The Dwelling…

August 17, 2010

A Christian’s Comfort in the Psalms Part 7


The words of the Psalms are made flesh in the New Testament.  In the prime example of God’s steadfast love, a king from David is proclaimed, a Son is sent, a servant suffers and we begin to see the nations cry out in His praise.[1] Out of the “approximately 360 citations of the Hebrew Bible in the New testament, nearly one-third (112) are from the Psalms.”[2] Many of these passages are used in an indispensable way in the gospels: to amplify, explain, and magnify Jesus and His ministry.  The Psalms are evoked throughout the gospels to:

-Trumpet His birth (Luke 2:14[Ps.148:1])

-Laud His baptism (Mark 1:11[Ps. 2:7])

-Describe the power passed to the disciples (Luke 10:17[Ps. 91:13])

-Inform the disciples of eternal security (Luke 10:20[Ps. 69:28])

-Rebuke the thunder and waves (Mark 4:39[Ps. 104:7])

-Herald His arrival in Jerusalem (Mark 11:9[Ps. 118:26])[3]

While Jesus is recorded as speaking from the Psalms only a couple of times it is made clear in scripture that His knowledge of the word was unparalleled. Jesus as a devout Jew, born under the law, would have prayed through the Psalter and relied on it to inform the law laid down by His Father, not the law of men.[4] Jesus spoke “as one having authority,” and from a young age displayed fruits of knowledge from what was ultimately His “word.”[5] The Psalter was His Psalter, it spoke of Him and proclaimed His kingdom, of which “there shall be no end.”[6] Of the mentions of the Psalms in the gospels two instances merit our attention.  As evil began its assault and the hour of evil men approached Jesus invoked the Psalms to solicit comfort and express lament.

While on the Mount of Olives, Jesus prayed in a garden.  The time is described as one of intense agony and temptation.  Jesus approaches His disciples and confesses that His soul “is very sorrowful, even unto death.”[7] Most agree that Psalm 42:5 is in view here.  The great lament of Psalm 42 is, “Why are you cast down, O my soul, why are you in turmoil within me.”  As Jesus charges His disciples to pray and thereby fight temptation; He retreats and pleads that God would remove the cup placed before Him; ultimately He submits to God’s will.  This pattern is mirrored in Psalm 42.  The psalmist acknowledges that God has placed this difficult time before him, and yet closes the psalm with, “hope in God for I shall again praise Him, my salvation and my God.”

The Spirit of God breathed out the Psalms as scripture long before Jesus on earth uttered them; and yet He would invoke them with an authority far exceeding any other man. He could adore and “praise God fully, while by comparison we adore and praise God faintly. He can lament sin in the world which he took upon himself in ways we cannot begin to imagine.”[8] Such a lament would be evoked throughout the greatest display of God’s steadfast love, the moment of Christ’s Passion and evil’s defeat.

We find Mark’s passion account particularly helpful.  “In keeping with the rest of the New Testament, Mark’s interest in the Psalms is second only to Isaiah.”[9] Psalm 22 punctuates Mark’s recitation of Jesus’ crucifixion.[10] Arguably the most striking use of a psalm in the New Testament is in Jesus’ cry of abandonment quoting Psalm 22:1 “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”[11] Jesus here uses a personal lament psalm the way it is meant to be used and the way it always had been used, to lament the perceived absence of God in the experience of suffering and evil.  “Where in the Old Testament the human situation of degradation and desolation – a sense of abandonment by God, of being mocked and scorned by everyone – is most strongly attested, the New Testament explicitly identifies the experience as Jesus’.”[12]

Like all laments, Psalm 22 is peppered with acknowledgements of God’s sovereignty in the light of this suffering and notes of hope yet to come.  We should view Jesus’ invocation of the psalm’s opening line as representative of the entire message of the psalm; especially in light of the details on display throughout the text.  Christians should be able to see past the lament and seek comfort in the promises contained both in the psalm and in the testimony of scripture that His death, while the act of evil men, was according to “the definite plan and foreknowledge of God.”[13] Jesus could rest in His duty to God’s will on the cross precisely because, as is listed in the Psalms, amidst fear there is hope and through suffering there is promise for those called to suffer by God.[14]

In the next and final post in this series we shall look at how the entire psalter informs our pain and our joy by testifying of God’s sovereignty in the face of evil.

Click here to read A Christian’s Comfort in the Psalms part 6.

[1] Psalm 72:11,17.

[2]  Ronald B. Allen. Lord of Song: the Messiah revealed in the Psalms. (Portland, OR: Multnomah Press, 1985.) 38.

[3] This list is by no means exhaustive but merely meant to serve as an sample.

[4] William L. Holladay. The Psalms through Three Thousand Years: Prayerbook of a Cloud of witnesses. (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1993.) 347.

[5] Matthew concludes the account of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount by saying, “And when Jesus finished saying these things, the crowds were astonished at his teaching.  For he was teaching them as one having authority, not as their scribes.” Matthew 7:28-29 Luke records Jesus at the temple at age twelve asking the teachings questions and listening and they, “were amazed at his understanding and his answers.” Luke 2:47.

[6] Matt 89:4, specifically detailed fulfillment in Luke 1:32-33, “ …and the Lord our God will give him the throne of his father David. And he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”  This pronouncement by the angel is likely meant to recall Psalm 89:4.  Also Luke 24:44 which states, “Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.”

[7] Mark 14:34, Matthew 26:36-46.

[8] Holladay, 348.

[9] Rick Watts. The Psalms in Marks Gospel. ct. in The Psalms in the New Testament. Steve Moyise and Maarten J.J. Menken ed. (London, T&T Clark Int’l. 2004) 25.

[10] “22:19 cited at the division of Jesus’ garments (15:24), v. 2 at Jesus’ cry of dereliction (15:34), and v. 8 alluded to in the mockery of the passing crowds.” (Watts, 25)

[11] Matthew 27:46, Mark 15:34.

[12] Patrick D. Miller. Interpreting the Psalms. (Philadelphia, PA: Fortress Press, 1986.) 109.

[13] Acts 2:23

[14] See psalm 22:27-31.  Following the depictions of agony and affliction there is painted a vision of praise and hope that through this suffering all the families of the nations shall worship the Lord, and the ends of the earth shall remember.  And a generation yet unborn shall proclaim God’s righteousness for He has done it.  It is finished.

One comment

  1. […] Part 7: The Dwelling […]

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