In Matthew and Mark’s account of Jesus’ death, before giving up His spirit, Jesus quotes the opening line of Psalm 22, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” When reading through this psalm, it is easy to see why Jesus would have identified with it so strongly.
“All who see me mock me; they hurl insults, shaking their heads. ‘He trusts the Lord,’ they say, ‘let the Lord rescue him. Let him deliver him, since he delights in him’…a pack of villains encircles me; they pierce my hands and my feet. All my bones are on display; people stare and gloat over me. They divide my clothes among them and cast lots for my garment.” (v. 7-8; 16-18)
This psalm, of a righteous sufferer, expresses Jesus’ experience on the cross. When He "who had no sin" was made “to be sin for us,” He, for the first time in the existence of time, experienced separation from the Father (2Co.. 5:21). New Testament scholar N.T. Wright says,
“Part of the whole point of the cross is that there the weight of the world’s evil really did converge upon Jesus, blotting out the sunlight of God’s love as surely as the light of day was blotted out for three hours…Jesus is ‘giving his life as a ransom for many’ (Mt. 20:28), and the sin of the ‘many,’ which he is bearing, has for the first and only time in his experience caused a cloud to come between him and the father he loved and obeyed, the one who had been delighted in him.”
C.S. Lewis describes Jesus as “streaming forth from the Father, like light from a lamp, or heat from a fire, or thoughts from a mind. He is the self-expression of the Father—what the Father has to say. And there was never a time when He was not saying it.” These are all images attempting to express the intimacy and connection the Father and the Son have experienced since before the world began. Yet, here is the Son hanging from a cross asking the Father why He has forsaken Him. And what got Him to this point was perfect obedience. He had done nothing but the will of the Father. He had prayed for the Father’s will to be done over His own. As Wright says, Jesus “has remained obedient to the end, even through the period of God-forsakenness that formed the heart, strangely, of his God-given mission.” This is where Jesus’ mission led Him. This is the price that had to be paid to deal with the sin of humanity and to redeem the brokenness of the world. According to Wright, Jesus took “with him, into the darkness of death, the sin of the world: my sin, your sin, the sin of countless millions, the weight that has hung around the world’s neck and dragged it down to destruction.”
Matthew wants the gravity of this moment to sink in with his audience. The perfectly obedient Son of God, forsaken by God. However, we know that this is not the end of the story. And Matthew’s original audience, likely Jewish Christians who were intimately familiar with the Old Testament, would know that Psalm 22 also does not end with the suffering of the righteous man. Ultimately, Psalm 22, like the story of Jesus, is a story of vindication. “…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 (Ps. 22:24). Because He was obedient to the Father, because He carried the weight of our sin, and because He willingly gave up His spirit, Jesus was vindicated by the Father and enthroned as the King of the world.