Some time ago, in October, the Burlington Study Centre organized three study evenings about liturgy. The third dealt with the timely topic of singing in the worship services. There was a question about adding a well-loved biblical hymn to our Book of Praise. No objection here. But this brings us to another point that sometimes comes up in our discussions. Psalms can be experienced as Old Testament songs, while with the hymns one sings obviously about Christ and salvation through Him. What follows deals with this false dilemma. Psalms speak about Christ and his salvation.
On the evening of the resurrection, the Lord said to his disciples (Luke 24:44): "These are my words which I spoke while I was still with you, 'All the things written in the law of Moses and the prophets and the Psalms about me must be fulfilled'." We have this same teaching in John 5:39 where Christ says that the Old Testament Scriptures testify to Him.
In all the- New Testament books we see how the Lord lived by this truth. Time and again He applied Old Testament words to himself. We see how the apostles and evangelists did the very same thing. Here follow examples from Psalm 22.
At the cross, at the end of the three hours of darkness, our Lord cried out, "My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me?" These words are found in the first verse of this psalm. In his suffering, the Lord took these words of David in his mouth and applied them to himself. In this way He fulfilled these words, living by what was written in obedience to the Father. For they were written about Him under the guidance of "the Spirit of Christ", as Peter says (1 Pet 1 :1 1). We read here that when the prophets spoke their words, they were "trying to find taut the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when He predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow:"
But there is more in Psalm 22. When Matthew describes the sufferings of Christ, he tells us also that the chief priests "mocked" the Lord (27:41). They did so with, among others, these words, "He trusts in God! Let God then rescue Him now if He wants Him, for He said 'I am the Son of God'" (v
43). What they mockingly meant was: The very fact that God does not rescue Him is the best proof that this man, at the cross is a liar. He cannot be God's Son. For if He really was, God would have certainly rescued Him. God obviously did not do so.
The remarkable thing about these words of the mocking chief priest is that they are from Psalm 22:7-8. Surrounded by enemies, David says there, "All who see me mock me; they hurl insults, shaking their heads: 'He trusts in the LORD; let the LORD rescue him. Let Him deliver him, since He delights in him." In other words, Matthew tells us how the chief priests, whether consciously or not, fulfilled the words of David in Psalm 22:7-8 in their hostile relation with the Lord Jesus.
The second conclusion is that these three quotations from Psalm 22 in different places in the New Testament indicate that, in fact, the entire Psalm can be read as prophecy about Christ. Reading the whole Psalm confirms this. Without any trouble one can apply it in its entirety to our Lord. The entire Psalm, first spoken by David, is prophecy about and so applicable to Christ and is fulfilled by Him.
In the three quotations of Psalm 22 in the New Testament we have a lesson of the Holy Spirit. He teaches us that this psalm of David and about David is entirely also a psalm of and about Christ Jesus with his obedient service to God and for his people in both his suffering and his glory. The consequence of this instruction of the Spirit of Christ is that
we learn to sing Psalm 22 as a psalm of David and, at the same time, a psalm of Christ. It is a word of David about his life and experience and it is a word of our Saviour about his suffering on earth and his on-going church-gathering work in glory.
Now one could ask: but what about us and our salvation? Well, when we so sing Psalm 22, we do sing about ourselves and our salvation. When we sing about Christ who was forsaken, we believe that this implies that He was forsaken for us in our place. This punishment for our sins was borne by Him, to obtain forgiveness and justification for us. And when we sing about Christ that He wanted to sing God's praise with a great congregation, then we, believing members of this congregation in worship of God, rejoice that this church gathering work of Christ includes us too.
Reading and singing psalms in the light of their fulfilment in Christ can be done without much difficulty with many other psalms as well. I would like to suggest that you, reader, try to read and sing the entire Psalm 31 in the same way. At the cross, Christ made the words of Psalm 31:5 his own too. David says there to God ". . . into thy hands I commit my spirit." So Christ says to his Father, "Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit." We sing of Christ again. And we believe that by his obedient fulfilling of what is written, He covers our sinful disobedience and grants us that for his sake we, too, may take these words of trust in the heavenly Father in our mouth: "Father, now we too place our spirit, our life, into thy hands where we are totally safe."
Let us learn to read and sing all the Psalms in this manner. Then, singing Psalms becomes so much richer and fuller. Sure, this needs brain labour. The believer has to study here. He has to think, while reading and singing. We do not sing only with our souls. We are also to sing with our thinking minds. For God wants us to love Him with our heart and soul, but also with our mind.