“And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”
Three words of the Saviour on the cross had already been uttered, and the third only a moment or two before the sun had reached its zenith.
At noon, which was the sixth hour, when the sun normally would be shining in its glory, unexpectedly for the multitude that surrounded the cross a mysterious darkness suddenly descended upon the earth. An unusual and supernatural phenomenon, not to be explained by natural causes! Symbol of the judgment of God, through which the world was to pass, but also the Son of Man, the redeemer of His people!
A darkness it was which must have struck terror into the hearts of the onlookers, accompanied as it was with a terrific, earthquake which rent the veil of the temple in twain from top to bottom, and opened the graves of many. A darkness it was which suddenly brought to an end the service in the temple, and hushed the mockers at Calvary into amazement.
For three hours, from the sixth to the ninth hour, the darkness prevailed, during which time also the Saviour hangs silently on the cross!
And who can tell of the thoughts and agonies that troubled His soul, and pounded in that feverish body, as He hangs suspended between earth and heaven? God is pleased not to tell us what thoughts dwelt in His soul, and what awful sufferings He endured. And therefore we shall have to pass over these hours in a silence of reverent awe.
It is only at the very end of this period of judgment that we hear the cry that indicates the agony He bore. An out-cry that seems to rise as it were out of the very abyss of hell! “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”
It is the cry of the forsaken One!
Gradually during the hours of darkness He had been sinking under the awful weight of divine judgment. And at the moment of the awful antithesis when Light’s darkness, Love’s wrath, and Mercy’s justice meet, then it is that you hear the piercing cry, which constitutes the fourth word of the cross.
My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?
Could He, Who is the very Son of God, Who is eternally in the bosom of the Father, be forsaken?
O, indeed, we understand that He is the divine Son in human nature, Who utters this cry! He is the Infinite in personal union with the finite, the eternal Son in intimate connection with the temporal. And we understand, too, that this is the hour of His deepest humiliation, when He suffers His blessed body to be nailed to the cross; and, hanging on that accursed tree, He gives His life for all those whom the Father had given Him. But even so, is He not the eternal Son of God that descended from heaven, while He is still in heaven, that went out from the Father, yet is still with the Father? Is He not Immanuel, God incarnated, in Whom the union of God and man can never be broken?
Moreover, is it not also true that He is the obedient Servant in whom God always finds His good pleasure? We remember, do we not, how that only a short time before this hour He had the testimony of this when He was on the Mount of Transfiguration, when He was glorified in the presence of Moses and Elias, and before the eyes of His favorite disciples? Did not the Father exclaim on that occasion: This is My beloved Son? Was it not a testimony which strengthened Him to go down from that mountain and to descend into the valley of suffering and humiliation? Is it not true that He always gave evidence that it was His meat and drink to do the will of Him Who sent Him? That though He feared, He never murmured, though He dreaded the hour He never rebelled, though He had prayed that the cup might pass from Him, He was always submissive to the will of Him Who had given Him that cup to drink?
Is He then, in this supreme moment of conflict, not the beloved Servant of God’s good pleasure? Can God forsake Himself? Or the Father forsake the Son? How could it be possible that Jehovah God should forsake His Servant, leave Him in utter desolation, and that, too, at the very moment of His most perfect obedience, and supreme sacrifice?
Strange question, indeed!
And why does He raise the question?
Does He not know?
Listen to Him cry out: Why hast Thou forsaken Me?
And the meaning of that “why?” is: for what reason? because of what? What is the ground of my being so utterly forsaken?
Does He perhaps forget the why of this dreadful hour? But how could that be, when you remember how that all along He had spoken of this very hour? Constantly He had reminded His disciples of the nearness of the hour. And even for this hour He had prayed.
And how is it to be explained that while He senses that he has been utterly forsaken by His God, that He still addresses Him: My God, my God?
The answer to all these questions lies bound up in the fact that this hour of darkness is at the same time the hour of redemption!
In such an hour, and especially in its darkest moment, it is the meeting time, the confrontation of the most astonishing truths, of God forsaken of God, of the obedient Servant suffering God’s displeasure, of calling upon God, while being utterly forsaken of Him.
