Today’s Chocolate: Splendid 70% Dark Chocolate with Orange
Today’s Passage: Matthew 27
When I said yesterday that Judas’ remorse is just one of the things we’ll find in today’s chapter, I wasn’t kidding. Matthew 27 is full of events: Jesus appearing before Pilate, the crowds demanding the release of the criminal Barabbas, the Roman soldiers flogging and mocking Jesus, the procession to Golgotha, the crucifixion, an earthquake at the moment of Jesus’ death that splits the veil of the temple and opens several tombs (out of which after Jesus’ resurrection come several saints’ bodies, which is weird), and Joseph of Arimathea providing a tomb for Jesus’ own body, which Pilate secures with a guard of Roman soldiers. See? Lots of events. But in particular, the chief priests and scribes quote Psalm 22 to mock Jesus on the cross, and from the cross, Jesus responds with another verse from Psalm 22. I’m curious what’s going on there, so let’s check it out.
First of all, being crucified is not just a painful way to die, it’s a shameful one. We’ve been through this before. And the crowds and the religious leaders, as they watch the crucifixion, are basically claiming that if Jesus truly had God’s favor, God would not allow him to experience the Worst Possible Thing That Can Happen to You. “You want us to believe in you?” they ask. “Then there’s just one thing you have to do, and it’s very simple: stop getting crucified” (40-42, Contemporary Jackson Ferrell Version). They’re literally adding insult to injury.
And it’s in this context that we find the chief priests, scribes, and elders quoting from the psalms. The verse in question is Psalm 22:8: “He trusts in God; let God rescue Him now, if He delights in Him.” And here’s the truly frog-bonkers thing: in the context of the psalm, it’s also a line in the mouths of mockers. The psalmist describes himself as “a reproach of men and despised by the people” (Psalm 22:6), and he says, “All who see me sneer at me…saying, ‘Commit yourself to the Lord; let Him deliver him’” (Psalm 22:7-8). This is a psalm of David. The greatest king in all of Israel’s history wrote these lines. He’s the one these critics are attacking and sneering at, and the Jewish people considered him vindicated by history and God alike.
David was delivered from those who hated him and ridiculed his faith in God. And if the religious leaders make fun of him using the words of David’s opponents, they’re putting themselves in the shoes of the ultimate losers, and they’ve cast their own enemy, Jesus Christ, as the victor and Israel’s true king.
I suppose, then, it should come as no surprise that Jesus takes what they’re doing and makes it his own. He shouts out the opening line of the psalm: “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?” (Psalm 22:1). At this point, he’s been on the cross for several hours, and shouting anything is no mean feat. But with his last few breaths, he’s embracing the psalm in its whole trajectory.
On the cross, Jesus has entered into that space of reality where following God’s will hurts. Like David, he remains faithful to God yet suffers physically and psychically for it. Mockers surround him, and in a sense, he has in fact been abandoned by God. He’s bearing the punishment for the world’s sin through his crucifixion, carrying the weight of separation from God, even to the point of death. Yet the psalm moves into a triumphant note for its conclusion: “For He has not despised nor abhorred the affliction of the afflicted; nor has He hidden His face from him; but when he cried to Him for help, He heard” (Psalm 22:24). In the end, faith is vindicated, and justice prevails.