The Crucifixion and Psalm 22

Many of us know the story of Jesus on the cross. We know about the crown of thorns, the mocking crowds, and the gambling soldiers. Of course, we know the things that Jesus said while on the cross.


In my read through Matthew 27, I was again struck by the way that Jesus cried to his Father. The desolation in Jesus’ words is so full, so powerful.


Have you ever put much thought, however, into the fact that Jesus is quoting Scripture from the cross?


Matthew 27:46 – And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”


I know that, as a young Christian, it was a while before I realized that the words on the lips of the Savior on the cross were also the opening line of Psalm 22. It felt, at that point, like I had uncovered a secret hidden away in the Old Testament. But, a little further thought and education taught me that, no, this was not obscure. This was not something the Savior did that was mysterious and hard to grasp. Yes, some of the crowd around Jesus at the moment did not grasp what he was saying. In verse 47, they ask if he might be crying out for Elijah to come and get him. But, in truth, Jesus, while crying out in agony, also directs people to the word of God to show them that what is taking place is something God told them was coming a thousand years earlier.


For Jesus to cry, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me,” was for him to shout to the crowds a familiar reference. Imagine it this way for our culture. Imagine that, in the middle of something, I said to you, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.” What would you think of? Would you start working through shepherd imagery, or would you grasp that I am giving you the opening line of Psalm 23. If I were to say in conversation, “For God so loved the world…,” you would know right away that I’m referencing John 3:16 and its surrounding texts.


So, consider that Jesus, on the cross, both cried out in his suffering, expressing his deep and genuine emotions, and he may as well have said to the crowds, “Look up Psalm 22.” Why?


Psalm 22:1


My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?


David, in Psalm 22, knows that he is suffering at a level that he does not understand, and he wonders why God has not yet put an end to it. The Savior, on the cross, knew why this was happening. However, nobody can possibly imagine the spiritual horror of what the Son felt as the Father poured out on him his wrath for the sins of all he would ever forgive.


Psalm 22:7-8


7 All who see me mock me;

they make mouths at me; they wag their heads;

8 “He trusts in the Lord; let him deliver him;

let him rescue him, for he delights in him!”


David said that people were making fun of him in his sufferings, casting doubt on whether or not God was actually caring for him. Compare that with the crowds around Jesus.


Matthew 27:39-44 – 39 And those who passed by derided him, wagging their heads 40 and saying, “You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.” 41 So also the chief priests, with the scribes and elders, mocked him, saying, 42 “He saved others; he cannot save himself. He is the King of Israel; let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. 43 He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he desires him. For he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’ ” 44 And the robbers who were crucified with him also reviled him in the same way.


Psalm 22:15


my strength is dried up like a potsherd,

and my tongue sticks to my jaws;

you lay me in the dust of death.


We recall, of course, Jesus pointing out his thirst from the cross, though that is not recorded directly in Matthew.


Matthew 27:35 – And when they had crucified him, they divided his garments among them by casting lots.


Matthew tells us about the soldiers crucifying Jesus. Though he does not describe it, we know this included piercing Jesus’ hands and feet with nails as they hanged him up. Then, the soldiers sat down, and they gambled for his garments by casting lots.


Psalm 22:16-18


16 For dogs encompass me;

a company of evildoers encircles me;

they have pierced my hands and feet—

17 I can count all my bones—

they stare and gloat over me;

18 they divide my garments among them,

and for my clothing they cast lots.


This could have been written by an eyewitness to the crucifixion, but it was written by King David a millennium earlier.


What, however, is the end of Psalm 22? It is hope in the sovereign salvation of the Lord.


See these verses from Psalm 22:


23 You who fear the Lord, praise him!

All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him,

and stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel!

24 For he has not despised or abhorred

the affliction of the afflicted,

and he has not hidden his face from him,

but has heard, when he cried to him.


27 All the ends of the earth shall remember

and turn to the Lord,

and all the families of the nations

shall worship before you.

28 For kingship belongs to the Lord,

and he rules over the nations.


31 they shall come and proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn,

that he has done it.


What is the end of Psalm 22? The end is that there is hope. The Lord will reign. He will send out a message of his power and salvation to the nations. And that, of course, is the result of the cross and resurrection.


May we see the glory of the words that Jesus spoke on the cross drawing our minds to Psalm 22. May we see the significance and sufficiency of Scripture to hear such words on the Savior’s lips as he suffered. Yes, that phrase indicates the depth of the Savior’s suffering. But, that phrase also shows us that God knew exactly what he was doing, that the crowds were missing it, and that God would use what Jesus was doing to spread his glory and grace to all nations.