“My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”
From noon until three in the afternoon darkness came over the whole land. About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out with a loud voice. “Elí, Elí, lemá sabachtháni? My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”
Jesus shouted again with a loud voice and gave up His spirit. Suddenly, the curtain of the sanctuary was split in two from top to bottom; the earth quaked and the rocks were split.
~ from Matthew 27:45-51
Forsaken. At this moment, Jesus was abandoned by God. Jesus had been with God from the very beginning, and now he was alone, abandoned, and in despair. Jesus became the sin-bearer for us, carrying all of our sins and those of the entire world, while God poured out his wrath and punishment on sin. It was far worse than any physical pain and torture he had received – it was the moment Jesus feared the most. God could not look at his son. He was forsaken, shamed, and separated from God. It was the ultimate sacrifice, and for no other reason than the love for his creation.
There is so much to think about from this event and Jesus’ final words before his death:
Jesus has already paid the price for our sins (past, past and future). For those who accept this sacrificial gift, we will not be punished again for any of our sins. God does not punish twice for the same crime. Here, Jesus represents the loving, compassionate, and merciful side of God.
But God also hates sin. It goes against His holy nature. For those who do not accept Jesus’ sacrifice, God’s wrath will still be on their sins. People often have difficulty imagining God sending people to hell, especially with the images of devils and fire and torture. But the reality is, hell is a place where there is complete abandonment of God. A place where you can no longer call out to God and have any hope of Him responding. It is a place where there are no good characteristics of God available anywhere – of love, compassion, mercy, sacrifice. Hell is permanent abandonment and separation from God. People sometimes doubt there is any evidence that God is even in our world today, but imagine if you took out all references to God and love and good in our world, what would be the effects then? Complete lawlessness and chaos and evil without any hope of goodness or love. And definitely no self-sacrifice.
But why is Jesus the only way? I would rather ask the question like this… Why would God promise a Savior and then punish and sacrifice his son so much, only to turn around and say, “Well, it doesn’t really matter, there are many ways.” No other way or religion offers a sacrifice for you. But just like when someone gives you a gift, you have to accept that gift. It cannot be forced on you or it is no longer a gift.
Finally, I always get asked this question… What about those before Jesus, or those who have not heard, or places where their culture prevents it? Jesus came for past, present and future. He is not time-bound. Let Jesus deal with those things. He is the gate-keeper, and His gift is for everyone and He gives everyone a chance to accept. We should be more concerned about those of us who know better, who have knowledge, and yet have openly rejected his gift. Once you have been offered a gift and refuse, you may not have another chance to accept. Others may not have been offered yet. We are to accept Jesus’ gift of eternal life and fellowship with God, and pass the good news on to others. This is what Jesus died for, so that we may never have to experience separation from God.