And at the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachtani?” which is translated, “My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?” (New American Standard Bible)
What was it that set the death of Jesus of Nazareth apart from others who had been executed throughout history? Was it the physical pain and suffering He bore? No, His physical sufferings do not bring us to the heart of the cross. Many before Him had died excruciatingly painful deaths and some even more agonizing. Was it his mental suffering? Roman soldiers cast lots for His clothes at the foot of the cross (John 19:24), He was abandoned by His followers (Matthew 26:56), and mocked by the priests and soldiers (Matthew 27:42, 43, Luke 23:36). Even his mental state, as anguished as it was, cannot approach the heart and mystery of the cross.
The heart of the matter resides in Him being forsaken of God at that moment and what that meant. Jesus fulfilled Psalm 22:1 when He cried out “My God, my God why have you forsaken me?” He felt cut off because He was cut off. The perfect man became a curse. At that moment God laid all the sins of the generations onto His perfect sacrifice, Christ the Lamb of God. The One who had always known fellowship with His Father cried out when His Father had to look the other way. Somehow at that moment God put the curse of our sin on Christ as He hung on the cross making Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf that we might become the righteousness of God (2nd Corinthians 5:21). We were cursed because of our sin and, in modern day vernacular, Jesus took the bullet.
He knew it would end this way when He set his face toward Jerusalem. He could have easily gone the other way. It was in this God-forsaken place that the greatest good for humanity was finished (John 19:30). We cannot discount the physical pain and suffering our Lord endured in those final hours. They were indeed horrendous. But in those hours Christ broke the power of sin and opened up a highway directly into God’s presence by becoming our curse. The heart of the cross is in what God laid upon His Son. One would think it would be done in better circumstances yet Christ accomplished our redemption not in the Temple or any synagogue but by being hung on a cross in a God-forsaken place.