Theme: The Hours of Darkness
In this week’s lessons we look at how this psalm, written hundreds of years before Christ, describes the details of Jesus’ suffering and death by crucifixion.
Scripture: Psalm 22:1-21
As Jesus was being led through the streets of Jerusalem to the place of his crucifixion, what was he thinking of? He seems to have been thinking of other people. When Jesus saw the women weeping after him he said, “Do not weep for me; weep for yourselves and for your children,” and he prophesied the terrible days to come (Luke 23:28-31). When the soldiers drove the nails through his hands and feet to affix him to the rough wooden cross he prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). He had words for the dying thief: “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43). He entrusted his mother to John’s safe keeping, saying, “Dear woman, here is your son,” and to John, “Here is your mother” (John 19:26, 27). In none of these sentences did Jesus seem to be thinking of himself at all. He was thinking entirely of others.
This changed at noon. At noon a great darkness came over the land which lasted until three o’clock. The darkness was sent by the Father to shield Jesus during the hours he was made sin for us. These were private hours. It is as if God had shut the bronze doors of heaven upon Jesus so that what transpired during those hours happened between himself and Jesus alone.
What was Jesus thinking of during these three hours? There is no reason why we should have to know this, of course. God could have kept silent about it. But there are three important clues in the New Testament accounts. First, at the beginning of this period Jesus suddenly cried out, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani,” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me” (Matt. 27:46; Mark 15:34)? It was a direct, explicit and completely appropriate quotation from the first verse of Psalm 22. Second, John tells us that Jesus, “knowing that all was now completed, and so that the Scripture would be fulfilled…said, ‘I am thirsty,’ as a result of which the soldiers offered him wine vinegar on a sponge” (John 19:28). The only Old Testament Scripture this could possibly refer to is Psalm 69:21, a psalm very similar to Psalm 22, which shows that Jesus was thinking through these Old Testament texts. Moreover, since John says this was “so that the Scripture would be fulfilled,” Jesus seems to have been deliberately reviewing these passages in his mind to be sure that he had fulfilled them completely. Third, at the end of the period of darkness, just before he died, Jesus called out, “It is finished” (John 19:30). This is a quotation from the last verse of Psalm 22. In our text that verse reads, “he has done it,” referring to God as subject. But there is no object for the verb in Hebrew, and it can equally well be translated, “It is finished.”
Putting these clues together, we can be fairly certain that Jesus was meditating on the Old Testament during the hours of his most intense suffering and that he saw his crucifixion as a fulfillment of Psalm 22 particularly.
Psalm 22 begins with a description of Christ’s alienation from the Father, as he was made sin for us. It continues by a vivid description of the crucifixion itself. It ends with triumph, as the suffering one tells how his prayer was heard and affirms that he will declare the name of God and praise God before his brethren and in the great assembly. Since Jesus ended his earthly life by quoting the last verse of this psalm, it means that he did not die in despair, as some, like Albert Schweitzer, have supposed he did. Rather, he died in triumph, knowing that the atonement was complete and accepted by God and that countless future generations would be saved because of it.
What clues are given in the New Testament about what Jesus was thinking when he hung on the cross prior to noon?
What happens at noon, and how does that influence Jesus’ thoughts?
Application: In his suffering Jesus was focused on the Word of God. How can you apply this in your own periods of suffering?
For Further Study: As we saw today, in the first half of the crucifixion Jesus was thinking about other people. For a closer look at one of Jesus concerns, download for free and listen to James Boice’s message, “Words from the Cross.” (Discount will be applied at checkout.)