When I was younger I had a problem understanding a major verse of the Bible. The verse that bothered me came when Jesus spoke in Matthew 27:46. He said, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” The provided translations really struck me as odd. In the English Standard Version of the Bible just next to the words the rest of the verse says, “…that is, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’” As a young man I thought the plea was a sign of surrender, giving up and lost hope on the part of Jesus. To me, as a young Christian, I thought many times, why would Jesus say this? It’s almost as if He was expecting God to save Him at the last moment or take Him off the cross?
The Bible goes on to explain that those standing near the cross thought that Jesus was calling out to Elijah (Matthew 27:47). So, it appeared to me that confusion was not only present in my reading, but also in the understanding of the people there that day. At times when I read it, I felt that Jesus had truly expected a different outcome. At the time He was very close to death. The plea seemed to me to be a question to God, a wondering thought, of “Why didn’t You come save me from this death?” As I would learn later when I grew in my Christian walk, the verse and the plea had a much deeper meaning and one that we as Christians should not only cherish, but be thankful that we will never experience.
As Christians, no matter what trials, tribulations, or even potential death we face, we will never face it alone. God is always with us as we are promised in Hebrews 13.5 and several other places we are told that He will never leave us or forsake us. This means that even in the worst of times we will not be alone. The meaning of Jesus’ cry though is that at the moment He was about to die, the time He should have needed God the most, God was not there.
This may be shocking to think that God would turn His back on His own Son, but that is exactly what happened when Jesus cried out. For the first time in Jesus’ life, He felt no connection to God the Father. In Jesus’ own words, God had “forsaken” Him. He had left Jesus completely and utterly alone on the cross to finally die in agony and pain. The connection to God that had been so strong all His life simply vanished. Jesus, perhaps for the first time ever, was completely alone. It was so torturous to Him that it caused Him to cry out. The Romans had beat Him, humiliated Him, and were in the process of crucifying Him, but through all that He knew God was with Him. Now, suddenly, at the final moments when God should have been standing close in Jesus’ human heart and soul, God turned away. Jesus could not understand why at that moment and He cried out. It is something that we as Christians have been promised never to face – perhaps because it would be too horrible for us to stand.
For Jesus, that alone moment had to come. With more understanding, the world can know that the only reason that God turned away from His Son was due to that was happening at that very moment. God simply could not stand to watch as sin converged on Jesus. At that very moment Jesus was transformed into the living, human sacrifice for sin. This means that every sin that had ever been committed, every sin that was being committed at that very moment, and every sin that would be committed in the future was heaped upon the sacrifice of Jesus Chirst. He took the sin you did yesterday, the sin you will do tomorrow, and even the sin you will do six, seven, or ten years from now onto that cross. Jesus became the ultimate doorway in which all confessed sins, all sins covered by an acceptance of His sacrifice would settle on that Good Friday afternoon. It was simply something that God could not watch, and He turned away to allow His Son to face it for you, and for me all alone.
This afternoon represents that day. It is Good Friday not because it was good to Jesus, but because what He did for us was good. We are told that at the ninth hour, or at three in the afternoon that Jesus faced something no Christian will ever have to face. Jesus faced the moment that all sin came to Him and that God turned away. It was certainly “Good” for us. So despite different time zones, at three this afternoon, perhaps it would be good to stop for a moment and remember that so long ago, a Savior who had Heaven’s armies at His call, chose to set down His life and take on our sins so that we would never again have to be without God as He was on that day at three in the afternoon.
Originally published in the FSN April 14, 2017