It’s passion week. On Good Friday, Christians tend to think more about the cross than usual. One thing I’ve heard from many over the years is that when Jesus died on the cross, the Father rejected him. When Jesus cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46) this shows an obvious indicator that Jesus was forsaken by the Father. Is this true?
The answer is — it depends on what you mean by the word “forsaken.” The footnote from the ESV Study Bible on Matthew 27:46 helps us here: “In some sense Jesus had to be cut off from the favor of and fellowship with the Father that had been his eternally, because he was bearing the sins of his people and therefore enduring God’s wrath . . . he was experiencing God-forsakenness not for anything in himself but for the salvation of others.” The favor and fellowship of which Jesus previously enjoyed with the Father was different at this moment, but surely the Father did not entirely reject Jesus on the cross.
So what happened?
Jesus studied, read, and memorized the Old Testament. He knew it well. When Jesus cried out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” he wasn’t using new language to describe a new pain; he was quoting Psalm 22:1
Psalm 22 is a psalm of lament. The psalm describes an innocent sufferer. It’s important to use the word “innocent” here since not all of the psalms of lament portray someone who is innocent. But this one does. When Jesus quoted Psalm 22:1 on the cross — and this is the main point of this post — he was showing himself to be the quintessential innocent sufferer. 1 He was not being rejected by the Father, but revealing that he is the “innocent sufferer par excellence.” 2
Psalm 22 ends in victory (Psalm 22:21-31). And so does Jesus’ substitute on the cross.
Indeed, on Good Friday, we remember the gospel which says that Jesus is the true and better innocent sufferer whose substitute on the cross now makes way for guilty people like you and me to be declared innocent.
Hallelujah! What a Savior!
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