We’re told the Lord sang just before Gethsemane and Golgotha. Imagine what it was like.
I cannot imagine a long-haired Jesus strumming a guitar and belting out a ballad. I can’t visualize Him clapping and toe-tapping to praise choruses. Can you see Him singing at a Bill Gaither “Homecoming” event?
Images of Jesus Christ singing may seem strange since the Bible never pictures Jesus singing as he worked in the carpenter shop, let alone to an audience. Did His mother Mary ever make the boy Jesus take piano lessons? Did he “ompah” on a tuba in the synagogue school marching band? Ever solo the Sabbath anthem in a choir robe?
One might think that music had no significant place in Jesus’ life, but how could this be? Jesus was fully human, theologians say. How can you be human and not sing tunes of love and lament, joy and praise? You and I know how many times songs have lifted us when nothing else could—songs like “Amazing Grace,” “There Is A Fountain,” Awesome God,” and “God Will Take Care of You.”
Jesus grieved, prayed, hungered, fasted, taught, preached, and told stories. But what did Jesus sing? Wouldn’t you like to know what Jesus sang just before offering Himself as your Savior?
The only time we are told that Jesus sang was just before Gethsemane and Golgotha. Two of the gospels mention that Jesus did sing a hymn. On the first Maundy Thursday, after the Last Supper on the first day of Passover, Mark and Matthew wrote, “And when they had sung a hymn they went out to the Mount of Olives” (Matthew 26:30, Mark 14:26).
In The Complete Jewish Bible (CJB, Jewish New Testament Publications) Matthew 26:30 reads, “After singing the Hallel” For centuries before that first Maundy Thursday, the Jewish people always sang the Hallel at the meal at the end of the first day of Passover. Observant Jews still do.
Unless Jesus and His eleven Jewish disciples ignored the tradition of centuries, they sang Psalms 113-118 (or selected stanzas from them) that night. They probably sang one part before the meal and another part after the meal. Almost certainly, the one song we know Jesus did sing is Psalms 113-118. What do you imagine Jesus felt as He sang these words?
The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes (Psalm 118: 22-23). With the tortuous crucifixion just hours ahead, what did Jesus think as the 12-voice ensemble sang these lines?
Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his faithful servants (Psalm 116:15). With Judas gone out into the night, and with the meal ended, and the eleven standing around the empty platter, Jesus sang, With the Lord on my side I do not fear. What can mortals do to me? The Lord is on my side to help me (Psalm 118:6-7).
I have to think that Easter was brimming in our Lord’s heart as He sang, I will not die but live, and will proclaim what the Lord has done (Psalm 118:17 KJV). Take time to read Psalms 113-118 at least twice. Then, in your daily quiet time, hum, chant, or sing some selected lines from Jesus’ last song.
You will find yourself on holy ground—and that’s a good place to find yourself.
Wesley D. Tracy taught Christian preaching and adult education at Nazarene Theological Seminary. He also served as editor of the Herald of Holiness (precursor to Holiness Today) and the Preacher’s Magazine. Holiness Today March/April 2016