Just before He dies, Jesus suddenly cries out to His Father:
46And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46 ESV)
Jesus seems to be obvious to the crowd surrounding Him. His cry is raw and emotional. He addresses His Father using very unusual language. Usually He refers to the Father as “Father” using tender, emotional language. However, He simply says “My God” in the final moments of His crucifixion. His pain is so deep that Matthew tells us Jesus cried out one more time before He breathed His last.
50And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit. (Matthew 27:50 ESV)
To us, this kind of outburst almost seems “unholy.” It is as though Jesus loses trust in His Father. He refers to Him simply as “My God” and His words are charged with emotion. He has lived in perfect unity with the Father since eternity past and yet He suddenly feels forsaken by the very One who called Him “My beloved Son” (Matthew 3:17; 17:5). What is interesting is that this outburst seems to be out of sync with what the Bible tells us about Jesus’ embrace of the agony of the cross.
The Bible tells us that Jesus embraced the cross for the joy set before Him. Jesus had an understanding that the cross was a pathway to joy and glory and He willingly chose it.
2looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:2 ESV)
In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus faced the brutal agony of the cross. We are told that He sweated drops of blood because of the intensity of His wrestle with what was coming. He clearly understood what He was facing. However, in the Garden we do not see a hint of accusation towards His Father.
41And he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed, 42saying, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.”…44And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground. (Luke 22:41–42, 44 ESV)
Jesus understood the magnitude of His suffering and He embraced it resolutely. Even when He faced His suffering, He still felt an obvious intimacy with His Father. His intimate relationship with His Father is what caused Jesus to embrace the suffering of the cross. However, something significant happened as Jesus breathed His final breaths. Something erupted within His soul that caused Him to cry out. His cry is profound and to understand it, we must understand two things. The first is the biblical understanding of how to express pain and sorrow. Jesus’ lament on the cross illustrates how the Bible teaches us to deal with pain and disappointment. The second thing we must understand is what Jesus’ outburst reveals about the reality of our condition.
The Biblical Understanding of Lament
Jesus’ outburst on the cross is very raw in it’s language. The language is so raw that we many of us would feel very uncomfortable using that kind of language. He calls out to “My God” instead of “My Father.” He feels forsaken though He has always been in perfect communion with the Father and believes all His Father’s promises to Him. For many Christians, Jesus’ exclamation is the type of thing they would never say. It feels like a rejection of faith and confidence in who God is.
Jesus’ cry is a biblical lament. Lament is a term used to describe the expression of grief, sorrow, despair, and trouble that is frequently found in the Scripture. The Bible, particularly the Psalms are filled with laments in which the author pours out their heart to God. It is powerful to notice the difference in the way the Bible expresses lament and the way we typically express our sorrow in prayer. When we express lament in prayer, our prayer tends to focus on the solution to our lament. We emphasize what we want God to do to resolve the pain and the pressure.
Biblical lament is very different. In biblical lament, we pour out our soul to God. We express how we feel. We are vulnerable and raw. So many of the biblical Psalms are uncomfortable in the intensity of their language. Their authors say things that many of us who hardly dare to say. Perhaps it is because these laments are found in the Old Testament, that we rarely carefully consider why these laments are so different from ours, but they are there to teach us how to pray.
Biblical authors end their laments with expressions of confidence in God’s sovereignty, but they spend most of their lament on communicating how they feel rather than giving God instructions on how to fix their situation. Their focus on their pain rather than solutions reveals a greater confidence in the sovereignty of God and a liberty to pray through their emotions and pursue a depth of relationship.
The biblical prayers of lament are there for our instruction. They are examples of how to process sorrow and pain biblically. The difference between our prayers under pressure and biblical lament reveals quite a bit about the way we approach prayer compared with the way the Bible invites us to approach prayer. We could summarize the difference this way:
- We approach prayer primarily looking for answers.
- The Bible invites us to approach prayer primarily for relationship. This is especially apparent in biblical laments.
