The Third Rejection
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
There was a third rejection, born not of hate or fear, but of love. This rejection was there from the beginning and informed everything Jesus said and did in the upper room. It was this divine abandonment that preoccupied the mind of Jesus from start to finish. The experience of being God-forsaken was far more painful to Jesus than either Peter’s denial or Judas’ betrayal. And it was this rejection that ended not in suicide nor in repentance, but in salvation. The Father’s providential abandonment of the Son is the great theological truth that looms large on Maundy Thursday. Judas’s betrayal was based on treachery. Peter’s denial was based on timidity. But the Father’s relationship was based on trust. The agonizing line from Psalm 22, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” is not quoted in our text, but it lies behind everything said and done in John 13. In a matter of hours Jesus will cry out this lament from the cross and the apostle John, who sat next to Jesus at the table, will hear it from the foot of the cross (John 19:26).
Jesus exposed Judas’ perfidy, confronted Peter’s pride, and agonized over the Father’s purpose. Any one of these concerns would have been hard enough to endure, but to add up all three, only compounds the tremendous burden Jesus was under. We are told how Jesus felt even before he got to the upper room. “Now my heart is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour?’ No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name!” (John 12:27). It is the Father’s rejection for the sake of our salvation that truly accounts for Jesus’ deep distress. “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,” Jesus explained to his disciples in Gethsemane. “Abba, Father,” Jesus cried, “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will” (Matthew 26:39). These thoughts were not far removed from Jesus in the upper room when he shed his outer clothing and wrapped a towel around his waist.
Jesus is both one with God and God-forsaken. This is the tension that runs through John 13. He is one with the Father, but forsaken by the Father. For Jesus to be abandoned by the Father, due to our sin and for the sake of our salvation, is the ultimate rejection and Jesus experienced this all for us. Between foot-washing humility and the humility of being God-forsaken, Jesus was humbled absolutely. There was no other way that Jesus could be humbled. His humility covers the entire range from mundane menial service to the ultimate divine abandonment. As shocking as Judas’ betrayal was it cannot compare to the reality of being God-forsaken: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning” (Psalm 22). As disappointing as Peter’s denial was it cannot compare to being “stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted.”
“He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:5-6).
Judas’ betrayal was a cruel sin against humanity. Peter’s denial was a sin typical of humanity. But the Father’s rejection was for the sin of humanity—your sin and mine. Judas’ betrayal is shocking; it angers us. Peter’s denial is unsettling, it unnerves us. But the Father’s rejection humbles us, like nothing else imaginable, and fills us with love for Jesus who took it all, paid it all and gave his all that we might be reconciled to God through him. Because of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ we live in restored fellowship and redeemed communion with our heavenly Father. Because of him we find ourselves along this redemptive continuum walking the path that Jesus walked. As his followers, we participate in the foot-washing and cross-bearing. The God who kneels empowers us to get down on our knees to wash the feet of others.
Upper Room Reflection
If Jesus was aware of these troubling rejections, why was his upper room teaching so positive and powerful?
Which rejection was the most difficult for Jesus to experience?
If we are never abandoned by the Father, the way Jesus was, why do we resist the will of God?
How can the will of God, even when it means pain and suffering, be motivated out of the Father’s deep love for us?