Friday, January 22, 2016

A few choice selections from “Singing the Songs of Jesus” by Michael Lefebvre

With the exception of the Psalms, the many song-filled books of the Bible are addressed to God’s people: in them, God’s truth sings to us. The Book of Psalms is unique. It is a hymnal, It is the only book of the Bible with God as the audience and God’s people are its appointed speakers. (p.16)

In Mark 14:26, Jesus led his disciples in singing the Passover Psalms (Pss. 113-118). (p.18)

The author of Hebrews also tells us that Jesus sang the Psalms (Heb 2:11-12; 10:5) (p.19)

“No psalm composed by private individuals nor any uncanonical books may be read in the church.” (Canon LIX from the Council of Laodicea) p.20 We have to rediscover how the Apostles, the Early Church Fathers, and the Reformers saw Christ in the Psalms in such glory that they esteemed them as the ideal praise book of Christ-centered worship. p.28 First Chronicles is careful - with fourfold repetition - to qualify Israel’s hymnwriters as divinely inspired. Other passages in Scripture confirm this pattern (e.g. Exod 15:1; Deut 31:19; Ps. 40:3; 2 Sam 23:1-2). (p.37)

Athanasius of Alexandria wrote, “Do not let anyone amplify these words of the Psalter with persuasive phrases of the profane [the uninspired], and do not let him attempt to recast or completely change the words...Their expressions [are] superior to those we construct…[for it is] the Spirit who speaks in the saints…[to] render assistance to us.” (Athanasius, Letter to Marcellinus, 102-8) (p.37)

In biblical Israel, there were prophets who brought the word of God to the people in worship, there were priests who offered the people’s sacrifices and prayers to God in worship, and there was the king who led the whole service. (p.47)

The last hymn of David’s reign may have been Psalm 72...a coronation prayer for the new king, Solomon. (p.48)

Heb 2:11-12 quotes Psalm 22:22: It is King Jesus who takes the Davidic Psalms to his lips and sings them ‘in the midst of the congregation’ - and he invites us to join his songs with him. (p. 51)

Jesus leads us in singing these Psalms as our human king. As both God and man, then, Jesus is the mediator who reveals God to us and who leads men to God. It is in his role as the perfect man that Jesus intercedes for our prayers and leads our praises. (p.66)

In 1692, an Anglican bishop named Samuel Patrick was among those adopting new hymns to replace Psalm singing. During one worship gathering, Bishop Patrick noted that one of the servant girls was not singing. He drew her aside afterwards to ask if she was unwell. The maid reportedly answered, ‘I am well enough in health, but if you must needs know the plain truth of the matter, as long as you sung Jesus Christ’s Psalms, I sang along with ye; but now you sing psalms of your own invention, you may sing by yourselves.’ (M. Patrick, Story of the Church’s Song, p.113) In many places...Psalm singers vocalize words that are properly the speech of Jesus to the Father, as he stands in our midst praising God among us. (p.69)

(cf. Ps. 16:8-11 / Acts 2:25-8, 13:35; Ps. 22:1 / Matt 27:46, Mark 15:34; Ps. 22:18 / John 19:24; Ps. 31:5 / Luke 23:46; Ps. 35:19 / John 15:25; and many more)

“I shall not die, but live, and declare the works of the LORD.” (Ps. 118:17) You and I are supposed to claim that hope as our own, as well - making ourselves the ‘I’ in that claim with Jesus. (p. 77)

Begin to sing the Psalms, alerted to the general principle that the Psalms are relationship exercises - ‘praising conversations’ between you, other believers, and the Triune God - all centered in the mediation of Christ. Jesus even owns the sins of his people, to lead them in repentance. (p. 83)

It cannot be denied that the first part of Psalm 40 are the words of Jesus. Hebrews 10 explicitly tells us so. But some commentators are wary regarding these lines of repentance in the same Psalm as being led in the voice of Christ. While this kind of thinking is rooted in right reverence for Christ’s personal sinlessness, it is an approach to the Psalms that fails to grasp the significance of Jesus’ mediatorial kingship. Though himself sinless, he truly does take our guilt upon himself - and he leads us in repenting for it over his sacrifice. (p. 86)

In the Psalms, praise is the expected outcome, but meditation is the underlying activity which we undertake in Psalm singing. (p. 97)

But it is not the gracious words that praise God; it is grace in the heart produced by sung-meditation that praises God. This is a specialty of the Psalms. (p.111)

Curses in the Psalms are not provided for us to sing with relish, but even these hard lines are there for our faith and worship. (p.115) The expectation of judgment is an inseparable feature of Christian hope. (p.117)

Imprecation is not strictly an Old Testament feature. It is found all through the Scriptures, even on the lips of the apostles, of Christ himself, and in the assemblies in heaven. But in all those examples, the judgments announced are articulations of God’s judgment, not personal vendetta. (p.117)

[Jesus] is teaching (Mark 11:24-5, Matt 23:37-39) us that we must have a heart of grace, even when we do announce God’s judgment. (p.118)

[The Psalter] is designed for the church’s use across all ages and cultures, and in all kinds of circumstances. And there are times when the persecution and cruelty against God’s people reaches such a fervor that we need Christ-led hymns of justice like this to guide us in what to do with all the deep pain and turmoil we experience. (p.121)

Imprecatory Psalms remind us that Jesus is a good king, but not a ‘tame’ king. (p.124)

The curses announced in Psalm 137 are a sung articulation of the judgments which the Lord himself had pronounced. The word of the Lord came to Isaiah during the exile, saying. “The oracle concerning Babylon...I myself have commanded my consecrated ones, and have summoned my mighty men to execute my anger...Whoever is found will be thrust through, and whoever is caught will fall by the sword. Their infants will be dashed in pieces before their eyes.” (Isa. 13:1-16) (p.127)

Each of these exhortations to sing a new song is an introduction to the Psalm itself which follows. Psalms 33, 40, 96, 98, and 149 are each the ‘new song’ we are being called upon to sing by its opening verses. They are ‘new songs’ in the biblical sense of the expression, referring to a song that lifts ‘new’ praises that have eclipsed ‘old’ troubles. It is that kind of song that celebrates the end of strife and the beginning of celebration. (p138)

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