Psalm 22 is a pilgrimage from the depths of pain and suffering to the final proclamation of victory. Jesus knew the entire psalm by heart and understood the psalm as a prophetic depiction of his own death but also a prophetic declaration of hope and victory at the end. The Psalm on the Cross is a handbook for this journey.
Here are some representative excerpts from this book, now available for purchase on Amazon.
When the story of Jesus’s crucifixion is told in the Gospel, Jesus is said to have spoken these words in Aramaic: “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani.” Perhaps because these words are the most famous of Psalm 22, their depth nearly overshadows the rest of the 31 verses. These words, first written by King David 1,000 years earlier, begin one of the most passionate pieces of Hebrew poetry in the Bible. Jesus, like other rabbis, knew the Book of Psalms by heart, and He would have prayed or recited this particular one many times in His life.
We are told in the Gospel of Mark that when Jesus uttered these words, people in the crowd didn’t understand Him. They thought He was calling on Elijah, perhaps because Eloi and Elijah are similar in sound.
Whatever the reason, it didn’t matter, because He wasn’t talking to them.
Rather, He was speaking to the God He knew, to the God He believed in, in His own language, Aramaic. He cried out to the God who had been His constant source of strength all of His earthly life.
This is excerpted from the chapter on Psalm 22:6 called “Scorned”
…on the Cross, in a drastic contrast, Jesus identifies Himself with the lowest form of life on earth: “I am a worm.” Jesus, the Son of God from on High, has been brought low. He descended from the throne of heaven to earth, but He has been further rejected, despised, debased, and humiliated on the Cross. As Jesus prays Psalm 22, He applies to Himself the lowest terms ever associated with a man: “But as for me, I am a worm and no man…”
Jesus came down to earth as a man to live our lives and die our death. This much we know. But in His death, the Great I AM emptied Himself of His heavenly prerogatives. He has stripped Himself of all dignity that should be accorded to Him. He is the lowest, weakest, most vile form of flesh on earth. He is like a worm, a common, ugly grub.
On the cross, we are seeing the total humiliation His humanity and the destruction of His divinity.
As we know, Psalm 22 makes a clear shift in tone after verse 21. Here is an excerpt from Chapter 19:
There is an ancient prayer of the Church that was written in 10th century AD by a colorfully named saint, St. Notker the Stammerer. (He had a speech impediment.) His prayer is well known to any ordained minister in a liturgical tradition. It is intoned as part of solemn collects (prayers) during the Office of the Burial of the Dead. It is simple and profound: In the midst of life, we are in death. We know this means that as we live our lives, build our careers, raise families, and grow old, we are, at any point, one step away from our death. We do not know when death is coming, but we are certain that it is. Every day takes us one step closer to the moment we will go down to the dust of death. This subject might have been the theme of Psalm 22:1–21.
However, the second section of Psalm 22 (verses 22–31) takes us in nearly the opposite direction. Jesus embodies the words of the psalm to say, in effect: In the midst of death, we are in life! This is part of the surprising joy of Psalm 22. Far from being a declaration of doom, when taken as a whole, the psalm is vastly encouraging. The psalm on the Cross begins in the darkness and ends in the light of hope and praise.
We will see a complete change of aspect in Psalm 22 between verses 21 and 22. The poetic narrative has been hard to read and hard to hear. But from verse 22 to the end, there is a growing optimism, joy, and triumph about the final victory that is achieved through the Cross. After 21 verses, we encounter hope and promise; we find reasons to celebrate and join in congregational worship, and confidence that the message of God’s love will go forth throughout the world.
There are three discussion questions at the end of each of the 28 chapters to facilitate deeper thought, discussion, or reflection.
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