Good Friday: God's Incomprehensible Love for Lost Sinners
On the day which we call Good Friday, at noon, suddenly the light of day faded away. It became dark as in the middle of the night. This must have been frightening for the people who were standing just outside Jerusalem to watch the crucifixion of three men, two criminals and the man in the middle, Christ Jesus. The darkness at noon, with the sun in its zenith, was specifically for Him. Or rather, it was an act of God against Him.
In the beginning, when God clothed the earth and prepared it as dwelling place for man, the first thing God made was light. Life on earth depends on light. Without light nothing will grow and life will fade away. Besides, in order to be able to fulfill his task on earth, man needs light. Thus, light is the first and basic gift of God for man. The gift of light shows the wisdom, the goodness and favor of God for man. In contrast with it, the Scriptures often connect darkness with the wrath of God, and with powers of evil and hell.
Therefore, this darkness at noon was frightening especially for Christ Jesus. He knew that it was a sign of the terrible wrath of God. God took His light, and, with it, all His gifts for man, all His favour, away from Him, because He had taken the place of sinners who, through their sin, had forfeited all God's gifts of life and deserved only death, darkness, hellish agony.
There is an increasing line of isolation for Christ. Almost from the beginning of His ministry the leaders of God's people had turned against Him. While Christ Jesus wanted to do only good and did only that, the opposition against Him had grown stronger all the time, until the rejection had culminated in the decision of and the cry for His death. And the people, first enthusiastic, had, in the end, more and more followed their leaders, until they, too, cried for His death at the cross. Then, in the night of His betrayal, even His disciples had fled away from Him, forsaking Him. For Scripture had to be fulfilled. He, being the Mediator, had to go His way all alone.
Forsaken by God
And now, hanging there in terrible physical pain, Christ has even the gifts of creation taken away from Him, and, instead, the punishment and curse for sin is brought upon Him. The outer darkness proclaims to Him the utter darkness of hell, of being forsaken by His God. Being forsaken by God is a terrible thing. It means that God withdraws from you; that God abandons you and gives you over to the powers of evil, to hell. God will no longer help you. God's wrath is upon you.
Imagine how a child must feel that having done something wrong, sees that his father or mother abandons him and turns completely against him and refuses to have anything to do with him anymore, while the child loves his parents. Such an experience must be truly terrible.
God's Word speaks about God's children in a condition in which they feel forsaken by God. They describe this as a terrible experience. We can read about this, e.g., in Psalm 22. However, we are all sinners. Our feeling, our experiencing, of either God’s nearness or His anger against us when we are sinning or even living in sin, is never complete or full in this life. Sin has broken our being tuned in finely and precisely with God. Instead, we are easily out of tune with God. We easily damage and break this relation by our sins and sinfulness. Although, therefore, a feeling forsaken by God can be experienced by God's sinful children, specifically in a situation of sin, our sinfulness as well as our being merely creatures, make it impossible for us to comprehend what this being forsaken must have been for Christ Jesus, our Lord.
He was perfect, separated from sinners, unstained, always perfectly in tune with the Father, not hindered by the distortions of sin. Also at the cross, He loves His Father with His whole, undivided heart. He cannot live without His Father, and He does not want to either. Outside the fellowship, the communion, with His Father, there is only darkness, only hellish agony. Indeed, we can simply not imagine and comprehend how awful it was. Fortunately, we do not have to comprehend it either. Christ Jesus went through it, all alone, in our place.
The outer darkness around Him, and what it symbolizes, causes a profound darkness in Christ Jesus' soul. This inner darkness is expressed by the Lord of heaven and earth in His loud cry to God, spoken after three hours of living through it:
My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?
Forsaken in Passive and Active Obedience
The cry out of the depth of darkness contains the question "why"? Does Christ not know why He is forsaken by God? The answer is simple. Of course, He knows. He knows that He suffers in the place of others, His people, as their Mediator. He said to the disciples that He, as their Savior, had to suffer and die at the cross, Matthew 16:21, 17:22, 20:18, 19). Christ had given the reason, too:
The Son of Man has not come to be served, but to serve and to give His life (literally His soul) as a ransom in the place of many.Matthew 20:28
He lived by the Old Testament prophecies, one of which was Isaiah 53, about the suffering Servant of the LORD. Sure, Christ Jesus knows why He is forsaken by God. It is because He takes the place of His people, the lost sheep who erred, each on his own way (Isaiah 53:6).
Why, then, does He speak these words? It is to show to His God, and to us, His obedience. Christ had said to the Jews (John 5:39) that it is the Scriptures that bear witness to Him. He has come to fulfill all that was written about Him, including this cry of David, spoken a thousand years ago, "My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me!"
Christ Jesus understands that He has to be forsaken in the full sense of this word, because He has accepted to bear the sins of His people and, with it, the condemning wrath and curse of God against the sinners. He has accepted it. Therefore, He is undergoing, suffering, it. Being forsaken is, therefore, His passive, His suffering, obedience to God.
However, there is not only His passive obedience undergoing the anger of God against sin. He is active, too. It is this active obedience to God, for us and in our place, which He shows in this speaking. Speaking is an act. In speaking these words of the Scripture, He offers to His God the sacrifice of His total surrender in obedience. He says: I keep and fulfill Thy Word, O God. And He shows to those standing there (and through the apostolic witness also to us): I am forsaken in your place. I am obedient for you.
