A child’s greatest fear is separation from their parents. While few of us are likely to have experienced outright abandonment, some have. It is an unimaginable tragedy. Others of us may have experienced the lesser calamity of being lost or separated from our parents, even if only for a few terrifying moments – be it in a crowded shopping mall, at the park, or (in my case) at the zoo. The horrifying feeling of panic, disorientation and ‘lostness’ is seared permanently in our minds.
Some may not realise that Jesus was abandoned by His Father. It’s difficult to contemplate, but during the last three hours on that Roman cross, Jesus was forsaken by God. He was forsaken, so we don’t have to be. You see, God is 100% righteous and pure. He can’t have anything to do with sin.
“When you lift up your hands in prayer, I will not look. Though you offer many prayers, I will not listen, for your hands are covered with the blood of innocent victims. Wash yourselves and be clean! Get your sins out of my sight. Give up your evil ways.” (Isa. 1:15-16; cf. Lev. 20:7, 26; Isa. 6:3-6; Matt. 5:48; Rom. 12:1; 1 Peter 1:15-16; 1 John 1:5; 3:1-6).
As our ‘sin bearer’ (cf. John 1:29; Lev. 16; Heb. 10:10-14; 1 Pet. 2:21-25), Jesus, the spotless Lamb, bore all our sin – past, present and future – once and for all:
“For our sake He made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Cor. 5:21)
As a result of taking our sin onto Himself, Jesus was temporarily subjected to the wrath of the Father. Three agonising hours of total separation from His Father, which made all the floggings, beatings, humiliations, and even the crucifixion seem like minor inconveniences by comparison.
If we ever doubt how profoundly distressing this spiritual separation from the Father was to Jesus, we need to re-read Luke 22:39-46. It wasn’t the anticipation of the physical suffering that nearly killed Jesus with grief in the Garden (cf. Mark 13:32-34). He had prophesied about that Himself on numerous occasions (cf. Mark 8:31; Matt. 16:21 & 17:22-23). Why would Jesus pray to avoid physical suffering and death when He came to earth for that very purpose?
“Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? 'Father, save me from this hour'? But for this purpose I have come to this hour.” (John 12:27; cf. Gen. 3:15; Psa. 22; Isa. 50:4-7; 53; Luke 19:10; John 3:14-17; 10:11-18; Heb. 10:5-9; Rev. 13:8)
No. It was the anticipation of being separated from His Father, even for a minute, let alone three hours. That is the “cup” that Jesus desperately wanted to avoid.
"Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Yours be done." (Luke 22:42)
Even as Jesus pleaded repeatedly to the Father to be spared the agony of spiritual separation, He never wavered from His desire to be aligned completely to God’s will. Jesus knew the right place to be is always in the centre of His Father’s will (cf. John 6:38).
Did you notice the change in how Jesus addressed God in that desperate hour? When Jesus cried out “MY GOD, MY GOD, WHY HAVE YOU FORSAKEN ME?”, He no longer referred to God as His “Father”, but as His “God”. In that moment, the Father-Son relationship was broken in some mysterious sense. As horrible as it was, the physical crucifixion was not the climax of Jesus’ suffering. Intimate and perfect unity with His Father from eternity past was interrupted for you and me. That’s how Jesus spent His ‘ninth hour’. That’s how much Jesus loves us.
Stuart Townend sang it beautifully:
“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.
Behold the man upon a cross,
My sin upon His shoulders;
Ashamed, I hear my mocking voice
Call out among the scoffers.
It was my sin that held Him there
Until it was accomplished;
His dying breath has brought me life –
I know that it is finished.”
Charles Spurgeon described it like this:
At that moment the finite soul of the man Christ Jesus came into awful contact with the infinite justice of God. The one Mediator between God and man, the Man Christ Jesus, beheld the holiness of God in arms against the sin of man, whose nature He had espoused. God was for Him and with Him in a certain unquestionable sense; but for the time, so far as His feeling went, God was against Him and necessarily withdrawn from Him”
This world is approaching its ‘ninth hour’. By any measure, we live at a very dark time in a very dark place. Humanity is ripe for Jesus’ return and God’s final judgement. It is imminent (cf. 2 Peter 3:8-15).
With so little time left, what are we investing in? What treasures are we storing up? Who are we serving? Into whose hands are we committing our spirit?