Excerpt from “The Person of Christ”
April 11, 2012, 10:52 am
Filed under: Irresistible Grace, Limited Atonement

written by Donald Macleod 

The agony in the garden is indeed one of the great foundations of His compassion because there He plumbed the depths of our emotional weakness, but nowhere is it more important than here to distinguish between the Lord suffering with us and the Lord suffering for us. What He faced in Gethsemane we shall never face; and we shall never face it precisely because He faced it, offering His body as the place where God should effect the condemnation of sin (Rom. 8:3). Gethsemane is as unique as Calvary exactly because, as much as the cross, it belongs not to church history but to salvation history.

Yet, remarkably, there is an emotional depth beyond Gethsemane: that of Golgotha itself. This is reflected particularly in the cry of dereliction, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mt. 27:46). The state of mind indicated in these words is not coterminous with the crucifixion itself. The humiliation of Christ was not a point, but a line, beginning at Bethlehem and descending towards Calvary. But Calvary itself, in turn, is a line, as, on the cross, the Lord moves deeper and deeper into the abyss. The immolation itself took place at the third hour (mk. 15:25). Between that and the sixth hour there took place the conversation with the penitent robber (Lk. 23:40ff) in the course of which it becomes plain that Jesus is still sustained by hope (“Today you will be with min paradise”). From the sixth to the ninth hour there was darkness over the land (Mk. 15:33). Shortly afterwards Jesus cried, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabacthani?” and breathed His last. According to Luke’s account, He did so in full repossession of His filial consciousness: “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit” (Lk. 23:46).

The reason for laboring these details is that they underline the fact that Jesus was not forsaken all the time He was on the cross. The dereliction was only a moment in the long journey form the immolation to expiry. Yet it was the climactic moment, and a moment of incredible density; and it was so precisely because its agony was so compacted – so infinite – as to be well-nigh unsustainable. As an eighteenth century Gaelic hymn expressed it, the whole entail of sin was poured on Him in one horrific moment.

What the emotional content of this forsakenness actually was, it is impossible for us to know. What is certain is that Golgotha was more awful than Jesus had envisaged in Gethsemane. He felt forsaken, and He was forsaken. This involved, among other things, Jesus experiencing the agony of unanswered prayer. In Psalm 22, this idea is expressed just beside the words quoted by Jesus on the cross:

My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?

O my God, I cry by day, but thou dost not answer;

And by night, but find no rest.

What He prayed for is hidden from us. It may have been, once again , that the cup might pass; or, that there might be some light; or, that He be given some token of the Father’s love; or, that the pain might be over soon. We do not know. Whatever it was, there was no answer: only the echo of His own voice, the derision of those He had come to save, and the cruel taunts of hell.

Beside the unanswered prayer there was the loss of the filial consciousness. In the moment of dereliction, there is no sense of His own sonship. Even in Gethsemane, Jesus had been able to say, “Abba!” But now the cry is “Eloi, Eloi”. He is aware only of the god-ness and power and holiness and otherness of God. In His self-image, He is no longer Son, but Sin; no longer ‘Monogenes’, the Beloved with whom God is well pleased, but ‘Katara’, the cursed one: vile, foul and repulsive.

Corresponding to the loss of the sense of sonship there was a real abandonment by God. No one was ever less prepared for such an experience than Jesus. As the eternal Word He had always been with God (Jn 1:1). As the incarnate Son the Father had always been Him (Jn. 16:32). They had gone up from Bethlehem to Calvary, like Abraham and Isaac, “together” (Gn. 22:6,8). But now, in the hour of His greatest need, God is not there. When He most needs encouragement, there is no voice to cry, “This is my beloved Son.” When He most needs reassurance, there is no one to say, “I am well pleased.” No grace was extended to Him, no favor shown, no comfort administered, no concession made. God was present only as displeased, expressing that displeasure with overwhelming force in all the circumstances of Calvary. Every detail in a drama which walked a fine line between chaos and liturgy declared, “This is what God thinks of you and of the sin you bear!” He was cursed (Gal. 3:13), because He became “the greatest thief, murderer, adulterer, robber, desecrator, blasphemer, etc, there has ever been anywhere in the world” . . .

. . . Yet, even here, there are shafts of light. There can be no doubt that the Father loved Him; here, at Golgotha, above all, because this was the magnificent climax of His obedience. Nor can there be any doubt that there was a ministry of the Holy Spirit which persisted even through the dereliction. Only through this ministry was He able to offer Himself without spot to God (Heb. 9:14). More remarkably still, Jesus’ own faith remained intact. Even at the lowest point, where He cannot say, “Abba”, He says “Eloi” (My God). It could not have been otherwise. To lose faith and lapse into despair would itself have been sin. But what a tribute it is the spiritual strength of Jesus that even as He walks through this darkness He reaches out towards a God still perceived as His own.

Here, even than at Gethsemane, we have to remind ourselves that Christ suffered vicariously. The gospel of the dereliction is not that Christ shares our forsakenness but that He saved us from it. He endured it, not with us, but for us. We are immune to the curse (Gal 3:13) and to the condemnation (Rom. 8:3) precisely because Christ took them upon Himself and went, in our place, into the outer darkness. It remains true , of course, that He sympathizes with us in even the most acute of our emotional traumas, but the learning of compassion was not the primary motive behind the dereliction, which involved a journey into territory ordinary men and women will never tread. What Golgotha secured for us was not sympathy but immunity.

2 Comments so far
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Jesus, like the Old Testament types, offered His BODY as a sacrifice: Who his own self bare our sins IN HIS OWN BODY on the tree…(I Pet. 2:24).

Being put to death IN THE FLESH, He was quickened by the Spirit (I Peter 3:18).

Christ hath suffered for us IN THE FLESH…(I Peter. 4:1).

And you…hath he reconciled IN THE BODY OF HIS FLESH through death…(Col.1:21-22).

I am the living bread which came down from heaven…and the bread that I will give is MY FLESH, which I will give for the life of the world (John 6:51).

…we are sanctified through the offering of the BODY OF JESUS once for all (Heb. 10:10).

Having abolished IN HIS FLESH the enmity, even the law of
commandments…(Eph. 2:15).

Comment by mark mcculley

The efficacy of the Atonement did not depend upon how much Christ suffered on the cross. The Atonement’s validity depended only on the fact that the Son of God shed His spotless blood and died for the guilt of the elect. The Old Testament animal type did not bleed to death on the altar; only a few drops of blood were sprinkled on the altar as an atonement (Lev. 1:5) In the case of the sin-offering, the priest merely dipped his finger in the blood and applied it to the horns of the altar (Lev. 4:25).

The physical death of Jesus was absolutely essential so that Jesus would bear the punishment for our guilt IN HIS BODY (I Pet. 2:24), when He was put to death IN THE FLESH (I Pet. 3:18). We are told that the elect are redeemed, not by a “spiritual death” but “with the precious BLOOD of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot” (I Pet. 1:19).

Comment by mark mcculley

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