“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?’)” (Matthew 27:45-46, NIV).
Have you ever felt forsaken? Perhaps you’ve experienced abandonment by a loved one. Or maybe you’ve had a friend who betrayed a trust, some confidence that you had placed with them. Maybe you’ve even felt a time or two like God has forsaken you.
Jesus experienced each of these things. Pilate, an elected official, literally “washed his hands” of Jesus’ case before him. Judas a betrayer, sealed Jesus’ fate with an ill-intentioned kiss. Peter, one of Jesus’ closest friends, denied ever knowing Jesus, not once, not twice, but three times. Each of Jesus’ disciples abandoned him when things got really tough. And hanging to a Roman cross, barely hanging on to life, Jesus felt the most bitter form of rejection, that of his Heavenly Father.
But did the Father really turn his back on his Son during Jesus’ most excruciatingly painful moments? Do Jesus’ words, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’… ” (Matthew 27:46, NIV), suggest that his own Father turned a deaf ear to him? And if so, will God ever forsake us in our time of need?
I’ll answer that final question first, because it is likely the one that garners the most concern and attention. Let me assure everyone that God will never leave any of us, no matter what. We might run away, but God will passionately pursue us. We might reject God, but he will never stop claiming us. We might call God the most hurtful of names, but he will still call us “sons” and “daughters”. As the Apostle Paul states in his writing to the Church at Rome, nothing can “…separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:39, NIV). Believe that!
But, there’s still the question of whether Jesus was forsaken by his Father in his final moments on the cross. Some will say that God the Father had to turn away from Jesus, because in those moments, Jesus became sin incarnate. They might point to the words of Paul, that “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us…” (2 Corinthians 5:21, NIV), and further conclude that Jesus took the sin of the world in his dying flesh and, at seeing this, Jesus’ Father was appalled. That’s one way to look at Jesus’ words, but I think there’s another.
Perhaps Jesus was demonstrating his humanity with these final fleeting breaths. Maybe he was simply expressing his pain and his loneliness in these moments. Maybe he was going through what we would go through, and even have gone through, those instances where we too feel distant and isolated from God.
Regardless of how we might view these words of Jesus, I do know this. Jesus dealt with this idea of forsakenness on the cross some two-thousand years ago, so that we will never have to. He was crucified for us that we would stand justified before him. God loves each of us more than we can fathom. And he died for us to make us his own.