Jesus sang the psalms. As a good Jewish boy he would have learned the psalms, along with the other Scriptures of what we call the Old Testament. He would have sung them regularly in worship and they clearly were crucial to his understanding of his mission. One of the most significant moments in the Gospel accounts of his ministry is to be found in the course of the Last Supper when we are told in Matthew 26:30 ‘When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.’ The hymn is generally thought to be the Hallel, Psalms 113 to 118, associated with the Passover, the feast which Jesus was about to fulfil when he offered himself on the cross. He was undoubtedly a singing Saviour.
Jesus sang inspired songs. He used the songs of the Psalter, he did not make up his own worship songs. As part of the Scriptures, the psalms are included in Paul’s statement in 2 Timothy 3:16 ‘All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.’ That is not to deny that the words of the psalms are the words of David and of the other human authors, yet they are at the same time entirely God’s words, as if breathed from his own mouth. God made use of the abilities and characters of the human authors whom he had prepared, but ‘men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit’ (2 Peter 1:21). Ultimately what the psalms say, God says. These are the words the son of God sang.
Jesus sang prophetic songs. Although most of the psalms arose from the circumstances of the psalmists’ lives and so were songs for their day, as God-breathed Scripture, however, they are also songs for later days. The psalms have in view the person and work of the Messiah and they find their perfect fulfilment in the days when ‘the Word became flesh’(John 1:14). We need be in no doubt that this is the case because e we have Jesus’ own testimony to the fact. After the resurrection, on one of the occasions when he appeared to his disciples he said, ‘Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms’ (Luke 24:44). All the psalms point to Christ. Thus when he sang Psalm 118:22 ‘The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone’, he was singing about himself. We need to have a fully Christ-centred understanding of the psalms we sing, so that we recognise they are Christian songs.
Jesus sang redemptive songs. In particular the psalms associated with Passover recall the great Old Testament event of divine deliverance from bondage. God delivered those who sheltered under the blood of the lamb (Exodus 12:23). Most significantly, at his transfiguration Jesus spoke with Moses and Elijah about ‘his departure (‘exodus’) which he was about to bring to fulfilment at Jerusalem (Luke 9:31). The cross of Christ is the great redemptive act of God which fulfils and exceeds all that was portrayed in the exodus from Egypt. We have noted Jesus’ statement in Luke 24:44 about his fulfilling all that is written about him in the entire Old Testament. In particular he states, ‘This is what is written: the Christ will suffer and rise on the third day.’ The psalms, as part of the Old Testament, testify to his redemptive work at the cross and the empty tomb. The psalms are redemptive songs and Jesus sang of his own saving work in songs that he fulfilled. When he sang Psalm 118:27 ‘Bind the festal sacrifice with cords to the horns of the altar’ (ESV), in a matter of hours he would be that sacrifice, ‘the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world’ (John1:29).
Jesus sang perfect songs. The perfect Son of God sang only perfect songs, and as god-breathed Scripture the psalms are perfect songs. They can be sung with faith and full confidence in their reliability. When we sing the psalms, we sing the songs that Jesus sang and we sing the songs that Jesus fulfils. That means that we need to study them carefully and with the aid of the Holy Spirit who gave them to the church so that we understand how these things are so. Of course that is no different from how we must approach the rest of the Old Testament. Perhaps if we have problems in using the psalms, we may have problems in seeing how the Old Testament in general is a Christian book full of Christ. What a privilege to sing the songs he sang.