The Bible records only eight times when God reiterates someone’s name. Four were spoken in the Old Testament era: to Abraham, to Jacob, to Moses, and to Hannah. A thousand years later, Jesus–God with skin on–repeated Martha’s name and, at the Last Supper, Simon Peter’s.
The seventh double knock was a terrorizing cry, the likes of which has never been heard on earth before or since. In unprecedented anguish God the Son’s heart wrung out a cry to God the Father: “About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out with a loud voice, ‘Elí, Elí, lemá sabachtháni?’ that is, ‘My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”’ (Matthew 27:46 HCSB).
Before nails were pounded into His hands and feet, Jesus had spent a sleep-deprived night being hustled to kangaroo courts, spit on, beaten, mocked, scourged, and crowned with a wreath of thorns pressed down into his head. The next three hours His mutilated body suffered the commonly known horrific tortures of a delayed-death crucifixion. Those watching were well aware that the victim’s slightest twitch or gasp meant excruciating pain.
But Jesus’ worst suffering was yet to be. So terrible, in fact, that by an act of God no one on earth saw it: “From noon until three in the afternoon darkness came over the whole land” (Matthew 27:45 HCSB). God the Father draped His Son in black and blocked from earthly view the approaching misery, where grieving of mind is harder to bear than bodily pain.
In the midday midnight transpired the incomparable suffering of all time. Perfect Jesus was made sin (not sinful). Giving up His own identity, Jesus became the personification of sin. As such, He was in combat with the diabolic forces of spiritual darkness. When His spirit wrestled, struggled, and fought those evil powers, the innocent Savior endured the abysmal agony intended for the damned and doomed.
Jesus had understood and accepted God’s mission to be the world’s sin-bearer. Every step he had taken was in obedience to fulfilling that purpose. So it had never crossed His mind that God would forsake Him at the end. Rather, just the opposite, as He had assured the apostles: “‘A time is coming and in fact has come when you will be scattered, each to your own home. You will leave me all alone. Yet I am not alone, for my Father is with me’” (John 16:32 NIV).
He knew ahead of time that Judas Iscariot would betray Him and that Simon Peter would deny Him. He wasn’t surprised, either, that the apostles fled from the garden when the soldiers made the arrest. Shortly before they hunted Him down, Jesus had suffered through His Gethsemane battle without prayer support. However, that human loneliness, when He aligned His will with God’s will, was nothing like this.
Then He was not destitute of God’s presence. What was happening while on the cross–divine desertion–the Suffering Servant had never ever known or expected.
Why, Jesus desperately pierces the thick darkness, would God abandon Him–leave Him alone and desolate when He needed His presence the most? He was following God’s will to the nth degree. Why the isolation? What had He done?
At other times His Father had affirmed approval. First at His baptism: “And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased’” (Matthew 3:17 NIV); then at the transfiguration: “And a voice from the cloud said, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!’” (Matthew 17:5 NIV).
All along His earthly road, Jesus carried the inner security that God was happy with Him. So much so that He included it in His temple teachings: “‘The One who sent Me is with Me. He has not left Me alone, because I always do what pleases Him’” (John 8:29 HCSB).
Yes, God deserted because He was displeased. But not with His Son. God was displeased with sin, and that displeasure came with a price. The Savior must drink all of the cup of sin’s punishment. Complete separation from God was the last drop.