23, and 24 form a Messianic trilogy of psalms that would have been familiar to the Jews of Jesus’ day. In crying out the first line of Psalm 22 he was saying something as familiar to the crowds as “the LORD is my shepherd.” He was telling his followers to keep the faith as God’s plan worked out through his suffering. He was giving the unbelievers one last chance to see him as their Messiah. He was living out the agony of Psalm 22 before their eyes:
- All those who see Me ridicule Me; they shoot out the lip, they shake the head
- My strength is dried up like a potsherd, and My tongue clings to My jaws; You have brought Me to the dust of death
- For dogs have surrounded Me; the congregation of the wicked has enclosed Me. They pierced My hands and My feet
- They look and stare at Me. They divide My garments among them, and for My clothing they cast lots
But he was also declaring victory through his suffering on the cross. He was calling out to God for help (Deliver my life from the sword, my precious life from the power of the dogs). God would deliver him – not by freeing him from the cross but by raising him from the dead. He would live again to praise the Father ( I will [in the future] declare your name to the brothers; in the congregation I will praise you) and the kingdom of God was still coming on the earth (All the ends of the earth will remember and will turn to the Lord, and all the families of the nations will bow down before him, for dominion belongs to the Lord and he rules over the nations).
Commentators disagree over the relationship between Jesus and his Father as he died on the cross. Some see the weight of sin he bore for us and accept that God turned away from his son because of that mortal stain. Others focus on the Savior’s perfection, his faithfulness to his Father’s plan, and see no way that God would even briefly abandon his son.
Here are some verses that explain how sin may have temporarily separated Jesus and the Father:
- God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God. 2 Cor. 5:21
- Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree” Gal 3:13
- Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise Him. Isaiah 53:10
In contrast the psalm that Jesus quoted includes the following promise:
For he has not despised or disdained the suffering of the afflicted one; he has not hidden his face from him but has listened to his cry for help. Psalm 22:24
And from the same chapter of 2 Corinthians as the verse which said that Jesus became sin for us:
God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself. 2 Cor. 5:19
In our humanity we long to see these questions settled in black or white, either this way or that. In God’s economy they are sometimes a mystery, sometimes both this and that. I believe this question will have to remain one of those mysteries. It’s no mystery that Jesus was calling the witnesses at his crucifixion to remember Psalm 22. He wanted them to see that he was that forsaken one, but that he was forsaken for God as much or more than he was forsaken by him. Jesus’ last words, “it is finished,” are also a reflection of the last words of Psalm 22, “it is done.”
To put it succinctly, in Psalm 22 we see the cross, in Psalm 23 the crook (the Shepherd’s crook), and in Psalm 24 the crown (the King’s crown). In Psalm 22 Christ is the Savior; in Psalm 23 He is the Satisfier; in Psalm 24 He is the Sovereign. In Psalm 22 He is the foundation; in Psalm 23 He is the manifestation; in Psalm 24 He is the expectation. In Psalm 22 He dies; in Psalm 23 He is living; in Psalm 24 He is coming. Psalm 22 speaks of the past; Psalm 23 speaks of the present; and Psalm 24 speaks of the future. In Psalm 22 He gives His life for the sheep; in Psalm 23 He gives His love to the sheep; in Psalm 24 He gives us light when He shall appear. What a wonderful picture we have of Christ in these three psalms! – J. Vernon McGee
If ever, from now on, in our lives we should think that God has deserted us, let us learn from our Lord’s example how to behave ourselves. If God has left you, do not shut up your Bible—no, open it as your Lord did—and find a text that will suit you. If God has left you, or you think so, do not give up prayer! No, pray as your Lord did and be more earnest than ever. If you think God has forsaken you, do not give up your faith in Him, but, like your Lord, cry, “My God, my God,” again and again! – Charles Spurgeon
Image by Leo Reynolds on Flickr, CC by-nc-sa 2.0