And then starting at noon, the entire land became dark. It was dark for three hours. In the middle of the dark afternoon, Jesus cried in a loud voice.
Jesus:Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani–My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?
Bystanders: He cries out for Elijah (Matthew 27:45-47, the Voice)
The word of the crucified Christ are wrapped in mysteries that defy easy explanations. What does the cry of dereliction mean? How are we to understand Jesus’ abandonment–his God-forsakenness?
One version of these events tells us that the Father in heaven, ever just, cannot stomach sin, His wrath demands satisfaction. When Jesus bore the full weight of our sin, God could not even look at Him. Although this version takes seriously our sin and Christ’s identification with us, it caricatures the Father. Our Father in Heaven is just, but he is not the angry God, that Jesus, the God of love, needs to appease. Rather God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself (2 Cor. 5:19).
Only a few hours earlier Jesus said to his disciple Philip:
Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves. (John 14:9-11, NIV)
Jesus’ death on the cross did not simply appease God, it revealed God. All that Jesus did and said reveals to us the character of the Father. Jesus is the incarnation of God, as much on his cross, as he was in his crib.
We hear Jesus’ cry of abandonment and the intense feeling of alienation from God and know instinctively what he felt. This is the existential reality of we who are sinners. We sin and alienate ourselves from God, from others, from all creation, from ourselves. But this cry, mystery of mysteries, also viscerally demonstrates to us the heart of the Triune God who would experience the dregs of human experience to show us the depths of his Love and effect for us our salvation. That God would feel abandoned for us, shows us the kind of God we have. Mystery of mysteries, this is the God who loved the world so much that he gave his Son so that all who believe would not die, but gain eternal life! This is the God who did not send his Son into the world to condemn it, but save it through him (John 3:16-17)!
The words that Jesus utters comes from the Jewish and Christian prayer book, the Psalms. Psalm 22 in its entirety provides a window into all Jesus suffered for us as well as his ultimate vindication and the victory of Yahweh. Can you fathom the mysteries of God? Can you probe his understanding?
1 My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from saving me,
so far from my cries of anguish?
2 My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer,
by night, but I find no rest.[b]
3 Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One;
you are the one Israel praises.[c]
4 In you our ancestors put their trust;
they trusted and you delivered them.
5 To you they cried out and were saved;
in you they trusted and were not put to shame.
6 But I am a worm and not a man,
scorned by everyone, despised by the people.
7 All who see me mock me;
they hurl insults, shaking their heads.
8 “He trusts in the LORD,” they say,
“let the LORD rescue him.
Let him deliver him,
since he delights in him.”
9 Yet you brought me out of the womb;
you made me trust in you, even at my mother’s breast.
10 From birth I was cast on you;
from my mother’s womb you have been my God.
11 Do not be far from me,
for trouble is near
and there is no one to help.
12 Many bulls surround me;
strong bulls of Bashan encircle me.
13 Roaring lions that tear their prey
open their mouths wide against me.
14 I am poured out like water,
and all my bones are out of joint.
My heart has turned to wax;
it has melted within me.
15 My mouth[d] is dried up like a potsherd,
and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth;
you lay me in the dust of death.
16 Dogs surround me,
a pack of villains encircles me;
they pierce[e] my hands and my feet.
17 All my bones are on display;
people stare and gloat over me.
18 They divide my clothes among them
and cast lots for my garment.
19 But you, LORD, do not be far from me.
You are my strength; come quickly to help me.
20 Deliver me from the sword,
my precious life from the power of the dogs.
21 Rescue me from the mouth of the lions;
save me from the horns of the wild oxen.
22 I will declare your name to my people;
in the assembly I will praise you.
23 You who fear the LORD, praise him!
All you descendants of Jacob, honor him!
Revere him, all you descendants of Israel!
24 For he has not despised or scorned
the suffering of the afflicted one;
he has not hidden his face from him
but has listened to his cry for help.
25 From you comes the theme of my praise in the great assembly;
before those who fear you[f] I will fulfill my vows.
26 The poor will eat and be satisfied;
those who seek the LORD will praise him—
may your hearts live forever!
27 All the ends of the earth
will remember and turn to the LORD,
and all the families of the nations
will bow down before him,
28 for dominion belongs to the LORD
and he rules over the nations.
29 All the rich of the earth will feast and worship;
all who go down to the dust will kneel before him—
those who cannot keep themselves alive.
30 Posterity will serve him;
future generations will be told about the Lord.
31 They will proclaim his righteousness,
declaring to a people yet unborn:
He has done it!