In my previous post, Walking in the Valley of the Shadow, Part 3, I said: “I submit that on the cross, Jesus in His human nature, felt the reality of being truly forsaken by God, and that drove Him to cry out My God, my God, why have you forsaken me.”
I promised to expand on why I think those words He exclaimed on the cross are so important, and how helpful they can be in ministering to people who are hurting so bad that they are wondering where God is. What follows is a section from Chapter 6 of by book, Forgiveness is Tremendous, that I have tweaked a bit. This is longer than I usually allow, but this point is too important to skimp on.
Jesus did not simply die on the cross. He suffered the wrath of God against sin in Himself.
This is clearly implied in his mentioning of “this cup“ in the Garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 26:36-46, Mark 14:32-42, and Luke 22:40-46). This cup was the cup of God’s judgment and wrath against sin. Numerous passages in both the Old and New Testaments use this image of a cup of poison God gives nations in judgment. For example,
Take from my hand this cup filled to the brim with my anger, and make all the nations to whom I send you drink from it. When they drink from it, they will stagger, crazed by the warfare I will send against them (Jeremiah 25:15-16).
Wake up, wake up, O Jerusalem! You have drunk enough from the cup of the LORD’S fury. You have drunk the cup of terror, tipping out its last drops (Isaiah 51:17).
Anyone who worships the beast and his statue or who accepts his mark on the forehead or the hand must drink the wine of God’s wrath. It is poured out undiluted into God’s cup of wrath. And they will be tormented with fire and burning sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and the Lamb (Revelation 14:9-10).
This drinking of the cup of the wrath of God is the reason for His cry “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
in Matthew 27:46.
How could Jesus say God had forsaken him? There have been many great Christians who have been martyred for their faith in the most cruel and unusual ways (including crucifixion). But the words we hear from their lips as they were martyred are full of peace and assurance that God was with them! Surely Jesus, who was the Son of God, would have had no reason to say such a prayer if all that was happening was the dying of his human body. Remember He himself said, “Don’t be afraid of those who want to kill you. They can only kill your body; they cannot touch your soul. Fear only God, who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28). What happened to Jesus was far worse than any human torture could hope to achieve. God forsook Jesus while He was on that cross.
What does that mean, God forsook Jesus? It does not mean that God the Father just turned His back on His Son and left Him there to die. A study of what it means when God forsakes somebody, will find it means God’s blessings are replaced with His curses, His love with His anger, His mercy with His wrath, and His grace with justice. (Deuteronomy 31:17-18, 2 Kings 21:14-15, and Jeremiah 12:7-8).
The Day of the Lord, the time when God will judge all the people who have ever lived, is often used to illustrate to us the seriousness of sin to our holy God. The prophet Amos says in 5:18-20:
How terrible it will be for you who say, “If only the day of the LORD were here! For then the LORD would rescue us from all our enemies.” But you have no idea what you are wishing for. That day will not bring light and prosperity, but darkness and disaster. In that day you will be like a man who runs from a lion—only to meet a bear. After escaping the bear, he leans his hand against a wall in his house—and is bitten by a snake. Yes, the day of the LORD will be a dark and hopeless day, without a ray of joy or hope.
Do you think it is a coincidence that according to Matthew when Jesus was on the cross it was dark in the middle of the day? The wrath of God was being poured out on Christ, and the words Jesus uttered to express the horror of what was happening to Him were “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
Do you ever wonder what hell is like? Hell is being forsaken by God. The dreadful price of sin is “to fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:31). Hell is the absence of God’s blessings; His mercy and grace are gone, but He is present in righteous anger. In Revelation, the experience of hell is described with these words: “And they cried to the mountains and the rocks, ‘Fall on us and hide us from the face of the one who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb'” (Revelation 6:16-17). Those in hell “must drink the wine of God’s wrath. It is poured out undiluted into God’s cup of wrath. And they will be tormented with fire and burning sulfur in the presence of…the Lamb” (Revelation 14:10). The cup Jesus was praying about in the Garden of Gethsemane was the same cup. When we say in the Apostle’s Creed that Christ descended into hell, this is what was meant: that on the cross, the holy anger of God against sin, came in full upon His Son Jesus Christ. The price of Jesus giving us the precious gift of forgiveness was His taking on the just wrath of God Almighty in our place.
Let me give two reasons this profound statement of Christ is so important.
First, it is important because Jesus can truly and honestly identify with the pain of feeling abandoned by God. When we cry out, we are not feeling a pain that He never felt. He felt it too. When we hear people say that they feel forsaken by God, we can take them to David, Jeremiah, Job, and even to Jesus and show them that it is OK to be honest about how we feel. They are in good company. It is normal in times of extreme crisis to vent our hearts like that.
The second reason is that because Jesus entered that truly God-forsaken place, Christians will never have to go in. If there is one sure description of Christians, it is that they are a people who are never forsaken by God. You can have complete assurance and peace knowing that God will never leave you or forsake you because Jesus prayed a prayer that will never be necessary for any Christian to pray ever again. O, sometimes it may feel like it, sometimes it may seem like it. But because of Jesus, we who have been united to Him in faith never actually are.
The promise of Psalm 23, “when I walk through the dark valley of death, I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me,” is yours, it is your prayer, because Christ walked through that very valley and was forsaken. The great promise, “I will forgive their wickedness and will never again remember their sins” of Jeremiah 31:34 and Hebrews 8:12, is yours because God remembered your wickedness and punished it at the cross. The good news of the gospel is that though you deserved to drink from the cup of the wrath of God Almighty, Jesus took your cup from God and drank it himself, and offers you the cup of blessing (Psalm 16:5, 23:5), the cup of communion, (1 Corinthians 11:25), the cup of salvation (Psalm 116:13), the cup of forgiveness.