Few statements in the Gospels are as chilling as Jesus’ cry from the cross recorded in Matthew 27:46 and Mark 15:34: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” These words seem to be a cry of despair. But upon closer examination, the context reveals that they are actually an expression of hope.
The fourth of seven utterances from the cross, this is actually a quotation of Psalm 22:1. By identifying Himself with the suffering of the one described there, Jesus also implicitly identified with the affirmation of Psalm 22:24: “For he has not despised or scorned the suffering of the afflicted one; he has not hidden his face from him but has listened to his cry for help.” The psalm is a cry of anguish, but it is also a confession of faith that expresses the psalmist’s expectation of deliverance (Ps. 22:25). When Jesus made these words His own, He pointed to the hope of resurrection.
This theme of hope is also reflected in several of the other sayings that surround Christ’s quotation of Psalm 22:1. Jesus asked the Father to forgive those who crucified Him, a request that not only revealed His pity but also acknowledged that God Himself was at work in some mysterious way in their actions (Luke 23:34; cf. Acts 4:27–28). Jesus’ promise to the repentant thief that he would join Him in paradise that very day is proof that Jesus was confident of life after death (Luke 23:43). What is more, it is evidence of Jesus’ power to grant eternal life and confer a kingdom.
This song of faith rises to a crescendo with the last two statements. One is a shout of victory: “It is finished” (John 19:30). Some commentators point out that accountants used this same term to mean “paid in full.” Perhaps it also alludes to Genesis 2:2, linking Christ’s suffering with the work of God in creation and pointing to His role as “the Lamb who was slain from the creation of the world” (Rev. 13:8). Jesus’ last words from the cross were an expression of trust by which He committed His spirit into the hands of the Father (Luke 23:46).
Now that Christ has completed His work, His prayer has become our prayer. We can commend our lives into the hands of the Father because we have the example of Jesus, and we know that God was faithful to deliver Him through the resurrection. We can have hope as we breathe our last because Jesus was faithful to His last breath.
FOR FURTHER STUDY
To learn more about Christ's sayings from the cross, read The Seven Last Words from the Cross by Fleming Rutledge (Eerdmans).