A cry from the cross
Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land unto the ninth hour. And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? Matthew 27:45-46
I think Matthew and the other gospel writers are letting us in on the meaning of his death when they record Jesus’ cry, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Let us now turn to this and think about what it says about the significance of the death of Jesus.
First of all, we should behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed upon us by giving his Son to die for our sins. To die, Jesus had to pass through the tempest of the judgment of God for our sin. He had to endure abandonment by God. He had to receive into his very soul the poisoned arrows of our sin and to endure the punishment due to them. He was not dying because he deserved it. He was dying because we deserved it. The insult, “He saved others; himself he cannot save” (42) was truer than the mockers realized – in order to save us he could not allow himself to be saved from death.
And this is love – not that we loved God but that he loved us and gave his Son to be a propitiation for our sin (1 Jn. 4:10). “But God commendeth his love for us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). The fact that Jesus would endure all of this for us, we who can only praise God’s grace for any vestige of holiness and sanctity that we exhibit, is amazing. There is nothing praiseworthy in us. There is nothing in us that would make God want to save us. No, the initiative comes entirely from God. Apart from Christ, we are spiritual corpses, and that is what he died for so that we might become alive in him. We have no real idea what unconditional love is like. But God’s love for us, demonstrated in the death of his Son, is the clearest, truest, highest exhibition of unconditional love. He died for sinners – traitors who would have preferred to stew in their putrid, stinking, rotting selfishness. Which of us would have done this? None of us would. And yet our salvation depends on this incomparable love of God for sinners.
The second thing the death of Jesus brings home to us is the ugliness of sin. Sin is truly ugly, and yet we are often so blind to it, especially to our own sin. There is an episode of The Twilight Zone which centers on a hospital patient whose face is all wrapped up in bandages. In the story, we are told that the patient is receiving medical treatment for her face because it is so ugly. In fact, we are told that she is so ugly that if this last treatment doesn’t work, she is going to have to be exiled into a community of similarly ugly people. Throughout most of the episode, you don’t see anyone’s face; the patient’s is wrapped up in bandages and the camera never lets us you see the faces of the doctors and nurses. Then comes the moment when the patient’s face is revealed – along with the faces of the doctors and nurses. It is shocking – shocking because the patient is actually really beautiful and everyone else is ugly, I mean, really ugly. It is everyone else who is disfigured, not the patient. And yet, the normalness of ugliness had made true beauty seem foul.
In the same way, we are often hardened to the foulness of sin, the “exceeding sinfulness of sin” as Paul put it (Rom. 7:13), because of its prevalence all around us. In fact, just like the characters in that episode of The Twilight Zone, we begin to think sin looks beautiful and holiness ugly.
Now the best antidote to this is to see what sin did to Jesus on the cross. You want to see what sin is really like? Look at the bleeding pulp that used to be Jesus’ back; that’s what your sin and mine did to it. Look at his hands and feet nailed to a cross, see him gasping for air – the Son of God! Sin did that to him, our sin did that to him. Above all, see him there crying out in dismay because for the first time in his eternal existence he is completely alone and isolated as he carries the burden of our guilt. Sin is so horrible and so bad that it took the Son of God to expiate it for us.
We should make no friendship with sin. We should give it no place in our hearts. But we will never do this as we should unless we see the ugliness of sin and the beauty and sufficiency of God’s love for us in Christ. And the way we see this is by seeing the true significance of the cross of Christ. Let us so behold our bleeding Savior that we can say with the apostle Paul, “But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world” (Gal. 6:14).
Finally, let us see in the death of Jesus the fullness of the redemption that he accomplished for us. The essence of sin is separation from God. And yet, the cry of Jesus in verse 46 tells us that he endured separation from God so that we would not have to. In other words, all that sin entails, all that sin brings with it, all its terrible consequences – spiritual death and bondage to sin and physical death and eternal judgment – these are all summed up in separation from God. And it is precisely this which is defeated on the cross. Jesus defeated sin in all its dimensions for us. The work of redemption was truly finished on the cross.
This is the intent of the words of Hebrews 9:14: “How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?” How much more. All the animal sacrifices could do was to secure ceremonial purity for the worshipers in the OT. But Jesus does so much more. His blood doesn’t just get us ceremonially pure, he purges our consciences from dead works to serve the living God. He purges our consciences and so delivers us from the guilt of sin so that it can no longer cry for our condemnation. And then he delivers us from dead works to serve him; he delivers us from bondage to sin. It is Christ who does this. In him alone we have redemption.
Therefore let all who are outside of Christ find refuge in him. And let all of us glory in the cross of Christ and cling to the fullness of the grace that comes through him.