My article from this week's Algona Upper Des Moines about Jesus' words, "My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?"
Q: What does it mean when it says that Jesus was “forsaken” on the cross? If Jesus was God, how could He be forsaken by God? Why would God do this?
The Bible records this event for us in Mark 15:34 and Matthew 27:46. While Jesus was being crucified, He cried out “My God, My God, Why have you forsaken me?” These words are also seen in Psalm 22 as King David predicts the death of Jesus.
The word that Jesus used when He said this, and which most of our Bibles translate as “forsaken” literally means that God the Father abandoned or deserted Jesus as He was dying on the cross. There are some who propose that Jesus merely felt abandoned or thought He was abandoned, but the historic teaching of the Church has always been that Jesus literally was abandoned by God while He was being crucified.
One of the simplest statements that a Christian makes about what they believe, and that is often one of the first taught to young children is that “Jesus died for my sins.” The event of Jesus being forsaken by God the Father is an essential factor in making Jesus’ death sufficient to pay for the sins of humanity.
Contrary to what is sometimes taught today, God does take sin seriously, no matter how big or small the sin is according to human estimation. Because God is holy and righteous, He cannot just leave sin unpunished, and if He did leave sin unpunished, He would no longer be holy or righteous. Therefore, in order for us to escape paying the well-deserved punishment for our sins—namely death, followed by eternal torment—someone had to be punished.
This is one of the most important doctrines of Christianity, which is called the Substitutionary Atonement. This means that Jesus first perfectly obeyed God’s law in our place, then, even though He had not sinned against God or committed any crime, He was executed by crucifixion. However, if he had merely died, it would be insufficient to save humanity from punishment. In order for Jesus to be the substitute for humanity, He had to suffer the full, unbridled wrath of God in His death. So, as Jesus died, God abandoned Him, pouring out the punishment for the sin of all people of all times on Jesus. This is also predicted beforehand in Isaiah 52-53.
When Jesus was forsaken by God the Father, He suffered the penalty for the world’s sin. God the Father punished God the Son for the sin of the world. Therefore God Himself actually suffered the penalty for our sin in order to save us. Jesus death was not merely an example of sacrificial love. Instead, it was a real sacrifice where God gave Himself up to be killed to suffer punishment for the sins of humanity. This was even seen in nature, as at the moment of Jesus’ death, the sky was darkened and the earth shook.
As King David predicted these events in Psalm 16, He also said, “You will not abandon my soul to the grave, nor let your Holy One see decay.” This was fulfilled when Jesus rose from death on the third day after His crucifixion. Because He had not sinned, death had no claim on Him, and because the penalty for the world’s sin had already been paid, there is now no longer any condemnation for the sins of those who trust that Jesus has suffered God’s wrath on their behalf and been punished for their sins. As a result, those who die trusting in Jesus and have been Baptized into His death, will also rise on the last day, just as He rose on the third day, and live eternally in a new creation freed from the disaster, pain, sickness, sorrow, and suffering that our sin has brought upon the present world.