The Father's Love Is So Deep that He Forsook His Son for Us!
Text: Mark 15:34
At the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?” which is translated, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”
How deep the Father’s love for us, how vast beyond all measure,
That He should give His only Son to make a wretch His treasure.
How great the pain of searing loss; the Father turns His face away,
As wounds which mar the Chosen One bring many sons to glory!
Those words, which form the first stanza of our liturgical hymn provide the overall theme of our Lenten meditations this year, as well as the specific theme for our service today. Our overall theme is “How deep the Father’s love for us!” That statement is intended to be an exclamation followed by an explanation, yet for many in our world today it might as well be a question: “How deep is the Father’s love us?” for they will claim they do not know and cannot feel the love of God in their lives? How might we help them to leave their question behind and join us in the certainty of our exclamation? How might we, as Peter encourages us, “be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks…a reason for the hope that is in” us? (cf. 1 Peter 3:15) Our specific theme today helps us begin to form such a response: THE FATHER’S LOVE IS SO DEEP THAT HE FORSOOK HIS SON FOR US! As Stuart Townend puts it in the hymn verse: “The Father turns His face away as wounds which mar the Chosen One bring many sons to glory!” Let us this day examine the thought that while Jesus hung on the cross, His own heavenly Father forsook Him. We cannot fully understand what went on when that occurred. We cannot understand at all how the Father could forsake the Son when both share the essence of God—when as Jesus put it, “I and My Father are one” (John 10:30). We can, however, understand why the Father forsook the Son, because the Spirit of God has revealed the reason for us in the Scriptures. Therefore we can explain to others—to those who have yet to come to know and feel the love of God— just how much the Father loves them.
What indeed did occur when Jesus cried out, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” These words were spoken near the end of Jesus’ suffering on the cross. As mentioned earlier we cannot fully understand what they entail, but God did provide a visual aid to help us at least begin to understand. Jesus had been nailed to the cross at about 9:00 a.m. During the first three hours of His suffering many things occurred. The religious leaders and others, including the thieves who were crucified with Him, had ridiculed Him, telling him “to come down from the cross” (Matthew 27:40) and to save Himself as He had saved others (cf. Mark 15:31), implying that He could not do so. Yet, the evidence of Jesus’ love for us was that He did not do so, even though He was fully capable of doing so. The soldiers had divided Jesus’ garments, even as the Psalmist David had said they would (cf. Psalm 22:18). Jesus had entrusted His mother Mary to the disciple whom He loved, John (cf. John 19:26-27), and instructed the penitent thief in the way of salvation (cf. Luke 23:40-43). But then at noon, the sixth hour according to Roman time, the evangelist Mark tells us in the verse preceding our text, “There was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour” (15:33).
For three hours there was darkness over the whole land. This was not an eclipse of the sun, for the moon at the time of Passover was full; nor was it a sandstorm as some have suggested. People have sought a natural explanation for this phenomenon of nature, but with little success. For some reason darkness does precede at times earthquakes and when Jesus died one of the things that indeed occurred was an earthquake (cf. Matthew 27:51). Yet, Scripture does not connect the two. Why then was there darkness? I believe God used the darkness to symbolize what indeed He was doing at that time. The darkness symbolized the spiritual, the psychological, and the physical torment through which Jesus was passing. The apostle John tells us, “God is light and in Him is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5). The darkness over Calvary symbolized that God the Father had forsaken Jesus, His beloved Son. As the hymn-writer put it—He turned His face away from Jesus and allowed the full weight of His judgment to fall upon Him. He abandoned, as it were, His own Son, allowing Him to suffer the spiritual and psychological anguish of God-forsakenness, while enduring the physical punishments of hell. The extent of Jesus’ suffering is something we cannot even imagine and by the grace of God something we need never experience!
How could this happen? How could the Father forsake the Son? We might be able to explain this were it a mere human relationship. Human fathers are not always loving, but “God is love” (1 John 4:8). Human sons are not always faithful and therefore deserving of love, but Jesus was able to say with utter conviction, “Which of you convicts Me of sin?” (John 8:46). He was the holy and perfect Son of God! How could God the Father forsake God the Son? From our human vantage point, we are ready to cry out, “Injustice,” and when we take into consideration the implications of the truth of the Holy Trinity—the unity of the Godhead, we must simply become silent, for we cannot even hope to understand how this could possibly happen.
No, we must rather silence all of our possible objections and focus our attention upon why God the Father would do such a thing to His beloved Son, in whom He Himself had said not long before on the Mount of Transfiguration, “I am well pleased” (Matthew 17:5). God did not forsake Jesus because He hated His Son. He loved His Son, but so great was also His love for us, the human beings He created—yes, so great was His love for us in spite of our sins, that He was willing to give up His Son for a time in order to give us life throughout eternity. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). The Scriptures assure us that from eternity God loved us and knowing that we would through our own sin face an impossible situation, for we cannot save our own souls, He determined already in eternity to save us in connection with His Son, Jesus Christ. The apostle Paul writes to the Ephesians, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He made us accepted in the Beloved” (1:3-6).
God planned to save us from eternity, and His plan involved a very special role for Jesus and a very traumatic period of time during which God the Son would endure the just judgment of the Father upon our sins—Jesus serving as our substitute. The prophet Isaiah spoke of this situation over seven hundred years before it occurred when he wrote concerning Jesus, “Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, every one, to his own way; and the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all” (53:4-6). The apostle Paul further explains in His second letter to the Corinthians, “He (that is, God the Father) made Him (that is, Jesus) who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (5:21). When God forsook Jesus, He did so for this reason—He did not want to forsake us! When we rightly recognize our sins and offenses against both God and man, we can only conclude that we deserve to be forsaken by God—to suffer the punishment our sins deserve in hell, but God turned His face away from Jesus during those hours in the cross. In the midst of world gone dark, Jesus suffered the anguish of soul and spirit—the utter sorrow of absolute hopelessness for us, so that we might ultimately be brought to glory.
How deep is the love of God for us? May God give us the ability and desire to explain to all who ask: THE FATHER’S LOVE IS SO DEEP THAT HE FORSOOK HIS ONLY SON FOR US! Amen.
—Pastor Paul D. Nolting