Anguish at the Cross

Posted: March 30, 2013 in Uncategorized

Good Friday 2013, “Anguish at the Cross”

“Good Friday.”  It can seem rather weird that the day on which we remember the suffering and death of our Lord Jesus Christ is labeled as “good.”  After all, at the time everything was going on, it would have seemed to be anything BUT good.  Surely to the disciples and all those who had followed Jesus, this would have been the darkest day of their individual lives.  Here was the Man that they believed to be God: betrayed, suffering, quivering in pain, struggling even to breathe…and dying before their very eyes.  This was certainly NOT a good day at the time. 

Of course, in hindsight, it is the most wonderful day imaginable!  This was the day that our sins were paid for, and salvation was extended to mankind.  Wondrous, glorious Good Friday!  The demonstration of the infinite love of Jesus for each one of us happened on this Friday, and it is marvelous!  But they didn’t know this at the time.  On the actual day, it was anguish for all those who loved Jesus and watched.

And it obviously wasn’t anguish only for those who were witnesses – by far the most anguish was felt by Jesus Himself.  And Jesus did suffer.  Let there be no doubt that the Lord who loved us and gave us life & breath – the God who knit us together in our mothers’ wombs and knew us before the foundations of the world – this God truly suffered for us physically.  He had undergone tremendous physical stress in the events leading up to this point, and now things had gone to an entirely new level of extreme pain as He hung upon the cross.

But as bad as it was (and it was bad), by far the worst of His suffering was spiritual and emotional.  The Son of God became the forsaken of God.  The beloved of God, in whom the Father was well-pleased, had become accursed by God as He hung upon tree.  It’s at that point that we read the most agonizing words that Jesus ever uttered in the gospels.

Mark 15:33–34, "(33) Now when the sixth hour had come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour. (34) And at the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?” which is translated, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”"

He had hung upon the cross for 6 hours at this point.  This came after He had been reviled and rejected by His own people, and after a trial-by-mob presided over by the cruel and cowardly Pontius Pilate.  Jesus had been brutally beaten by hand, had thorns shoved into His scalp, and had His back flayed open by the Roman cat-of-nine-tails.  Weakened from loss of blood, loss of sleep, and betrayal by His closest friends, He had been finally had massive spikes hammered into his wrists as He was literally affixed to the cross He had carried up Golgotha.  Now He hung, suffering.  Unable to breathe unless He pulled Himelf up upon the nails, He hung there in anguish as onlookers mocked Him, soldiers gambled for His clothing, and fellow prisoners debated whether or not He was the Christ.

By now, creation seemed to mourn with Him as the sky went unusually dark for three hours, and Jesus pulled Himself upon the nails once more and erupted with a cry of anguish towards God.  This was not the normal way Jesus spoke.  Typically He spoke longingly and lovingly of His Heavenly Father, even thanking God publicly at the resurrection of Lazarus, saying, "I thank You that You have heard Me.  And I know that You always hear Me…" (Jn 11:41-42)  Not this time.  This time it seemed that God the Father had not heard His Son at all.  Worse yet, God the Father had turned away and forsaken Jesus.  How could this be?

It was prophesied.  [Psalm 22:1-21]  Every bit of Jesus’ crucifixion had been foretold centuries earlier through the prophets – much through the words of His own physical ancestor of David.  The very king to whom God promised that He would build Him an everlasting house also was given the promise that this same Son would suffer immensely on behalf of the people.  The very Son of David, of whom God had promised would be seen as the Son of God (2 Sam 7:14) was also prophesied to be forsaken by God at the moment of His death.  All sorts of things had been prophesied of the Christ.  Even the Devil understood that God would not allow Jesus’ foot to be dashed against a stone – God would have sent angels from heaven to bear up Jesus in their arms before allowing that to happen (Mt 4:6).  But at the cross, the protection of God would be taken away.  The blessings of God would be removed.  The fellowship of God would be nowhere to be found.  The Son of God would be viewed more like a worm than a man, and He would understand that it was God Himself that brought him to the dust of death.  For this moment in time, God the Father had forsaken His beloved only begotten Son, just as the Bible said that He would.

  • It may have been prophesied, but do not believe for a moment that somehow Jesus’ suffering wasn’t real.  There was real suffering involved here.  God the Son, who had uninterrupted fellowship with God the Father at all times before there was time…now had a barrier of sin.  2 Corinthians 5:21, "For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him." []  How could the perfect God be made sin?  It is a mystery, but that is exactly what happened.  And that is why it is called “grace.”

