When Jesus cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken Me?” in verse 46, He was suffering separation from God for our reconciliation. The cry on the cross is not a cry of unbelief, confusion, or despair. Jesus was not doubting the Father, and He wasn’t confused about what was happening to Him. We shouldn’t understand His cry from the cross as if He were saying to His Father, “Why are You doing this to Me?” He knew everything that was going on at that moment; in fact, He had foretold this moment (Matthew 17:22-23; Mark 9:31), and He had willingly submitted Himself to it (John 10:17-18). He was confident in the Father even as He experienced abandonment.
Jesus’ cry on the cross was a cry of physical agony, spiritual anguish, and relational alienation. He quoted from Psalm 22, and understanding that psalm is key to understanding this cry. Much could be said about the themes in this psalm and their relation to the crucifixion, but for now we should note that this was a cry of physical agony as Jesus physically hung on the cross. Psalm 22:14-16 captures this physical anguish:
I am poured out like water, and all my bones are disjointed; my heart is like wax, melting within me. My strength is dried up like baked clay; my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth. You put me into the dust of death. For dogs have surrounded me; a gang of evildoers has closed in on me; they pierced my hands and my feet.
Jesus’ physical anguish was very real and His suffering was intense. However, as we noted earlier, Jesus’ cry on the cross was also a cry of spiritual anguish. Jesus experienced the wrath of God, and not just for a moment, but for hours. Shrouded by darkness and seared with pain, He experienced the cup of God’s wrath.
Jesus was given the full recompense of our disobedience.
In addition, this was also a cry of relational alienation. In a mysterious way, Christ was alienated not only from His friends, but also from the Father. This is the curse of the cross (see also Galatians 3:13). As He came under the sentence of sin, Jesus was cut off from the Father’s favorable presence. God’s presence was real at the cross, but it was His presence in judgment and wrath toward sin. Jesus was given the full recompense of our disobedience. This is what Paul speaks to in 2 Corinthians 5:21: “He made the One who did not know sin to be sin for us, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” Martin Luther spoke of this exchange:
Our most merciful Father, seeing us to be oppressed and overwhelmed with the curse of the law [so that] we could never be delivered from it by our own power, sent his only Son in the world and laid upon him all the sins of all men, saying: Be thou Peter that denier; Paul that persecutor, blasphemer and cruel oppressor; David that adulterer; that sinner which did eat the apple in Paradise; that thief which hanged upon the cross; and briefly, be thou the person which hath committed the sins of all men; see therefore that thou pay and satisfy for them [all]. (As cited in Stott, The Cross of Christ, 345)
Jesus experienced the separation that we as sinners deserve, so that we might receive reconciliation. That is the effect of the cross for all who trust in Jesus. Before the cross, we were cast out of God’s presence; because of the cross, we are now invited into God’s presence.
The barrier separating man from God was ripped away by God so that hell-deserving sinners could be welcomed safely into the presence of the infinitely holy God.
This entrance into God’s presence is why, right after Jesus died, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom (Matthew 27:51). The barrier separating man from God was ripped away by God so that hell-deserving sinners could be welcomed safely into the presence of the infinitely holy God of the universe.
Do you see now why the cross is so significant? What happened on the cross was so much more than a naked man dying on a wooden post on the side of the road in a non-descript part of the world. This was the holy God of the universe giving His Son to die our death, endure our condemnation, and suffer our separation so that we could be declared righteous and welcomed into His presence.
**This Daily devotion was modified from Exalting Jesus in Matthew from the Christ-Centered Exposition commentary series, by David Platt.