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“My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” Here we see the absolute holiness and in flexible justice of God.
The tragedy of Calvary must be viewed from at least four different viewpoints. At the cross man did a work: he displayed his depravity by taking the Perfect One and with “wicked hands” nailing him to the tree. At the cross Satan did a work: he manifested his insatiable enmity against the woman’s seed by bruising his heel. At the cross the Lord Jesus did a work: he died the Just for the unjust that he might bring us to God. At the cross God did a work: he exhibited his holiness and satisfied his justice by pouring out his wrath on the one who was made sin for us.
What human pen is able or fit to write about the unsullied holiness of God! So holy is God that mortal man cannot look upon him in his essential being, and live. So holy is God that the very heavens are not clean in his sight. So holy is God that even the seraphim veil their faces before him. So holy is God that when Abraham stood before him, he cried, “I am but dust and ashes” (Genesis 18:27). So holy is God that when Job came into his presence he said, “Wherefore I abhor myself” (Job 42:6). So holy is God that when Isaiah had a vision of his glory he exclaimed, “Woe is me! for I am undone . . . for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts” (Isa. 6:5). So holy is God that when Daniel beheld him in theophanic manifestation he declared, “there remained no strength in me: for my comeliness was turned in me into corruption” (Dan. 10:8). So holy is God that we are told, he is “of purer eyes than to behold evil, and canst not look on iniquity” (Hab. 1:13). And it was because the Saviour was bearing our sins that the thrice holy God would not look on him, turned his face from him, forsook him. The Lord made to meet on Christ the iniquities of us all: and our sins being on him as our substitute, the divine wrath against our offences must be spent upon our sin-offering.
“My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” That was a question which none of those around the cross could have answered; it was a question which, at the time, none of the apostles could have answered; yea, it was a question which had puzzled the angels in heaven to make reply to. But the Lord Jesus had answered his own question, and his answer is found in Psalm 22. This psalm furnished a most wonderful prophetic foreview of his sufferings. The psalm opens with the very words of our Saviour’s fourth cross-utterance, and it is followed by further agonizing sobs in the same strain till, at verse 3, we find him saying – “But thou art holy” . He complains not of injustice, instead he acknowledges God’s righteousness – thou art holy and just in exacting all the debt at my hand which I am surety for; I have all the sins of all my people to answer for, and therefore I justify thee, O God, in giving me this stroke from thine awakened sword. Thou art holy: thou art clear when thou judgest.
At the cross, then, as nowhere else, we see the infinite malignity of sin and the justice of God in the punishment thereof. Was the old world over-flown with water? Were Sodom and Gomorrah destroyed by a storm of fire and brimstone? Were the plagues sent upon Egypt and were Pharaoh and his hosts drowned in the Red Sea? In these may the demerit of sin and God’s hatred thereof be seen; but much more so here is Christ forsaken of God. Go to Golgotha and see the Man that is Jehovah’s Fellow drinking up the cup of his Father’s indignation, smitten by the sword of divine justice, bruised by the Lord himself, suffering unto death, for God “spared not his own Son” when he hung in the sinner’s place.
Behold how nature herself had anticipated the dreadful tragedy – the very contour of the ground is like unto a skull. Behold the earth trembling beneath the mighty load of outpoured wrath. Behold the heavens as the sun turns away from such a scene, and the land is covered with darkness. Here may we see the dreadful anger of a sin-avenging God. Not all the thunderbolts of divine judgment which were let loose in Old Testament times, not all the vials of wrath which shall yet be poured forth on an apostate Christendom during the unparalleled horrors of the Great Tribulation, not all the weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth of the damned in the Lake of Fire ever gave, or ever will give such a demonstration of God’s inflexible justice and ineffable holiness, of his infinite hatred of sin, as did the wrath of God which flamed against his own Son on the cross. Because he was enduring sin’s terrific judgment he was forsaken of God. He who was the Holy One, whose own abhorrence of sin was infinite, who was purity incarnate (1 John 3:3) was “made sin for us” (2 Cor. 5:2 1); therefore did he bow before the storm of wrath, in which was displayed the divine displeasure against the countless sins of a great multitude whom no man can number. This, then, is the true explanation of Calvary. God’s holy character could do no less than judge sin even though it be found on Christ himself. At the cross then God’s justice was satisfied and his holiness vindicated.