(NAS) Mark 15:34 At the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, “Eloi, eloi, lama sabachthani?” which is translated, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken Me?”
There were two judgments at work upon the cross of Calvary: the judgment of men and the judgment of God. And while it is difficult to separate the one from the other, the two are unmistakably at work. In the Meaning of Sacrifice I mentioned Jesus suffering at the hands of man. After a manipulated trial came the beatings and brutal lashings. Walking the Via Dolorosa were steps of violence. The third to the ninth hour of the day saw man’s judgment with the crucifixion resulting in fatality. Yet, in the midst of being forsaken of all men we read He spoke, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.”
This alone is profound enough to break even the most hardened of hearts. Still, we must add to this lurid nightmare one more anguish—an overwhelming suffering—the judgment of God. This far outstrips in substance any torture man could conjure. It was the weight of God’s judgment that was placed upon Jesus as He was pinned inescapably to the cross by man’s judgment. It was the sins of humanity that held Him captive. You think I’m imagining this? Listen to what Peter says.
NAS 1 Peter 2:24 “…and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross…”
And, I might suggest, we can almost tell the exact hours God’s judgment was actively operational in His body as we read, “When the sixth hour came, darkness fell over the whole land until the ninth hour.” Is it possible God’s judgment reaches climax when He cries at the ninth hour, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken Me?” It was just prior to dying that He uttered these words. When He spoke them He had the capacity of consciousness. He was fully aware of His surroundings. When offered wine mixed with myrrh He refuses it. When thieves on each side of Him argue, He answers one of them. From John’s gospel we know He is aware of His mother’s presence. We also learn just before expiring He said He was thirsty.
But what was the most penetrating of all the things? While enduring man’s judgment on the cross He was aware of God’s judgment taking place simultaneously in His body, soul and spirit: “My God, why have you forsaken Me?” Forsaken of men was manageable, forsaken of God was incomprehensible. What was specifically happening at that cry? Many great theologians have noted that death—spiritual death and God’s judgment is eternal separation from God. They point out that torture and death of the physical body is one thing, but eternal separation—that is true death. And while we know the pain produced upon the body of Jesus was excruciating, the thing that crushed the Son of Man in His humanity, the greatest quandary as a man was the awareness of God forsaking Him.
His plea on the cross was not “stop the physical torture, there’s been a mistake, the pain is too great.” Before He cries, “It is finished” is His question as a man—“My God, why have you forsaken Me?” You and I, we can understand full well why God would forsake us. Since children we have done things in complete violation to God. The Lord has every right to turn His back on us and forsake us! But Jesus is different. As a man He lived a perfect life in complete submission to God. As a man He experienced the power of God, the resource of God and did the will of God. And now, after a sinless life, Jesus as man is the only man who has the right to fellowship with God. Instead, He was forsaken of God and separated by reason of bearing our sins.
That is the true meaning of separation. As a man He endured the separation from God—carrying the judgment of God—that we might have fellowship. Don’t try to figure it out logically how it all works—you can’t. You’ve just got to believe this is what happened and what He did for us. It was our sins that caused God forsaking Him as man. It was for our transgressions that Heaven was silent to Him as a perfect man. He who knew no sin became sin for us that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him.
J. Robert Hanson