Have you ever noticed that in the entire account of the crucifixion in Mark’s Gospel Jesus only speaks once? He cries out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” This is the translation of the Aramaic words he spoke, which are also recorded for us, “Eloi, Eloi, leme sebachthani.”
Consider those words.
1. Eloi (My God)
Why does Jesus address this painful cry to his Father in Heaven? It’s because he understands that he is on that cross according to the will of God.
There were certainly other causes. You could say that Jesus is on the cross because Satan incited Judas to betray him. You could say that Jesus is on the cross because the chief priests falsely accused him. You could say that Jesus is on the cross because Pilate condemned him. You could say that Jesus is on the cross because the Roman soldiers crucified him.
All of that is clear in Scripture. All of that is true. But neither Satan, nor Judas, nor the Chief Priests, nor Pilate, nor the Roman Soldiers are the ultimate cause of Jesus’s crucifixion.
God the Father willed that Jesus the Son would hang on that cross. Isaiah 53:10 says, It was the will of the Lord to crush him. On the cross, Jesus was stricken, smitten, afflicted, pierced, chastised, wounded, oppressed, cut off, slaughtered, and crushed according to the will of the Lord. God did this.
The Father didn’t take his eyes off of his Son just long enough for him to get hurt. He knew this would happen. He planned for this to happen. The cross of Christ was the will of God.
2. Sebachthani (You have forsaken me)
Isaiah 53:10 also says, He has put him to grief. God the Father brought Christ the Son to a place of immense grief, immense pain. There was pain in the physical act of crucifixion for sure, but Jesus’s greatest agony was not physical. In this verse he doesn’t cry out concerning his scourged back, or his bloodied head, or his pierced hands and feet. He cries out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
Forsaken by the Father: that is Jesus’s greatest sorrow.
From eternity past, Jesus lived in the perfect loving unity of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. No one has ever loved God the Father more than Jesus. No one has ever been loved by God the Father more than Jesus. This love has always been his greatest joy. But at the cross he hangs under the Father’s curse, experiencing the Father’s condemnation. If you know the grief of ruptured relationship with someone you love deeply, you know a fraction of the grief Jesus experienced.
It is no stretch to say that what Jesus endured in these hours on the cross was hell. Hell is where God’s kindness and blessing are completely removed, and God’s unhindered wrath is poured out. That was Christ’s greatest pain. At the cross, God the Father treated Christ the Son as a forsaken sinner.
3. Lema (Why?)
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Isn’t that our question too? Why God? Why was it your will to crush him and put him to grief? What’s going on here?
Isaiah 53:10: It was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt. At the cross, Jesus became a guilt offering.
In the Old Testament, God prescribed a remedy for the sins of his people. They could make an offering, typically by killing an animal, and God in his grace would accept that death as a substitute for the death his people deserved.
The ultimate substitutionary death, in fact the real substitutionary death which all others simply foreshadowed, was the death of Christ on the cross. He died in our place. We are the ones who deserved to be crushed by God! We are the ones who deserve to be forsaken! We have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God and the wages of sin is death!
But at the cross, Jesus gave up his perfect life, his sinless soul, as an offering for our guilt. He is our substitute. He is our Savior. That’s why he died.
And he did this willingly. In John 10:18 Jesus says this, No one takes (my life) from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. He knew the answer to his own question as he hung on that cross. He knew that he had come under the forsaking wrath of God in order to be a saving offering for his people.
This is the power of the cross: Christ became sin for us; Took the blame, bore the wrath— We stand forgiven at the cross.
Do you see?
Do you see the love that God has for you? He sent his son, and willingly put him to death on a cross, that you, a rebel sinner, could be reconciled! If you are ever tempted to think God is against you, that he is harsh toward you, that he is opposed to you, look at the cross.
Do you see the depth of your need for this grace? You deserve the complete removal of God’s kindness and blessing, and the outpouring of God’s unhindered wrath. But if you belong to Jesus Christ, he endured that hell in your place. If you are ever tempted to think God expects you to earn his favor, that he evaluates your standing before him based on your work and your effort, look at the cross.
Do you see the power of Christ’s cross? The perfect life of the eternal Son of God was offered up as a payment for your sins. And his life is of such infinite value that there is no sin in your past, present, or future that cannot be covered. If you are ever tempted to think that your sin is too great to be forgiven, that you’ve gone too far too often, look at the cross.