Jesus’ last evening with his disciples before his death was charged with powerful meaning and emotion. As they sat together for a Passover meal (a day earlier than the rest of the Jewish people) Jesus was preparing them for his own sacrifice. Centuries of history, tradition and prophecy were to become wrapped up together in this monumental evening.
The traditional Passover of Jesus’ time consisted of symbols of supper featuring an unblemished lamb eaten with certain foods, including unleavened bread (made without yeast) and four cups of wine taken at certain intervals during and after the meal. Jesus turns the bread and the wine into the now well-known Christian symbols of Jesus’s “body” and “blood.”
Gospel writers Matthew and Mark both record that Jesus and his disciples sang a hymn before leaving for Gethsemane. Many researchers have searched diligently to find out what hymn Jesus sang with his disciples on the night before his death. What they found is that there was a well-established liturgy of singing a group of Psalms that are referred to as the “Hallel Psalms,” consisting of Psalms 113-118. (This group of psalms was also sung at the other Jewish festivals mentioned in the Bible.) In English they would be called “Praise Psalms.”
It seems that these were interspersed throughout the meal, and it seems most likely that the one sung at the end was Psalm 118. Other researchers believe that all of them were sung together as one long praise hymn, so it is difficult for me to be sure how that went.
Psalm 113 praises God for caring for the weak and poor – those unable to help themselves. Even though God is higher than the heavens and master of all creation, He still cares for the lowest of people.
Psalm 114 praises God not only for His mighty power, but especially that He used that might to deliver an enslaved people from the mightiest empire of the time. God saved Israel through miracles such as the crossing of the Red Sea and allowed them to enter the Promised Land through the Jordan River, proving His dominion over the elements. Not only does He provide salvation through water, He even provides water to drink from an unlikely source: rock.
Psalm 115 praises God that He is not like the idols of all the nations. (The statement that “their idols are silver and gold, made by human hands” is all too true even today, in a world dominated by money and conspicuous consumption.) When God moves, the idolaters will become as silent in awe or intense fear as their graven images are.
Only the God of Israel is real. Only the God of Israel brings blessing and cursing. Only the God of Israel brings life to the dying.
Psalm 116 is the praise of a man delivered from death, who promises to “lift up the cup of salvation” in calling upon the name of the Lord. Verse 16 has the interesting note that he is “thy servant, and the son of thine handmaid.” This goes back to a promise made to Eve, that “her seed” would overcome the devil’s “seed.” In short, a Messianic psalm.
And yet precious in his sight is the death of his saints. Why is this statement in here if death is not part of the Messianic role?
Psalm 117 asks all nations to praise the Lord, not just Israel. This is because The Lord’s mercy encompasses all humanity. Salvation for both Jew and Gentile!
Psalm 118 praises God for deliverance from all enemies, personal and international. The same people who are asked to trust in Him in Psalm 115 (Israel, the house of Aaron and those that fear the Lord) are asked to say “his mercy endures forever.”
How messianic is this psalm?
The one who destroys all the enemies does so “in the name of the Lord.” He is also the one that the enemy has harassed to the point of death, but the Lord is both his strength and his song, and has become his salvation. He enters “the gates of righteousness” where the righteous enter. (Remember that Jesus claims to be “the way, the truth and the light. He is the keeper of the “gate of righteousness.”)
Jesus is the “stone that the builders refused” and becomes “the head of the corner.” This is one of the most frequently quoted Old Testament verses in the New Testament. The day Jesus dies is “the day that the Lord has made.” and Jesus knew this. (Of course, three days later his disciples finally figure it out.)
Verses 25 and 26 reflect the activities of the day Christians now call Palm Sunday. The chanting of “Hosanna” (“save”) to the son of David. The chanting of “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.”
Verse 27 shows God as the true bringer of light, whom John the Apostle identifies as the Word who becomes Jesus. The statement “bind the sacrifice with cords” evokes the image of Abraham preparing his son Isaac as a sacrifice, binding him with cords. God willing to do with His own Son what he asked Abraham to do, but did not allow him to complete.
Praise the Lord, whose Son Jesus the Messiah died and lives again to offer mercy to the whole world!