In biblical lament, God invites the intercessor to share their pain because God wants to hear our emotions. The incarnation and the crucifixion graphically illustrate the fact that God wants to enter into our suffering with us. We are in a rush to secure solutions, but God wants us to express our emotions. He wants to hear what we feel. He wants to be present in the moment of suffering with us. He wants to experience our pain with us. He wants a depth of relationship that is not present if all He does is provide resolution to our pain.
He wants to walk through our pain with us and that requires an honest emotional response. Many times we hold back our emotions out of fear of improperly expressing emotions (and there is wisdom in human relationships in how we express our emotions). However, there is a freedom in a relationship where we can openly express precisely how we feel because that involves a place of vulnerability where who we are, who we truly are, is exposed. Because we do not trust, we keep up appearances and we avoid honest expressions of grief in prayer.
Jesus honestly pours out His emotions on the cross. His cry is not a cry of doubt, it is an expression of confidence in His Father. Jesus feels confident to express bold emotions because He is confident about who God is and His place before Him. It is Jesus’ confidence in who His father is that liberates Him to ask “Why have Your forsaken Me?” It is His nearness to the Father that enables Him to cry out “My God!” Jesus is confident that the Father wants to enter into the experience of His pain with Him and that liberates Him to express His grief openly and publicly.
Jesus’ cry is a plea for intimacy in the context of His suffering not an accusation. He trusts His father enough to share how He feels. The reality is that many of us do not approach the Father in the confidence that Jesus had. We often relate to the Father on the basis of our requests rather than on the basis of a relationship, and there is a big difference in a relationship that is based on transactions and transactions that occur in the context of a relationship. In the context of relationship, we offer our petitions as the Bible encourages us to (Hebrews 4:16), but we also come boldly with confidence. Relationship is central in prayer and in how we relate to God. He is looking for relationship and that is precisely why He values our lament.
Father Why Have Your forsaken Me?
Jesus’ relationship with the Father gave Him the courage to offer His lament, but there is something even more significant in the lament itself. What is it that caused Jesus to express this cry in the first place? Throughout the gospels we see the affirmation of the Father for the Son (Matthew 3:17; 17:5) and we see Jesus prioritizing time alone with His Father (Luke 5:16; 6:12; 9:18; 11:1). It is clear that they have an intimate relationship, so much so that Jesus said He only did what He saw the Father doing (John 5:19; 12:49; 14:10). With such intimacy between the Father and Son, why does Jesus suddenly cry out like a forsaken child?
In that moment on the cross, the sin of the world was placed on Jesus (1 Peter 2:24), and in that moment Jesus entered into the full agony of the human condition. Jesus had known full communion with God, unhindered by sin, for His entire life. Now suddenly our sin was put on Him and He was submerged into our suffering and our condition. In that moment Jesus suddenly experienced the human condition of separation from communion with God. The loss of communion with His Father in that moment caused Him to cry out in agony.
Jesus’ agony on the cross illustrates the crisis of the human condition. As soon as Jesus experienced a momentary loss of communion, He cried out “Why have You forsaken Me!” as He fully entered into the human condition. Jesus’ response in that moment tells us just how broken our condition is. When Jesus entered into our condition, His soul could not bear being out of communion with His Father.
The book of Hebrews tells us that Jesus became like us in every respect and was tempted like us in every way (Hebrews 2:17; 4:15) and you can almost imagine Jesus saying, “Father, is this what they live like? Is this what their condition is truly like?” as He cries out in agony. We are born out of communion with the Father. What was agonizing for Jesus is normal for us, but Jesus’ response is a graphic illustration of just how damaging this situation is to our human frame.
What is so shocking is that the loss of communion is what caused Jesus to cry out rather than the pain of the cross. Jesus experienced excruciating pain leading up to the crucifixion and in the crucifixion itself and yet that is not what caused Him to cry out. He bore the pain, agony, and shame of the cross without compliant. He willingly endured it.
