Of all the words Jesus spoke from the cross, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me,” had to be the ones of greatest personal anguish.
Why? What makes these words so searing? The key is the word “forsaken.”
We must stop and consider the depth of this anguish and why it is so. In order to do this, we have to draw from the rest of Scripture the reason why this would be so devastating.
The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit have always been. Our minds can’t really grasp this. How can there be no beginning to the Trinity? Yet we know that from everlasting to everlasting, there is God.
Psalm 90:2–Before the mountains were born or You brought forth the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting You are God.
Those words, “everlasting to everlasting,” are used in at least 5 other passages.
Therefore, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit have always been in total communion throughout all eternity past.
We’re also told that Jesus was central to the creation. The first chapter of John makes this clear:
Through Him all things were made, and without Him nothing was made that has been made. … He was in the world, and though the world was made through Him, the world did not recognize Him.
The apostle Paul confirms this as well in the book of Colossians:
For in Him all things were created, things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities. All things were created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.
As if that weren’t enough evidence, the writer of the book of Hebrews tells us:
In these last days He has spoken to us by His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, and through whom He made the universe.
The nature of the Godhead’s relationship is emphasized by Jesus’s own words when He said in John 10, “I and the Father are One.”
He added to that at the Last Supper in reference to His disciples:
That all of them may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I am in You. May they also be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me.
As Jesus continues to pray that concluding prayer at the Last Supper, three times He notes the Father’s love for Him:
That the world may know that You sent Me and have loved them just as You have loved Me. That they may see the glory You gave Me because You loved Me before the foundation of the world. I have made Your name known to them and will continue to make it known, so that the love You have for Me may be in them, and I in them.
Here’s the dilemma in some people’s eyes: If God the Father really loved Jesus, how could He forsake Him at this crucial moment?
Let’s keep in mind what Jesus came to do. What was His mission? Paul spells it out clearly in 2 Corinthians:
God was reconciling the world to Himself in Christ, not counting men’s trespasses against them. God made Him who knew no sin to be a sin offering on our behalf, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.
Jesus was to take our place. We deserved to die. We deserved to be the ones on that cross. And we deserved to go through eternity separated from the presence of God.
When Jesus took on human form, it was so He could identify with humanity in every way. In Hebrews, we’re told:
Now since the children have flesh and blood, He too shared in their humanity, so that by His death He might destroy him who holds the power of death, that is, the devil, and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.
For this reason He had to be made like His brothers in every way. … Because He Himself suffered when He was tempted, He is able to help those who are being tempted.
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who was tempted in every way that we are, yet was without sin.
And then there is that ultimate expression of what Jesus voluntarily gave up to be one of us. We find it in the second chapter of Philippians.
Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, existing in the form of God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross.
He emptied himself and was made like us. He chose to fully identify with us.
So, when Jesus was forsaken as He hung upon the cross, I suggest that the Father turned away from Him for one very significant reason. The ultimate identification with humanity would be to experience separation from God. If Jesus were to be the perfect sacrifice, He would have to experience that separation as well.
When He was forsaken, that was God the Father initiating a separation that had never existed in all eternity. Imagine Jesus, who had never known what it was like to be cut off from God the Father, experiencing that devastation of broken communion—the devastation that each human being—you and I—would experience if sent into eternity alienated forever from the presence of God.
Only by being forsaken could he go all the way as our substitute, as the sacrifice of the spotless Lamb who took our place. It was ultimate anguish such as the universe has never seen.
But let me add on further thought here. While it is right to focus on the anguish Jesus experienced, let’s also understand that this was the first time the Father was separated from Jesus. We rarely think about that. The anguish had to be within Him also. Remember: “I and the Father are One.”
I think of the words of the hymn “How Deep the Father’s Love For Us.” The first two verses deal with this moment of forsakenness.
How deep the Father’s love for us?
How vast beyond all measure?
That He should give His only Son
To make a wretch His treasure
How great the pain of searing loss?
The Father turns His face away
As wounds which mar the Chosen One
Bring many sons to glory
The cross is the manifestation of the Father’s love for us. There was no delight in seeing Jesus suffer. Jesus did that willingly. How great was the pain of searing loss? For both Father and Son, it was unfathomable.
“My God, My God, why have you forsaken Me?”
I hope we will understand this cry of anguish better as we think more deeply about its significance.