Friday, April 22, 2011

Did God really abandon Jesus on the cross?

Today is Good Friday, the day we honor the supreme sacrifice Jesus Christ made when he went to his execution on the cross.   While I have argued before that Christians tend to spend too much energy and emotion on Jesus’ death and too little on his resurrection, it is still right and good that we soberly and gratefully acknowledge the suffering Jesus voluntarily accepted on our behalf.

There is, however, an element of the typical story of Jesus’ death that needs to be re-examined.  According to popular accounts—particularly fueled by the penal-substitutionary-atonement crowd—the stain of all our sin, heaped upon Jesus at his sacrificial death, was so horrible that holy God the Father, who in his holiness cannot look on sin, turned his back on his dying son.  This, they say, is why Jesus cried out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” as told in Matt. 27:46 and Mark 15:34.

Trouble is, they’re likely wrong.

First of all, the Bible doesn’t teach that God can’t look at sin.  Preachers do, but the Bible doesn’t.  God clearly looks on sinful people all the time, or he couldn’t see Earth at all.  Secondly, Jesus is crying out in extreme suffering…he probably felt forsaken at that point (who wouldn’t?).  But nowhere does scripture teach that God actually did forsake Jesus, just that he cried out in desperation while suffering a tortuous death.

Most compellingly, however, Jesus was probably quoting the beginning of Psalm 22, bits of which are associated with Jesus by the gospel writers on numerous occasions.  Take a look, for example, at Ps. 22:16-18, which John the Evangelist clearly associates with Jesus (see John 19:24 and John 19:36-37).  Whether Jesus was in fact tying this psalm to himself in a prophetic sense, or whether he was turning to a hymn of comfort in his affliction, we cannot know, although we do know that Psalm 22 ends with these words (vv. 28-31):
For kingship belongs to the Lord,
and he rules over the nations.
All the prosperous of the earth eat and worship;
before him shall bow all who go down to the dust,
even the one who could not keep himself alive.
Posterity shall serve him;
it shall be told of the Lord to the coming generation;
they shall come and proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn,
that he has done it.

Not a bad declaration of the coming victory, for one who appears to be in the throes of defeat by the very powers who will yet be forced to acknowledge his rule!

But God saw it.  He’s not in the habit of turning his back on anybody!

And don’t forget, in the words of the inimitable Tony Campolo, “it’s Friday, but Sunday’s a-comin’!”


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the post Dan. It is a good reminder, especially today. Have Holy Easter

Unknown said...

Dan, as always, I like what you have to say. My reasoning is that the entire redemptive work of Christ is the central event in salvation history, even though there are numerous facets.

As far as the resurrection, you are absolutely correct in your assertion that it is minimized in most evangelical preaching and teacher. Even in history, the classic theories of atonement, for instance, do not give proper attention to the resurrection, except for maybe the whole Christus Victor model, which, well, another story...

My feeling is that the resurrection is the validation of the cross. For that reason, I have to keep the cross in the picture of being central, but the glue of the redemptive event was that Christ defeated death.

Just my ideas.

Dan Martin said...

Thanks for popping in, Jonathan. I partly agree with you...the apostles certainly did mention Jesus' death and its importance many times; however, I think the resurrection as merely the "validation" of the cross may sell it a little short. Check out my other posts on atonement if you want to dig further...I'm totally a Christus Victor guy...but the most compelling evidence to me is 1 Cor. 15:17. And then, of course, the fact that Jesus' command in Matt. 28:16-20 says a lot about Jesus' power and authority and nothing about his death.

Was his death unimportant? By no means. But it would have been just another good guy killed by bad guys, without the resurrection.

Unknown said...

Dan, I think the last sentence of your response is the key here. The Bible says as much. The fact that a lot of people fail to see this, well, is pretty strange.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that, looking from our perspective, I see the whole event as more of a seamless story.

Blessings to you, friend.