Psalm 118 and the Last Song Jesus Sang Before His Death

As Jesus concluded the Passover meal with his disciples there is a verse that is nearly always left out of the readings when this is read in sermons and at the Lord’s Supper. The verse right after Jesus finishes instituting the Lord’s Supper is this,

When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.

It seems insignificant…like throw away words but these words tell us something highly significant. Because we know this was a Passover meal (Matt 26:17-19) we know certain things about this meal including how the meal ends. The meal ends in singing and the songs that are sung are the Hallel psalms (Psalm 113-118). The Hallel psalms talk about God who helps the needy and God who delivered their ancestors from the Exodus. That is why these psalms are sung. The Hallel psalms conclude with Psalm 118. I can only imagine Jesus knew all that was about to happen down to the finest detail. As you read Psalm 118 pay close attention to the details and to what is about to happen to Jesus as this was probably the last song Jesus sang before his death (aside from pushing out the opening line of Psalm 22 on the cross),

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
    his love endures forever.

Let Israel say:
    “His love endures forever.”
Let the house of Aaron say:
    “His love endures forever.”
Let those who fear the Lord say:
    “His love endures forever.”

When hard pressed, I cried to the Lord;
    he brought me into a spacious place.
The Lord is with me; I will not be afraid.
    What can mere mortals do to me?
The Lord is with me; he is my helper.
    I look in triumph on my enemies.

It is better to take refuge in the Lord
    than to trust in humans.
It is better to take refuge in the Lord
    than to trust in princes.
10 All the nations surrounded me,
    but in the name of the Lord I cut them down.
11 They surrounded me on every side,
    but in the name of the Lord I cut them down.
12 They swarmed around me like bees,
    but they were consumed as quickly as burning thorns;
    in the name of the Lord I cut them down.
13 I was pushed back and about to fall,
    but the Lord helped me.
14 The Lord is my strength and my defense;
    he has become my salvation.

15 Shouts of joy and victory
    resound in the tents of the righteous:
“The Lord’s right hand has done mighty things!
16     The Lord’s right hand is lifted high;
    the Lord’s right hand has done mighty things!”
17 I will not die but live,
    and will proclaim what the Lord has done.
18 The Lord has chastened me severely,
    but he has not given me over to death.
19 Open for me the gates of the righteous;
    I will enter and give thanks to the Lord.
20 This is the gate of the Lord
    through which the righteous may enter.
21 I will give you thanks, for you answered me;
    you have become my salvation.

22 The stone the builders rejected
    has become the cornerstone;
23 the Lord has done this,
    and it is marvelous in our eyes.
24 The Lord has done it this very day;
    let us rejoice today and be glad.

25 Lord, save us!
    Lord, grant us success!

26 Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.
    From the house of the Lord we bless you.
27 The Lord is God,
    and he has made his light shine on us.
With boughs in hand, join in the festal procession
    up to the horns of the altar.

28 You are my God, and I will praise you;
    you are my God, and I will exalt you.

29 Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
    his love endures forever.

Imagine Jesus, in his mind’s eye, imagining the events that are about to unfold as he defiantly sings this victory song…Imagine him singing, “O give thanks to the Lord for He is good…his steadfast love endures forever” as Judas walks to the high priest.

Imagine him singing, “Out of my distress I called on YHWH” as Jesus imagines his walk to the garden where he will cry out to God for a cup that will not pass from him.

Imagine him singing, “With the Lord on my side I do not fear – what can mortals do to me?” seeing the soldiers arrest him, bind him, beat him…

Imagine him singing, “Yhwh is on my side to help me – I shall look in triumph on those who hate me” as Jesus pictures his trial.
Imagine him singing “It is better to take refuge in YHWH than to put confidence in mortals” knowing his disciples will abandon him.
Consider Jesus singing these words, “All nations surround me…surround me on every side…like bees they blazed like a fire of thorns” envisioning the soldiers all around him, mistreating and abusing him…putting a crown of thorns on his head and leading him to Golgotha.
Imagine Jesus and the disciples singing, “I was pushed so hard, so that I was falling” as Jesus envisions carrying and falling with his cross over his shoulders.
Imagine the upper room filled with these lyrics, “But the Lord helped me – the Lord is my strength and my might, he has become my salvation” as Jesus anticipates uttering his last words “Into your hands I commit my spirit.”

How hard would it be to sing, “There are glad songs of victory in the tents of the righteous…I shall not die but live…the Lord has punished me severely but he did not give me over to death…or…This is the Lord’s doing and it is marvelous in our eyes – this is the day the Lord has made so let us rejoice and be glad in it”? when you know all that is about to happen?

Through singing this song, Jesus shows us what it is like to stick your thumb in the eye not just of the empire but of Satan himself who will not get the best of the people of God. Instead we sing in the tension. We sing in complete defiance because we know who is truly in charge and we know victory is coming. Praise the Lord!

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