Isaiah 50:4-7; Ps: 22:8-9, 17-20, 23-24; Phil 2:6-11; Matthew26:14 – 27:66
Final Score: Faithfulness 72,000; Abandonment 0
Shortly before Christ died, He uttered those famous words which have been preserved in Aramaic: “ Ele, Ele, Lama Sabachthane”, or in English, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Those words are the opening words of Psalm 22, but unfortunately not one of the verses we read today from that Psalm. At the crucifixion, they are a quotation, not a question or a statement. Why does Jesus quote the 22nd Psalm?
Now we are all familiar with the 23rd Psalm. Both Psalm 22 and Psalm 23 are poetic songs, written about the Messiah, the Savior, who was to come. In Jesus’ day, everyone who worshiped the God of Israel had learned the 22nd Psalm by heart. So anyone listening to Jesus while he was on the cross knew exactly the verses that followed. Let’s look at them.
Verse 6 of Ps 22: “To you they cried out and they escaped, in you they trusted and were not disappointed.” God has always hears our cries.
Verse 7: “But I am a worm, hardly human.” Think about the physical condition of Christ at this point. Matthew 27: 26 “…after having Jesus scourged, Pilot delivered Him to be crucified.” What does scourged mean? The Romans used whips with pieces of sharp metal at the ends. It cut and tore the flesh, leaving the body cut to the bone, bleeding profusely. A person rarely survived this. The soldiers who scourged him took no pity on him. He would have looked hardly human after being scourged. He would have been soaked in scarlet blood, and looked like the worms that were crushed to make scarlet dye for fabric.
Verse 8: “All who see me mock me… they curl their lips and jeer.” We read Matthew 27:29, “(The soldiers) mocked him…and they spat on him, and beat him on the head.”
Verse 9: “You relied on the Lord- let him deliver you.” In Matt 27:43: “(The chief priests say) He trusts in God, let him deliver him.” Remember what Jesus told Peter in the Garden, Matt 26: 53 “Do you think that I cannot appeal to My Father, and He will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels?” (That would be 72,000 angles.)
Verse 12: “There is no one to help.” In Mark 14:50, in the Garden, when Jesus was arrested, Mark tells us that all the disciples left him and fled.
Verse 14: “Like water my life drains away; all my bones grow soft.” Jesus was dying from loss of blood, and he could no longer lift him self up to breathe, as if his bones were no longer hard.
Verse 15: “My strength has dried up…” Even as Jesus carried his cross to the crucifixion site, he lost his strength and Simon of Cyrene had to carry it. (Matt 27:32)
Verse 16: “They pierced my hands and my feet.” In Luke (24: 39), The Risen Christ shows his pierced hands and feet to the disciples.
Verse 17: “They divide my garments among them; for my clothing they cast lots.” The soldiers do this in John’s Gospel (19:24)
But then, we come to verse 20, the Psalmist says, “Lord, do not stay far off, come quickly to help me.” Gone is the idea of abandonment! Instead there is a firm certainty in the faithfulness of God. This continues in verse 25: “For God has not spurned or disdained the misery of this poor wretch; did not turn away, but heard me when I cried out. Verse 27: “…those who seek the Lord will offer praise. May your hearts enjoy life forever!” Not only is God faithful, but eternally faithful. And finally, the last verse, verse 32: “The generation to come will be told of the Lord, that they may proclaim to a people yet unborn (us), his righteousness; ‘He (The Lord) has done it’.” By the way, the Psalm’s Hebrew phrase “He has done it” is best translated into the Aramaic idiom of “It is finished.”
It makes no difference if you see this Psalm as the prophecy of King David and his description of the Messiah coming true down to the smallest detail, or if you see the Gospel writers, convinced without a doubt that Jesus was the Messiah, telling the events of the Passion in the familiar words of the prophecy. Either way, the Gospels have accomplished their goal: to proclaim the Good News of Jesus.
Well, we’re back to the first verse of the Psalm, then. Did Jesus mean that God had turned his back on him, abandoned him? No. Jesus was teaching the faithfulness of God from the Cross! Jesus was saying, “Look at me! You know the Psalm. Believe this promise of God’s faithfulness; God is near to you always. God never turns his back on us, no matter what was done or how long the list of sin. To say otherwise denies the love of God.”
St. Paul said it so well: “Who shall separate us from this love? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine or nakedness or peril or sword? But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers; not height nor depth, nor any created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8: 35-39)