When Jesus was on the cross, he said only seven things that were recorded for us.
The most famous thing that he said? Almost certainly, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
Despite all the sermons and songs that have created the idea the Jesus felt abandoned on the cross as he carried the world’s sin in his body, perhaps there’s another explanation of what he intended.
Jesus, as you’ll recall, was a rabbi.
With his dying breath, Jesus might as well have been saying, “Read Psalm 22!”
Of course, no one at the cross would have known what Jesus meant by “Psalm 22.” The numbering of chapters and verses was still centuries away. Instead, if a rabbi wanted his followers to think about a particular passage, he’d simply quote the first line of the passage.
The first line of Psalm 22? “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
As it turns out, the words that follow are written as if the writer was watching a crucifixion. Call it the “oil painting of the cross,” and then stand amazed at all that follows. Be especially amazed to discover that these words were written nearly 1,000 years before Jesus died on the cross, and some 400 years before anyone in the world ever dreamed up the horrible idea of executing people in such a manner!
You can read the words for yourself. You should, actually.
Then count the ways Psalm 22 describes what was happening at Golgotha on “Good Friday.”
- People mocked Jesus and invited him to save himself while he was on the cross (22:6-8).
- The product of a miraculous birth, Jesus was God’s own son (22:9-10).
- His disciples and supporters had abandoned him (22:11).
- All of his bones were out of joint (22:14).
- The lining around his heart was punctured; blood and water poured out of his side (22:14).
- Jesus was insanely thirsty and dehydrated (22:15).
- He was surrounded by a band of evil men (22:16).
- His hands and feet had been pierced (22:16).
- Bystanders gawked at his naked body as he was dying (22:17).
- His tormentors divided his clothes and gambled for his garment (22:18).
- He had plans to yet praise God before his followers (22:22).
- He had not been abandoned by God; God had not turned his face from him (22:24).
- He would fulfill all of his vows (22:25).
- He would rule over the nations and the entire earth will one day bow before him (22:27-28).
- Even the dead would worship him (22:29).
- The poor and the rich would worship him (22:26, 29).
- Future generations will be told of his righteousness (22:30-31).
- He would declare the task accomplished (22:31).
Any Jewish person hearing Jesus quote the first line of Psalm 22 would have known the remainder of the passage. The Roman soldiers wouldn’t have picked up on the clue. Non-religious Jews who hadn’t memorized scripture would have missed it.
But someone like Joseph of Aramethia or Nicodemus? No doubt, they had memorized all the psalms. And when Jesus gave them the first line, they reviewed in their minds the rest of the passage.
Little wonder that both men left the shadows of being secret believers in Jesus, asked Pilate for the body, cared for the corpse and laid Jesus in a new tomb as if he were a member of the family.
The cross had not been an accident, a horrible turn of political events or even a case of Roman brutality.
The cross had been planned all along. The cross did not take God by surprise. Jesus had been very clear that the cross was coming. And by all means, Jesus wasn’t abandoned there! The Father did not turn His face from Jesus in his hour of need anymore than He would ever abandon you in your hour of crisis!
And in what may have been his last breath, he sent every observer back to the Text for proof.
Amazingly, the prophecy of Psalm 22 is still being played out, even as you read these words. We are the “generation yet unborn.” We are the future generations being told of his righteousness. And even now, we share the story with others, for “he has done it.”
Or as Jesus put it, “It is finished!”