Read – Matthew 27:27-66
Then the governor’s soldiers took Jesus into the Praetorium and gathered the whole company of soldiers round 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. Then they knelt in front of him and mocked him. ‘Hail, king of the Jews!’ they said. They spat 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.
As they were going out, they met a man from Cyrene, named Simon, and they forced him to carry the cross. They came to a place called Golgotha (which means ‘the place of the skull’). There they offered Jesus wine to drink, mixed with gall; but after tasting it, he refused to drink it. When they had crucified him, they divided up his clothes by casting lots. And sitting down, they kept watch over him there. Above his head they placed the written charge against him: this is jesus, the king of the jews.
Two rebels were crucified with him, one on his right and one on his left. 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!’ In the same way the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders mocked him. ‘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. He trusts in God. Let God rescue him now if he wants him, for he said, “I am the Son of God.”’ In the same way the rebels who were crucified with him also heaped insults on him.
From noon until three in the afternoon darkness came over all the land. About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, ‘Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?’ (which means ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’).
When some of those standing there heard this, they said, ‘He’s calling Elijah.’
Immediately one of them ran and got a sponge. He filled it with wine vinegar, put it on a staff, and offered it to Jesus to drink. The rest said, ‘Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to save him.’
And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit.
At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split and the tombs broke open. The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs after Jesus’ resurrection and went into the holy city and appeared to many people.
When the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and all that had happened, they were terrified, and exclaimed, ‘Surely he was the Son of God!’
Many women were there, watching from a distance. They had followed Jesus from Galilee to care for his needs. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of Zebedee’s sons.
As evening approached, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who had himself become a disciple of Jesus. Going to Pilate, he asked for Jesus’ body, and Pilate ordered that it be given to him. Joseph took the body, wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, and placed it in his own new tomb that he had cut out of the rock. He rolled a big stone in front of the entrance to the tomb and went away. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were sitting there opposite the tomb.
The next day, the one after Preparation Day, the chief priests and the Pharisees went to Pilate. ‘Sir,’ they said, ‘we remember that while he was still alive that deceiver said, “After three days I will rise again.” So give the order for the tomb to be made secure until the third day. Otherwise, his disciples may come and steal the body and tell the people that he has been raised from the dead. This last deception will be worse than the first.’
‘Take a guard,’ Pilate answered. ‘Go, make the tomb as secure as you know how.’ So they went and made the tomb secure by putting a seal on the stone and posting the guard.
(Matthew 27:27-66, NIV, Anglicised)
Good Friday Reflection – God Forsaken
Jesus was nailed to the cross in the morning., “the third hour”, as it was known. 9 o’clock. After three hours of Jesus hanging there the sky went dark. Noon. Right in the middle of the day at noon, the sun refused to shine for three whole hours. At 3 o’clock, after 6 hours of hanging on the cross, Jesus cried out in anguish.
“…‘Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?’… ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’”
Six hours nailed to a cross, naked, beaten and scourged, abandoned by his friends. Jesus cries out with a deep anguish of the soul. Jesus, as Calvin wrote, “bore in his soul the tortures of a condemned and ruined man” (Institutes, II:XVI, 10).
God the Son, who has known an eternity of fellowship with the Father, an intimacy we cannot imagine, is now experiencing separation from his beloved Father as he takes our sins upon himself.
Jesus cried in his mother tongue a quote from Psalm 22, the prayer of one seeking justice and rescue in the face of cruel destruction. A cry of dereliction.
And a good question.
“Why have you forsaken me?”
Why had God forsaken him?
The short answer is: for us. Jesus was forsaken for us. But as we reflect on Jesus hanging there, unjustly suffering, weak, hurting, abandoned by his friends we can also see the truth that Jesus is forsaken with us and by us.
Jesus is forsaken with us. Forsaken by us. And to answer his question, an answer Jesus already knew, Jesus is forsaken for us.
