By Nick Lowe
Psalm 22 is an extraordinary piece of poetry, written many centuries before the events it depicts. It is not by accident it made its way into Holy Scripture, for through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit it speaks of the sufferings of Christ and the glories that followed.
Psalm 22 unmistakably refers to Christ. Matthew’s gospel records that Jesus cried out from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46,) taken straight from the opening verse of Psalm 22. In John’s gospel the last words on Jesus’ lips while He was hanging on the cross quote the final words of Psalm 22, It is finished (John 19:30) – or in Psalm 22:31 he has done it!
As Jesus was dying on the cross He was drawing our attention to the Messianic prophecies of this amazing Psalm, and how they were being fulfilled by His own death and His subsequent resurrection. The words of the Psalm indeed contain the haunting words of a dying man who feels godforsaken. He cries out, why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning? (Psalm 22:1b). His sufferings were compounded by the taunts of his enemies: But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by men and despised by the people (Psalm 22:6). A worm is the lowest kind of animal and an object of weakness. Matthew’s gospel tells us, those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads (Matthew 27:39), and mocked him saying, He trusts in God. Let God rescue him (Matthew 27:43), which quotes Psalm 22:8.
Psalm 22 speaks in a remarkable way of the sufferings of Christ. But why did He have to suffer, and what did Jesus mean when He cried out, It is finished? Did Jesus just mean the excruciating pain of the cross was finished and He was about to die? Or did He mean something more? There are strong indications in the gospels that Jesus’ death was a sacrifice of atonement for all those who repent and turn to God in faith. For example, John the Baptist declared, Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29). But it is the Apostles who unpack the full meaning of Jesus’ death for us, and what exactly was finished when Jesus died. The Apostle Paul put it this way: God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God (2Corinthains 5:21). In other words, Jesus took our sin on the cross as our substitute, that through repentance and faith in Christ we may come into right relationship with God. This concurs with Psalm 22:31: They will proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn – FOR HE HAS DONE IT!