Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Why Have Your Forsaken Me?

This coming Sunday is Easter. We, along with millions of other Christians around the world, will celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ. In a sense we celebrate it every day, but this day we purposefully direct our attention to the miracle of the empty tomb and all that it means for the people of God, both today and for eternity.

Of course, there would be no tomb apart from the cross. As we celebrate a risen Savior, we remember a dead Savior. Just three days earlier, Jesus had died, and with that death He purchased redemption for us. The resurrection is the evidence of the sufficiency of that transaction. The Father’s wrath was born by the Son in our place. Birthed in the love of God for the enemies of God, the Son of God died that we might be the children of God. The brightness of Easter Sunday is possible only because of the darkness of Good Friday.

And dark that day was! In fact, the sky literally darkened as Jesus drew His last breaths. Before He died, He cried out a question that captures the significance of that moment in time. It is a quotation from Psalm 22: “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” The emotional impact of that statement upon us is tremendous, yet it should not overshadow its theological impact. What does it mean for the Son to be forsaken by the Father?

To get an idea of what was taking place here, we need to remember what the relationship was between the Father and the Son in eternity past. The first lines of John’s Gospel tells us: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning” (John 1:1-2). For all of eternity, the Son of God was with the Father. The idea conveyed in these verses (as well as John 17:5) is a close, intimate orientation toward one another. This was the eternal relationship of the Father and the Son and it was the only one that Jesus had ever known—the loving, approving face of His Father.

We can get a better idea of this relationship when we understand the Bible’s highest expression of fellowship with God. Moses’ blessing upon the Israelites in Num.6:24-26 capture this idea: “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make His face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn His face toward you and give you peace.” 

On the other hand, to have the Lord’s face turned away from you brought with it a terrible sense of fear and dread. David writes in Ps.27:8-9, “My heart says of you, ‘Seek His face!’ Your face, Lord, I will seek. Do not hide your face from me, do not turn away from your servant in anger; you have been my helper. Do not reject me or forsake me, o my Savior!” From eternity past and throughout His earthly ministry, the Son was turned toward His Father’s face. And His Father’s face was turned toward His Son’s in an expression of love and pleasure.

Until that dark day on Golgotha.

On that day, when He who knew no sin was made sin for us (2 Cor.5:21), when the Son of God bore the sins of mankind upon His body (1 Pet.2:24) and experienced the curse in our place (Gal.3:13), His cry from the cross vocalized an experience He had anticipated with overwhelming dread the night before in the Garden of Gethsemane. Where before He had always known the loving face of the Father, His human nature now became the vehicle by which He experienced in His whole Person the wrath of His Father.

On that day the Father did not cease to love the eternal Son, nor did He cease to be pleased with Him. There was no rift within the Godhead. To suggest otherwise is to blaspheme. Rather, on that day, the Father judged the Incarnate Son. It was for this purpose that He took on human flesh and a human nature (Phil.2:5-8). It was Jesus Christ’s—the God-Man— experience of God as Judge, captured in a derelict cry from a wooden cross, which makes the celebration of Easter morning possible for you and me. He did this for us. His Father sent Him to be the Savior of the world, and He obediently submitted to the will of His Father, so that the Lord’s face could shine upon us. In that hour He turned His face from His Son so that He could eternally turn it toward us and give us peace.

The proof is an empty tomb.

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