Up to this point, the narrative of the crucifixion has focused on the physical sufferings of Jesus: the flogging, the crown of thorns, and his immolation on the cross. Six hours have now passed since the nails were driven home. The crowds have jeered, darkness has covered the land, and now, suddenly, after a long silence, comes this anguished cry from the depths of the Savior’s soul.
The words are an Aramaic-tinged quotation from Psalm 22, and although Matthew and Mark both offer a translation for the benefit of Gentile readers, they clearly want us to hear the exact words that Jesus spoke. At his lowest ebb, his mind instinctively breathes the Psalter, and from it he borrows the words that express the anguish, not now of his body, but of his soul.
He bore in his soul, wrote Calvin, “the terrible torments of a condemned and lost man” (Institutes, II:XVI, 10). But dare we, on such hallowed ground, seek more clarity?
Against All Hope
There are certainly some very clear negatives. The forsakenness cannot mean, for example, that the eternal communion between the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit was broken. God could not cease to be triune.
Neither could it mean that the Father ceased to love the Son: especially not here, and not now, when the Son was offering the greatest tribute of filial piety that the Father had ever received.
Nor again could it mean that the Holy Spirit had ceased to minister to the Son. He had come down upon him at his baptism not merely for one fleeting moment, but to remain on him (John [1:32]), and he would be there to the last as the eternal Spirit through whom the Son offered himself to God (Hebrews [9:14]).
And finally, the words are not a cry of despair. Despair would have been sin. Even in the darkness God was, “MyGod,” and though there was no sign of him, and though the pain obscured the promises, somewhere in the depths of his soul there remained the assurance that God was holding him. What was true of Abraham was truer still of Jesus: against all hope, he in hope believed (Romans [4:18]).
Yet, with all these qualifiers, this was a real forsaking. Jesus did not merely feel forsaken. He was forsaken; and not only by his disciples, but by God himself. It was the Father who had delivered him up to Judas, to the Jews, to Pilate, and finally to the cross itself.
And now, when he had cried, God had closed his ears. The crowd had not stopped jeering, the demons had not stopped taunting, the pain had not abated. Instead, every circumstance bespoke the anger of God; and there was no countering voice. This time, no word came from heaven to remind him that he was God’s Son, and greatly loved. No dove came down to assure him of the Spirit’s presence and ministry. No angel came to strengthen him. No redeemed sinner bowed to thank him.
Bearing the Curse
Who was he? He cries out in Aramaic, but he doesn’t use the greatest of all the Aramaic words, Abba. Even in the anguish of Gethsemane, distraught and overborne though he was, he had been able to use it (Mark [14:36]). But not here.
Written by Donald Macleod
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