God is everywhere. He is in heaven and on earth. He is on His throne (Hebrews 5:34) and upon His footstool (Acts 7:49). He is at the North Pole and the South Pole, and all the way around the equator. He is at the top of Everest and the bottom of the Marianas Trench. He roams the Serengeti plains, meanders up the Shenandoah Valley, and traverses the icy crevices of the Himalaya. He walks in Red Square, Tienaman Square, and Times Square. He is on the outback and the Sahara and the crowded streets of London and Bangladesh.
Since God is everywhere, 'all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do' (Hebrews 4:13). Thus, He is at the hip-hop concert, in the licentious teenager's backseat, and at the rave party. He's in Vegas, Reno, and Atlantic City. He is in the alley where the drug deal goes down, at the bar where the alcoholic gets drunk, and on the street corner where the prostitute meets her john. He is in the greedy corporate boardroom, the sleazy strip club, and the hygienic abortion clinic. He attends every session of Congress and every hearing of the Supreme Court. He resides at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. He is aboard Air Force One when it takes off and lands. He was in the Twin Towers on 9/11. But there was one place where God was not.
The omnipresent God was absent from Calvary (Matthew 27:46).
A thousand years before the crucifixion, the psalmist recorded the prayer that Jesus would pitifully cry from Golgotha's darkened hillside that Passover afternoon: 'Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?' Or in English, 'My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?' (Matthew 27:46). Jesus was abandoned even by God, which was a new experience for Him. David continues his prehistory of the Savior's thoughts: 'Why art thou so far from helping me, and from the words of my roaring? ... Be not far from me; for trouble is near; for there is none to help ... But be not thou far from me, O Lord: O my strength, haste thee to help me' (Psalm 22:1, Psalm 22:11, Psalm 22:19). For the first time in all eternity, the Father and Son were separated. God wasn't there.
It was prophesied that the sun and the moon would be darkened Joel 3:15-16) and from noon until three o'clock that afternoon, it happened. It was dark over all the land, a supernatural darkness that could not be explained. It was not an eclipse because Passover was always held at full moon, when there could be no eclipse of the sun. It is reported that Dionysius, at Heliopolis in Egypt, took note of the darkness, and said that 'either the God of nature is suffering, or the machine of the world is tumbling into ruin.'1 God sent three days of darkness to the land of Egypt before the first Passover (Hebrews 10:21-22), when the lambs were slain to protect the firstborn; God sent three hours of darkness at the last Passover before the Lamb of God died for the sins of the world (cf. John 1:29).
Why was the omnipresent God absent? Doubtless it is impossible to fathom the mind of God during those hours (cf. Romans 11:34; 1 Corinthians 2:16), but perhaps these reasons were involved.
The holiness of God was repulsed by the world's sin.
Matthew Henry calls this darkness 'the frowns of heaven.'2 Why would God abandon His Son at His hour of greatest need, especially when Jesus was doing His Father's will? God still loved Him, but since He bore the world's sin, God's holiness was repelled. 'Thou art of purer eyes than to behold evil, and canst not look on iniquity' (Habakkuk 1:13).2 God's holiness may be His chief attribute. It is referred to more times in Scripture than any other trait.3 'Holiness is the central nature of the being of God from which such attributes as love, justice, and mercy emanate.'4
In both the Old and New Testaments, we read of the inhabitants of heaven praising Him with the words, 'Holy, holy, holy' (Isaiah 6:3; Revelation 4:8). God's Book reflects God's holiness. Truly, 'Who is like unto thee, O Lord, among the gods? Who is like thee, glorious in holiness, fearful in praises, doing wonders?' (Hebrews 15:11). The word holy is found 611 times in the Bible and holiness, 43 times. Saint (100 times, including plural), sanctify (132, including past tense), and sanctification (5 times) all come from the same root as holiness. The darkness manifested God's holiness as hatred of the sin that Jesus experienced in that dreaded hour.
The justice of God inflicted upon Jesus the penalty that the worst of all sinners would face. Just what was taking place there that afternoon? The soldiers saw a routine execution, the Jewish leaders saw an enemy disposed of, the Romans saw a problem resolved, the disciples saw their dreams come to an abrupt halt, the women saw their friend killed, and Satan thought he saw God's plan foiled; but God and the angels saw something else. God's great dilemma-how He could be both just and Justifier-was solved.
Paul reasoned that God sent Christ, 'to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; to declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus' (Romans 3:25-26).
He who knew no sin was made sin for us (2 Corinthians 5:21).
He whom God loved was made a curse for us (Galatians 3:13).
He who deserved no penalty was wounded for our transgressions and bruised for our iniquities (Isaiah 53:5).
He who was worthy of worship 'was delivered up because of our transgressions' (Romans 4:25).
He who was Life 'died for our sins according to the Scriptures' (1 Corinthians 15:3; 1 Peter 3:18), and became 'the propitiation for our sins' (1 John 4:10).
The love of God was offended by the treachery, inhuman cruelty, and indescribable suffering of the object of His affection.
It is hard for us to imagine the pain God must have felt as a Father watching His Son endure such abuses as scourging and crucifixion. Many parents have had to leave the room when their child underwent a spinal tap or some other painful medical procedure. They could not bear to watch; they could not endure the screams; they could not abide the tears. But they knew it was necessary for the child to regain his health; it was for the child's good. When God endured the events from Gethsemane to Gabbatha to Golgotha, it was doing His Child no good. It benefited only other people's children-even those who were at the time His enemies (Romans 5:8-10).
The truth of God needed the scapegoat to go into the wilderness, bearing the sins of the people.
God is meticulous in fulfilling prophecy, even types and antitypes. He had prefigured ridding mankind of sin in a curious ritual engaged in by His people for more than a thousand years. In the Old Testament ceremony, two goats were selected. One was chosen by lot to be offered as a sacrifice. The other became the scapegoat. This animal had the priest's hands laid upon it while the people's sins were confessed. The meaning of the ritual was that these sins were passing from the people to the priest to the goat. Then the goat was led by a 'fit man' into the wilderness and abandoned-thus the people's sins were removed from them and left in a place they would never be found again (Leviticus 16:10, Leviticus 16:21-22). Jesus is the only man who ever lived who knew what it felt like to be that scapegoat. In fact, He uttered the bitter cry of an abandoned scapegoat that afternoon when He 'bore our sins in His body on the cross' (1 Peter 2:24). The separation of darkness was the equivalent of the goat being abandoned in the wilderness.
The goodness of God required separation from the sinner. Jesus took the place of sinners, so He experienced the separation that sinners face (Isaiah 59:1-2). He was separated from God for three hours so that we might be with God for eternity. He endured 'the silent treatment' that we might not have to face the sentence 'depart from me' (Matthew 25:41) and be separated from God forever (the second death, Revelation 20:14; Revelation 21:8).
1 Henry Law, The Gospel in Exodus
2 Matthew Henry
3 James Montgomery Boice, 'Holy, Holy, Holy,' Moody, January, 1985, 14.
4 George Allen Turner, Nelson's Complete Book of Stories, Illustrations, and Quotes, 374.