Pastor Dennis Smith
In the garden of Gethsemane Jesus prayed, “O my Father, if it be possible let this cup pass from me: nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt.” Hours later, on the cross, his cry was, “My God, my God: why hast thou forsaken me?” In the garden, it was, “O my Father.” On the cross, it was, “My God, my God, why?”
I don’t believe any of us can know all that Christ suffered on the cross. Yes, we can describe the horrible death that was crucifixion. We can project the physical pain and psychological trauma of such torture. And countless people suffered that unimaginably agonizing death at the hands of the Roman government in Jesus’ day. Yet Jesus, I believe, suffered as no other because of who he was and what God had appointed for him.
A cardinal truth of orthodox Christianity is that Jesus Christ bore our sins on the cross. It is not too much to read into the words of Isaiah 53, a description of what would happen at Calvary some 700 years later. I don’t understand how the transaction could be done, but God in his infinite power and absolute authority was somehow able to lay on his sinless Son the sins of every sinner. Isaiah tells us as much when he writes that the Lord had laid on him (here surely referring to Messiah) the iniquity of us all (Isaiah 53:6). Peter confirms this in the New Testament, saying of Jesus, “Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree” (1 Peter 2:24).
And in bearing our sins on the tree, Jesus suffered the full penalty for sin—all the sin in the world. That penalty involved physical death, but also, I believe, somehow and perhaps mysteriously, a time of spiritual separation from, and abandonment by God the Father. “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” There was a physical sign and manifestation of this spiritual crisis as darkness overcame daylight for several hours that day.
At some point during that awful period, God’s justice was satisfied. And so, among Jesus’ last words were, “It is finished!” (See John 19:28–30.) By his self-sacrifice and suffering, he had made possible the redemption of sinners. Some say that after his death, Jesus in his spirit descended into the flames of hell to be further and fully tormented there. I’m not sure what they make of his words when he said that it was finished. Do they think he simply meant that his life was over, that he was “finished”? No, against that I would strenuously argue that Jesus was saying that the work of redemption was finished. It was complete. Nothing more needed to be done to reconcile man to God.
Some folks of an evangelical persuasion criticize displays of the “crucifix” depicting the Lord on his cross. That’s undoubtedly because we might prefer to view an empty cross, which reminds us that the Savior lives and has overcome death and the grave. And that’s valid. But maybe it is well to be reminded of not only that but also of the astounding mystery of the counsel of God that brought the man Jesus to agonize on the cross, “My God, my God, why?” A while ago a youngster’s statement came to my attention. He had said, “He did that for me.” Hmm. Jesus said, “Out of the mouths of babes…”
I hope such wonderment has not worn off for you. Indeed, may we never lose it, and may it move us to holiness and Kingdom service.