Did the Father forsake Jesus at the cross?
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(All quotations from the King James Version unless stated otherwise).
Matthew 27:46 And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?
Mark 15:34 And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani? which is, being interpreted, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?
Better minds than mine have struggled with these words of Christ without a satisfactory conclusion, but I suggest the following:
Scripture makes clear that God does not forsake those that trust in him.
Deuteronomy 31:6 Be strong and of a good courage, fear not, nor be afraid of them: for the LORD thy God, he it is that doth go with thee; he will not fail thee, nor forsake thee.
Joshua 1:5... as I was with Moses, so I will be with thee: I will not fail thee, nor forsake thee.
Psalms 18:30 As for God, his way is perfect: the word of the LORD is tried: he is a buckler to all those that trust in him.
Psalms 34:22 The LORD redeemeth the soul of his servants: and none of them that trust in him shall be desolate.
Psalms 37:40 And the LORD shall help them, and deliver them: he shall deliver them from the wicked, and save them, because they trust in him.
Christ speaks confidently of God’s continuous presence.
John 11:42 And I knew that thou hearest me always...
John 16:32 Behold, the hour cometh, yea, is now come, that ye shall be scattered, every man to his own, and shall leave me alone: and yet I am not alone, because the Father is with me.
The darkness over the earth for three hours surely indicates the near presence of God at the death of his son.
The words spoken by Christ are found at the beginning of Psalm 22
Psalms 22:1 My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?
I believe it is a mistake to think that Christ is quoting Psalm 22. It makes better sense to understand that Psalm 22 is a record by the foreknowledge of God of some of the thoughts of Jesus as he hung on the cross. The Psalm puts us within the mind of Christ at his crucifixion and gives us an insight into the anguish of his thoughts.
His thoughts begin with the natural despair of his situation; there can be no release from his suffering other than death.
Psalms 22:1 why art thou so far from helping me, and from the words of my roaring? 2 O my God, I cry in the daytime, but thou hearest not; and in the night season, and am not silent.
His inner thoughts argue against the despair. He recalls that the faithful of old were delivered when they cried unto God. Their trust was rewarded.
3 But thou art holy, O thou that inhabitest the praises of Israel. 4 Our fathers trusted in thee: they trusted, and thou didst deliver them. 5 They cried unto thee, and were delivered: they trusted in thee, and were not confounded.
His thoughts dwell on the shame and humility of his situation.
6 But I am a worm, and no man; a reproach of men, and despised of the people. 7 All they that see me laugh me to scorn: they shoot out the lip, they shake the head, saying,
His enemies are attempting to undermine the trust that he has in his God.
8 He trusted on the LORD that he would deliver him: let him deliver him, seeing he delighted in him.
He knows that God will not deliver him in the way that they want to see. He remembers his origin and purpose, that God has been his hope from birth.
9 But thou art he that took me out of the womb: thou didst make me hope when I was upon my mother’s breasts. 10 I was cast upon thee from the womb: thou art my God from my mother’s belly.
In contrast to the idea that god has forsaken (or left) him, he now requests the proximity of God in his present trouble for there is no help in man. They stand about him deriding him.
11 Be not far from me; for trouble is near; for there is none to help. 12 Many bulls have compassed me: strong bulls of Bashan have beset me round. 13 They gaped upon me with their mouths, as a ravening and a roaring lion.
His physical condition is weakening; his strength is ebbing away.
14 I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint: my heart is like wax; it is melted in the midst of my bowels. 15 My strength is dried up like a potsherd; and my tongue cleaveth to my jaws; and thou hast brought me into the dust of death.
He is aware of the pain of crucifixion; his ribs visible through his skin.
16 For dogs have compassed me: the assembly of the wicked have inclosed me: they pierced my hands and my feet. 17 I may tell all my bones: they look and stare upon me.
He can see the soldiers parting his garments.
18 They part my garments among them, and cast lots upon my vesture.
He begins to make his prayer to God, confident that God will deliver him.
19 But be not thou far from me, O LORD: O my strength, haste thee to help me. 20 Deliver my soul from the sword; my darling from the power of the dog. 21 Save me from the lion’s mouth: for thou hast heard me from the horns of the unicorns.
He passes on in his mind’s eye to the victory accomplished when he is raised from the dead.
22 I will declare thy name unto my brethren: in the midst of the congregation will I praise thee.
In his confidence he exhorts those that will come after.
23 Ye that fear the LORD, praise him; all ye the seed of Jacob, glorify him; and fear him, all ye the seed of Israel. 24 For he hath not despised nor abhorred the affliction of the afflicted; neither hath he hid his face from him; but when he cried unto him, he heard. 25 My praise shall be of thee in the great congregation: I will pay my vows before them that fear him. 26 The meek shall eat and be satisfied: they shall praise the LORD that seek him: your heart shall live for ever.
He speaks of the fulfilling of the purpose of God in the earth which will come through him.
27 All the ends of the world shall remember and turn unto the LORD: and all the kindreds of the nations shall worship before thee.. 28 For the kingdom is the LORD’S: and he is the governor among the nations. 29 All they that be fat upon earth shall eat and worship: all they that go down to the dust shall bow before him: and none can keep alive his own soul.
He speaks of the spiritual seed that will result from his accomplished sacrifice; who will preach the gospel to save others.
30 A seed shall serve him; it shall be accounted to the Lord for a generation. 31 They shall come, and shall declare his righteousness unto a people that shall be born, that he hath done this.
Isaiah speaks of his seed.
Isaiah 53:10 Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise him; he hath put him to grief: when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in his hand.
Working through the Psalm gives a more rounded view of the progression of Christ’s thoughts in his suffering. It is a pattern that we will recognise in our own suffering. The scripture record of the faithfulness of God experienced by others is there to sustain us in our hour of need.
I conclude then that God did not forsake Christ. God forsakes none that worship him in spirit and in truth and trust in him. Christ was a man tempted in all points as we are. A natural fear in suffering is that God has forsaken us. Christ begins from this point and shows us how to overcome it by recalling the scriptures that are written for our learning.
Romans 15:4 For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.
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I hope you have found this helpful.
May God bless you,