Do you know that there is only one time throughout the gospels that Jesus refers to God in first person as God? Every other time He referred to God as Father. Jesus was on the cross when this happened. In pain and carrying the weight of sin and death He cries out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” It was a cry of absolute anguish, one that many have interpreted to mean that somehow Jesus was, if but for a moment, abandoned, left to Himself, even shunned by His Father. I have heard this moment described by many as God turning His back on Jesus.
It baffles the mind to think that an always good and loving Father would do this – leave His Son to carry the weight of sin and death alone, abandoned in His darkest moment?
And I would like to suggest that the Father never turned His back, He never left, or forsook Jesus, He never abandoned, not even for a moment. His love was just as good as it’s always been.
“When you all run away from me and leave me alone, I won’t be alone, because My Father is with me.” (John 16:32) This is what Jesus tells His disciples before going to the cross. That seems pretty clear, the Father wasn’t going anywhere. But if that’s true, what do we do with Jesus anguished cry to God on the cross?
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matt 27:46) This is the pivotal scripture that is used to suggest that somehow God turned His face from His Son.
Did you know this statement from Jesus was an echo of Jesus earthly forefather? Jesus was quoting the poet king, David, from Psalm 22. As Davidic psalms go, Psalm 22 was fairly standard. David wrestled through life’s mountaintops and valleys with the raw authenticity that makes him an Old Testament favorite.
What’s amazing is that in Psalm 22, several verses after “My God, my God why have you forsaken me,” David writes, “He has not despised nor abhorred the affliction of the afflicted; nor has He hidden His face from him; but when he cried to Him for help, He heard.” (Psalm 22:24)
Its not an accident Jesus points us to a scripture that ultimately determines that God doesn’t hide His face, or “turn His back.” In fact, it’s quite the opposite, “but when he cried for help, He heard…”
The Father didn’t turn His back; He was still the always-good Father, even in Jesus darkest moment.
I saw Mel Gibson’s movie The Passion; I was overcome by the physical abuse Jesus sustained. I grew up in church; I was taught how the horror of my sin, every sin from beginning to end, was placed on Jesus at the cross. I have been amazed by His love, that He would go through the physical torment and experience the horror of sin where He had never known sin (2nd Cor 5:21). These were the realities He was facing while praying in the garden of Gethsemane when an angel from heaven appeared to Him and strengthened Him. “And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.” (Luke 22:44)
But there is something I had never seen that has ravaged my heart in these last years.
While the physical pain is a part of the story and can’t be overlooked, I think the greater reason He was in such anguish, the reason He sweat blood, is because He knew He was about to experience something much worse and more terrifying than physical pain. Jesus, for the first time in His life, the first and only time, would be unaware of His Fathers presence.
Think about it, Jesus hadn’t taken a breath without the wonder of His Dads presence. Every thought, every experience, every heartbeat was immersed in a revelation of His Fathers always good love. Jesus lived in the lavish revelation of His Dads presence. Jesus lived in the sureness of His Fathers love; He lived consumed by His Fathers heart. That kind of intimacy is profoundly stunning.
Can you imagine an existence like this? It’s my life’s one ambition and it was Jesus reality.
Can you imagine your very existence being love and then having it ripped away, inaccessible, and replaced by fear, doubt, insecurity, self-loathing, hate and every other by-product of sin?
Jesus is in a garden and He asks His Father if the cup can be removed from Him, “Is there another way Father?” (Paraphrase). And I would like to propose, without belittling the physical sacrifice Jesus made, that the origin of Jesus distress was in the understanding that for the first time ever, He would be separated not from His Father, but from an awareness of His Father.
The Son, who only did what He saw His Father doing, would not be able to see His Dad. The Son, who only did what His Father did, would not be able to feel His Father. The Son, who was in the Father and in whom the Father dwelled, would not be able to know His presence, His love, His goodness. And this was a horror Jesus could hardly bear. But He did bear it, because God is love.
Jesus made Himself as a sin offering, for your sin and mine. He took it all on Himself, past, present, and future. Sin, the lie that separates us from the revelation of our Father, from unhindered access to perfect love, was cloaked over Jesus like a second skin.
God hates sin, it’s true.
But while Jesus became a sin offering, He never stopped being the Son. To suggest that the Father’s disgust for sin somehow caused Him to abandon His Son is to suggest that just this once, sin was bigger than love – it’s ridiculous.
And yet its what I believed most of my life, that for just a moment, the Father had to excuse Himself because mans sin and Satan’s power was just too much for Him to bear; for just a moment, a good Father abandoned His Son.
It’s the exact opposite!
Jesus, cloaked in the horror of sin, a perfect offering on our behalf, is overcome. And in that moment He cried out like David, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me.”
And in that moment the Father stood over His Son, He hadn’t left, abandoned, turned His back, or scorned His Son. He was there. He knew His Son couldn’t know it, couldn’t sense it, couldn’t feel His always-perfect love. But He was there, loving His boy, proud of His Son, sharing His agony, but confident in Love, because God is love.
In the moment Jesus hung between two thieves He couldn’t see, touch, hear, or know His Dad. When Jesus became a sin offering He was cut off from His awareness of His Father. He had never been separated from His awareness of His Father, ever. And in the suffocating anguish of that moment, Jesus echo’s a prayer from His earthly forefather David, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
It’s a horrible moment, a moment where hope hangs in the balance; a moment where eternity holds its breath.
And in the agony of that moment, the Father never turned His back, He never left, His love never soured, His goodness never faltered, His light never darkened.
And then humanity is given the most stunning act of faith that has ever been, “Jesus called out in a loud voice “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” When he had said this, he breathed his last.” (Luke 23:46)
The greatest act of faith that was and will ever be – “I can’t see You, I can’t know You, I can’t touch You, I can’t hear You, but I believe that You are my Father, that You will never leave or forsake me, that You are Love, that Your love is perfect, that You only have goodness and love for me. And “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”
“Father,” Once again, He called Him Father.
Jesus stepped past His feelings, past His circumstances, He pressed through the devastating, very real sense of separation He felt and called Him Father. Jesus believed that His Father was still there. He couldn’t sense His Dads presence but He was still convinced His Dad was there and that His Dads love was greater than what He was feeling. “Into Your hands I commit my Spirit.” That’s faith – pure, true, world changing, life saving faith.
In the moment of absolute horror, “When everyone ran away from Him and left Him alone, He wasn’t alone, because His Father was with Him.” (John 16:32 paraphrase). Jesus stepped past what He was feeling, His last statement revealing that like David, who wrote “nor has He hidden His face from him; but when he cried to Him for help, He heard,” Jesus believed His Dad was there.
The Father never left or abandoned His Son. The Son just lost His awareness of His Dad. He experienced, like David did in his psalm, the feeling of being abandoned, but it wasn’t reality. The truth is “that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them.” (2nd Cor 5:19)
The Christian life is about faith, a faith that believes Gods love is always good, that our Father has never, nor will he ever turn His back on His kids.
This article was excerpted from Jason's new book, Prone To Love
Jason Clark is an author, singer/songwriter, speaker, and pastor. Jason’s passion is to know the love of God more each day. He lives to see a generation step into their identity as sons and daughters of the King and establish His Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. He and his wife, Karen, live in North Carolina with their three children. Jason’s new book Prone To Love is available now.
website: www.jasonclarkis.com twitter: @jasonclarkis