Matthew 27:46 “And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?
I observe that our natural response, when hurting, is to cry out or to express that pain in some audible or verbal way. Where things go wrong involves the who and how we go about expressing that anguish in a way that is often not Christlike. How do we counter this less-than-sanctified tendency?
In His book Praying the Bible, Donald Witney observes the following from this remarkable, crucified prayer:
On the cross Jesus said only seven brief things. The Roman soldiers has beaten him until ribbons of skin were flayed from his bloody back. He had barely been able to stagger to the place of crucifixion. He hung from the cross severely dehydrated. And with his entire body weight sagging on the three spikes that held him to the wood, he had to push up on the spike in his feet in order to get enough breath into his diaphragm so he could speak. But to do so was so agonizing that he could speak only briefly before sinking back down. If the Romans wanted to hasten the death of those they crucified, they would break the prisoners’ legs so they couldn’t push up and would die of asphyxiation. In fact, this is what they did to the two thieves at Jesus’s side (see John 19:31–33). Understandably, then, everything Jesus spoke from the cross was very brief.
But the longest thing he said was, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46), which is the first verse of Psalm 22, the longest and most explicit prophecy in the Old Testament about the crucifixion. Psalm 22 contains more details about the physical aspects of crucifixion than all four Gospels combined.
For example, in Psalm 22:14a the psalmist says, “I am poured out like water,” just as the apostle John reported of Jesus in John 19:34–35. In 14b we read, “all my bones are out of joint,” describing how the victims, after their limbs were twisted somewhat in order to nail them to the beams, often had their bones jarred out of joint as their heavy cross was dropped into the ground. And the words of verse 15b, “my tongue sticks to my jaws,” were fulfilled in the cry of Jesus, “I thirst” (John 19:28).
In addition, what we read in Psalm 22:7—“All who see me mock me; they make mouths at me; they wag their heads”—is fulfilled in Matthew 27:39 when “those who passed by derided him, wagging their heads.” Verse 8 introduces the voice of scoffers who say, “He trusts in the LORD; let him deliver him,” which is the same scorn Jesus received in Matthew 27:43 from those who said, “He trusts in God; let God deliver him now.” In Psalm 22:16 David describes the opposition of his enemies by saying, “For dogs encompass me; a company of evildoers encircles me,” which accurately portrays those who were snipping and sniping at the Son of David around the foot of his cross.
Further, Psalm 22:17 quotes the psalmist as saying, “I can count all my bones,” which would have been true of Jesus, since the Romans crucified people unclothed. The next verse says, “They divide my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots,” which is exactly what the Roman soldiers did with the clothes of Jesus in Matthew 27:35.
So after Jesus heaves himself upward on the spike in his feet and cries out Godward with the first verse of Psalm 22, I am convinced that as he sank back down, he continued to pray through Psalm 22.21 To some degree that is speculation, but we know that he prayed the first verse. We also know why he vocalized so little as he hung there. And since he was literally fulfilling Psalm 22 at that very moment, I believe it’s more than reasonable to assume that after he prayed verse 1 aloud, Jesus sagged on the cross and silently continued to pray the rest of Psalm 22.
Then at the end, Jesus gathered the last ounce of his strength, strained upward a final time, and cried, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit” (Luke 23:46), praying the words of Psalm 31:5. Jesus prayed the Psalms. The final act of his earthly life was to pray the words of a psalm.
Wow what a challenging example! Just this takeaway for us: if Jesus was not too good to pray upon a rugged cross that was meant for us, don’t you think we should take up our cross of daily discipleship with less reactionary, victimized moaning and more intentional, inspired praying? Here it is. Stop seeking to articulate your pain with man’s commiserating syllables and sentences. Instead choose to supplicate with God’s eternal, prophetic word!