The idea that the Father forsook Jesus on the cross is based on the premise that God is too holy to look upon sin. Based on that premise it follows that when Jesus took the sin of the world upon Himself the Father could no longer be with Him. If we take a closer look at the scriptures, I believe we will find that the cross does not reveal the Father forsaking Jesus, but actually the complete opposite! Jesus trusts that His Father is with Him through the entire ordeal on the cross, even when He is blind to His presence. The cross is about the presence of the Father and the trust of Jesus, not the Father leaving His son! This speaks volumes about the nature and character of God and has the capacity to revolutionize our faith. Let's begin unwrapping this together.
"Jesus replied, 'The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds (John 12:23-24)."
Jesus, preparing to go to Jerusalem, knew that He was going to His death. In John 10:18 we see Jesus claiming that the Father had given him authority to not only lay down his own life, but to take it up again! Jesus knew He was sent to die on behalf of humanity and in this verse we see that He was collaborating with His Father. They were united together with determined purpose.
"Now is the time for judgement on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself (John 12:31-32)."
The Father, Son, and Spirit, united in their love for humanity, were determined to drive out the devil and reconcile all people to themselves. It is important to note that Jesus repeatedly spoke to the fact that the Father was with Him, that they were in this together, because it sets us up to gain a new understanding about what happened between Jesus and the Father on the cross. On numerous occasion throughout the scriptures, particularly in the Gospel of John, Jesus reiterates the fact that He is with the Father and that He only does was He saw His Father doing. Jesus walked out His entire life on earth trusting in His Father presence, trusting that He was not alone, even when abandoned by everyone else!
"A time is coming and in fact has come when you will be scattered, each to your own home. You will leave me all alone. Yet I am not alone, for my Father is with me (Matthew 16:32)."
As another example, look at Jesus' prayer in the garden before He was betrayed.
"That all of them maybe one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one - I in them and you in me so that they may be brought to complete unity (John 17:20-23)."
Knowing that His Father is with Him as He moved towards is death is of the ultimate importance to Jesus. 'The Father is with me' Jesus declares over and over again, 'I do nothing of my own initiative (John 8:28).' Those who met Jesus could see that God had sent Him, was empowering Him, and even that he was with Him. But that isn't what bothered them, no it was the fact that Jesus claimed to be one with the Father!? Now that was scandalous!
"The Jewish leaders insisted, 'We have a law, and according to that law he must die, because he claimed to be the Son of God (John 19:7).'"
Now knowing that intimacy and union with the Father was paramount to Jesus life and message we can now approach the big question. What happened on the cross? Was Jesus trust proven false? Was God with Jesus the whole time up to the one point He needed Him most? If God never leaves Jesus, then why did He say, "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?"
The first thing we need to realize is that Jesus was quoting Psalm 22! The bible wasn't divided into chapters and verses back then like it is today. In order to reference a portion of scripture, teachers would state the first line! Today we have the Top 40 songs of 2016, and many people will recognize those songs just by hearing the opening chords. In the same way there were certain Messianic scriptures in that day that would have made the 'Top List'. Many Jewish people would have recognized and even memorized these texts pointing to the Messiah. Psalm 22, a song in itself, would have more than likely made this 'Top List'. So when Jesus spoke out on the cross, 'My God my God...' Psalm 22 would have started to run through many of the Jewish people's minds. Whether Jesus knew He was fulfilling the scriptures by saying this, or if He was just expressing how He was feeling, we need to follow along with the Psalm in order to understand what is going on.
"My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from my cries of anguish? My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, but I find no rest (1-2)."
The beginning of the Psalm seems to confirm the fact that God left Jesus on the cross, but as in all good songs, it's important to listen through to the end.
"All who see me mock me; they hurl insults, shaking their heads. 'He trusts in the Lord,' they say, 'let the Lord rescue him, let him deliver him, since he delights in him (7-8)."
It would be easy at this point for Jesus to stop trusting, to lose faith, and this is exactly what people mock him for. Despite their jeers, and the evidence clearly stacked against Him that God was not there, Jesus continues to trust His Father.
"Yet you brought me out of the womb; you made me trust in you, even at my mother's breast. From birth I was cast on you; from my mother's womb you have been my God. Do not be far from me, for trouble is near and there is no one to help (9-11)."
