I love my red-letter Bible. When I want to read what Jesus said, I just flip to the New Testament and read the red letters. Although all the Bible is true and profitable for teaching, I find the words of Jesus to be particularly powerful and humbling—especially His last words on the cross.
As believers, we often study the words of Jesus, but it seems we neglect His “last words.” Perhaps that’s because they seem too desperate, too pitiful for our King to have uttered. But what did Jesus mean when He shouted from the cross? What was so important to Him that He used His last breath to say it? Shouldn’t it be important to us, as well?
As you prepare for Good Friday and the coming Easter Sunday, I encourage you to research and meditate on these special words of our Lord.
As believers, we have a general understanding of what happened to Jesus leading up to His death. He was beaten, stripped, and mocked, and then nailed to a cross and left to die. He was the ultimate sacrificial lamb, with all of humanity’s sins and ailments weighing heavily on Him.
Then, as Jesus was nearing death, He cried out with a loud voice:
“My God, My God, Why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46 and Mark 15:34 NAS).
Many commentaries and Bible studies explain this unusual question by citing the holiness of God the Father. Since Jesus took on the sins and sicknesses of the world, He became unholy, and the Father turned His back on Him, if only for a moment. Jesus was forsaken that we would be forgiven.
However, there is another important element here: Jesus wasn’t just shouting a question—He was quoting Scripture! Psalm 22:1, to be exact. In the days of Jesus, what we now call the Old Testament had not yet been parceled out into book, chapter, and verse. To indicate a specific section, such as a Psalm, a person would cite the first line or two. Then everyone who knew the Psalm would recall the rest of the passage and understand the bigger message.
So, when Jesus was shouting “My God, My God, why have You forsaken me?,” He was referencing all of Psalm 22.
I encourage you to research Psalm 22 this week. When you do, pay special attention to these areas:
1 – The prophecy – Several verses give us a prophetic description of Jesus’ time on the cross, including “I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint;” “a band of evildoers has encompassed me; they pierced my hands and my feet;” “they divide my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots.”
2 – The trust – Even in His agony, Jesus declared that He still trusted the Father: “O LORD, be not far off; O You my help, hasten to my assistance;” “In the midst of the assembly I will praise You.”
3 – The plea – Jesus called those around Him to worship: “You who fear the LORD, praise Him; all you descendants of Jacob, glorify Him, and stand in awe of Him, all you descendants of Israel.”
The records of Matthew and Mark indicate that Jesus cried out again, but only Luke records what Jesus said:
“And Jesus, crying out with a loud voice, said, ‘Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.’ Having said this, He breathed His last” (Luke 23:46 NAS).
Here again, it seems that Jesus was quoting Scripture, this time Psalm 31:5. The rest of that verse reads, “You have ransomed me, O LORD, God of truth.” How was David, the author of Psalm 31, ransomed? By Jesus’ death on the cross. Jesus is the true Ransom and Sacrifice for us all.
As you read through Psalm 31, notice the following:
1 – The prophecy –
The description of David can be taken as a prophetic description of Jesus at the time of His death: “My eye is wasted away from grief, my soul and my body also. For my life is spent with sorrow and my years with sighing; my strength has failed because of my iniquity, and my body has wasted away.” Surely, it was our sorrows and iniquities that burdened Jesus.
“As for me, I said in my alarm, ‘I am cut off from before Your eyes’; nevertheless You heard the voice of my supplications when I cried to You.” Could Jesus have been referring to His earlier declaration of being “forsaken”?
2 – The trust – Jesus knew that the Father is merciful and in control: “You have not given me over into the hand of the enemy;” “My times are in Your hand; deliver me from the hand of my enemies and from those who persecute me.”
3 – The plea – David ends the Psalm pleading with the “godly ones” to “love the LORD,” stating that He “preserves the faithful.” The last line is “Be strong and let your heart take courage, all you who hope in the LORD.” Was Jesus encouraging His followers with His last breath?
These last words of Jesus are anything but desperate or pitiful! They are words of prophecy being fulfilled as Jesus hung on the cross. They are words of trust, obedience, love, and worship. And they’re an exhortation to Jesus’ followers—including us today—to trust in God in the most difficult of circumstances.
This Easter, as you remember the death and resurrection of Jesus, follow His lead. Remember to put your trust in God (the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit) and to worship Him wholeheartedly. Finally, “Be strong and let your heart take courage, all you who hope in the LORD” (Psalm 31:24 NAS).
Here’s a lyric video of Chris Tomlin’s song “Resurrection Power.” I pray it seeps into your heart, reminding of you of why Jesus did what He did—to give you life!