“When the Jesus film is screened in cultures that have never heard of Jesus, viewers often love the movie. But the crucifixion comes as an utter shock. Many audiences jump up and cry out in protest.
“The crucifixion of Jesus has always been profoundly disturbing. For me, what’s most troubling is not the unjust trial, how the crowd turns against Jesus, or how his disciples abandon him. The most troubling part is one line. Mark 15:34: “Eloi, Eloi, lemasabachthani?” (“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”) This line horrifies me. It calls into question the very nature of God. Is God the kind of God that turns his back on his Son?
“Here’s the key biblical insight that changed how I read this passage. It’s a simple historical fact about how Israelites cited their Scriptures. The way they referenced a passage was to quote it, especially the first line. So when Jesus said, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” he expected his hearers to catch the literary allusion to Psalm 22 and to think of the whole psalm: “[I am] scorned by everyone. . . . All who see me mock me . . . . All my bones are out of joint. . . . They divide my clothing among them and cast lots for my garment” (vv. 6, 7, 14, 18).
“Is Jesus saying “I have been forsaken by God”? No. He’s saying, “Today Psalm 22 is fulfilled in your hearing. I am the embodiment of this psalm.”
“Psalm 22 is not a psalm of forsakenness. It starts out that way, but it shifts to confidence in God’s deliverance: “For he has not despised or scorned the suffering of the afflicted one; he has not hidden his face from him but has listened to his cry for help” (v. 24).
“Jesus is declaring: “Right now, you are witnessing Psalm 22. I seem forsaken right now, but my death is not the end of the story. God has not despised my suffering. I will be vindicated. The Lord has heard my cry. Because death is not the end. ‘Future generations will be told about the Lord. They will proclaim his righteousness, declaring to a people yet unborn: He has done it!’ ” (vv. 30–31).”
Al Hsu is senior editor for IVP books at InterVarsity Press.