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How to Preach Jesus Using the Psalms

From the New Testament through the church Fathers (including Tertullian, Jerome, Ambrose, Augustine, Hilary) to interpreters of recent centuries (Luther, Spurgeon, Bonhoeffer), Christians have seen Jesus as one of the chief subjects of the Psalms. Jesus has also been seen as the one who sings the Psalms: he experienced the full range of human emotions and the full, intimate, honest relationship with God depicted in the Psalms. In a sense, Jesus even knew guilt, as he experienced the crushing weight of our sin and God’s judgment on rebels (2 Corinthians 5:21, 1 Peter 2:24).

The incredible variety of emotions and situations in the Psalms reflects Jesus’ own experience as God in human form, walking and living among us, experiencing what we experience. We also see Jesus in the Psalms as we remember his role as God Incarnate, the God who stoops to be with his people in their sojourn, their trials, their disappointments, and disasters. He is the shepherd who will not take us where he himself has not gone, and having trusted God as he went through the valley of death himself, he will not fail to take us through to the other side with him (Psalm 23).

We see Jesus as the lover of God’s Law who delighted in it and obeyed it perfectly (Psalm 1; 40:6-8; 119). We see Jesus mourning for those who suffer. We see him concerned for and identifying with the poor, the oppressed, and the lost (Psalm 41:1-3; 112:5, 9; 113:5-9; compare Matthew 25:31-46). And we see Jesus proclaiming God’s salvation and faithfulness to the congregation (Psalm 40:9-10).

We see Jesus as the suffering servant of God who laments his fate. He is persecuted, condemned, and killed unjustly (Psalm 22, 69) in order to wipe away sin (Psalm 51). He is rejected by Israel, abandoned by his followers, and betrayed by his friend, Judas (Psalm 41:9, cited in John 13:18; Psalm 109:8 cited in Acts 1).

We see Jesus raised from the dead, (Psalm 16:9-10, cited in Acts 2), a rejected stone chosen by God for the foundation of his family (Psalm 118). This risen one is the victorious Son of David who rules over the nations, establishes justice, and extends mercy to those who do not deserve it. He will execute judgment over all nations (Psalm 2; 45; 110). In the exaltation and enthronement of David’s son, all the nations will learn to praise the one true God (Psalm 18:49; Romans 15:7). Jesus also proves himself to be the True Human, the Second and Better Adam who fulfills our original destiny by restoring humanity to rule with God over all things (Psalm 8).

As Bruce Waltke sums it up, “The Psalms are ultimately the prayers of Jesus Christ, Son of God. He alone is worthy to pray the ideal vision of a king suffering for righteousness and emerging victorious over the hosts of evil.” Waltke goes on to note that “Christians, as sons of God, can rightly pray these prayers along with their representative Head.” Seeing Christ in the Psalms means that we can also see ourselves, as those who are recipients of his redeeming work and as those who follow Christ, being changed even now into his likeness by the work of his Spirit (2 Corinthians 3:16-18).

While Jesus alone is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, Paul says that we ourselves are like “sheep to be slaughtered” (Psalm 44:22 in Romans 8:38), and that we must “suffer with him.” (Romans 8:17)

Just as Jesus suffered at the hands of his enemies and had to wage war against the Enemy, so we must see ourselves as warriors engaged in resistance against a great Enemy: “The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.” (Romans 16:20; “your” is plural, the Christians in Rome; Revelation 2-3; Ephesians 6:10-20) Those who resist Satan and conquer sin are reigning with Jesus (Psalm 2 in Revelation 3:21, Ephesians 2:6).

The nations will praise the King (Psalm 68:2) as we lead them to bow the knee to him in obedience (Matthew 28:16-20). Because of Jesus’ great victory, he pours out spiritual gifts on his people in order to make more Christians and bring his people to maturity, making them more Christ-like (Psalm 68:18; Ephesians 4:7-16).

Jesus commands us to love him and others; as we obey, we walk in light, not darkness (1 John 2:4-10; Psalm 119:105). Walking that path of love and life produces delight, so that we can say, “Oh, how I love your Law, oh, Lord; I meditate on it all day long.” (Psalm 119:97; John 15; 1 John 3:16-24). Paul teaches us that we fulfill God’s law as we walk in the Spirit, the Spirit of Jesus himself sent to guide us (Romans 8:4). He even says that “our righteousness lasts forever” as we extend ourselves to those in need (Psalm 112:9, 2 Corinthians 8:9).

Finally, we have the promise that we who learn meekness from the perfectly Meek One will inherit the earth, an inheritance Jesus himself earned (Psalm 37:11; Matthew 5:5, 11:29).

We can find Jesus all over the Psalms, because the Psalms are his prayer book that points to him. And when we find Jesus in the Psalms, we also find ourselves.