By this early morning hour (around 7:30 a.m. as I write this) on that Friday long ago, Jesus had already been denied by Peter, questioned by the high priest, and turned over to Pilate. The mocking and flogging was still to come, and (in contrast to the weather I see shaping up outside my window), the day would be long and dark.
The gospel accounts vary in some of the details – partly because even among eye witnesses, perspectives can vary widely. But sometimes the gospel accounts vary because the authors themselves wanted to craft their story in a way that connects with a particular audience, or because they had a specific theological goal in mind.
For instance, only Luke mentions the conversation with the thief and Jesus telling him they would be together in paradise (Lk 23:43). This, combined with Jesus’ emphasis on forgiveness for those “who do not know what they are doing” (Lk 23:34) reminds Luke’s (mostly Gentile) hearers that Jesus’ mission is one of grace and inclusion.
John includes the conversation between Jesus, his mother Mary, and the disciple John asking they take care of one another as family (Jn 19:26-27). John then mentions Jesus’ statement “I am thirsty” (Jn 19:28). Both of these statements bring Jesus’ full humanity into view, even in the context of his divinely appointed death.
Both Matthew and Mark include only one statement by Jesus, his comment in Aramaic, Eloi eloi, lama sabachthani, translated “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mt 27:46, Mk 15:34). This quote from Psalm 22 has often led theologians to focus on God’s abandonment of Christ. (Think of the hymn “How Deep the Father’s Love for Us” with its line the Father turns his face away). Mark’s gospel suggests this happened at 3 p.m. (which interestingly, corresponds to the Jewish “second hour of prayer,” called minchah, which means gift-offering).
This connection to Psalm 22 brings me to my point. I’ve heard others teach about the fulfilled prophecies of Psalm 22, some of which are intentionally called to mind by these gospel writers.
vs 1 – “why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew and Mark)
vs 6 – “scorned by everyone, despised…all who see me, mock me…” (Mk 15:18-20, Mk 15:29-32))
vs 8 – “let the Lord rescue him!” (Lk 23:35)
vs 14 – “I am poured out like water” (Jn 19:34)
vs 15 – “my mouth is dried up…my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth” (Jn 19:28)
vs 16 – “they pierce my hands and my feet” (all four gospels)
vs 18 – “they cast lots for my garment” (Mt 27:35, Mk 15:24)
What’s fascinating to me is that scholars suggest that when the gospel writers quote from the Psalms, they expect their hearers to remember the entire Psalm in context. These Psalms were used as prayer in weekly synagogue services and would have been familiar. So their focus is not on “why have you forsaken me?” but on the full promise of God’s faithfulness. as seen in the following verses from Psalm 22:
vs 10 – “from birth you have been my God”
vs 19 – “You are my strength; come quickly to help!”
vs 22 – “I will declare your name to my people…I will praise you”
vs 24 – “[God] has not hidden his face…but has listened to his cry for help”
vs 27 – “All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the LORD”
vs 28 – “dominion belongs to the LORD and he rules over the nations”
vs 30 – “future generations will be told about the Lord…”
vs 31 – “…they will proclaim his righteousness”
Finally, we come to John’s final statement of Jesus, “it is finished!” (Jn 19:30). Jesus completed the work God asked him to do. (Jn 17:4)
There is nothing more to be done. Jesus gift is enough, and we can confidently proclaim his righteousness with the Psalmist,
“He has done it!” (Ps 22:31)
His righteousness becomes our righteousness. “In [Christ], we might become the righteousness of God.”(2 Cor 5:21)
It is finished.