You’ve heard of déjà vu, right? It’s when you have an experience of some kind and it strikes you as being strangely familiar. It’s like you’ve seen or heard something before. But sometimes the experience is even more powerful – it’s as if you’ve been there before. Ever had that kind of experience? I think there was some of that going on for Jesus as He hung on the cross.
Most New Testament scholars believe that when Jesus cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” it was an intentional allusion to the 22nd Psalm. Most of those at the foot of the cross who were watching and listening were Jews and would have heard these words and had the whole Psalm immediately come to mind. When you read Psalm 22 you can probably understand why Jesus had it on His heart.
I really can’t comprehend the excruciating pain and torment that Jesus had already experienced at the hands of the soldiers. But for Him, it must have been a terrible déjà vu moment. It must have seemed surreal to look down from the cross shortly after it was raised violently upright into place, and in the midst of his agony, seeing the soldiers on the ground dividing His clothes and throwing dice to see who would get what.
Dogs have surrounded me;
A band of evil men has encircled me,
They have pierced my hands and my feet,
I can count all of my bones;
People stare and gloat over me.
They divide my garments among them
And cast lots for my clothing. (Verses 16-18)
How strangely affirming this must have been to Jesus! He was watching the Scripture be fulfilled in real time, through His own suffering on that cross. And there must have been some encouragement in that. Because the 22nd Psalm is actually one of incredible hope and promise – rising out of its graphic portrayal of death.
You who fear the Lord, praise him!
All you descendants of Jacob, honour him!
Revere him, all you descendants of Israel!
For he has not despised or disdained the suffering of the afflicted one;
He has not hidden his face from him
But has listened to his cry for help. (Verses 23-24)
From the psalm, Jesus would have drawn strength to endure until the end. Despite all that He felt- the pain, the shame, and the abandonment- from this passage He would have taken hope and courage. Because Psalm 22 does not end in a meaningless death. It ends with glorious promise! It ends with God’s great redemption of all things, made possible by what Jesus was giving Himself over to on that cross.
All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the Lord,
And all the families of the nations will bow down before him,
For dominion belongs to the Lord and he rules over the nations.
Posterity will serve him;
Future generations will be told about the Lord.
They will proclaim his righteousness to a people not yet born –
For he has done it. (Verses 27-28, 30-31)
Were these the sacred words that lingered in Jesus’ thoughts as He hung there on the cross? Were these the words of His Father that helped encourage and sustain Him through the agony of death? Was it this ultimate declaration of God’s redemptive victory, “For He has done it”, that led Him to proclaim at the end, “It is finished”?
I think so. Jesus’ reference to Psalm 22 was not a desperate cry involuntarily gasped in response to the Father’s back being turned. It was a soulful and determined appropriation of the hope coming at the end. The Psalm reassured Him that, while He was alone, He was not abandoned. And because of His faithfulness to the very end, great and glorious things would come.