There are some things you know so well that you go onto auto-pilot. The crucifixion is one of those things. Yup. Heard it. Know it. Saw the musical. What’s for morning tea?
Except there is a moment when it hits you full in the face like a bucket of cold water. The reality is so chilling that you see the cross as though it was the first time. And we need this moment.
Jesus famously cries out from the cross “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46). Why did he say this? I mean, he had been tortured, imprisoned, beaten, and now he was nailed to a cross, the Roman instrument of brutal execution. But Jesus is fully God So it’s hard for us to understand the cross in human terms. We intellectually get that crucifixion was horrific, but he’s God so it was always gonna be alright…right?
So why did he say those particular words?
He is quoting the first line of Psalm 22……
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from my cries of anguish?
………which suggests that there is something there we need to see.
“All who see me mock me; they hurl insults, shaking their heads. “He trusts in the Lord,” they say, “let the Lord rescue him. Let him deliver him, since he delights in him.” (Psalm 22:8, written about 600 years before Jesus’ death).
“Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads and saying, “So! You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, come down from the cross and save yourself!” In the same way the chief priests and the teachers of the law mocked him among themselves. “He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself! Let this Messiah, this king of Israel, come down now from the cross, that we may see and believe.” Those crucified with him also heaped insults on him.” (Mark 15:29-32 written about 30 years after Jesus’s death).
This was foretold. It had long been foretold. This humiliation. This death. It was no accident.
But also in this psalm, the psalmist gives voice to the loneliness of suffering that we can all relate to. Where are you God? I’m so alone. This suffering is unbearable. Jesus apparently speaks into these feelings by quoting just one line. The depth of his emotional suffering is palpable.
But Jesus’ physical pain is described in Psalm 22 too.
“I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint. My heart has turned to wax; it has melted within me. My mouth is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth.” (Psalm 22:14-15)
Poetry is so expressive. I read these lines and see Jesus on the cross, his limbs twisted and mangled, his flesh ripped, in all the physical anguish that is possible for a human to bear.
Sit with that for a moment. Because when we say “Jesus died on the cross” it can be a distant concept – an idea that’s too far, too alien for us to see clearly. But this is where we see it. The agony. The loneliness. The heart-breaking torturous physical pain.
You would think this would be the point that Jesus is trying to communicate in as few words as possible. And it is an important one – because it connects us to the realness of his suffering.
But Psalm 22 doesn’t end there.
“From you comes the theme of my praise in the great assembly; before those who fear you I will fulfill my vows. The poor will eat and be satisfied; those who seek the Lord will praise him – may your hearts live forever!” (Ps 22:5)
“Posterity will serve him; future generations will be told about the Lord. They will proclaim his righteousness, declaring to a people yet unborn: He has done it!” (Ps. 22: 30-31)
If these were Jesus’ last implied words, these are profound. The praise. The promise. The hope. The certainty. He has done it.
This Easter Friday, remember. Reconnect with the memory of the cross. Sit for a moment in the startling realness of what Jesus went through. It makes what has been done all the more astonishing and wonderful.