It was necessary.  There was always a need for a substitute regarding sin.  When sin occurred, there was always blood that needed to be shed, because that is what justice required.  If Jesus was to truly serve as our substitute – if He was to truly take our place in receiving the punishment due to our sin, then He had to be forsaken by the Father.  There was no other way!  Think about it: the worst part of the awfulness of hell is not the fire, nor the torment – it’s the hopelessness.  It is being utterly and eternally forsaken by God, doomed to suffer forever with absolutely no hope of escape.  That is the righteous requirement of the law when someone commits rebellious treason against the infinite holy God.  If people are forsaken by God in hell, then Jesus needed to be forsaken by God upon the cross.  Otherwise, His work as a substitute would have been lacking.  The whole point in Jesus going to the cross was to be there in our place (what theologians call the substitutionary atonement), and He had to experience the fullness of what that meant, or it wouldn’t be enough.

  • This whole idea of substitution is at the core of the OT sacrificial system.  From the Garden of Eden (when God killed an animal in order to clothe Adam & Eve with skins, rather than insufficient fig leaves) onward, this is always what was seen.  A young ram served as a substitute for Isaac.  Young lambs were sacrificed in Egypt, and their blood put over the Hebrew doorways on the night of Passover.  The blood of bulls, goats, sheep, and birds were continually shed in the tabernacle and temple as the people of Israel came to worship God.  Whether they were consecrating themselves to God in worship, or asking for the forgiveness of their sin, blood had to be shed because no matter what they were doing, sin was always in the way.  Blood and death was the price of sin, and if the person did not want to experience it for him/herself, he had to bring an acceptable substitutionary sacrifice.  And that’s what Jesus did.  Jesus brought Himself.  Hebrews 9:11–12, "(11) But Christ came as High Priest of the good things to come, with the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made with hands, that is, not of this creation. (12) Not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption." []

It was propitiation.  We don’t use that word too much anymore, so we might need to take a moment to understand what it means.  When someone is angry, and something happens to ease or satisfy that person’s anger, we can say that person has experienced propitiation.  Like when a child angers his/her parents, and then does something to try to make it right again – that’s an act of propitiation.  That same thing is what happened at the cross.  God was terribly (and rightly) angry because of sin.  Any sin is bad enough – after all, God is inherently deserving of perfect obedience from His creation (that’s simply part of Him being God).  All of the rest of creation obeys Him just as He intended – it is humans who caused the rest of creation to fall.  But beyond what we might think of “small” sins, there is tremendous injustice.  Murder, lust, perversion, genocide, hatred, manipulations, abuse – all of the awful things that have been occurring on the world since Adam left the Garden of Eden rightly incurred the holy anger of God.  And these were the things that Jesus was placing upon Himself when He hung on the cross.  Jesus became every genocide – every assault – every act of horror – every sin that had ever occurred in the history of the world, and would ever occur in the future.  It is no wonder that He was forsaken by God.  The wrath of God had to be satisfied, and for that moment in time, all of God’s wrath was focused upon His Son.  Jesus hung upon that cross, experiencing the holy anger of God.  How terrible!  Inconceivable anguish!  This is the Son who had always experienced the perfect joy and love of God in eternal past.  There had never been a time when God the Father had ever been angry with God the Son.  But now the infinite wrath of God was utterly poured out upon Him in righteous justice.

  • And it worked.  1 John 2:1–2, "(1) My little children, these things I write to you, so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. (2) And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world." []  Is God ever angry at us because of our sin?  Not eternally so – not for a believer in Jesus Christ.  There may be times when our fellowship with God is broken.  There may be times that we experience His loving discipline.  But a believer in Christ Jesus never need fear the wrath of God because Jesus satisfied God’s wrath on our behalf.

It was enough.  No more needs to be done.  Nothing more needs to be paid.  Jesus does not need to be repeatedly sacrificed week after week, year after year.  We do not need to try to somehow earn the salvation that has been freely given to us (even as we desire to walk worthy of the calling with which we were called).  Everything Jesus did upon the cross, and everything that God poured out upon His Son was absolutely enough.  It was sufficient…and now we are free in the grace, love, and deliverance of God!  But this is seen primarily in the Resurrection.  Even as we can look forward to Sunday and rejoice in that fact, we need to take the time necessary to ponder the suffering that was involved.

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