During WWII six Navy pilots left their aircraft carrier on a mission. After searching the seas for enemy submarines, they tried to return to their ship shortly after dark. But the captain had ordered a blackout of all lights on the ship. Over and over the frantic pilots radioed, asking for just one light so they could see to land. But the pilots were told that the blackout could not be lifted. After several appeals and denials of their request, the ship’s operator turned the switch to break radio contact–and the pilots were forced to ditch in the ocean.
Can you fathom the feeling of that type of abandonment? That had to have been the scariest and most helpless feeling one could ever have… Imagine the panic…imagine the anxiety.
However, even though they must have been in utter despair and fear, those pilots had one another…
Can you imagine what it would be like to be abandoned by everyone you know? Can you conceive of the depth of despair and dejection which that would bring about? Some people have experienced this kind of abandonment…but they still had the opportunity to not be left alone by God. What would it be like to be abandoned by all, and in the same moment, forsaken by God?
We’ve seen how the various types of people in the world and in the church have no hope outside of Christ due to the innate sinfulness of humanity. Recently, a friend brought up the fact that when we discuss the crucifixion of Jesus, we are able to discuss the details of the physical beating and suffering He sustained, but that we rarely focus the majority of our energy on the suffering He endured due to the separation from the Father…
Throughout Jesus’ entire life, as far as it is recorded, He seemed to always refer to God as, “Father.” However, in the moments before His death…from the cross on the hill of judgment…He cried out to, “God.” He didn’t regard God with familiarity in these moments…because…all of a sudden…He had no familiarity. He had become the sin of the world…He had become the embodiment of evil, the dwelling of darkness, the abode of malice, and the vessel of wrath. In those moments on the cross…He became all that is wrong with mankind. He took upon Himself the identity of the murderer, the molester, the adulterer, the liar, the cheat, the thief, the coward, the religious, the treacherous, the bloodthirsty conqueror, the destructive despot, the maniacal dictator…and the entire host of all other descriptors. There was no goodness that was left to him…nothing redemptive…nothing innocent. He was the sacrificial Lamb upon Whom the guilt of the world…with all of its specifics…was laid. As He cried out, he had become the refuse of existence…the lowest of the low…the reject of the human race. The One that had never known loneliness and had never experienced abandonment was now solitary in existence as the One fixed point in the universe that was absolutely abandoned and forsaken. It’s as if there was a universal garbage dump where not only the physical waste but also the spiritual vileness was disposed of. Essentially, He was the cosmic vacuum for all that is wrong.
As I look in the mirror every day, I can look at myself in the eyes with confidence and without guilt before an almighty and holy God. We need not look at ourselves as guilty regarding our sinfulness before God. Jesus became the black hole in all of existence…capturing and containing the transgression from the entirety of the universe.
In specific, Jesus knows of the depths of the blackness in our souls. He knows not only of our evil deeds but also of the heart behind the deeds. He experienced the pain that willful sin brings upon our hearts…having taken ownership of that sin Himself.
Jesus became the solitary sinner…the embodiment of sin’s totality. As the perfect God of creation looked upon Him, He saw the most vile, malicious, disgusting, perverted miscreant that this world can offer…and as He looked upon this One…this Sinner…His anger was kindled and His wrath infuriated…and He began to punish Him. He poured out on His soul all of the furies of hell…all of the power of His wrath against sin. He poured into this Vessel of wrath the most bitter poison…for which there seemed to be no relief.
There hangs Jesus…receiving a spiritual pummeling that we cannot begin to imagine..and there is no one He can call upon. There is no mercy for Him. There will be no relief for the crimes He has taken the guilt for. His flesh has taken the beating…but now his soul will take the hell…the separation…the pain…the torment…the wrath.
