A number of years ago I was riding my bike on the way to meet my wife for breakfast. As I came to a curb, I went to pop up onto it, but I didn't realize the little lever that holds the tire in place had been opened. So the forks went up and the wheel kept on rolling. I didn't know what had happened until the forks came down and I went face first into the ground, without time to break my fall. I basically blacked out for a few seconds. Some guy was standing there asking, "Are you all right?" Of course, it's strange that even when we're hurt, we say we're okay. I went on to meet my wife, but about two hours later, the pain started kicking in. I realized that I wasn't as fine as I'd thought.
Then there are other kinds of pain that can even be worse than physical pain: the pain of rejection, the pain of betrayal, the pain of abandonment, the pain of a child saying, "I don't want to live the Christian life." We all have felt pain. We all have felt betrayal. We all have felt hurt. And it can even feel like a knife that stabs you deep inside.
I would like for us to consider what I believe was God's most painful moment, the most painful moment for our Lord when He was on this earth. Immediately our minds race to the crucifixion. We think of the Roman whip, that cat of nine tails that ripped into His skin and skeletal tissues, exposing vital organs. Was that it? That was a painful moment to say the least — extremely painful. It is one of the most horrific things that a person could go through. But as bad as that was, I don't think it was God's most painful moment. Was the crucifixion itself, where spikes were pounded into His hands and His feet, where He had to press His shredded back against the cross for a gulp of air? That was horrific as well. But as bad as that was, I don't think that was His most painful moment.
I believe it is found in Matthew 27: "Now from the sixth hour until the ninth hour there was darkness over all the land. And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, 'Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?' that is, 'My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?' " (verses 45-46).
These words surprise us. They disarm us and cause us to wonder what He meant. It is hard for us as human beings to even fathom what was taking place here. To begin with, it was a fulfillment of the prophetic words of Psalm 22:1, which says, "My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?" But these were not the delusions of a man in pain. His faith was not failing Him. I believe that as Christ hung there at this moment, He was bearing the sins of the world. He was dying as a substitute for us. To Him was imputed the guilt of all of our sins and He was suffering the necessary punishment for those sins on our behalf. And the essence of that punishment was the outpouring of God's wrath against sinners.
In some mysterious way that we can never fully understand, during these awful hours on the cross, the Father was pouring out the full measure of His wrath against sin and the recipient of that wrath was His own beloved Son. God was punishing Jesus as though He had personally committed every wicked deed committed by every wicked sinner. And in doing so, He could treat and forgive those redeemed ones as if they had lived Christ's perfect life of righteousness.
Jesus' words were not a cry against the Father, but to Him. It wasn't an accusation; it was an expression of dependence. He was not, in any moment, thinking that God had failed. He was simply recognizing the reality of what was happening as the sin of the world was poured upon Him — and as the Father turned His face away. Jesus was forsaken of God for a time so that we might enjoy His presence forever. He was forsaken so that we might be forgiven.
If you are ever tempted to doubt God's love for you, just take a long look at the cross, and remember Jesus did all of that for you.
You can receive a copy of I Can Only Imagine. Bart Millard of MercyMe lived a troubled childhood because of an abusive father. But by the power of the gospel, Bart says, “God transformed the monster I hated into the man I wanted to become.” Read the story behind how Bart’s father became a new creation in Christ and the influence it had on the creation of the popular song “I Can Only Imagine.” Get a copy of this compelling memoir in thanks for your generous donation to Harvest Ministries today.