Rooted in Devotion: Jesus in the Psalms

As we have been studying the psalms thus far this summer, our focus has been on how the psalms teach us to pray and worship God.  As Martin Luther once stated, “Whoever has begun to pray the Psalter earnestly and regularly, will soon take leave of those other, easy, little prayers of their own and say: ‘Ah, there is not the juice, the strength, the passion, the fire which I find in the Psalter.’”  We’ve talked about making the psalms your own:  How many psalms do you own?  How many can you recite?  Pray?  Pour over?  Sing? Comfort yourself in?  Collect the Psalms.  Master them.

Jesus Mastered the Psalms as Prayer

New Testament Scholar Scott McNight reminds us that “Jesus was a master of the Psalms.  Whenever he heard them, in the synogogue and at the temple, he took them to heart, for the Psalms spilled constantly from his lips… His entire life was bathed with Psalms… Jesus prayed the Psalms and Christians have always followed his example.” 

The Psalms were often on Jesus’ lips as he taught and prayed.  Indeed, during the evening of his arrest, betrayal and subsequent crucifixion, the most emotionally intense period of his life, the words of the psalms came flooding back to him, comforting and strengthening him.   Four of Jesus’ seven recorded sayings from the cross are quotes or allusions to the psalms.  Jesus had mastered the Psalms.

As Christians, if we truly want to pray like Jesus, we would master the psalms as well, and draw closer to him as we prayed his words.  But there is another purpose to the psalms and it also connects us to Jesus.  The psalms were not only used by Jesus, they were used of Jesus.  That is, Jesus not only prayed the Psalms, he fulfilled the psalms, so that in reading and mastering them through the prophetic witness of the New Testament, we are drawn closer to Christ himself, the one to whom all the Psalms testify. This is sometimes called Messianic nature of the psalms.

Jesus Fulfilled the Psalms as Prophecy

The authors of the New Testament were divinely led by the Holy Spirit back time and time again to the Psalms.  In his book, Finding the Old Testament in the New, Henry M. Shires identified 350 citations in the New Testament from the book of Psalms alone - roughly 20% of the total verses of the Psalms.  Moreover, 120 of the 150 Psalms are referenced in the New Testament. 

Author James Sire, after fifty years of praying the psalms concluded, “As I pondered the psalms and read scholars, I came recently to the conclusion that all the Psalms were Jesus’ own.  All of them – the beautiful and the ugly, the glorious and the grim, the plain and the elaborate, the blessings and the curses: every single one of them has been filtered through his heart and mind.  Indeed, every psalm is a psalm of Jesus.”

“Critics often attempt to minimize the Old Testament phraseology and descriptions that find fulfillment in Christ as being merely coincidental. If there were only two or three such instances, this might be the case. However, in the face of hundreds of such specific fulfillments, it is impossible to account for such a phenomenon on the basis of coincidence alone. Rather, one must recognize the plan and design of God in writers of the Old Testament since they foreshadow and specify so many things that find their fulfillment in the life of Christ.”

Think of it this way: suppose forty or more men should enter a room. These men come from different countries and from several different centuries five hundred or more years prior to our time. Each brings a piece of marble and, in order, they place their pieces of marble together. When they have finished, they have the completed statue of a man. Any observer would conclude that each of these men must have received their instructions for designing their piece of marble from one master mind. How much more true it is when writers of the Old Testament have written a perfect word picture of Jesus, centuries in advance of His coming. When He finally arrives, He fits perfectly the word picture composed by all of these men from different centuries and different countries. Certainly, these men must have been inspired by God’s Spirit in order to portray such an accurate picture of Jesus centuries in advance of His arrival on Earth.

Psalm 22: Prayer and Prophecy Meet on the Cross

No Psalm melds the two facets of Jesus' relationship to the psalms as clearly as psalm 22.  It speaks so clearly of Jesus that it is omitted in the cycle of Sabbath readings in Jewish synagogues.   Messianic Jewish Christian Commentator Max Isaac Reich has identified 33 separate prophesies in this psalm, all fulfilled at the cross.  It is the Psalm that Jesus, nearly drained of all strength, prayed as he hung on the cross," My God, My God! Why have you forsaken me?" He truly was forsaken by God the Father as he took the form of our sins, becoming, as Psalm 22:6 says, “a worm and not a man.”  The worm referred to was a special worm that was used in Israel to make expensive crimson red dye.  Only the richest and most noble people could afford to wear clothes colored by this die, but the glorious color only came by crushing the worm.  As commentator H.A. Ironside puts it, “the glorious garments of our salvation are the garments that have been procured by his pain and suffering.   Yet as we read this psalm, we not only hear the prayer of Jesus, but we see in stunning detail his suffering foretold hundreds of years beforehand as if the psalmist was an eye-witness to the cross. 

