What Does It Mean for the Father to Forsake the Son? (Part 3)

Once again we hear the scream: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

Once again we ask ourselves, What can this mean?  

It means the Father allowed the Son to suffer social abandonment.  It means the Father allowed the Son to suffer emotional desertion.  And, yet, it means more.

3.  The Father Allowed the Son to Suffer Spiritual Wrath

This is the deepest, darkest part of Jesus’ suffering.  Social abandonment was horrible but came from outside.  Emotional desertion was painful but only inside Jesus.  This spiritual forsakenness, spiritual wrath from the Father, occurs deep down in the very godhead itself.  We dare not speculate lest we blaspheme.  But something was torn in the very fabric of the relationship between Father and Son.

To get a sense of this, we must remember what the relationship between Father and Son had been from eternity past.  The opening words of the apostle John’s Gospel tell us.  John 1:1-2—“In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God, and the word was God.  He was with God in the beginning.”  For all eternity, Jesus lived with the Father.  And not just with the Father.  The Greek word pros, translated “with”, can have the sense of “to” or “toward.”  In other words, the Word, Jesus, was with God, turned toward Him in face-to-face fellowship.  That’s all the Lord Jesus had ever known—the loving, approving, shining face of His Father.

And to be turned face-to-face with God the Father is the Bible’s idea of the highest possible or imaginable blessing and happiness.  This is why God teaches Moses to bless the Israelites in Numbers 6:24-26—

24 “The LORD bless you 
and keep you;
25 the LORD make his face shine upon you
and be gracious to you;
26 the LORD turn his face toward you
and give you peace.”

To see the face of God became the highest aspiration and hope among the holy and righteous.  I Chronicles 16:10-11 exhorts the faithful with these words—“Glory in His name; let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice; Look to the Lord and His strength; seek His face always.”  The psalms repeatedly include that last exhortation—“Seek His face always!”  That became the highest and happiest ambition of man.

And conversely, having the Lord turn His face away became the deepest fear and dread.  So David brings together that high and holy aspiration with that deep and fearful dread when he writes in Psalm 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 your servant away in anger; you have been my helper.  Do not reject me or forsake me, O my Savior.”

The words of Psalm 27 could have easily been spoken by our Incarnate Lord at Golgotha.  For in His earthly life and ministry, the Lord Jesus continually sought the Father’s face.  He sought to live in a way that earned the Father’s approval and favor.  And He did–perfectly.

But on that dark mid-day on Golgotha, when the sun refused to shine, the unimaginable and indescribable happened.  That beautiful, shining, loving face of the Father withdrew into the dark, frowning, punishing face of wrath.  He who knew no sin was made to be sin for us (2 Cor. 5:21).  The Son of God himself “bore our sins in His body on the tree” (1 Pet. 2:24).  He became accursed for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree” (Gal. 3:13).  And when our sins were laid upon Him, then Jesus felt the full horrible truth of Habbakuk 1:13—that God the Father’s “eyes are too pure to look on evil; He cannot tolerate wrong.”

At 3 o’clock that dark Friday afternoon, the Father turned His face away and the ancient, eternal fellowship between Father and Son was broken as divine wrath rained down like a million Soddoms and Gomorrah’s.  In the terror and agony of it all, Jesus cried, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

“[T]his was his chief conflict, and harder than all the other tortures….  For not only did he offer his body as the price of our reconciliation with God, but in his soul also he endured the punishments due to us. … Nothing is more dreadful than to feel that God, whose wrath is worse than all deaths, is the Judge. … [H]e maintained a struggle with the sorrows of death, as if an offended God had thrown him into a whirlpool of afflictions.”[1]

In Jerusalem that day hung a picture of Hell as the Son of God was cut off socially from everyone, deserted emotionally on the cross, and separated spiritually from the eternal Father with whom He had always lived face-to-face.  That’s hell.

Sinner, that’s our place!  That’s the horror that awaits everyone who dies in their sin not repenting from sin and trusting in Jesus alone to save them from the wrath of God and for the worship of God.  It’s not pretty.  It’s dark and horrifying and unimaginable.  Even the God-man cried out and died!

Here’s what we must remember and treasure: Jesus willingly suffers this so sinners may escape it.  Jesus’ abandonment means the sinners adoption.  He takes our place on the cross so we can take His place in the kingdom.  Because He was abandoned socially, we may be children in the household of God.  Because He was deserted emotionally, we become whole again—renewed in the image of God.  Because He suffered spiritual separation, we may be spiritually united to Him through faith so that we will never be separated from God’s love.  Because He was forsaken, we are forgiven.  Now He says to us, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”

It is finished!  Sinner, our salvation has been completed.  We need only to turn from sin and trust in Jesus.

And if you need evidence to sustain your trust, remember this: The Father went back for the body.  He raised Jesus from the grave alive and ruling in glory. Three days later the Father  reclaimed a resurrected and living Son!  Jesus was not finally forsaken and neither is anyone who trusts in Him.

[1] John Calvin, Commentary, p. 318-9.