The Messiah Abandoned

Dying on that Friday afternoon, Jesus shouted to God, “My God, my God why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34). This expressed profound emotion. It gave witness to the depth of his human experience. It was an honest exclamation and an authentic question. But it did not so much accuse as it laments, and this arises from the intimacy Jesus shared with the Father.

Some hear the cry as a kind of relational abandonment where the Father “turns his back” on Jesus because Jesus had become sin in that moment. Others hear the cry as an expression of some sort of tear within the Triune God where God experiences alienation within God’s own life such that the communion between the Father and Son is, in some real sense, broken.

Certainly, the Father mourns the death of the Son, and through the experience of the Son the Father also suffers with the Son because of their transparent, shared intimacy. Also, the Spirit, who has rested upon the Son since his baptism, groans with the Father and the Son in this moment. The pathos of suffering is not alien to God. Through the Son, God suffers, and God suffers as Father, Son, and Spirit. The cross is the mourning of God; it is a divine as well human lament.

But the unity of the Trinity is not ripped apart in this moment. Their communion does not waver. The Son trusts the Father, and, quoting Psalm 31:6, the Son entrusts himself to the Father (Luke 23:46). The Father does not abandon Jesus in death, and neither does the Son lose faith in the Father. The Triune communion remains fully intact.

Rather than relational abandonment, the cross is the moment where the Son is embraced by the Father’s love and the Spirit continues to rest upon him. This is wonderfully depicted by Mashacho’s Masaccio’s fresco (1425-1426) in the Santa Maria Novella church in Florence, Italy.

The fresco is high on the wall. As we lift our eyes we first see Jesus hanging on the cross, then we see the Spirit, as a dove, hovering like a mother bird over the Son, and then finally the Father, facing the cross, extending loving arms toward the Son. We see the Trinity gathered—one on the cross, one resting on the head of crucified one, and one towering in the background.

The Father stands behind the cross with his arms stretched out as if embracing the Son as he hangs on the cross. Far from turning his back on the Son, the Father loves the Son, encircles the Son, and assures the Son of the Father’s love.

The Spirit, as a dove, rests upon the Son. Just as the dove descended on the Son at his baptism and anointed him with power, and just as the Spirit led the Son into the wilderness and throughout his ministry, so now in death the Spirit is still with the Son.

The Trinity is united at the cross; there is no break in the triune communion.

At the same time, the Father abandoned the Son to death, but the Father did not abandon him on the cross. The Father abandoned the Son to death, but the Father did not abandon him in death. The Father abandoned the Son, just like the Father does us, to the grave, but the Father did not abandon the Son in the grave. By the power of the Spirit, who rests upon the Son, the Father raised the Son from the dead, just as the Father by the power of the Spirit will raise us from the dead in the likeness of the Son.

The cross teaches us that God may abandon us to death, but God will not abandon us in the grave. This is our hope, and it is our comfort.



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