There’s something that’s always bothered me about the traditional view of the cross. I could never quite wrap my head around why Father had to punish us, or Jesus in our stead, for sin we were born to commit. How could our sinfulness ever effect the most holy God?
I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately but there was one piece I couldn’t see. I reasonably accepted that, in the old ways, there were many rules to maintain to be pure enough to reside in God’s presence. If the rules worked, what was Jesus’ purpose?
Often, we consider Jesus’ sacrifice a payment for our sins—all of humanity’s sin. This, too, is a reasonable conclusion, but I still felt there was something I was missing. It seemed God kept prompting me to dig deeper.
It is reasonable to conclude that Jesus took Father’s wrath at the cross, that he completely drank of that cup. This led me to conclude, based on concepts I’ve learned from others, that Father’s wrath is the antidote for our sin. While that antidote did the job of cleansing people, it also destroyed them, as can be seen throughout the Old Testament.
So what happened at the cross?
Our older brother, Jesus, the only one truly righteous enough, indeed took our punishment for us. Not only that, he created within his spirit the “antibodies” we needed, that we can handle without being destroyed, and sent them back to us in the Holy Spirit.
And that’s not all—Father was with him every step of the way!
At first glance, we may not accept this conclusion. One of the most popular scriptures that upholds the idea that Father would turn his back on Jesus is Matt 27:46:
About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”). (NIV)
However, we also have the contention of verses like John 16:32:
“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.
So which is it? Did Father abandon Jesus? Did Jesus expect Father to be there but he wasn’t? Had Jesus became so blinded by our sin that he could no longer feel Father’s presence? Even if this was the case, would the Messiah so easily have mistook what he felt over what he knew to be true—that Father would never abandon him or any of his children?
Yet, Jesus seems to ask why Father had forsaken him.
Here we see something that we can easily miss. Jesus was stating a snippet of an entire book—the first verse of Psalm 22! This would be similar to how we often hear quoted, or may even quote ourselves, “Yea though I walk through the shadow of the valley of death…” (the very next Psalm – 23). When we hear this phrase, we know a greater meaning is intimated, but not the meaning that the speaker has been abandoned to death. Likewise, when we read through Psalm 22, we see a much larger picture of what Jesus was intimating, including the prophetic undertones:
v15 – they pierce my hands and my feet.
v18 – They divide my clothes among them and cast lots for my garment.
v24 – For he has not despised or scorned the suffering of the afflicted one; he has not hidden his face from him but has listened to his cry for help. (emphasis mine)
In the final verses of Psalm 22, we see the culmination of Jesus’ accomplishment:
All the rich of the earth will feast and worship; all who go down to the dust will kneel before him—those who cannot keep themselves alive. Posterity will serve him; future generations will be told about the Lord. They will proclaim his righteousness, declaring to a people yet unborn: He has done it! (v29-31 emphasis mine).
We see throughout this Psalm that Jesus wasn’t abandoned, that Father did not hide his face!
Father and Son faced the cross together. They felt the pain of the antidote of wrath and the burden of sin. Father stood with the Son in his affliction as any loving Father would in the midst of their child’s suffering.
And we all know what happened then—sin lost!
Wrath did not consume Jesus as it had destroyed so many previously. Jesus lived long enough to create the spiritual antidote we needed and on that great Pentecost, Father began to get his family back! No longer were his children estranged because of the Father’s holiness, man’s sinfulness, and the volatile fate of any such human who hadn’t gone through the most prolific, though temporary, forms of rituals to maintain cleanliness so they could draw close. It was finished at the cross, and now we have the gift of the Holy Spirit so we can forever live in the Father’s presence!
And yet, there was still another most exquisite gift. Not only was separation abolished forever, but Jesus rose from the grave to prove that it no longer had the power to contain Father’s children! The mighty plan of Father, Son, and Spirit, to restore the family, has forevermore succeeded!