My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning? (Psalm 22:1)
We will never know the full weight those nails held.
The divine Son had broken through into our dark world, shining into the pitch-blackness of our brokenness. Yet his own refused him, because they loved the darkness. And now, at Golgotha, the darkness fell, all the way down, on him. His shoulders bore the sin he never knew.
He had been born to climb this vile tree, walking hand in hand with hostility his whole life. Murderers stalked him before he could walk (Matthew 2:16). He fought the war of wars when he lined up against evil himself in the wilderness (Matthew 4:1). While he healed the sick and cast out demons, the religious leaders accused him of devilry (Matthew 10:25). The Word became flesh and dwelt among sinners, and they brutally assaulted him — relentlessly plotting, beating, mocking until his flesh gave way.
Now, on the cross, his silence only amplified the enmity in their mutiny.
But he did eventually break his silence — not with his own words, but with Psalm 22:1. “Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour. 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?’” (Matthew 27:45–46).
With pierced hands and collapsing lungs, Jesus gripped Psalm 22. These had been the desperate words of an innocent man facing aggression on every side. Now the sinless Son of God was the surrounded one.
Like the rabid jaws of wild bulls (Psalm 22:12–13), the scribes and Pharisees wanted every last ounce of his blood. The viper’s brood had hunted him at every turn, falsely accusing him of evil and conspiring to destroy him (Matthew 12:14). While he hung where he never belonged, they mocked him, “He saved others; he cannot save himself. . . . He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he desires him” (Matthew 27:42–43) — fulfilling what had been foretold in Psalm 22:8.
Like a pack of mad dogs with razor teeth (Psalm 22:16), the crowds seethed with cravings to kill. Salivating, they yelled, “Let him be crucified!” (Matthew 27:22). “Why? What evil has he done?” Pilate asked. “But they shouted all the more, ‘Let him be crucified!’” (Matthew 27:23). The children of wrath rose up in monstrous rage, hating their one and only hope.
Like a herd of lions crouching murderously behind blades of grass, or wild oxen stampeding their prey (Psalm 22:21), the soldiers licked their lips. They stripped him naked (Matthew 27:28). They forced thorns into his head (Matthew 27:29). They spit into his sinless face (Matthew 27:30). They drove nails into his hands and feet. After hanging him out to die, they gambled for his garments (Matthew 27:35), just as it had been written (Psalm 22:18). They relished his misery, laughing into the face that would soon shine like the sun at full strength.
Even one of the criminals, hanging for his own sins and facing his own judgment, spent one of his very last breaths despising the Son. “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” (Luke 23:39). And if the scribes, crowds, soldiers, and robbers were not enough, his closest friends left him for dead. Peter vigorously denied knowing him (Matthew 26:70), then repeated himself. The rest fled in fear (Mark 14:50).
Jesus was surrounded in every way, but not only surrounded. Now he was lowered among the bulls, dogs, and lions alone.
My God, My God
But every threat around him was but a whisper compared with the wrath he endured from above. “It was the will of the Lord to crush him,” Isaiah writes, “he has put him to grief” (Isaiah 53:10) — a grief great enough to swallow every other grief. The hostility of his Father, against thousands of years of God-despising atrocities, finally fell on him — for us.
The apostles soon would pray to his Father, “Truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel” — the bulls, dogs, and lions gathered together — “to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place” (Acts 4:27–28). Before the foundation of the world, the horror of these hours had been written (Revelation 13:8). Every moment of history had led here — to the slaughter of the spotless Lamb.
Jesus knew what he must suffer (Matthew 20:17–19), but that did not lessen the torment. As mere humans, we simply will never know the depths of his agony. We would have known some of his pain, had he not borne it for us.
We remember Psalm 22 for its declaration of forsakenness, but when Jesus rehearsed verse 1 from on high, he had not forgotten how the psalm ends. Even when David was feeling utterly abandoned by God, he could still say,
[The Lord] 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. (Psalm 22:24)
And then two verses later, “The afflicted shall eat and be satisfied; those who seek him shall praise the Lord!” (Psalm 22:26). Jesus owned the weight of verse 1, but he would not feel forsaken for long. He knew he would see the Father’s face again — that he would sit and rule at his right hand. The man who died for sin would rise and be enthroned as Son.
He Has Done It
When the author of Hebrews looked through the tree drenched in blood to the unfading crown Jesus received, he quoted Psalm 22:
It was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering. . . . He is not ashamed to call them brothers, saying, “I will tell of your name to my brothers; in the midst of the congregation I will sing your praise.” (Hebrews 2:10–12)
When Jesus lost his breath while crying out Psalm 22:1, he knew he would finish the song one day, and soon. When he said, “It is finished” (John 19:30), he was just getting started. He was finishing the war that began before the first baby was born, and closing the foreword to his forever kingdom.
And, as Psalm 22 foretold (Psalm 22:30–31), it is and always will be told, what he has done.