Listen to the words of this psalm as (Grace or Ryan Fergusen) reads it for us.

In history’s darkest hour, God himself was nailed to a cross, a Roman instrument of torture and execution.  Jesus has not slept for two days and has been beaten, humiliated, tortured and abused.  At the foot of the cross, evil men cast lots to divide up his garments.  All who saw him mocked him, saying, “He trusts in the Lord, let the Lord deliver him.” His strength poured out of him like water, his shoulder bones dislocated from the jarring weight of his body bearing down on the cross.  As death drew nearer, his heart sac filled with fluid, like wax melting within his breast.  Thirst overwhelmed him and made his tongue stick to his jaws.  Hanging there naked and exposed, stretched from limb to limb, every bone could be counted.  His hands and feet are mangled by the nails as if torn apart by a lion.  Yet no rest could be found, for the Romans had devised crucifixion to draw out the death of the guilty, to make them suffer as long as possible.  All of these painful details are foretold in Psalm 22.

Jesus did not, and possibly physically could not have prayed the whole psalm, but in praying the first words of the psalm, he prayed the psalm in its entirety. This is a rabbinical technique called “Ramesh” quoting a part of a text to point the listeners to the entire text.  In praying this text, we actually get a glimpse of the mind of Christ as he hung on the cross.  Many have misunderstood the “Why have you forsaken me?” to be a cry of despair, but Jesus knew that psalm and he knew how the psalm ended!  He knew the change in the psalm beginning in verse 21 - You have rescued me!  The second half of the psalm speaks of the saviour’s exaltation.  It talks of all the families of the earth coming to worship the Lord, for (verse 28) kingship belongs to the Lord and he rules over the nations!  The psalm ends with a cry of victory, verse 31: they shall come and proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn, that he has done it. This cry was echoed in Jesus’ final words “It is finished”  He has done it!  The worm was crushed for our glorious covering! 

Here is Jesus, our high priest, praying with us one of the most painful songs of human experience.  There is no pain you have faced that he hasn’t felt.  No alienation from God or man that he didn’t experience.  As much as the Psalms are our cries for deliverance, help and justice, they were his cries.  Yet he didn’t just pray the psalms, he lived the psalms, and found victory in the psalms.  He lived their victory and was raised up before all men.  And he calls us into the same glory: “The afflicted shall eat and be satisfied, those who seek him shall praise the Lord.  May your hearts live forever.’  What a meal – we eat this meal today remembering our worm who was crushed to cover us.  Are afflicted one whose suffering was vindicated by his rising from the dead.  The man from heaven who taught us to pray, even as he learned to suffer.  Jesus of the Psalms.

Jesus in the Psalms

Jesus as Creator: Hebrews 1:10-13; Psalm 102:25-27

Jesus is the Incarnate Son: Hebrews 10:5-7; Psalm 40:6-7

Jesus is the Son of Man: Hebrews 2:6-9; Psalm 8:4-7

Jesus is the Son of David: Psalm 132:10-18

Jesus is David’s Lord: Psalm 110:1; Matthew 22:41-46

Jesus is the Lord’s Annointed: Hebrews 1:8-9; Psalm 45:6-7

Jesus has authority over Angels and Demons: Psalm 91:11-13; Matthew 4:5-7

Jesus is a teacher of parables: Matthew 13:34-35; Psalm 78:2

Jesus is zealous for the Lord’s House: John 2:17; Psalm 69:9

Jesus is the rejected stone: Matthew 21:42; Psalm 118:22

Jesus is the betrayed friend: Psalm 41:9; John 13:18

Jesus is seen as the suffering, crucified Messiah: Psalm 22

Jesus is the resurrected one: Psalm 16:8-11; Acts 2:25-32

Jesus is seen as the exalted, victorious Lord: (Acts 2:33-36; Psalm 110:1)