The Father turns His face away?
Easter is approaching. Eggs are being dyed, Peeps are being microwaved, and kids are being fitted for uncomfortable pastel suits. As I’ve been preparing for Easter, I’ve been listening to a lot of songs, messages, and other avenues to point me to the glory of God displayed through the death, burial and resurrection.
As I have been walking this journey, I’ve noticed a rock in my shoe. It keeps poking at me, causing me to address it, and I am curious to throw it out and see where it lands.
Question: Did God the Father turn His face away from God the Son?
Our immediate response is in the affirmative as it has been told to us and sung about in dramatic fashion. The problem is it is not in the Scripture. Before you come burning down my house crying, “Heretic!” let me address a few questions.
Does the Bible say the Father turned His face away from the Son?
No it does not. This seems inferred based on the crucifixion accounts in Matthew and Mark in which Jesus calls out, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, My God why have you forsaken me?” Luke and John do not record the phrase, but do record other phrases (as well as do Matthew and Mark) showing Jesus’ control and intentionality over the painful proceedings (Luke 23:28, 34, 43, 46; John 19:26-27, 28-30). In fact, virtually every word and act coming from Jesus on the cross is not from a place of helplessness or loss, but in demonstrating control, fulfilling Scripture, and considering those around.
What could Jesus have meant?
John, writing to a mixed Jewish and Gentile audience does an excellent work throughout his book pointing out Christ’s fulfillment of Scripture and explaining events. In John 19:24, John notes the soldiers cast lots for Jesus’ clothes in order to fulfill Scripture. The Scripture he points to is Psalm 22.
There is something important to consider here. The Jewish people of that time were vastly more knowledgeable of their Scriptures than we are today. For many of them, the Law, Prophets, and Writings were committed to memory. In referencing a passage, they would simply say the first line – calling into mind the purpose, occasion, and emphasis of the passage as a whole.
This would be similar to if I were to say, “The Lord is my shepherd…” You would apply the presence of God through the valley of the shadow of death, beside cool waters, and recall his comforting rod and staff. Or if I said, “We the people…” the words would call into mind a much greater body of work than the introduction itself.
This is why it is important to consider Jesus’ words, “My God, My God why have you forsaken me?” and John’s mention of fulfilled Scripture in Psalm 22.
Jesus in a loud voice shouted to a largely Jewish hearing these scorching words. Interestingly enough, they are the first words of Psalm 22 found in verse 1. Here are some other phrases found in the Psalm:
- “All who see me mock me…they wag their heads.” – v. 7 (reference Matt. 27:39, Mark 15:29)
- “My strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to my jaws; you lay me in the dust of death.” – v. 15 (reference John 19:28)
- “For dogs encompass me; a company of evildoers encircles me; they have pierced my hands and feet.” – v. 16 (reference Luke 24:40, Isaiah 53:5)
- “They divide my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots.” – v. 18 (reference John 19:24)
It is easy to see why Jesus is calling the people’s attention to Psalm 22. But also note what else Jesus calls to mind in the Psalm. Verses 1-2, and 11-18 describe a horrific situation of agony, mocking, and impending death.
However verses 3-10 and 19-24 recall God’s faithfulness, deliverance, and power to save. Verses 25-31 are a worshipful doxology of God’s great deliverance for a people to come. It describes a turning to the Lord on a global scale and the proclamation of righteousness among a people yet unborn. And it shall be told to them that (God) has done it (vs. 31).
In the midst of all this come the comforting words of verse 24, “For he has not despised or abhorred the affliction of the afflicted, and he has not hidden his face from him.”
Is Jesus (as well as Matthew and Mark) claiming the words of Psalm 22 to describe God’s overwhelming deliverance, presence, faithfulness and victory in the most dire of situations? I believe so. To necessitate the broken fellowship of the Trinity and the abandonment of the Son by the Father is at best an implication of the text, not an expression of it.
So what does this mean and why should we care this Easter?
- He made Him who knew no sin to become sin on our behalf. The full penalty of sin is paid – every ounce – in Christ Jesus’ atoning sacrifice on the cross. He has done it (Ps. 22:31), it is finished (John 19:30).
- God the Son sovereignly both laid His life down and took it back up in obedience to God the Father (John 10:18, 17:1).
- The cross was not Divine Child Abuse or a break in the unbreakable. The cross was a beautiful act of Trinitarian fellowship, not a broken disunity (John 17:19, 26).
God’s sovereignty over the cross is equal to his sovereignty over the resurrection. Both in life and death, sin and righteousness, God is sovereign, present, and will be glorified. The Son loves the will of the Father, and the Father loves the obedience of the Son.
Let me be clear. I am not implying this was a joyful and happy experience for God the Father, Son or Spirit. I also want to be clear that the Bible teaches there is a literal hell in which God will remove His merciful presence. I’m just not sure he removed it in forsaking Christ on the cross.
As we celebrate the resurrection this Easter, let us remember the power of the cross as well. As Abraham did not look away from Isaac, yet sternly rested in the will of God, Jesus the true sacrificial son rested in the will of God and beheld his great Father who would not leave nor forsake him.
Glory to God.