Jesus cried out, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"
"Leave no man behind" is part of the creed armed services men and women swear to one another and their country. This commitment drives ordinary men and women to extreme lengths in loyalty to their fellow soldiers. In southern Afghanistan, British Royal Marines went to extreme lengths to rescue one of their own, displaying their heroism on January 15, 2007.
After 200 marines assaulted a Taliban stronghold, they discovered that, upon leaving the area, one of their men had been left behind. Since there might still be Taliban in the area, the Marines needed to act speedily to rescue their fellow soldier. So they utilized the only helicopters available—three AH-64 gunships—to carry Marines back to the area. Since AH-64s have room inside for only a two-man crew, the other Marines harnessed themselves on the helicopters' two stubby wings, usually used to carry rockets and missiles. The three helicopters quickly reached the scene of the battle. The four Marines dismounted from the wings of the helicopters and found their fellow soldier, who had been killed in battle. They tied his body to the wing of the third helicopter, and all three gunships returned to their base. That is taking "leave no man behind" seriously.
Many of us have seen the moving picture of five U.S. soldiers planting the American flag atop Mount Suribachi in Iwo Jima. Perhaps few of us know that the soldier who took the photo was killed in battle nine days later, and his body was not recovered. In 2007, 62 years after Sergeant William H. Genaust was killed, an effort was made to retrieve his body. Sixty-two years later! Why a search after such a long time? Their effort was driven by the commitment to "leave no man behind"—not even his remains.
Such a commitment represents loyalty to the highest degree, just as intentionally leaving a man behind represents betrayal to the highest degree. Soldiers cannot justify forsaking their comrades in battle. We call that cowardice. Such a man is a "Benedict Arnold" to his comrades. Such abandonment cannot be redeemed, nor does it redeem others.
We've all been let down, disappointed, and even abandoned at one time or another. Most of our betrayals have been minor: the way friends casually make promises they fail to keep or the way coworkers and employers play politics in the office. Occasionally people experience much harsher abandonments—stabbings in the back—such as a spouse breaking a marriage vow or a parent abandoning them. In those situations we've been left behind in the worst of ways. We can barely cope.
And so we look in wonder at the greatest abandonment ever, when God the Father abandoned God the Son on Calvary's cross. When we consider the separation of Father and Son at Calvary, we stare into the deep mystery and meaning of cross and resurrection. But the Father's abandonment of Jesus leads to the sinner's adoption. God abandons one perfect Son in order to adopt millions of sinful sons. It's the only abandonment with any honor and redemption.
Day of Judgment
Before this abandonment, our Savior lay facedown in agony in Gethsemane, pleading in prayer, "Is there any way other than drinking this cup?" But heaven's silent answer came: "No, there is no other way." Jesus had to drink the cup.
Now we come to the Passover celebration in Jerusalem. The crowds of Jewish faithful make the pilgrimage to the Holy City with songs and rejoicing. The entire city is festive—except one nearby place.
We leave the singing crowds of Jerusalem and go to Golgotha (Matt. 27:33), the place of the skull. We find Jesus on a hill called Calvary outside the city—drinking the cup he could not avoid, the cup the Father would not remove. It seems all the people were there when they crucified our Lord: soldiers (v. 36), thieves (v. 38), blaspheming crowds (v. 39), and religious leaders (v. 41). And God was there, too.
We know God was there because darkness smothered daytime: "Now from the sixth hour until the ninth hour there was darkness over all the land" (v. 45). The sixth hour refers to noon. From 12:00 to 3:00 in the afternoon, when the sun normally blasts at full strength, darkness came over all the land. Luke 23:45 simply states the sun stopped shining. This was no eclipse. At Passover the moon is full, and it's impossible to have an eclipse with a full moon. Besides, when is the last time you heard of an eclipse lasting three hours? There is nothing natural about this scene. This is supernatural. God was there.
The darkness represents judgment. Do you remember the first Passover, when God told Moses to stretch out his hand toward heaven "that there may be darkness over the land of Egypt, darkness which may even be felt" (Exod. 10:21-23)? With the ninth plague, darkness covered the whole land before God killed Egypt's firstborn.
Egypt lay in darkness for three days, Jerusalem for three hours. After the darkness, Egypt's firstborn sons were killed; in Jerusalem the only begotten Son of God was slain.
In Egypt, a lamb's blood covered the doorposts of homes. In Jerusalem, the Lamb of God's blood covered the sins of the world.
Editor's note: This is an excerpt from Thabiti Anyabwile's new book Captivated: Beholding the Mystery of Jesus' Death and Resurrection (Reformation Heritage, 2014).