Not even the humiliation He faced before the people caused Him to question His Father. Only one thing caused Him to cry out in agony – the momentary loss of communion with the Father when He experienced the weight of sin. Jesus had always known communion with His Father and, as a human being, was still made for intimate communion. The crucifixion illustrates one of the main themes of the Bible – a human being not in communion with God is a human being in agony.
The Pain of the Garden
In that moment on the cross, Jesus experienced the pain that Adam and Eve felt when they were suddenly separated from the presence of the Father and pushed out of the garden. Adam and Eve experienced communion and had intimate fellowship with God in the garden. When sin came the first thing they lost was communion. The other curses, such as death, slowly affected them but the first thing they suffered was the loss of communion, as they were driven from the garden out into the earth in a place where they no longer knew God the way they had before.
In Genesis, once Adam and Eve leave the garden, the earth erupts into chaos. In a few short chapters the description of life on the earth is completely different from the way it began. As soon as man was separated from communion with God, the entire earth falls into disorder. The earth becomes so chaotic that a flood becomes necessary to restrain wickedness. Their sin created a context where man now lived out of communion with God and, in that condition, man became capable of horrible things. The creation that God declared as “good” not suddenly filled the earth with violence and tragedy.
The lesson of the book of Genesis is that broken communion is at the heart of the crisis in the earth and mankind’s dilemma. This is why the book of Revelation ends with God back on the earth and His heavenly city coming down. Genesis tells the horrible story of communion broken. Revelation ends with the glorious promise of communion restored.
This is why there is divine poetry in the events of Jesus’ crucifixion. It is not an accident that He wrestles with His Father in a garden over the issue of going to the cross.
41And he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed, 42saying, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” 43And there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him. 44And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground. (Luke 22:41–44 ESV)
In the garden, Jesus asked if there was any way for Him to avoid the cup of suffering. That cup was not simply the pain of the crucifixion. Drinking that cup also meant the agony of broken communion. Jesus wrestled in a garden with what His Father asked Him to do. Would He be willing to embrace the cup? The Father set that cup before Him. The wrestle over that cup was so intense that it says Jesus sweat great drops of blood.
What must have been in the Father’s heart and mind as He watched Jesus willingly embrace the cup and walk out of that garden? That walk out of the garden would have reminded the Father of the pain He felt when the first Adam was forced out of the garden of communion because of His sin. What emotions must have been going in the Father’s heart as He watched the second Adam be forcibly taken out of a garden by willingly taking on sin?
We often consider how much sin has cost Adam and his descendants. We rarely consider how much it has cost God to lose communion with mankind. God created man for communion. What pain must be in His heart over the loss of communion?
Jesus entered the garden in communion with His Father, but like Adam He then walked out of the garden to enter into our condition of broken communion. He experienced all the pain that Adam and Eve felt when they were separated from the presence of the Father and all the pain of broken humanity throughout history.
The Human Condition
Broken communion – the loss of communion with the Father – is at the root of the problem of humanity in earth. So much of what we deal with and experience is all connected to being out of communion with our Father. Our world is ultimately in a conflict. No matter how much “good” there is in the world, something remains horribly wrong and what is horribly wrong ultimately ends up creating chaos and crisis. The struggles we face in this world are ultimately due to our sin, but sin flourishes because we are out of communion with our Father. It is one of the reasons so many things in life and in this world just do not seem right. We have distorted views of ourselves and each other. We are constantly striving for some sort of approval, some type of success.
The root of that is our attempt to recover what we lost when we lost communion with the Father. The condition that caused Jesus to cry out is the same condition that we live in every day. It is normal to us and yet when Jesus experienced it for a moment He cried out in agony. This is what it means when the Scripture says He became like us in every way – He entered into the full agony of our condition.
17Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. (Hebrews 2:17 ESV)
15For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. (Hebrews 4:15 ESV)
Jesus’ reaction to what He experienced on the cross tells us just how abnormal our situation truly is. When Jesus was plunged into our condition it was so shocking to Him you can almost hear Jesus saying, “Father is this what they live like?”