Forsaken with us
On the cross we see Jesus forsaken with us. We see that God is not distant from those who suffer. God knows suffering. Our God is the One who was unjustly tried, falsely accused, mocked and beaten though he did no wrong. Betrayed. Abandoned by his closest friends. Rejected by those he came to save. Those feeling the sting of injustice, the ache of dereliction can know that God is not far. God is not just the God of the strong, the successful, the rich and smiling. Our God is the God of the broken, the weak, the betrayed, the abused. The God of those who cry out for justice.
Forsaken by us
We also see ourselves on the other side. Like his apostles, we too have forsaken him. Jesus was abandoned by his friends and we are reminded as we reflect on the cross that it shines back at us showing us all the ways we have abandoned him. Showing us the ugliness of our sin. We turn away from God to pursue our own agendas. So often when the devil, the world or our own desires call us one way and Jesus calls us the other, we choose to walk away from Jesus.
We are reminded to take sin seriously as we are shown the true ugliness of it. On the cross we see all our selfishness, cowardice, greed, lust, hatred, all of our sins. We know that this is why Jesus, the Son of God, died.
Forsaken for us
Finally, the answer to Jesus’ question, why had God forsaken him? What for? Jesus was forsaken for us.
Jesus took upon himself all of this ugliness. All of our sin. Our greed, lust, hatred, cowardice, selfishness. Every wicked thought, word and deed. The brokenness of our hearts and all of ways we have sinned against each other and God. Jesus, who knew no sin, who loved God and had never turned away from him, took all of this from us and took it on himself. That was our cross and yet God the Son hung there.
And for the first time in eternity God the Son experienced what it is like to be separated from his beloved Father. Sin separates us from God and when Jesus, who had not sinned, took our sin on himself he felt that separation and cried out in pain the words of the psalm “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” He was experiencing the consequences of our sin.
God himself experiencing separation and forsakenness for us. Such a horror it seems like even nature couldn’t bear to witness it. The earth shook and the sun refused to shine.
Because of the love of God. John 3:16 tells us:
‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.
God gave his only Son out of love for the world.
Jesus, God the Son, was born into poverty, because of love. Ministered because of love. Preached and taught because of love. Rebuked the arrogant and hypocritical because of love. Welcomed the outcast because of love. Rode into Jerusalem because of love. Accepted betrayal and arrest because of love. Endured beating and mocking and torture because of love. Hung on a cross because of love. Was separated from his Father because of love.
Because of love, Jesus took our sin, our rebellion and brokenness. He took it on himself and took it to the grave so that we could be free from it. He bore our punishment so that we could be spared.
On this Good Friday take some time to reflect on the cross and on the God who was forsaken with us, by us and for us. Know that Jesus endured this because of love, and in him, and because of what he has done, we can have forgiveness for all our sins and we can know God who loves us more than we can imagine.
What can we possibly say to God in response to the cross? The cross shows us that God’s love is greater than our sins. It shows us that God would rather undergo the pain of costly forgiveness than justly punish us for our sins. Perhaps you have never really thought about this before, or perhaps it has been a long time since you stopped to reflect on it; we all need to remind ourselves constantly of God’s amazing grace shown to us in the death of Jesus Christ for us. God has offered us forgiveness and fellowship with him, not as something to be earned by our good behaviour, but as a gift. Our role is to accept this gift. Accept God’s forgiveness and the gift of new life in Jesus Christ.
The cross shows us that our sin is so great a problem that Jesus Christ had to die so that we could be forgiven. The cross also shows us that God’s love for us is even greater, because Jesus Christ willingly died so that we could be forgiven.
Pray now to God. Confess that you are a sinner in need of salvation. Then thank him, because that salvation has come to you freely because of Jesus Christ and his sacrifice for your sake on the cross.
It is right to rejoice and sing in response to God’s salvation. You might find this video helpful. First published in 1707, this hymn was originally written by Isaac Watts. The lyrics are written below.
When I survey the wondrous cross,
On which the Prince of glory died,
My richest gain I count but loss,
And pour contempt on all my pride.
Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast,
Save in the death of Christ my God.
All the vain things that charm me most,
I sacrifice them to His blood.
See from his head, his hands, his feet,
Sorrow and love flow mingled down!
Did e’er such love and sorrow meet,
Or thorns compose so rich a crown?
Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were a present far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.