On the Thursday night before Jesus's crucifiction, Jesus ate the Passover meal with his disciples in what we have traditionally called the Last Supper. During this supper, many interesting (and even paradoxical) things happen – Jesus washing the disciples' feet; Judas being identified as Jesus's betrayer, apparently without the other disciples realization of it; and Jesus's radical changes to the traditional Passover customs in instituting the Sacrement of the Lord's Supper – but there has always been one seemingly normal thing that has stuck out to me. The singing of a hymn.
Both Matthew and Mark tell us that at the end of their meal together, Jesus and eleven of his disciples (Judas had left earlier) sung a hymn and departed to the Mount of Olives (Matthew 26:30; Mark 14:26). The main reason I think this small verse has stuck out to me is because of it's sheer normalcy in the midst of the chaos of Jesus's final week. Jesus had entered into Jerusalem triumphantly, he had clensed the temple, and he was about to be brutally crucified, yet Jesus knew the importance of singing with his disciples. Why? Why was it important? Why were we even given this little detail? Even though I've always found this verse to be interesting, I've never given much thought to these questions.
Thanks to a book that I have been reading this week, The Final Days of Jesus:The Most Important Week of the Most Important Person Who Ever Lived by Andreas J. Kostenberger & Justin Taylor, I've been given a glimpse into some possible answers. Kostenberger, who is credited with most of the content of the book, gives extra detail and insight about the singing of this hymn. First, included in the normal Jewish tradition of celebrating Passover was the singing of Psalms 113-118. Therefore, it is likely that these very psalms were the ones sung by Jesus and his disciples during the Last Supper. They contain many themes that relate to the Passover: praises to God, rememberances of what God has done for his people in rescuing them from Egypt, exaultations of God's deliverance from both sin and enemies, and reassurances of God's future redemptive promises.
Second, if these were the psalms that they sung then it is also very likely that Psalm 118, traditionally the final psalm, is the hymn that is referred to in the scripture and is likely the last hymn that Jesus sung before dying on the cross. For me, this brings new significance to this psalm and has caused me to think deeper about its words and what they meant to Jesus as he, himself, sung them.
“The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. This is the Lord's doing; it is marvelous in our eyes.” Psalm 118:22-23
Third, as we put extra focus on Psalm 118, we are naturally drawn to verses 22 and 23, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. This is the Lord's doing; it is marvelous in our eyes.” From these verses we see that Jesus sung of himself and what he was about to go through, that he is The Cornerstone that was soon to be rejected (within hours), that it would be his own Father's doing, and yet it would also be a marvelous thing. As a side note, we, in fact, have no doubt that this passage was on Jesus's mind because he used these very verses while telling a parable just a couple of days earlier (Matt 21:33-46; Mark 12:1-12; Luke 20:9-19); a parable in which he describes himself as the cornerstone which the builders rejected.
Finally, I think of the comfort and encouragmenet that these psalms brought Jesus. Knowing that he was going to be betrayed, that he was going to die, that it was going to be brutal and horrific, Jesus sung praises to God about God's faithfulness, God's deliverance, God's soverignty, God's goodness, and God's redemption of his people in Christ, The Cornerstone. This gave Jesus comfort and encouragement. Jesus was reassured that in God's soverign plan of redemption, it was he who would fulfill all of God's promises to his people. God's love for his own glory and his love for a people that needed redemption was Jesus's strength, encouragement, and motivation.
Sometime over the next three days, I would encourage you to sit and read through Psalms 113-118. This would be a great thing to do with your family or close ones, as well. The psalms are short, so it won't take long, probably around 15-20 minutes, and as you read them, think about Jesus singing them and what they meant to Jesus and how they likely affected him. At the same time, though, don't read them as the Jews do now, as something that has yet to be accomplished, but read them as Christians, with comfort and encouragement, because of the fact that the promises contained therein have already been accomplished by Christ, The Cornerstone.