This obedience is evident also in the words "My God." Although forsaken, He does not forsake His God. He holds onto Him "for whom and through whom all things exist", (Hebrews 2:10 ff.). Sure, Christ does not say at this moment "Father", as He did before and will do hereafter. He says, "My God", because that is what David said, and because He is hanging here before the Judge, the God of heaven and earth. At this moment, being forsaken, He cannot say, "Father." Thus, His speaking, as well as what He says, is an act of loving obedience.
In this way we can see that the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews can correctly say that, through His sufferings, Christ Jesus learned obedience, and that, through it, He was made perfect (Hebrews 2:10, 5:8). In this active and passive obedience, our Mediator presented to His and our God and Father the perfect love we owe Him. With this perfection, this total righteousness, our Mediator covers our righteousness and disobedience before God. His obedience is propitiation: it takes the wrath of God away. It is expiation: it covers and erases sin. This righteousness of Christ Jesus is imputed to those who, in and through faith, embrace Him as their Savior.
This gospel of the obedient, suffering, forsaken Mediator, speaking the words of David, fulfilling the condition they speak of, must be believed and, therefore, preached. But in order to be preached it must be known through revelation. Christ's speaking the words of Psalm 22 is an act of revelation of the gospel. He speaks those words to God, in obedient love for God and for His people. They must hear how He fulfills the Scriptures for them, for they must believe in Him as the One who gives His life as ransom for them. This, too, is God's will. Christ has to make this gospel known Himself. He is, also at the cross, not only our King and Priest, but the highest Prophet and Teacher as well. This is why He cries out these words. We must know this miracle of loving obedience to God and this redeeming love of God's Son for us. We must know that here God's will is done, and that here God's heart is open, miracle of divine incomprehensible mercy, for lost sinners. His wrath is taken away. No sin is greater than the power of forgiveness in this obedience. No sins are too many for which this obedience would fall short.
Christ Jesus is made perfect for our salvation. And through this single offering of Himself He has once for all made perfect those who are being sanctified (Hebrews 5:9, 10:14). We can be sure of this gospel, for He suffered according to the prophetic Word of God (2 Peter 1:19).
According to the Prophetic Word there is something remarkable about this citing the opening words of Psalm 22. These words do not stand on their own. They are the beginning of a Psalm of which we find so many parts back in the situation of Christ Jesus at the cross. David says in Psalm 22:6-8:
But I am a worm, and not a man; scorned by men, and despised by the people. All who see me mock at me, they make mouths at me, they wag their heads: "He committed his cause to the LORD; let Him deliver him, let Him rescue him, for He delights in him!
In Matthew 27:39-43 we read about what happened to Christ Jesus: And those who passed by derided Him, wagging their heads … So also the chief priests, with the scribes and elders, mocked Him, saying … "He trusts in God; let God deliver Him now, if he desires Him; for He said, 'I am the Son of God.'"
Also what is said in Psalm 22:9-11 was true for Christ in a unique sense:
Yet Thou art He who took me from the womb; Thou didst keep me safe upon my mother's breast. Upon Thee was I cast from my birth, and since my mother bore me Thou hast been my God. Be not far from me, for trouble is near, and there is none to help me.
The same counts for the next verses (Psalm 22: 12 and 13) in which David complains, Many bulls encompass me,… they open wide their mouths at me, like a ravening and roaring lion, so that Christ, hanging at the cross in a cramped posture, felt as David described his condition in the verses 14 and 15,
I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax, it is melted within my breast; my strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue cleaves to my jaws; Thou dost lay me in the dust of death.
We can compare Matthew 27:35: And when they had crucified Him, they divided His garments among them by casting lots, with Psalm 22:16-18:
Yea, dogs are round about me; a company of evildoers encircle me; they have pierced my hand and feet – I can count all my bones – they stare and gloat over me; they divide my garments among them, and for my raiment they cast lots.
The clear fulfillment continues with the second part of this Psalm 22: 22: I will tell of Thy Name to my brethren; in the midst of the congregation I will praise Thee, is quoted in Hebrews 2:12, in the context of speaking about God "for whom and through whom all things exist" and who wants to "bring many sons to glory.” It says that, in order to reach this goal, it was necessary for God to "make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through suffering."For He who sanctifies and those who are sanctified are of one." Then there follows: "That is why He is not ashamed to call them brethren (Hebrews 2:10-11), saying, "I will proclaim Thy Name to My brethren, in the midst of the congregation I will praise Thee."
Amazing is this gospel. A Psalm of David is written a thousand years before its fulfillment began, expressing how David felt in anguish and in thankful joy. Amazing is the fact that both the Psalm and its fulfillment speak in such detail. It is for sure, here is Word of the eternal God, His revelation. David spoke through the Spirit of the coming Christ, who, beforehand, revealed the way He had to go. How could the chief priests, with the scribes and elders, even themselves, in their mockery, using the words of this Psalm, continue in their unbelief? This, too, is amazing. And it is terrible.
If, then, Christ suffered in obedience unto redemption, according to the prophetic word, and if He revealed this redemptive work by speaking this prophetic word of David, because it is God's will of command that all may hear it and read it, and believe it, no one has a valid excuse for his unbelief. Unbelief is the sin of rebellion.
But blessed are those who do believe and trust in this God of mercy for sinners, and who, in faith, embrace His Son, Christ Jesus, as their Savior and Lord.
For this faith is a work of the Holy Spirit; it is the free and sovereign gift of God's pure grace for sinners unto salvation, to the praise of His glory.