Difficult Passages Series — Matt. 27:46; Mk. 15:34

 1.     Why is this passage listed among difficult passages?


In each of these two parallel accounts, Jesus speaks words from Psalm 22:1; words which sound very despairing and if taken at face value speak of a break in the fellowship of the Trinity.  How are we to understand what Jesus is saying?  How do we interpret this verse?   

2.     How do we deal with the difficulties in this passage?


One of the key ways we need to understand this verse is to see the many parallels between other verses in the Psalm and what is happening in Jesus’ life that day. The authors of the book I have been using as a source for this series point out many similarities between the last moments of Jesus’ life and this Psalm.

“Small wonder, then, that this psalm was on Jesus’ mind as he hung on the cross. The so-called fourth word from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” and the sixth word, “It is finished,” come from the first and last verses of this psalm. Not only is the first verse quoted in two Gospels, but Ps 22:7-8 is clearly alluded to in Mt 27:39,43; Ps 22:18 is quoted directly in Jn 19:24 and in part in Mt 27:35; Mk 15:24 and Lk 23:34; and Ps 22:22 is quoted directly in Heb 2:12. The final verse, Ps 22:31, is cited, in part, in Jn 19:30. No wonder this psalm has been called “the Fifth Gospel.””

(from Hard Sayings of the Bible, Copyright © 1996 by Walter C. Kaiser Jr., Peter H. Davids, F. F. Bruce, Manfred T. Brauch, published by InterVarsity Press. All rights reserved.)

(The Greek of the LXX of Ps 22:31 and Jn 19:30 are not the same expression the meaning is very similar.)

But even this list is not inclusive of all the interconnection between Ps. 22 and Jesus’ crucifixion.  Add to it less direct parallels such as John 19:28 and Psalm 22:15 concerning Jesus’ thirst.  Also Ps 22:16a describes the afflicted one surrounded by “dogs,” a Jewish term of derision for Gentiles, and evil men.   Jesus was surrounded by those who crucified him and those who mocked him.   Psalm 22:16b speaks of his being pierced, which is fulfilled not only in the nails but also in Jn 19:34 with the piercing of his side with the spear.    Ps 22:17 speaks of people staring which is fulfilled as Luke describes the many who watched the proceedings of Jesus’ crucifixion (Lu. 23:35).

So in using the words from Ps 22:1, Jesus was certainly pointing to more than the first verse.   Yet he could have quoted one of these parallels, or a powerful prayer for help from verses 19-21 or faith-filled words from v. 24.   But he did not; he chose to quote from verse 1.  Why?   

3.     What are the key truths or inspirational messages of this passage?


In answering that question, we find the inspiration of this passage. 

First, the words quoted from Ps 22:1 speak of the reality of Jesus’ suffering.   This was part of the “wounds” he suffered for us.

The words speak of the reality of Jesus bearing our sin; and of what he suffered spiritually to do that.   He in some sense entered into the feelings of our condition of separation from God.   This too was part of him bearing our griefs and carrying our sorrows (Isa. 53:4,5).  That it reflects some actual ontological break in the Trinity, I greatly doubt (Jn 11:42), but whatever it was it caused great suffering for Jesus and whatever it was, it was for us.

In Expositor’s Bible Commentary (Vol. 8, p. 579), the author quotes a thoughtful and wise poem of Elizabeth Browning

Yea, once Immanuel’s orphaned cry his universe has shaken.
It went up single, echoless, “My God, I am forsaken!”
It went up from the Holy’s lips amid his lost creation,
That, of the lost, no son should use those words of desolation.

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