Someone has described the four Gospels as “passion narratives with extended introductions.” Indeed. All the action and teaching prior to the passion of Christ serves as harbinger to the suffering to come. The scenes grow more affecting from Gethsemane. The intensity swells until the heart nearly bursts.
Consider Matthew 27:
32 As they were going out, they met a man from Cyrene, named Simon, and they forced him to carry the cross. 33 They came to a place called Golgotha (which means The Place of the Skull). 34 There they offered Jesus wine to drink, mixed with gall; but after tasting it, he refused to drink it. 35 When they had crucified him, they divided up his clothes by casting lots. 36 And sitting down, they kept watch over him there. 37 Above his head they placed the written charge against him: THIS IS JESUS, THE KING OF THE JEWS. 38 Two robbers were crucified with him, one on his right and one on his left. 39 Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads 40 and saying, “You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! Come down from the cross, if you are the Son of God!”
41 In the same way the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders mocked him. 42 ”He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself! He’s the King of Israel! Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. 43 He trusts in God. Let God rescue him now if he wants him, for he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’” 44 In the same way the robbers who were crucified with him also heaped insults on him.
45 From the sixth hour until the ninth hour darkness came over all the land. 46 About the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?”—which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
Hours earlier we saw our Savior face down in agony in Gethsemane. We saw Jesus pleading in prayer, “Is there any no other way than drinking this cup?” We heard the silent “no” from heaven. “No, there is no other way.” Jesus had to drink the cup.
But that was Gethsemane. Now the scene shifts to the Passover celebration in Jerusalem. The crowds of Jewish faithful make the pilgrimage to the holy city with songs and rejoicing. The entire city is festive—except one nearby place.
We leave the singing crowds of Jerusalem for Golgotha (v. 33), the place of the skull. We find Jesus on a hill called Calvary outside of Jerusalem. At Golgotha, we find Jesus drinking the cup.
It seems all the people were there when they crucified our Lord. The soldiers were there. Thieves were there (v. 38). The crowds were there (v. 39). The religious leaders were there (v. 41). God was there. God was there when they crucified our Lord.
God judged the entire land in that supernatural darkness (Exod. 10:21-23; Amos 8:9-10). But, God judged Jesus, too. We know this through the cry from the cross. Notice: it was a loud cry. This was no peaceful sleep in a quiet darkness. Jesus doesn’t ease into death with a smiling face ensconced in soft glowing light. He’s screaming. Can you hear Him? “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Try saying it loudly. Try saying again–this time with anguish.
It’s not the “why” that attracts our attention today. The Father answered the “why” in Gethsemane. What interests us on this dark noonday is that word “forsaken.” Forsaken by the Father. What ever can that mean? One theologian calls this “one of the most impenetrable mysteries of the entire Gospel narratives.” It’s what angels desire to look into. And it’s for us to consider today.
What does it mean for Jesus to be forsaken on the cross? At least three things.
1. The Father allowed Jesus to suffer social abandonment.
The soldiers scoffed and mocked that day (vv. 27-31):
Then the governor’s soldiers took Jesus into the Praetorium and gathered the whole company of soldiers around him. They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, and then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on his head. They put a staff in his right hand and knelt in front of him and mocked him. “Hail, king of the Jews!” they said. They spit on him, and took the staff and struck him on the head again and again. After they had mocked him, they took off the robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him away to crucify him.
The crowds mocked and reviled him (vv. 39-40). “Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads and saying, ‘You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! Come down from the cross, if you are the Son of God!’”
The religious leaders scorned him. These were the teachers of Israel. These were the stewards of God’s word. These were the ones who should have known best of all. But instead, “the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders mocked him.” Spurgeon analyzed it well: They mocked Him as Savior: ‘He saved others,’ they said, ‘but he can’t save himself! They mocked Him as King: He’s the King of Israel! Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. They mocked His faith: He trusts in God. They mocked Him as Son: Let God rescue him now if he wants him, for he said, “I am the Son of God”.’
There were the mocking thieves, too (v. 44). “In the same way the robbers who were crucified with him also heaped insults on him.”
All rejected and mocked Jesus. But we don’t see how complete His social alienation was until we ask: “Where were his disciples and friends?” They all scattered and abandoned him, too. Only a few women stood and watched at some distance away (vv. 55-56). The Lord was socially outcast and cut off from every strata of society. Forsaken by the ones he came to save.
What we have to ask ourselves is this: If you or I were there at Golgotha, would we have responded to the stripped and beaten Galilean the same way? Our answer reveals why the Son was forsaken.