In Matthew 27:46 it is recorded, “And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying ‘Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?’ that is , ‘My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?’” The very cry invokes a sense of agony and anguish, and well it should, for it compasses in totality the love of Christ – the width and length and depth and height of Christ’s love which passes knowledge (Ephesians 3:17–19). No-one will ever be able to understand what Jesus went through at that time, for no man – past, present, or future – could ever fulfil such a requirement that was exacted by the wisdom of God. Never in the history of all creation has such a “universe shattering” occurrence transpired, nor shall it ever be repeated – it was once for all (Romans 6:10)!
It is commonly taught that at that very moment, for the first time in the history of all eternity, God the Father turned His face away from God the Son, for He could not look upon sin. This was apparently why Jesus cried out the way He did, before giving up His spirit. But is this true? Is this really what happened? Let us look a little further into the Father-heart of God.
The agonising cry
What a heart wrenching moment. The veil that separated the Most Holy Place from the Holy Place was wrent in twain – the separation between God and man being removed – and it almost seemed to mimic the rip between Father and Son. It must have torn God’s heart and pained Him bitterly. The very words of Jesus’ outcry were recorded in prophecy by His forefather, David, in Psalm 22:1 – “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me: Why are You so far from helping Me, and from the words of My groaning?” – approximately 1000 years prior to their actual fulfilment when Christ hung on the Cross. What a wound to the Saviour’s heart that at such an hour He should cry out such words to God the Father. The penetrating spear that was to follow would have been less brutal and damaging to a life who could say, I and my Father are one. Yet, did God truly turn away from His beloved Son in whom He was well pleased? Did He forsake Jesus in His dark hour of greatest need? Can such questions actually be asked, or considered? Indeed they can!
David, in a time of great trial and testing where he was being harried on every side by the enemy who were bent on his destruction, felt that God had left him in his hour of great need. Yet afterwards, he had to acknowledge that he had spoken in haste as a result of his distress. Psalm 31:22 records the incident, ‘For I said in my haste, “I am cut off from before Your eyes”; nevertheless You heard the voice of my supplications when I cried out to You.’ How often does man cry out in such a manner when he is pressed by distress? Through his human eyes and influenced by trial he can often be deceived about the reality, particularly in respect to God, His whereabouts and influence. David’s state was no lesser an occurrence. When he was able to sit down quietly however, he could recount his error and God’s faithfulness in being with him all the time, unto deliverance and preservation.
Does God look upon sin?
But, it may be said, at the time of the Crucifixion Jesus was carrying the sin of the world, and God had to turn away, for He could not look upon sin! Is this really true? Can God not look upon sin? The Word tells us that God knows the very thoughts of man (Psalm 94:11); that everything that is done in the dark will be brought out into the light (Luke 8:17); and that God will bring every work into judgement, including every secret thing, whether good or evil (Ecclesiastes 12:14). If sin crosses the line, the only thing left for man is judgement. Sodom and Gomorrah had reached such a state. Did God turn His face from them? In revealing the issue to Abraham, what did God say? ‘And the LORD said, “Because the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is great, and because their sin is very grave, I will go down now and see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry against it that has come to Me; and if not, I will know.”’ (Genesis 19:20,21). Many say that it was Jesus talking with Abraham, and it was, but nevertheless, it was Jehovah (Yhwh), the Almighty – for the Scripture refers to the LORD.
Therefore, God sees sin! God looks upon sin continually – for He looks upon the goings on of man, the devil and demons. Right back in the earliest days of time ‘the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually’ (Genesis 6:5). God looks upon sin that is so bad it would make many men faint at its very comprehension – for He sees not only the outward actions of men, but also that which is very often more brutal, the sin of the heart! For the Sovereign who is Omnipresent and Omnipotent, where can sin hide that it cannot be seen or understood? To where can it flee that it not be found out or known by our omniscient Almighty God?
Furthermore, if God could not look upon sin, He could not look upon the originator of sin, Satan. Yet, in the book of Job the following is recorded, ‘Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan (the Adversary) also came among them. And the LORD said to Satan, “From where do you come?”’ (Job 1:6,7a). Not only does God look upon the originator of sin, but Satan comes to stand before Him, for after the LORD answered Satan it is recorded, ‘So Satan went out from the presence of the LORD’ (Job 1:12). In this recording, pure sin itself is standing in the presence of the LORD – in the presence of Jehovah (Yhwh). It is recorded in Job that it occurs a second time, ‘Again there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan came also among them to present himself before the LORD’ (Job 2:1). Again, pure sin itself is standing in the presence of the LORD – Jehovah (Yhwh) – for the same occurrence takes place after the LORD answered Satan, ‘So Satan went out from the presence of the LORD’ (Job 2:7a). Was this not just perhaps isolated? No, for Satan presently stands before God accusing the brethren day and night, but it will not be forever, ‘Then I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, “Now salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of His Christ have come, for the accuser of our brethren (Satan), who accused them before our God day and night, has been cast down’ (Revelation 12:10).
What about the Great White Throne Judgement? In this instance, it will be the judgment and sentencing of those who have not received salvation through Christ Jesus our Lord. Unrepentant sinners will be standing before God’s throne and as they will not be people who have been cleansed through the blood of the Lamb, their sins will be upon them – their very condemnation and evidence for judgment. Sinners will be standing in the presence of God, and He will be looking upon sin, ‘Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away. And there was found no place for them. And I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God, and books were opened. And another book was opened, which is the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books. The sea gave up the dead who were in it, and Death and Hades delivered up the dead who were in them. And they were judged, each one according to his works. Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire’ (Revelation 20:11–15). God does not turn His face away from sin – He will judge it.
