On the 14th Day of Nisan (according to the Hebrew calendar), Jesus asked a question, a prayer…“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” It’s the only prayer that Jesus prayed which never warranted an answer by His Father. And every Easter & Lenten season, I toss around this question:
Was Jesus really despised / rejected on the cross?
I know the traditional answer is YES citing the words of Jesus, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” which is a word-for-word quote from Psalm 22:1 of David (depending on the version, yours might read ‘rejected’ or ‘abandoned’ me), but there are a few other Scriptures which really bother me about that answer and really lead me to answer NO.
Matthew’s account of the crucifixion and this moment when Jesus uttered his question is book-ended by two supernatural events which reveal God’s hand in the midst of this event: the darkening of the sun and the tearing of the Temple’s veil. Both show me that Jesus’ “God” was NOT distant, but very near and very active in that moment.
If you haven’t yet, take time to read David’s Messianic Psalm about the crucifixion (Ps. 22). It’s impossible to ignore the specific prophetic nature of most of these verses. David felt abandoned, rejected, and forsaken… as if God was not listening to him (see v 1-2) but he had hope to be heard (v11, 19). Not only was David heard, his prayers were answered (v21)! To be sure that we do not miss it, the promise comes from Heaven, bold and clear: “He has NOT despised or abhorred the torment of the oppressed. He did NOT hide his face from him but listened when he cried to him for help.” (v 24)
For me, the answer is NO, Jesus was NOT despised or rejected on the cross? He only FELT that way.
WHY IS THIS IMPORTANT? Why make this distinction?
How often do you feel despised, rejected, or alone? Like God is not there or not listening? I believe this is important because now I know that Jesus himself felt that way. Even though he wasn’t alone, he felt it. He understands me when I feel that way, too! Jesus never sinned, nor could he – but he was tempted in every way. He was tempted to yield to shame and loneliness, yet he responded with faith and love. He was tempted to believe the lie, but He didn’t! How do I know? If Jesus was truly forsaken, these would’ve been his last words to God, but they weren’t! If Jesus was truly forsaken, there would’ve been no resurrection, but there was!
As Jesus took the sins of all humanity – my sins and your sins – he suffered all that would come with it. He experienced shame. Not because he had ever sinned, but for us. He experienced the curse of guilt. Not because he was guilty, but because we are. And he experienced loneliness, too. It would be impossible for Him to take your sin and to bear completely its cost without taking all of its bedfellows.
This leads me to 3 important conclusions about God:
- If the curse brought a loneliness to the Son of God, if sin brought the whisper of a lie that God was not there – that even the Son of God could not escape – then I must live very aware of Satan’s desire to make me feel distant from God in my times of distress. Satan’s desire is to make you feel isolated and disconnected so that you will stop looking for God’s hand or calling out to Him in your need.
- David said, in Psalm 34:18, that God is NEAR those who are broken. He’s near you, even when you don’t feel it. He’s actually closer to you then than when at other times. Read the verse!
- It’s quite possible that God will NOT answer you in the middle of your pain but that doesn’t mean he’s not there. It’s not something that I completely understand yet… Why He doesn’t answer right away to assure us – or maybe He does and I’m just not listening. Maybe it’s a test of my love – or a proving of my faith. At any rate, you can be sure that Jesus understands what you’re feeling and that God is not absent from your situation. He’s there and He cares and He’s promised to use it for your good and for His ultimate, eternal glory!