There has been much discussion over time as to what happened to Him for the three days that He was in the grave. The Apostle’s Creed (which seems to have originated in the 4th century), says that Jesus “descended into hell.” We have no biblical data to suggest this to be true, and truthfully, we really don’t have any information as to what happened during those three days. Perhaps He was separated from the Father for the duration. Perhaps He felt the pain of the lowest hell during that time. What we do know for sure is that during the time on the cross, He endured a greater torment of wrath and pain of hell that any human could ever imagine…and it has very little to do with what His body was experiencing.
When we are suffering some kind of difficulty or pain, we like to have someone there with us. We want a hand to hold. Even when someone is undergoing execution, they are allowed to have friends or family present. I’ve sat at the bedside of people as life passed from their bodies, and one thing that is universal is that they generally don’t seem to want to be alone. They like to be touched a little…talked to…prayed with. When we are suffering, we are often given comfort in the fact that there is someone present. Even for those that die physically alone, there is the supernatural presence of the ever present God.
But not so for Jesus…
He said the word, “forsaken.” This is a word that means “abandoned,” or, “deserted.” Think about this reality for just a moment…when we are suffering, we often have the opportunity to have company or comfort. Even when we are alone, we have the presence of God. What if we had no kind of comfort…no one holding our hand…no realized presence of God as a comfort but only as a righteous Judge that has turned upon us His absolute gaze of hatred toward everything we are? His power is infinite and that power is exercised in the execution of His supernatural punishment of sin…and as He stares at Jesus with His eyes full of rage…Jesus finds no comfort…no compassion…no hint of love and mercy. He finds no grace. All He finds is pain. He is now abandoned by the One that He has known in the deepest of love for all of eternity…beaten to a pulp…treated as trash…thrown out to the wastelands of the cosmos…regarded as all that is wrong with the universe.
Author Max Lucado writes vividly of the abandonment of the Son on the cross as he bore our sin:
“Here is the cup, my Son. Drink it alone.”
God must have wept as he performed his task. Every lie, every lure, every act done in shadows was in that cup. Slowly, hideously they were absorbed in the body of the Son. The final act of incarnation. The spotless Lamb was blemished.
The King turns away from his Prince. The undiluted wrath of a sin-hating Father falls upon his sin-filled Son. The fire envelops him. The shadows hide him. The Son looks for his Father, but the Father cannot be seen.
“My God, my God…why?”
It was the most gut-wrenching cry of loneliness in history, and it came not from a prisoner or a widow or a patient. It came from a hill, from a cross, from a Messiah.
“My God, my God,” he screamed, “why did you abandon me!”
Never have words carried such hurt. Never has one being been so lonely. The despair is darker than the sky. The two who have been one are now two.”
It is important for us to meditate on this truth…even with all of its darkness…because within it is one of the most important realities we can discover. This is the reality of reconciliation. Creation needed to be restored and the only way it could be done was for the Creator, Himself, to take the punishment that was required. By doing this, then none of us ever have to experience this kind of loneliness and abandonment for ourselves. Even at our worst, when everyone in our lives forsakes us, we can celebrate the fact that due to what Jesus accomplished on the cross that day, we never experience such abandonment by God from His perspective. He will not force Himself upon us, but He will always be there…no matter what…always wanting and waiting for us to turn to Him.
This is not a gloomy and morbid story with a dark ending. This is a reality for the sake of eternity. This was a price that had to be paid and we have a God that paid it. Jesus was forsaken, hated, outcast, punished, broken, and judged so that we would not have to be.
No matter what we are guilty of, He took it upon Himself. He took that guilt, the shame, and that pain along with it, so that we could take His innocence and righteousness and the rewards that accompany them.
On the first day of that week, people waved palms as a symbol of victory. Those waving the branches believed that Jesus would lead a rebellion and take His place as leader of the Messianic Kingdom. What they didn’t know was that He did just that. He rebelled against the reign of sin. He defeated its power. He took it to hell. He rose from the grave victorious. He sent His Spirit…and He leads His Kingdom right now from the right hand of the Father…and is returning soon to reclaim the rest of what is His.
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