“Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour. And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, ‘Eli, Eli, Lema sabachthani?’ that is, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?'” (Matthew 27:45-46)
I’ve heard it over and over, “See! Even Jesus had his doubts!”. Many of us use this kind of reasoning as comfort in times of distress and doubt but I think it misses the point. The church in America has missed one of the coolest lessons/prophetic fulfillments in the whole Bible, and it’s caused confusion, it’s jacked up our view of God, and it’s possibly diminished our hope in Him.
The Bible didn’t have verses until the 16th century and at the time of Christ’s death, the New Testament wasn’t written yet. So how would the Jews of Jesus’ time discuss different books of the Old Testament? Well, by using the title and a distinction to help others find their place in the desired book. For instance if they were talking about a specific Psalm they would pull out their book of Psalms and reference the title, or the first line of the Psalm. With this in mind, we can look at Christ’s lament on the cross as more than just a feeling of abandonment or despair but as a reference to the Psalm “Why Have You Forsaken Me”, the Psalm we now know as Psalm 22.
The Psalm starts out with the very words Christ cried out on the cross, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” And continues with even more despair, “Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest.” But after just two verses of lament, the psalmist turns back to God’s glory and trustworthiness, “Yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel. In you our fathers trusted; they trusted, and you delivered them. To you they cried and were rescued; in you they trusted and were not put to shame.” Was Jesus in pain and anguish? Absolutely. But even in all the physical pain he was enduring and the spiritual agony of bearing the sins of the world, he pointed those in earshot back to the Word of God, back to the fulfillment of the Scriptures in his life and now in his death, and he was urging them to put their hope in God, the very opposite of giving in to despair and doubting.
Jesus’ persecution and crucifixion served to fulfill Psalm 22. The Psalm says, “For dogs encompass me; a company of evil doers encircles me; they have pieced my hands and feet – I can count all my bones- they stare and gloat over me; they divide my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots.” Does that not sound like Christ? His hands and his feet had nails driven through them as he was hung on the cross. Back then when the Roman soldiers wanted the crucifixion to end they would break the legs of those on the cross so they couldn’t push up off their feet to breathe, they would then die shortly after. But Jesus gave up his spirit before they had to break his legs, he “can count all [his] bones” because they didn’t need to be broken. And the Roman soldiers put a scarlet robe on Jesus, mocked him and beat him, then as they crucified him they cast lots for his garments. Matthew 27 is so obviously a fulfillment of Psalm 22. I recommend reading them both back to back, like right now.
Christ’s reference to Psalm 22 is indeed a lesson to us, but it’s meaning is not that “it’s ok to doubt God”. Rather, his lesson is to trust God even when you think He’s abandoned you. The lesson is that God is faithful and trustworthy, always. If Jesus can trust His Father while he’s being crucified and bearing the sins of the world, then we can trust Him in any circumstance we find ourselves.
“But Park, I mean it didn’t really work out all that great for Jesus, yeah he may have trusted God but he was still crucified.” I see where you’re coming from, but Christ was raised from the dead the following Sunday, having defeated death once and for all, and by trusting in His Father’s plan, he secured the salvation for anyone who puts their hope in him for the forgiveness of their sins. While trusting in God might not yield the exact results we expect, God’s plan is better, always. We know that for those who love God, all things work together for good, that we might look more like Jesus Christ. Having the mindset of trusting the LORD no matter what the circumstances, makes us untouchable like the Apostle Paul who said to live is Christ and to die is gain. We know that any sufferings that we endure at this present time are not even worth comparing with the glory that is going to be revealed to us. Because of what Christ did for us on the cross we can be of good courage, we can be courageous for our people and for the cities of our God, and we can trust in the LORD as we submit to what ever seems good to Him. (2 Sam. 10:12). We don’t know all of God’s plans, but we can follow the example of the author and perfecter of our faith, Jesus Christ, and put our hope in God, always.
God is sovereign, His plan is sure, and His love for us is astonishing. He who did not spare His own Son, but gave him up for us all, has graciously given us the most precious thing we could ever ask for, a relationship with Himself for all of eternity through that very Son who is now seated at His right hand.
Jesus was not overcome by death and despair on the cross. In the face of despair and the very wrath of God being poured out on him, Jesus trusted in his Father’s plan, and he took this final opportunity to show how the Scriptures testify about him, he provided yet another example of trusting in God, and he gave us indestructible hope and peace.