“Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour. And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, ‘Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?’ that is, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’“ (Matthew 27:45-46)
Jesus was here quoting Psalm 22:1 (I encourage you to read this entire Psalm; written around 1000 years before Jesus was crucified—indeed, written even before crucifixion was in use as a method of capital punishment—it actually is a very accurate description of crucifixion in general and of the circumstances surrounding Jesus’ death in particular.)
Many have wondered and many have tried to explain why Jesus would have cried out as he did; why did he feel forsaken or abandoned by his heavenly Father? Some say he was merely quoting Psalm 22 to show that he was fulfilling the prophecies concerning the Messiah, and there is definitely truth in this. Others believe he was clearly demonstrating his humanity; that though he was fully God, he was also fully human. Again, there is truth in this teaching—but I don’t believe either of these explanations captures the full truth of what was happening on the cross.
I believe we get a full picture of why Jesus felt forsaken when we consider the following three verses:
“The wages of sin is death.” (Romans 6:23)
“For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin.” (2 Corinthians 5:21)
“They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might.” (2 Thessalonians 1:9)
From the beginning of creation, the penalty for sin has been death—spiritual death, defined in 2 Thessalonians 1:9 as separation from God, the author of life.
On the cross, Jesus took upon himself the entire sins of all of humanity; in fact, according to 2 Corinthians 5:21, he actually “became” sin.
God the Father, then, punished sin; poured out his wrath on sin; removed his presence from sin—and hence, from Jesus, His Son, who became sin for us.
Why did Jesus cry out, asking his heavenly Father why he had forsaken him; why he had abandoned him?
Because he had.
As the embodiment of sin, God the Father could no longer be present with his Son; for a short time, for the first time, Jesus experienced separation from God!
Simply put, Jesus took upon himself the separation from God—the Hell!—that you and I deserved.
This is enough to meditate on. Let me close by sharing the following two verses:
“He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree.” (1 Peter 2:24)
“Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh.” (1 Peter 3:18)
Jesus purchased our access to the very presence of God by suffering the shame and pain of separation from the Father he loved. “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:16)