The cross, and Jesus’ crucifixion particularly, was designed for excruciating pain. It is difficult to relate to just what Jesus was feeling for those hours that He hung on the cross. However, it was not the pain of the cross, but the loss of communion that finally caused His emotions to burst. That is how precious communion with the Father is and how painful it is to live without it.
For the Joy Set Before Him
Hebrews 12 tells us that Jesus embraced the agony of the cross because of the great joy set before Him.
2looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:2 ESV)
He endured the pain of broken communion for the joy set before Him. That great joy was the restoration of communion between God and man. Jesus died so that we could know the Father. He died to resolve that great pain in our heart that says, “Father where are You?”
Jesus is on a great redemptive mission to restore communion between the Father and mankind. This is evident from the beginning of the redemptive story. When God brings Israel out of the Egypt the first thing He does is put His His presence in their midst. When the church begins in the book of Acts, it begins with the flame of God’s presence resting on His people in the form of tongues of fire. When the book of Revelation ends it predicts that God is coming again on the earth dwelling among His people.
Jesus’ great joy is to restore fellowship between man and God. He is seated at the right hand of the throne of God for that purpose. The promise of Hebrews 12 is that there is now a man in perfect communion with God again. That man lives in perfect communion with God so that other humans can come back into perfect communion with God. This is why the author of Hebrews tells us to come boldly back to the place of communion with God:
16Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:16 ESV)
Jesus paid a deep price to restore communion between God and man and this is why the author of Hebrews invites us to come boldly to the place of communion. Jesus suffering the cross and “despised its shame.” There is another shame that He despised or scorned as well and that is our shame because of sin. Jesus despised the shame of our separation and that is why He paid such a high price on our behalf in order to liberate us from it.
On the cross Jesus cried out “My God why have Your forsaken Me?” so that we could cry out, “Father!” He cried out so that we can cry out.
6And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” (Galatians 4:6 ESV)
His death, suffering, and pain were all to restore intimacy with the Father. He entered our broken communion so that we can experience His perfect communion.
The Global Prayer and Worship Movement
Right now throughout the nations there is a move towards worship and prayer. It has various expressions, but it is growing with intensity in the nations, particularly among young adults. God is reorienting our expectation of church and church gatherings. God is reorienting the church around His presence because that is the desperate need of the human soul.
This is why the church, first and foremost, should be a place of communion. It should be a sanctuary from this age a place where God’s people can experience His presence together. While it will be imperfect in this age, it is God’s agenda for the church. This is why when Jesus entered Jerusalem in Matthew 21, the first thing He did was go to the temple and the first thing He did in the temple was declare it’s purpose:
13He said to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’…” (Matthew 21:13 ESV)
Jesus is not saying that every church must be named a “house of prayer” but He is saying that His house should be known as a house of prayer. God’s house is to be known as the place where the people commune with God in the place of prayer. God is going to shift the nature of His church in the nations. Our deepest need is for communion with God. God’s deepest desire is for communion with His people. The church in the nations is going to face a collision of desire. Our desire for communion with God will be fully awakened and His desire for communion with His people is much stronger than we can imagine. That collision will fill the earth with worship and prayer.
A cry in the nations is just beginning that will intensify. That cry will have one single objective:
17The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.” And let the one who hears say, “Come”… (Revelation 22:17 ESV)
The global church will express one desire “Come.” His presence will become our highest desire and our deepest delight. His absence will become our greatest pain.
Beloved, it is not ok that Jesus is not with us. His absence is abnormal. A billion years from now we will look on this age as that strange time when God was not on the earth and mankind lived in a condition of broken communion. His absence is not permanent. He is not content with broken communion. He will resolve it. He will come.
Jesus despised the shame of the cross and suffered so that our communion with the Father could be restored. Will we despise the shame of our own condition enough to receive what Jesus has done for us and come boldly before the throne of grace?