Belgic Confession, Article 21: Forsaken for the Remission of Our Sins
Matthew 27:46: “…My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?”
From the depths of Christ’s agonies came the cry of abandonment: “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” These words spoken by Christ from the cross are among the most profound, mysterious, and sacred in Scripture. The Son forsaken by the Father! What could this mean? How could this be possible? What is its significance?
We must remember the events of the cross. For three hours, Jesus had hung on the cross as a spectacle before men; and men had been active in mocking him. It was not enough for his enemies that they had brought him to the cross they, but they gathered like bloodthirsty wolves to growl at him. “He saved others. Himself He cannot save. If he be the King of Israel, let him come down from the cross and we will believe him” (Matt. 27:42). Even the two thieves—one of whom would later repent and be forgiven by Jesus (Luke 23:43)—mocked him (Matt. 27:44). But the blasphemous chatter at the cross ended when God plunged the earth into darkness for three hours (Matt. 27:45). This was a miraculous darkness which lasted from high noon until three o’clock, when the sun was normally at its hottest. During those three hours of darkness God was judging sin and the Sinbearer, Jesus Christ. Judgment came to Calvary that day in the form of thick, impenetrable, oppressive darkness. That darkness was upon Jesus Christ because he was the object of the righteous and holy judgment of God against all the sins of God’s people. Only after Jesus had purged our sins and exhausted the wrath of God against our sins, did the light return.
It was as Jesus plumbed the depths of that darkness—the outer darkness of hell itself—and just before he emerged from it, that he cried with a loud voice the words of abandonment. At this point Christ was being crushed by the heavy hand of God; the billows of God’s wrath like a raging ocean of fire were flooding and overwhelming him; Jesus was tasting, drinking, and emptying the bitter cup which God had given him. At that point, inexpressive horror gripped Christ’s soul. God had forsaken him. In that horror Christ called out in agony, seeking for fellowship with his God: “My God, my God …” But there was no fellowship possible. God did not answer his Son with his favour. Our Mediator, who had always known and enjoyed communion with his Father, who was the object of the Father’s delight, who dwelled eternally in the Father’s bosom, was now without the presence of God’s love.
This does not mean that there was suddenly a schism in the being of the Trinity. This does not mean either that the Father now hated his Son. The Father loved the Son even when He did not spare him. The Son loved the Father even as the Father inflicted suffering upon him. It means that the Son of God experienced in his human nature of body and soul that God was not his benevolent Father, but the avenging and righteous Judge. It means that in his capacity as Judge God showed no mercy to his Son, but punished him to the fullest extent, pouring out the full fury of his wrath.
That, the presence of God in wrath, but the absence of God’s favour, was intolerable for the holy Son of God. But that was necessary for our salvation. Christ experienced hell that day so that we would never experience hell, we who believe in him.