The Psalm Jesus Quoted from the Cross

Mark 15:34- And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

This is a difficult passage. Does God the Father forsake Jesus in this moment? How can we understand these words?

In order to understand them, you have to take a look at the Psalm that Jesus is quoting from. Jesus is quoting from Psalm 22. This is a Psalm attributed to David. It includes instructions with it—To the choirmaster: according to The Doe of the Dawn. These comment is marking the tune that the Psalm is meant to be sung to. It is a Psalm that was sung by the Jewish people in worship. It would be like saying “Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound…” or “Great is thy faithfulness O God my Father…”

Maybe Jesus sang the Psalm, or perhaps the people just played the song out in their head. Either way, when we look at this Psalm, we find some amazing insights into what is going on in that moment on the cross. Let me show you a couple of the verses in this Psalm.

Verse 1: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

Verse 6ff:  “6  But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by mankind and despised by the people. All who see me mock me they make mouths at me; they wag their heads; “He trusts in the Lord; let him deliver him; let him rescue him, for he delights in him!”

The one thing that has to be said about crucifixion is that it is dehumanizing. You are naked and suffering before the whole community. Jesus is being scorned, despised, and mocked. In fact, Mark uses the exact phrase of the passage, that people are wagging their heads at him. Clearly Mark was thinking about this Psalm. 

Verse 12ff: 12 Many bulls encompass me; strong bulls of Bashan surround me; 13 they open wide their mouths at me, like a ravening and roaring lion. 14I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax; it is melted within my breast; 15my strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to my jaws; you lay me in the dust of death.”

People are yelling and taunting Jesus. They are all around him, opening their mouths wide at him. He must have felt poured out—exhausted and dehydrated from blood loss. We know he gets thirsty, as if his tongue might stick to his jaws. The line about bones out of joint is especially telling. In crucifixion, it was not uncommon for shoulders to become dislocated over time. And his heart is like wax within his breast. Doctors have suggested, from reading the Bible account, that Jesus actually dies from heart damage. This would explain the blood and water that come out when the spear goes into the chest cavity through the ribs. Jesus dies of a broken heart while quoting a Psalm that talks about his heart waxing in his chest.

 But it gets better. Verse 16ff: 16 For dogs encompass me; a company of evildoers encircles me; they have pierced my hands and feet217 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.”

Think about these words, written hundreds of years before Jesus is on that cross. It says that they have pierced his hands and feet. He can count his bones as he is stretched out on the cross, and none are broken. And they divide his garments among them, and cast lots for his tunic. When you read this Psalm, you can see how miraculous and stunning it is that Jesus would quote it. It is all happening to him.

 But the end of Psalm 22 is what is most important for our discussion about Jesus in this moment. Let me give you a few of the verses:

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.

29 All the prosperous of the earth eat and worship; before him shall bow all who go down to the dust, even the one who could not keep himself alive.

30 Posterity shall serve him; it shall be told of the Lord to the coming generation;

31 they shall come and proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn, that he has done it.

Psalm 22 moves from feeling forsaken to praising God that you are not forsaken. I think we have to consider the words of Jesus from this perspective. He feels forsaken, but the Father is still with them.

And this is so important to us, because we often feel forsaken. We have all had those moments where God seems distant for us. When we are in pain, or angry, or afraid, those things are all we can see. But they are not the final word.

And Jesus knows exactly what you are going through when you feel that…

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