Part III: Psalms of Resurrection
The Psalms have been the source of comfort and strength to Jews and Christians for centuries because they not only reveal truth about God and righteousness, but expose the heartfelt hopes, dreams, struggles, fears and emotions that are part of being human. Michael F. Bird points to the Psalms as a rich source for understanding the death and resurrection of Jesus.[i] Today, we place great value on “keeping it real,” The Psalms offer an enormous resource for connecting faith and life with authenticity.
Here is Part III of a three-part Holy Week series of blogs focusing on the Psalms. May they enrich your study and prayer as we contemplate the cross and resurrection. Here are links to Part I; Part II.
Holy Saturday has always seemed to me to be to be a blank day, an in-between time.
On Maundy Thursday Christians celebrate the dramatic hours before Jesus’ arrest. We recall the poignant hours he spent with his disciples in the Upper Room. We remember Jesus giving to all generations of Christians the meal by which to remember him. Good Friday pulls us between the horror and gruel of crucifixion and amazement at a Savior who forgives his tormentors, welcomes a repentant rebel to paradise, cares for his mother, wrestles with abandonment and physical suffering, declares victory over sin, and in humble trust commends his spirit to his Father in heaven.
Then Saturday comes. Scripture records nothing of this day. There is only silence — the silence of death and a sealed tomb. At very least this day reminds us that Jesus’ death was no illusion, no mere swooning, as some skeptics would like us to believe. Jesus has died. Crucified. Dead. Buried. Death is the common experience of all of us. Jesus shared in that experience.
For Christians who have the benefit of looking back to what is now known, Holy Saturday also fills us with anticipation. We know what happens in the early dawn of Easter morning.
But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in, they did not find the body. While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. (Luke 24:1-5)
The silence and sorrow that lingered on Saturday turns to the joyous proclamation of Easter morning: “Christ is risen!
Three Psalms of Easter
As modern-day believers we have the enormous advantage of understanding the meaning Jesus’ resurrection through the powerful revelation of the New Testament. However, the core truths of the resurrection of Jesus and its meaning came to the earliest Christians in the words of the Psalms. In this blog I invite you to reflect on three of those Psalms.
Throughout Christian history dating to the earliest days of the church, Psalm 16 has been understood to be a messianic psalm. Followers of Christ recognized that the words of King David, from whose lineage the Messiah would come, contained images of the resurrection as an event which would occur in the distant future.
Psalm 16 is filled with confidence in God as David writes, “The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot. The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places. (16:5-6). But, the heart of David’ prophetic vision comes into view in verses 8-10:
I keep the LORD always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved. Therefore my heart is glad, and my soul rejoices; my body also rests secure. For you do not give me up to Sheol, or let your faithful one see the Pit.
David envisions that even if he does die, the Lord will not give him up to the place of death or destruction. If this was true of God’s anointed King, David, how much more would it be true of God’s anointed Redeemer, the Messiah, Jesus Christ.
On the day of Pentecost, Peter turned to Psalm 16 in his first sermon. Peter reminded his listeners that Jesus “was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge (Acts 2:23).” Peter emphasized the wickedness of their act in putting Jesus to death, but proclaimed that God had the final word: “… God raised him up from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him (Acts :24)” To give Scriptural context and authority to his assertion, Peter then quotes the above words from Psalm 16:8-11 in full.
Later the Book of Acts give account of Paul’s preaching in Pisidian Antioch (cf. Acts 13:32-33). There, in proclaiming the resurrection of Jesus, Paul turns to these same prescient words of David given centuries before.
The apostles and earliest Christians knew the great truth of the resurrection because they were witnesses. They knew the meaning of the resurrection because they the Psalms and other Scriptures long ago had set the stage. God planned all along to triumph over sin and death in the resurrection of His Son! Death could not hold Jesus. Neither can death hold final power over those who belong to Christ!
Preaching on Pentecost and to the Antiochians, Peter and Paul both also referred to Psalm 2 in their proclamation of the triumph of the resurrection. Psalm 2 is an “enthronement” psalm, written to celebrate the coronation of kings in the line of David. The Psalm warns about nations and people who conspire to get their own way (2:1) and kings and rulers who conspire against the Lord God and his anointed leader (2:2). God sits in heaven and laughs at them. Then, the Psalm records the “decree of the Lord.”
He said to me, “You are my son; today I have begotten you. Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession. You shall break them with a rod of iron, and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel. (Psalm 2:7-9)
In the time of the Psalmist, great kings sometimes described as “lords” who ruled over their “servants”. These kings and subjects were also described as “fathers” and “sons.” Here the anointed king is the son of the Lord God who has appointed him. Even more, the Psalm offers and advanced glimpse of the coming Son of God. Peter (Acts 2:34) argues that the earthly king did not ascend into the heavens, so the Psalm must be referring to the Son of God who died, was raised, and ascended to the right hand of God.
I want to mention a final Psalm briefly. Psalm 110 is another “enthronement” psalm. In it David writes, “The Lord says to my lord, ‘Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies your footstool. (110:1)’” He notes that the King is “a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek. (110:4)” He concludes, “The Lord is at your right hand … He will execute judgment among the nations … (110:5-6).” Jesus regarded this as a messianic Psalm in referring to himself (Luke 20:42-44). The author of Hebrews relied on the testimony of this psalm in understanding Jesus as a great high priest in the order of Melchizedek (Hebrews 5:5-6) and in declaring the incarnate Son of God far superior to the angels (Hebrews 1:5).
The Resurrection: Capstone of God’s Eternal Plan
Skeptics have argued that the resurrection story was a fabrication made up hurriedly when the disciples’ leader was unexpectedly put to death; a lie told to keep a small movement going. Not so! These powerful passages from Psalms, written hundreds of years before Christ, accentuate that the stone removed from Christ’s grave was the capstone of God’s eternal plan. By God’s foreknowledge and plan Jesus died. By God’s foreknowledge and plan the stone was rolled away. By God’s foreknowledge and plan, through God’s grace, mercy and eternal love redemption has come!
As the silence and darkness and silence of Saturday night give way to Easter’s dawning light let us remember the stunned discovery the women made at Jesus’ tomb. Let’s also give thanks and celebrate the staggering truths of the simple phrase, “He is Risen!”
The darkness of sin and sin’s enslavement has given way to the dawn of God’s freedom in Christ!
The shadows of death and hell are overcome by light of eternal life!
The night of broken creation is judged and will be renewed at the day of the Lord!
The gloom and dimness of a world of suffering and injustice is near the end because God’s kingdom and a new creation have begun!
“The Lord is risen indeed!!!”