The Psalm goes on to explicitly reference how His hands and feet were pierced, how he was beaten to the point where his bones showed, and how people cast lots for his clothes (16-18). It is astonishing How God spoke through David so accurately of events that wouldn't happen for hundreds of years. Yet what is even more astonishing is the faithfulness of Jesus and how He continually trusts His Father.
"But you, Lord, do not be far from me. You are my strength; come quickly to help me. Deliver me from the sword, my precious life from the power of the dogs. Rescue me from the mouth of the lions; save me from the horns of the wild oxen (19-21)."
Here we reach the crux of the matter (crux, do you see what I did there?). Did the Father heed His cry? Was He far from Him, did He choose not to deliver Him? The answer we find at the end of the Psalm.
"I will declare your name to my people; in the assembly I will praise you. You who fear the Lord, praise Him! All you descendants of Jacob, honor Him! Revere Him, all you descendants of Israel! For He has not despised or scorned the suffering of the afflicted one; he has not hidden his face from Him, but has listened to His cry for help (22-24)."
The amazing thing about the cross isn't that the Father turned His back on Jesus, but that Jesus being blind to the presence of His father because He took our sins into His body, still trusted in His Father's presence until the last moment!
"Jesus called out with a loud voice, 'Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.' When He had said this, He breathed His last (Luke 23:46)."
Or as Peter wrote in one of his letters,
"When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly (1 Peter 2:23)."
It is very possible that the people watching Jesus die would have moved right on from Psalm 22 to 23.
"Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff they comfort me (Psalm 23:4)."
The truth is, God has never forsaken His people, and He never forsook His son! As David wrote He is the good shepherd that is with us. He has always pursued us, always been near to us, and always desired connection. Throughout the scriptures we see God relating with stubborn, obstinate, and sinful people. Sin didn't cause God to pull away from us, but it caused us to pull away from Him. We were the ones who hid in the bushes out of shame, it has always been God seeking and pursuing us.
"Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior (Colossians 1:21)."
Jesus didn't need to complete God's side of the relationship. God has always been for us. It was our side of the relationship that needed to be fulfilled! He fulfilled the law, He lived a perfect life, and took all our pain, shame, and blindness into Himself while still trusting the Father. He related to the Father for us, never losing His trust as we did. Jesus didn't run and hide in the bushes out of shame, but even while experiencing our alienation, pain, and shame, He trusted God and looked Him straight in the face!
"'Where, o death, is your victory? Where, o death, is your sting?' The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 15:55-57)."
The scriptures don't reveal a God that cannot relate to us because of our sin, but that we cannot relate to God because of our sin. Jesus came down, took our sin, and still related fully to the Father. He lived the righteous relationship with the Father that we couldn't live. He did it not just for us but as us!
"God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21)."
Jesus takes our sin upon Himself, embraces our alienation, our blindness, our hurt, and our confusion. He experiences the loneliness we feel, the separation we experience from our side of the equation with God, and yet never stopped trusting Him. The cross is not where Jesus changes the Father but where He changes us! The Father did not forsake Jesus, but together with Jesus met us in our darkness! Jesus wasn't doing something the Father couldn't, but the Father, Son, and Spirit were united in their purpose to reach us in our darkness!
"All this is from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people's sins against them (2 Corinthians 5:18-19)."
Wow, what good news! What an amazing God! "Therefore be reconciled" the scriptures say. Accept it, live in it, stop living in animosity to God. We have no excuse to live at odds with Him, thinking that He is far removed from us, or blaming Him for not coming through. God does not hate you, he isn't holding your sins against you, He has come down to meet us and embrace us!
"But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8)."
We can confidently trust the promise that, 'He will never leave us nor forsake us (Hebrews 13:10).' There is a scholarly debate that is ongoing, but in the bible when it says 'faith in Jesus', it can actually be translated as the 'faith of Jesus?' Jesus is sharing the love, union, and trust He has with the Father inside of our darkness. His faithfulness is what counts, His trust, and His love. He wants us to know the love of the Father the same way that He does.
"For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:38-39)."
Jesus went to the depths of our delusion. He died, and yet He was never separated from the love of God. He is the light shining in the darkness. That same love is shared with us, and we can begin to have the same trust in the Father's goodness and presence that Jesus has. When we doubt, when we are afraid, when we feel distant and separate from God, we place our trust in Jesus. Trusting Him to share with us His faith, the love He knows, the confidence He feels with His Father. We fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our trust.
"For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord's holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge - that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God (Ephesians 3:14-21)."