My God, My God: An Invitation to Psalm 22

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During his six hours on the cross, Jesus spoke only a few times. The four gospels record seven of these statements, sometimes called Jesus’ “Last Words.” And only one of these statements is recorded twice, in both the gospel of Matthew and the gospel of Mark: “Eloi, eloi, lama sabachthani,” which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46, and Mark 15:34).

What does this mean? At first, this seems like the forlorn statement of a dying man who is wondering why. Was Jesus abandoned? Was he in great despair?

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A Prayer to The Father

Do not imagine that Jesus had lost His faith. This may be the thinking of modern scholars; that Jesus hung as a defeated doubter, a derelict in despair, a man with a broken faith. But in reality, Jesus, in faith, was specifically speaking out to God, who He knew was alive, even as He seemed distant and detached from his suffering. Jesus was sure about the Father’s power, just as he was sure of his Father’s love.

Jesus felt abandoned, but even still, he called out to His Father with the confidence that God was still His Father.

While we may not be able to relate to the pain and suffering of our Lord on the Cross, we most certainly can understand the question He was asking. We have asked “Why” many times before. To those of us who still have questions like this, Jesus encourages us to keep asking. Keep asking! Doubts are not a sign that faith is dead. A live faith is able to question, while a dead faith sounds like silence.

Psalm 22 as the Interpretive Key

The key to understanding Jesus’ words is to realize that he was quoting the first verse of Psalm 22. When Jesus said, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me,” he was praying the opening line of a 1000-year-old psalm.

I believe that Jesus meant more than just the opening verse. Jesus knew the entire psalm by heart.  After crying out the first line from the psalm, Jesus may have prayed the rest of it silently the way we pray a prayer from memory. He may have whispered the psalm under his labored breath. In any case, Jesus had the entire psalm on His mind and in His heart – from its dark moments of sorrow and suffering to the exalted moments of praise.

Thus Psalm 22 gives us an unparalleled opportunity to come close to Jesus’ heart, to think about what he thought about on that lonely Cross.

The Psalm on the Cross

I want to encourage you to read all of Psalm 22 as you reflect on Jesus’ last words. In my book, “The Psalm on the Cross,” I read Psalm 22 carefully and thoroughly, using it to follow our Lord’s thoughts and feelings as he hung on the Cross.

There are 31 verses in Psalm 22, and as we read through each one we go on a kind of pilgrimage, on a journey to the heart of Christ. On the way, there are signs, descriptions, and references to what was took place on Calvary, where Jesus died. Remarkably, Psalm 22 contains numerous references to what was happening around Jesus—and happening to him in real time.

As we walk through Psalm 22, we will gain surprising insights about what those final hours were like for our Lord. And my hope is that we will begin to feel the depth of His emotion, His commitment, and – in the end – His joy.

This article is adapted from David Roseberry’s book, The Psalm on the Cross, now available at Amazon.

Published on

February 7, 2023

Author

David Roseberry

David Roseberry leads the nonprofit ministry, LeaderWorks. He was the founding rector of Christ Church, Plano, Texas, and is the author of many books. He lives in Plano with his wife, Fran.

View more from David Roseberry

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