When the history of mankind is fully written, the most painful moment will be 6 hours one Friday on a hill outside Jerusalem. For there God’s punitive discipline fell its hardest on the one who had never committed a sin in word, deed, or thought.
When we think of the cross, we often limit the scene to his physical suffering. Yet of the seven statements Jesus made from the cross, not one of them referenced physical pain.
The cross also speaks about of physical death. The Romans were meticulous about this. Crucifixion was to deter rebellion. The cross, therefore, was to bring certifiable death. If there were any signs of life after the body was removed from the cross, the entire Roman cohort overseeing the execution would be crucified.
But the cross-crisis for Jesus was not about physical pain nor physical death. By the Spirit’s power, Jesus had revealed that neither of these elements were to be feared, a truth he made clear at the tomb of Lazarus when he said, “I am the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25).
There is a pain greater than physical pain, and there is a death more severe than physical death. While physical death separates the spirit from the body, no pain is as painful as the spirit being separated from God.
This was the crisis of the cross. This is the thing Jesus feared the most — separation from his Father.
In their book, When God Weeps, Steven Estes and Joni Ericson Tada captured Jesus’ challenge most vividly: These writers understood that the Father didn’t simply look away. He poured his holy and justified wrath upon our sin, that was being born by the sinless Son of God.
From heaven the Father now rouses himself like a lion disturbed, shakes his mane, and roars against the shriveling remnant of a man hanging on a cross. Never has the Son seen the Father look at him so, never felt the least of his hot breath. But the roar shakes the unseen world and darkens the visible sky. The Son does not recognize these eyes.
It was as if the Father said to his Son,
“Son of Man! Why have you behaved so? You have cheated, lusted, stolen, gossiped—murdered, envied, hated, lied. You have cursed, robbed, overspent, overeaten—fornicated, disobeyed, embezzled, and blasphemed. Oh, the duties you have shirked, the children you have abandoned! Who has ever ignored the poor, so played the coward, so belittled my name? Have you ever held your razor tongue? What a self-righteous, pitiful drunk — you, who molest young boys, peddle killer drugs, travel in cliques, and mock your parents. Who gave you the boldness to rig elections, foment revolutions, torture animals, and worship demons? Does the list never end! Splitting families, raping virgins, acting smugly, playing the pimp.— buying politicians, practicing extortion, filming pornography, accepting bribes. You have burned down buildings, perfected terrorist tactics, founded false religions, traded slaves—relishing every morsel and bragging about it all. I hate, I loathe the these things in you! Disgust for everything about you consumes me! Can you not feel my wrath?”
The authors conclude,
Of course the Son is innocent. He is blamelessness itself. The Father knows this. But the divine pair have an agreement, and the unthinkable must now take place. Jesus will be treated as if personally responsible for every sin ever committed.1
1 Joni Eareckson Tada and Steve Estes, When God Weeps (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1997), 53-54.