At the sixth hour darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour. And at the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?” — which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Mark 15:33-34.
It is now widely recognised that, when people called Jesus “Rabbi”, they were not just flattering him and giving him a title he did not deserve but were recognising him for what he was — though he was , of course, much, much more. But as a rabbi, Jesus would have committed to memory most, if not all, of his Bible which is our Old Testament, and that would certainly include the book of Psalms. Indeed, most pious Jews of Jesus’ day had that book memorised and would use it comfort and reassure themselves in time of trouble and difficulty.
Surely this is what Jesus was doing on the cross. The words that he speaks in today’s verses are the opening words of Psalm 22 and a little later when he says “Into your hands I commit my spirit” (Luke 23.46) he has reached Psalm 31.5. And Psalm 22 could hardly have been more apt for words for Jesus to echo as “the chief priests and the teachers of the law mocked him” (Mark 15:31) and the soldiers below him “divided up his clothes by casting lots” (Luke 23:34) …
“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? O my God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, and am not silent. Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One; you are the praise of Israel. In you our fathers put their trust; they trusted and you delivered them. They cried to you and were saved; in you they trusted and were not disappointed. But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by men and despised by the people. All who see me mock me; they hurl insults, shaking their heads: ‘He trusts in the LORD; let the LORD rescue him. Let him deliver him, since he delights in him’ … They divide my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing” (Psalm 22:1-8, 18).
But if I am right about this, and these are the words that Jesus was quoting, they are not the “cry of dereliction” that they are often made out to be. For the psalm goes on to say this …
“You who fear the LORD, praise him! All you descendants of Jacob, honour him! Revere him, all you descendants of Israel! For he has not despised or disdained the suffering of the afflicted one; he has not hidden his face from him but has listened to his cry for help” (Psalm 22:23-24).
No, this is not a cry of despair — it is the beginning of a cry of triumphant trust. And if Jesus does indeed then move on, psalm by psalm, until he reaches Psalm 31, then his very next Psalm is Psalm 23 — The Lord is my shepherd — with the wonderful lines …
“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever” (Psalm 23:4-6).
I could go on but there is no space here to do so. I have just read Psalms 22 through to 31 as Jesus would have recited them in his last hour on the cross and the power and significance of those psalms when read in that way against that backdrop is truly amazing.
Lord Jesus, the scriptures were always on your lips and in your heart. Help me to so read, learn, mark and inwardly digest them that they may be always in my heart and on my lips too. Amen.