It is the redeeming hour!
When the most abundant mercy executes righteous judgment, when the most unfathomable love pours out vials of holy wrath, when the most absolutely Innocent suffers the most dreadful, just punishment. When He Who knew no sin, is made sin.
Forsaken of God!
Let us understand it well. This cannot mean that the one forsaken no longer has the consciousness that God is, and that he is not near to him and surrounds him on every side. Even one who descends into hell cannot escape His presence. Fact of the matter is, hell is precisely hell because God is there. Also on Golgotha God is present, sustaining the cross and its Sufferer. He is present in the darkness.
But to be forsaken means to lose the consciousness of His friendship! In His friendship there is life and joy and pleasures forevermore. Such joy and fellowship the Saviour had heretofore always experienced. But in the intense darkness Jehovah now hides His face and withdraws His fellowship from Him. It is the darkness of the judgment hour! In it God concentrates the presence of His offended holiness, and of His avenging justice, His righteousness and truth upon that cross and its victim. And withdrawing from the consciousness of His Servant all His favor, and the joy of His fellowship, He causes Him to feel the terror of His justice; as He, the Son of God in the flesh, alone could feel it. It is the anguish of one that stands face to face with the living God as Judge of sinful man. It is the suffering of one upon whom all the vials of God’s holy wrath are poured out. He is forsaken, plunged into the horror of one who is cast away in God’s holy and righteous anger. The cross and its Sufferer are, as it were, plunged into the blackness of hell!
Yet, conscious that God is His God!
In all the desolation, He is still God’s Son!
Conscious He is that the Father loves Him. Never did the Son lose sight of that divine relationship, the only comforting assurance He had as He entered this darkest hour. And always that Son responds to that love of the Father. My God, my God, Thou knowest that I love Thee!
Conscious is He also that He is the Father’s obedient Son! While He is the Son lying in the bosom of the Father, He is also the Son in human nature, doing the Father’s will. He suffers not because He was disobedient, but because He is obedient, even unto death. His suffering He knows is not for His own sin, of which He had none; but for the sin of His people. His most amazing passion is an act of sacrifice, a deed of loving obedience.
He suffers as Mediator!
The place of His brethren He took in the hour of God’s judgment! The chastisement of our peace was upon Him. And God laid on Him the iniquities of us all. Willingly and obediently He bore it to the bitter end.
Hence, the apparent conflict! The hour of the most perfect obedience is the moment of deepest gloom. Though forsaken, yet calling upon His God!
And there is an answer to that question which was wrung out of Him as He hung midst the stream of Jehovah’s wrath!
You ask, My Son, why thou hast been forsaken of Me?
Why, My Son, dost Thou cry so loudly for an answer?
Dost Thou not remember, My Son, that when Thou wast sent into the world it was with the express purpose to save My people whom I have given unto Thee from the wrath to come? Didst Thou, as Thou didst bear the torments of hell in their stead, become so amazed at the terror of My holy wrath over against their sin, that Thou didst lose out of sight that nothing less than Thy death could harmonize justice and mercy? Hast Thou forgotten as the pains of hell gat hold upon Thee, that Thy people could never endure My wrath over against their sin, so as to bear it away? And that Thou alone couldst endure the judgment, while at the same time fulfilling the mandate of My holy law?
Such, indeed, must have been the answer to the cry of the forsaken One! Though no answer could be heard, nor no audible reply was given, God surely heard the outcry, and satisfied the quest of His Son. The evidence must be seen in the succeeding words of the cross: “After this, Jesus knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the scripture might be fulfilled, saith, I thirst . . . When Jesus therefore had received the vinegar, he said, It is finished . . . And when He had cried with a loud voice, he said, Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit: and having said thus, he gave up the ghost.” None of this could or would He have said, had He not received the satisfying answer to His out-cry. When He is assured that He has finished the work the Father had given Him to do, only then can He commend His spirit to Him Who gave it.
And all we can say after meditating on all this, is —
My God, my God, how unfathomable is Thy everlasting love over Thy people!
And, my Saviour, how wonderful Thou art!