This psalm could easily be entitled “The Calvary Hymn”. Christians cannot help but instantly recognize the familiar words that were written in the first verse of the psalm – “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Those were the same words that were spoken by the Lord while He hung on the cross on Calvary.
Centuries before His great sacrifice, David, through the inspiration of God, described the suffering, death and deliverance of the Messiah – the Son of God. The first half of the psalm contains the pain and prayer for deliverance of the sufferer. The second half forms a prayer of thanksgiving for being delivered. The words of this psalm are deeply moving for many reasons.
The popular view of the crucifixion does not dwell very long on the true suffering that was experienced by Jesus on the cross. There was certainly a little pain – a few words were uttered – but inwardly, according to popular perceptions, the Lord withstood the pain with calm fortitude. From Medieval art on, the image of the Christ hanging on the Cross usually looks almost serene. Yet, the
Lord suffered just like any other person would have suffered. In John 6, Jesus taught the multitude that He was the bread of life. After His great discourse, John wrote, “From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.” When that happened, Jesus said to His disciples, “You do not want to leave too, do you?” Rejection hurt Him just like any person.
However, the true horror of what he endured on the cross never seems to soak in, because the crucifixion has become a little too abstract. But Jesus did indeed suffer! In Psalm 22, the true pain and suffering was revealed. Read verses 1-21 very carefully. Within that first section, there is a shifting back and forth. The attention of Jesus is first centered upon the pain and rejection. Then, His attention shifts to the truth that those who trust the Lord will be saved. How many times have we experienced severe pain or deep distress from an illness? Often our mind will bounce from one thought to another much in just the same way as described in Psalm 22.
In verses 6-8, there is recorded a deep feeling of despair. In verse 8, the taunts that are described there are a close reflection of the taunts hurled at Jesus as He hung on the cross. In verses 12 and 13, we can almost picture Jesus looking down upon His enemies as they stood like bulls and lions at the base of the cross.
In verses 14 and 15, the physical pain increasingly intrudes upon the thoughts of the suffering Christ. His strength was draining away. Due to His body being nailed to a cross, and due to His weight being supported in an unnatural position, many of His bones had become dislocated at the joints. This was a typical result of a crucifixion. “My strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth; you lay me in the dust of death.” Verse 15 points to the thirst that Jesus began to experience. In John 19:28, Jesus said, “I thirst.”
Verses 16 and verse 18 point to the accuracy of David’s prophesy. In verse 16 David wrote, “…they have pierced my hands and my feet.” In verse 18 he wrote, “They divide my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing.” The final three verses of the first section form a prayer for deliverance.
Then, suddenly, the entire tone of the psalm changes in verse 22. The prayer for deliverance was answered! Possibly, that was the point when Jesus said, “It is finished”, and “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit”. There is no way to truly know, but the rest of the psalm is a song of praise before the Lord.
Jesus death on the cross was tragic, but it was absolutely needed. Mankind was lost in sin, and there was no way for people to save themselves. The means of salvation had to come through the sacrifice of God Himself. At the “fullness of time” the Word became flesh and Jesus Christ took upon Himself the sins of the world. He became the sacrifice needed to resolve the problem of sin. As loving as that sacrifice was, never forget the horrible pain that the Son of God experienced to provide a path, an opportunity, for every man and woman to be joined with God for eternity. No one deserved it, but Jesus Christ became that perfect sacrifice.