At the sixth hour darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour. And at 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?”
When some of those standing near heard this, they said, “Listen, he’s calling Elijah.”
One man ran, filled a sponge with wine vinegar, put it on a stick, and offered it to Jesus to drink. “Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to take him down,” he said.
With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last.
The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, heard his cry and saw how he died, he said, “Surely this man was the Son of God!”
Echoing David in Psalm 22, Jesus cried out on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” In that haunting cry, Christ identifies with our despair and bridges the gap between God and us not only theologically, in the Atonement, but emotionally—between our suffering and God’s, between our agonizing cries and those of God’s Son.
The beloved Son who had “well pleased” His Father (Matthew 3:17) became our sin (see 2 Corinthians 5:21). So the Father turned away. For the first time in all eternity, the oneness within the Godhead knew separation. In ways we cannot comprehend—ways that would amount to blasphemy had not God revealed it to us—the Atonement somehow tore God apart.
Some believe that Jesus’ cry showed He didn’t know why His Father had poured out His wrath on Him. But Scripture says otherwise. Anticipating His death, Jesus said, “Now my heart is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name!” (John 12:27–28). Jesus knew why He had to die. He cried out because any separation from His Father constituted an infinite horror.
Tim Keller explains:
The physical pain was nothing compared to the spiritual experience of cosmic abandonment. Christianity alone among the world religions claims that God became uniquely and fully human in Jesus Christ and therefore knows firsthand despair, rejection, loneliness, poverty, bereavement, torture, and imprisonment. On the Cross he went beyond even the worst human suffering and experienced cosmic rejection and pain that exceeds ours as infinitely as his knowledge and power exceeds ours.
The unrighteous have no grounds for asking God why He has forsaken them—all who understand His holiness and our sin know the reasons. But God’s beloved Son had the right to ask, even knowing the answer. In some qualitative—not quantitative—way, Jesus endured the punishment of Hell. When He said, “It is finished,” signaling He had paid the redemptive price, Jesus ceased to bear the penalty for our sin. Then “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). The unimaginable had happened. But once redemption was accomplished in space-time history, the triune God was restored to the complete oneness known from eternity past and assured for eternity future.
Lord, nothing is so horrifying as the teaching of Scripture that you became sin for us and in doing so became the object of your Father’s wrath. Thank you, Father, for being there for Jesus as He went to the cross and as His spirit departed from His body on the cross. But thank you too—Father and Son and Holy Spirit together—for your willingness, in those three hours of unfathomable darkness, to make the ultimate sacrifice to purchase our place with you forever.