As Jesus hung on the cross in those early hours of His suffering, many stood by and watched. Even then there was a chance that something might happen. Would He prove Himself to be powerful enough to overcome this travesty?
Others walked by, shaking their heads and ridiculing Him. “‘You who are going to destroy the Temple in three days, save Yourself! If You are the Son of God, come down from the cross!’”
The scribes and elders and chief priests were marinating in their seeming victory. “‘He saved others; let Him save Himself if this is the Christ of God, His Chosen One.’” Imagine how deep and dark their malice went. Even as they acknowledged His great compassion for others, they showed none themselves. Even His great suffering did not satisfy their rage. “‘If He is the king of Israel; let Him come down from the cross, and we shall believe in Him,’” they declared.
Others quoted the Old Testament to testify against Him, “‘He trusts in God; let Him deliver Him now, if He takes pleasure in Him; for He said, “I am the Son of God.”’”
As the thieves on both sides of Jesus hung on their crosses, they joined in the insults against the Lord as well. The soldiers joined in, offering His parched lips sour wine. “‘If you are the King of the Jews, save Yourself,’” they mocked.
To this utter surrounding of contempt and ridicule, Jesus gave no response. Thousands upon thousands of angels stood at the ready as they watched the Holy One bear the agony of a long and tortured death. Jesus could have called on them. He could have removed Himself in an instant. He could have pulverized the planet with a Word and sent the universe back to nothing. But these options were not the will of His Father.
As the hours rolled by, as Jesus continued to suffer and bear the sins of the world, one of the criminals next to Him threw another insult His way. “‘Are you not the Christ? Save Yourself and save us!’”
But the other thief was having a change of heart. He had listened to all the insults and disparaging words. He had even spoken some of them. And then He watched the Lord Jesus in His silence and fortitude. Who was this Man that hung beside him?
“‘Do you not even fear God?’” he asked the other thief. “‘You are under the same sentence of condemnation. And we are here justly, for we are receiving what we deserve for our deeds; but this Man has done no wrong.’”
Then he spoke to the Lord. “‘Jesus,’” he said, “‘remember me when you come into your kingdom!’”
Wow….what kind of man was this Christ, that His royalty could be magnified on a cross! The Lord heard the sincere confession of the thief and said, “‘Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in paradise.’”
Oh, the breathtaking, tender grace of Jesus, even as He was wracked with the suffering of our sin. What a greatness of soul had He. Surely He is God!
But these words reveal more to us than His compassion…they reveal His vision. He did not set His heart on the things going on around Him. His work was not without purpose, and He looked to what His suffering would accomplish. His heart was set on the hope that was coming.
There were a few who had made their way to Golgotha who loved Jesus. Mary, His mother, the mother of James and John, and Mary of Magdala had all come. John the disciple was with them, too, and they drew near the cross. When Jesus saw His mother, He said, “‘Woman, behold your son!’” Then he looked to John and said, “‘Behold, your mother!’”
For you see, Jesus was the eldest son, and Mary was a widow. It was His role in the family to make sure that Mary was taken care of. John, His beloved disciple, was also His cousin, and Jesus passed that role onto him. From that time on, John took Mary into his own home.
As Jesus’ mother watched the suffering of her Son, what was going through her mind? Had she guessed that this would be His end?
Many years before, just after Christ was born, Simeon the prophet came to Mary, filled with the Holy Spirit, and spoke the Words of God to her. Simeon had spent his life waiting for the promised Messiah. God had promised that he would see the Savior with his own eyes before his death. When Mary and Joseph brought Jesus to the Temple, Simeon was there, and he recognized the baby Jesus as the One God had promised for hundreds of years of Israel’s history.
Yet what he prophesied was not only hope and goodness. Simeon also saw the pain that was coming. He told Mary, “‘This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul, too.” Now the great piercing of Mary’s soul had come with the piercing of her Son.
Jesus had been on the cross for about three hours when something strange began to happen. A deep darkness fell upon the whole land. It was noon, but the sun was cloaked. The judgment of the Father against the sin of the injustice was shrouding the world. And still the Son of God travailed.
For three more hours, the earth was deeply dimmed. Minute by minute rolled by until the time of the ninth hour had come. It was three o’clock in the afternoon. At the Temple, the priests would be offering the evening sacrifices. Jesus cried out:
“‘Eloi, Eloi, Lama sabachthani?’”
It was the desperate wail of a beloved Son, for it meant,
“‘My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?’”
His cry rang out with penetrating grief, burning itself on the memory of the people gathered at the foot of the cross.
Why did Jesus say that? Had He forgotten the reason that He was on the cross? Did He not know that this terrible separation was to bear the sins of humanity? Did He really believe that God had left Him behind forever?
The Jews who were gathered on Golgotha would have recognized the words of Jesus. He borrowed them from a Psalm of the Old Testament. King David, the great ancestor of Christ, wrote them in a time of great distress. Yet they were not words of doubt. At this point in the Psalm, David’s faith was not wavering…it was being strengthened as he waited on the Lord. He was standing in faith, refusing to look to any other source for help. He would not turn to the solutions of men or to sin, he would not grow bitter towards God for bringing suffering.
In this Psalm, King David fixed his hope on God’s deliverance, crying out and pleading to his trusted Lord alone. It is a picture of a deep nearness to God, where His beloved servant could come with his most heartfelt need. Let’s read a little bit more of the Psalm:
“My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?
Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?
O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night,
but I find no rest.
Yet You are holy,
enthroned on the praises of Israel.
In You our fathers trusted;
they trusted, and You delivered them.”
Do you see how quickly King David rose to praise God and declare that He was worthy of trust…even as he waited for God’s deliverance from trouble?
Jesus wasn’t asking why God had abandoned Him. He was crying out as a human who was suffering for God in perfect obedience, longing for the Lord to bring His trial to an end.
By this time, Christ had suffered for six hours. The holy wrath of God had come in wave upon wave against the ravaging malice of humanity’s sin. It was a devastating force that Christ willingly bore in His own body. Yet He knew that this limitless suffering would not last forever. Glorious victory waited on the other side. In His human exhaustion, He was simply pleading, “How much longer, Lord?”
As Jesus cried out the words of His great ancestor, He also fulfilled them, for this Psalm was a prophecy. It was both an expression of David’s own personal prayer, and a foretelling about the coming Messiah.
When those standing around heard Him, some said, “‘He is calling for Elijah.’” Others were saying, “‘Let us see whether Elijah will come to save Him.’” They were still wondering who this Man on the cross really was.
The Lord Jesus knew that the time had come. He had accomplished everything the Father sent Him to do, and His Father heard His cry. Yet there was another fulfillment of Scripture left for Him to do, so He said, “‘I thirst.’”
There was a jar of sour wine nearby, so some men took a sponge and dipped it in the wine. Then they jabbed it with a branch of hyssop and lifted it up the Christ’s lips. This fulfilled the words of Psalm 69:21 “…for in my thirst they gave me sour wine to drink.”
When Jesus was done drinking, He declared:
“It is finished.”
In that solitary moment on the hill of Golgotha, Jesus announced that it was over. The victory was won. Everything had changed. With the sin of Adam, humanity had mutinied against God and given its loyalty to Satan, and the result was the devastation of sin and death. But Christ had come as a human and conquered both, and won the path to life. The purpose of His life on earth was complete, so He cried out in a loud voice,
“‘Father, into Your hands I commit my spirit!’”
Then He bowed his head, breathed His last breath, and yielded His spirit to God.