ver noticed the calm in Christ’s prayers? “Father, the time has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you” (John 17:1). “Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world” (verse 24). Christ said: “The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life” (John 10:17a).
But deep in thought, Jesus crossed the Kidron Valley, entered Gethsemane (John 18:1), and a mood change came into His supplications.
Christ’s prayers in Gethsemane and at Calvary were altogether different from His earlier ones. After telling His disciples that His “soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,” He fell to the ground (Mark 14:34, 35a). So great was His agony, that He prayed: “Abba, Father, everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will” (see Mark 14:36).
The word Abba reveals His heart-relationship with God,1 His affection for God.2 Three times He shrank from His mission (Mark 14:34-41), but each time He surrendered, saying: “Not as I will, but as you will” (see Matt. 26:39b, 42b, 44).
Christ came to earth to do His Father’s will (Heb. 10:5-7), but the agony in Gethsemane made Him tremble near the finish line. An angel came from heaven to strengthen Him, yet “being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground” (Luke 22:44).
The Intensity of His Pain
Some from His own nation had given Christ over to the Romans. Judas betrayed Him. Peter denied Him. His disciples all forsook Him when He needed them most. All of that He could take. But when God also seemed to abandon Him, His heart broke. Jesus cried out: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46).
It was an anguished cry, wrung from quivering lips and a breaking heart, as He hung on the cross. This was the terrible price for our redemption, a cost we could never pay and will never fathom, even throughout eternity.
The word “cried” (Greek: anaboao) is used only here in the New Testament. It’s a strong verb and indicates a powerful emotion or appeal to God. It suggests a cry of agony out of a deep sense of alienation as Jesus suffered as a “ransom” for humanity (see Matt. 20:28). In the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) this is the only time Jesus addresses God without calling him “Father.”3
Paul says those who “received the Spirit of adoption as sons [huiothesias]” cry (krazomen) “‘Abba! Father!’” (Rom. 8:15, ESV;* cf. Gal. 4:6). Yet no one could be more qualified than the Son of God to address God as “Abba” or “Father.” Abba is an Aramaic word for God, an intimate term like “daddy.” Throughout the Gospels Jesus, as the Son of man, spoke of and prayed to His Father, and taught His followers â€¨to pray “Our Father in heaven” (Matt. 6:9). So why now on the cross did Christ cry out “My God” instead of “Abba” or “Father”?
Nothing can separate a person from God (Rom. 8:35-39), except sin (Isa. 59:2); which means that Christ felt a separation to the depths of His soul as He bore “the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:2b). “The Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isa. 53:6b). As an eternal member of the Trinity, Christ had always been enfolded by the wondrous love of the Father and the Spirit. How awful His separation from them now! His loneliness was intense. From the heights of eternal love He had plunged into abandonment to save humanity, whatever the price to Himself, knowing most would reject Him. There’s no greater love than this!
Christ “bore our sins in his body on the tree” (1 Peter 2:24). “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: ‘Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree’” (Gal. 3:13). Christ felt abandoned, wrenched from the Father, as if no longer the Son of God. The terrible load of sin so abhorrent to the Father and the Spirit, and so horrendous to Christ, cursed Him, crushing out His life. Sin-bearing separated Jesus from the fellowship He longed to have and desperately needed with the Father and the Spirit.
Calvary was judgment first on Satan, the originator of sin (Heb. 2:14b), and second on the Savior as substitute for sinners (2 Cor. 5:21; cf. Isa. 53:10, 11). Christ took the place of every human and suffered God’s judgment on their sin. O wondrous exchange!
All through His life on earth Christ had clung to God alone, a power outside of Himself. He depended solely on God (Father and Spirit) in a union that knew no separation, and sometimes required whole nights in prayer (Luke 6:12). Fellowship with God was heaven to Him in a world so unlike His first home. Christ found escape from the depravity all around Him by communing with God. He sensed the Father so close that He could say: “The Father is in me, and I in the Father” (John 10:38b).
The Man Jesus came to the brink—where He needed God the most. Yet precisely at the time of His greatest need He felt utterly abandoned. It is impossible to comprehend the unutterable anguish of that terrible loneliness. To watch Jesus suffer and die as a man must have caused intense pain to the Father and Spirit, as they suffered together with Him. Christ’s cry is the most pathos-filled experience recorded in the Gospels. Although He’d previously spoken of His resurrection (Matt. 16:21) and of His return at the Second Advent (Matt. 16:27), during those awful hours on the cross He could not see through the darkness to the resurrection and the Second Advent. He felt that the “separation [from God and the Spirit] was to be eternal.”4 Christ was willing to perish in order to save humanity.
And He would have done it just for you!
Each member of the Trinity suffered at the cross. And it wrenched the heart of Deity to hear the Man of sorrows cry out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34). The “payment” for human guilt meant that Christ bore the punishment for all sin. He experienced what would have been our total abandonment by God. There was no other way.
It was not an angry God punishing human guilt, but a heartbroken Father and Spirit suffering with Christ as He alone was the sacrifice for sin. None will ever understand the depths of shared suffering of the Trinity during the hours Jesus hung on the cross. Only faintly does it come to mind in the words “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son” (John 3:16a).
At Last, Hope!
All the Trinity were present at the cross. Calvary opens up the unfathomable depths of God’s love, so that rebellion cannot arise again (Nahum 1:9). Calvary-love will forever draw and hold all beings—unfallen and saved—close to God in loving adoration and worship.
Just before death, in sheer faith, Christ again spoke to God as Father: “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit” (Luke 23:46). Wonder of wonders, the helpless human Jesus, possessing full divinity within, never gave in to depend on His own divinity, but hung on to the divinity of His Father, even though as Sin-bearer He felt God-forsaken. Who can understand the depth of the sacrifice involved?
As I gaze upon the cross, I cry out to God to break my heart, to cause me to realize it was for my lawbreaking, my sin, my guilt, that Jesus died. I cry out that I might love Him with all my heart, that I might love His law and hate sin because of what it did to Him. My sin crucifies Christ afresh (Heb. 6:6). So I pray: “Lord, break my heart that I may not break Yours.”
We cannot live as He did without Him. But because Christ plunged into the agony of separation from God, experiencing what it is like to be God-forsaken, God promises: “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you” (Heb. 13:5b). He experienced the ultimate in God-forsakenness so we will never have to.
What awesome substitution!
*Scriptures quotations marked ESV are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
1William L. Lane, The New International Commentary on the New Testament: Mark (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1974), p. 518; quoting and agreeing with J. Jeremias, The Prayers of Jesus, p. 62.
2Ronald Y. K. Fung, The New International Commentary on the New Testament: Galatians (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1988), p. 185, footnote 85.
3R. T. France, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries: Matthew (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1985), p. 398.
4Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages, p. 753.