Does God tolerate sin?
Can it then be argued that God turned His face away from Jesus when He was on the Cross because He cannot tolerate sin? Sin will not go unpunished – period! Either we repent of our sins and follow our Saviour with all our hearts, or we bear the trial of condemnation awaiting man at the Great White Throne Judgement. But does this mean that God does not tolerate sin, and is this reason enough for God to turn His face away from Jesus when He was carrying the sin of the world on His shoulders? No, it is no reason at all, for God tolerates sin all the time! Blasphemy in the face of a holy God! Is it? First consider your very life and then reconsider the statement, for if God could not tolerate sin, who of us would stand or be alive today? If it were the case, there would not be one unsaved person on planet earth today – nor the devil or demons. The reason Israel had to wait before being given the Promised Land is because God could tolerate sin, for He tells Abram (not yet Abraham), ‘“But in the fourth generation they (Israel) shall return here, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.”’ Paul tells us, ‘“Truly, these times (times of idols) of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent”’ (Acts 17:30). Does this mean that in the transition from the Old Testament to the New Testament God is no longer tolerant? Not at all, for Peter tells us, ‘The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance’ (2 Peter 3:9). God looks upon sin and is tolerant of sin – not forgetting that all sin will eventually come under His judgement, whether it be through the substitutionary sacrifice of Christ, or directly to the unrepentant sinner.
Belonging to God
The issue is that God is righteous and a righteous judge. Sin cannot go unpunished for all eternity, and its penalty is death. Sin is corruption and corruption cannot be allowed to abide alongside God’s perfection and white hot holiness. Sin will therefore not endure forever, for as sin brings death (corruption) to man, so God will bring death to sin through judgement. There is another issue – service. Unrepentant sinners are not in the service of God, they are considered as reprobates – classified as castaways and useless (2 Corinthians 13:5 KJV) until they become born of God through Christ Jesus. However, the saints are priests forever, so they serve before God as Peter tells us, ‘But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvellous light’ (1 Peter 2:9). God’s saints need to be holy and clean when they serve before the LORD. It is not that God allows sin to dwell in His heaven or presence, it is that those who are sinners are not part of His Kingdom, but the redeemed are. Therefore, we need to purify ourselves. The priests of old had to be cleansed and pure before ministering before the LORD; let our understanding and attitudes be nothing less – for the LORD is to be praised, glorified and feared (Psalm 22:23).
Why did Jesus cry out?
The question is then, did God forsake Jesus? No, He did not! As David had to acknowledge that God had not forsaken him, having cried out in his haste to the contrary, Psalm 22 confirms that God did not forsake Jesus in His time of greatest need, ‘For He (God) has not despised nor abhorred the affliction of the afflicted; nor has He hidden His face from Him; but when He (Jesus) cried to Him (God), He heard’ (Psalm 22:24) (emphasis added). Reason this for a moment: what loving father would turn their back on a dying son, even though it hurt to look on? If man could not do this, how then could the Heavenly Father turn His back on His dearly beloved Son?
Why then did Jesus cry out? Surely He never uttered a false word? Surely He never spoke in haste? David may have spoken in haste, but surely not Christ? Was Jesus deceived about the reality? No, but is it not possible that God was just silent? In all his distress, one of Job’s greatest anguishes was that God was silent, ‘Oh, that I had one to hear me! Here is my mark. Oh, that the Almighty would answer me’ (Job 31:35a), but God was silently watching and listening. He was there all the time, although in Job’s humanity, it felt that this was not the case. For Him who said, ‘“For I have not spoken on My own authority; but the Father who sent Me gave Me a command, what I should say and what I should speak. And I know that His command is everlasting life. Therefore, whatever I speak, just as the Father has told Me, so I speak”’ (John 12: 49,50), the Father’s silence would have been no lesser a torment to His soul and a wrenching of His spirit than it was to Job, whom God called His servant and said of him, ‘“there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, one who fears God and shuns evil”’ (Job 1:8b). In my understanding, God was silent! The communication channel and flow of conversation with the Father that had been continuous – God the Father had never been silent – was now stilled. There was nothing at that moment in time for God to say, but the faithful Father was watching very attentively, for He had not hidden His face from Jesus. He was looking on, but not saying a word.
Was God agonised?
Was God truly pained? Let us consider: whose truly loving father does not ache at the distress and pain of his son? Whose truly loving father does not feel and carry the blows and agonies of his son’s trial and tribulations? Whose truly loving father does not carry in his own being a feeling of tautness when his son is suffering under infirmity, social or corporate ridicule, ostracism or persecution? Let it never be said that God the Father did not feel so! At the Great White Throne Judgement, when unrepentant man stands before God, his own sin will condemn him. However, the Almighty will also look upon the pierced hands, feet and side of His Beloved and be justified in His wrathful indignation at the unredeemed, for the agony of the Father’s heart, having watched the righteous requirement that Jesus’ sacrifice fulfilled, will bear witness and testimony against men who spurned the free gift of God.
A faithful Father
“My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (emphasis added). One aspect of consideration could be with the emphasis on You – meaning, have You also forsaken Me? Everyone else has forsaken me, have You too? But this could never be. The faithfulness of the Father could not forsake the Son. He who said, “I will not leave you nor forsake you” (Joshua 1:5b), and He of whom it is recorded, ‘He who keeps (watches over) Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep’ (Psalm 121:4), will hold true to His word – forever. Though the world may have forsaken you, and you feel lost and alone, ostracised, overwhelmed and beaten down, know this in your heart – He who in His faithfulness turned not His face from our Redeemer’s dark hour will never turn His face from one of His redeemed!