“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Jesus's cry of dereliction from the cross recorded in Mark 15:33-34 haunts us each Lenten season. Traditionally, the church sets aside this season to ponder the deep mystery of God sundered from God, the eternal Son cast out from the Father's presence as he bears the weight of our sin. But this cry from the cross is not simply a spontaneous shout of anguish from a forlorn soul. Rather, as the footnotes in our Bibles tell us, Jesus is quoting Scripture—to be precise, Psalm 22. Why did Jesus quote Psalm 22 from the cross? And why did Mark record it?
How Jesus used ScriptureWe might think that Jesus, steeped as he was in the Scriptures and traditions of Israel, simply and unconsciously expressed his emotions in scriptural terms. “Jesus bled Scripture,” as some notable church leaders have said. While this is no doubt true, there is likely more going on. Jesus did everything with intentionality, even in the throes of death. And the Gospel writers—in this case, Mark—who collected and recorded his sayings did the same, painstakingly selecting and choosing from the myriad of things that Jesus said and did throughout his lifetime to present their portraits of Christ (see John 20:30; Luke 1:1-4).
The reason Jesus and the New Testament writers quote verses from the Old Testament is that the Old Testament helps to clarify what is in the New. We would miss something if we read in isolation Old Testament verses or passages explicitly quoted in the New Testament. Instead, the aim is usually to direct the audience to the entire context of those Old Testament passages, which help them frame, interpret, and apply what is going on in the New Testament.
What this means is that we modern readers can gain a deeper understanding of certain passages of Scripture if we read them in their Old and New Testament contexts. To be sure, some of these connections will be clearer than others. But don’t give up! As we grow in our ability to see how intricately connected the Old and New Testaments are, we’ll become better readers of both. Taking time to make these connections doesn’t only help us to better understand Scripture, but can also lead us to greater depths of worship as we gain fresh insights into God’s heart and the wisdom of his great redemptive plan. Let's look at how this might apply to Psalm 22:1 quoted in Mark’s Crucifixion narrative (15:33-34).
How Jesus experienced the crossFirst, we read the entire Psalm. (If you’re able, read through Psalm 22 on your Bible or Bible app now). When we do, what probably strikes us at first is how vividly sad it is, notwithstanding a note of hope in the concluding verses. We are treated to an up-close and personal look at an individual who is suffering terribly at the hands of cruel men. Scholars call this type of psalm an “individual lament,” a song that expresses the pain of a pious soul surrounded by enemies.