Did God abandon Jesus? It is a stunning question.
From noon to three, the whole earth was dark. Around midafternoon Jesus groaned out of the depths, crying loudly, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” | Matthew 27:45-46
On the cross, Jesus took on my sins and the sins of the whole world. The crucifixion, physically, was extreme torture. It was gruesome.
Spiritually, a whole different thing is going on. I think it is difficult to imagine what that was like. In fact, I don’t think I really can. Some things are a mystery.
Scripturally, Jesus is quoting David from Psalm 22. This is an exact quote. Jesus is fulfilling the prophets and the law down to the last detail. Jesus was committed to completing the whole plan. Psalm 22 perfectly goes on to describe how Jesus would die. It is prophetic in every detail. It also ends in great praise. Perhaps Jesus was going to keep on and quote more of but physically couldn’t. We don’t know.
Read Psalm 22:22–24. It goes like this:
“I will tell of your name to my brothers; in the midst of the congregation I will praise you: You who fear the LORD, praise him! All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him, and stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel! For he has not despised or abhorred the affliction of the afflicted, and he has not hidden his face from him, but has heard, when he cried to him.”
In other words, this psalm ends with a note of triumph. Jesus isn’t curious about wondering, How is this going to turn out? He had embedded in his soul both the horrors of the moment of abandonment and he had embedded in his soul for the joy that was set before him: I have got a promise. And God will not despise me in the end. He will take me back.
Now that is some very good news. I am afflicted. Jesus has not hidden His face from me. Jesus hears me. Jesus took it all on himself on the cross.
For us, as human beings, death is dark and scary and real. Even though we believe and trust in God, death can cause anxiety and anguish. Jesus does not bring us deliverance from death but deliverance through death. We live in a culture which, in many ways, is death-denying; it is afraid to take a clear look at the fact and the meaning of mortality. Jesus went through it all for us.
In John, we learn the last words of Jesus were “It is finished.” It indeed was.
We do know that God did not abandon Jesus. Yes, Jesus died for us and our sins (aka missing God’s goal). The story doesn’t end there. On the third day after His death, God raises Jesus from the dead to an incorruptible body. Death is defeated! That is some good news!
As Peter proclaims in Acts 2:
David said about him:
“‘I saw the Lord always before me.
Because he is at my right hand,
I will not be shaken.
26 Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices;
my body also will rest in hope,
27 because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead [Sheol],
you will not let your holy one see decay.
28 You have made known to me the paths of life;
you will fill me with joy in your presence.’