Word of Christ

Adapted from a sermon preached in PCC Evening Service on PCC, 23 May 2004

Part 1 of 2

"Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord" (Colossians 3:16).

Few of us will dispute that Christ is the key to all Scripture. Christ Himself told His disciples after He rose from the dead:

"These are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me" (Lk 24:44).

Then we are told:

He "opened… their understanding, that they might understand the Scriptures, and he said to them, Thus it is written, and thus it behoved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day" (Lk 24:45-46).

The Law, the Prophets and the Psalms. This was how the Jews divided the Hebrew Old Testament. When the Lord speaks of the Law, the Prophet and the Psalms, He is referring to the whole Old Testament. All of Scripture, including the Old Testament, points to Christ. They point particularly to His suffering, death and resurrection.

So, all the Old Testament is,—in a sense,—Christological or Messianic. But I would submit to you that the entire book of Psalms is Messianic in a special way that goes beyond all the other parts of the Old Testament. I believe that the apostle Paul is thinking about the Psalms in his reference to "the word of Christ" (Col 3:16), just as I believe that when he speaks about "psalms and hymns and spiritual songs," he is referring to the variety of Psalms found in the Psalter (see the preface to the Psalter Booklet published by PCC).

The Lord helping us, we would like to study this claim. In particular, we want to prove 5 propositions.

First, we must show that there are some Psalms that are clearly Messianic beyond all other parts of the Old Testament.

Secondly, we must show that there are Psalms which do not appear to be Messianic but is taken to be so in the New Testament. If we can show this, we will understand why most of the early church Fathers sought to interpret every Psalm evangelically or Messianically.

Thirdly, we must show that there are Psalms, which were clearly written upon particular occasions in David’s life, which are also clearly Messianic. If we can show this, then we will understand that interpreting the Psalms Messianically does not violate the rules of historical-grammatical hermeneutics.

Fourthly, we must show that the so-called imprecatory Psalms are also Messianic. If we can show this, then we would remove the first major objection to seeing that every verse and passage in the Psalms can be interpreted with a reference to Christ.

Fifthly, we must show that even penitential Psalms can be interpreted Messianically. If we can show this, then we would have removed the second major objection to seeing that every verse and passage in the Psalms can be interpreted with a reference to Christ.

1. There Are Psalms That Are Clearly Messianic

Consider the 2nd Psalm. This is a very familiar Psalm, but it is also a difficult Psalm for many. Most scholars believe that this Psalm was written on the occasion of David’s coronation in Jerusalem around 1040 BC.

When we read this Psalm many questions cross our minds. For example, we ask: Who is this ‘anointed’ in verse 2? Who is this ‘king’ that is referred to in verse 6? Who is the ‘me’ in verse 7 who says "the LORD hath said unto me, Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee"? Who is this ‘thou’ in verse 9, who "shalt break them with a rod of iron" and "dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel"? Who is ‘Son’ in verse 12, whom the kings should kiss "lest he be angry, and [they] perish from the way, when his wrath is kindled but a little"?

Liberal and unbeliever scholars will say: Surely the answer is David.

But the Christian, filled with the Spirit, knows otherwise. Why? Because of the illumination of the Spirit and because the New Testament, which is inspired by the Holy Spirit quotes this Psalm in reference to Christ!

For example, in Acts 4:25-26, we have a record of the early believers praying. What is unique about this prayer is that they were using the words of the first two verses of Psalm 2 to refer to the exaltation of Christ and the opposition that was raised against His gospel.

Then in Acts 13, we have a sermon of the apostle Paul, which was recorded under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. In verse 33, he says:

"God hath fulfilled the same unto us their children, in that he hath raised up Jesus again; as it is also written in the second Psalm, Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee" (Acts 13:33).

Paul was quoting from Psalm 2:7. This same verse is quoted again in Hebrews 1:5 and again in Hebrews 5:5 as referring to Christ, the only begotten Son of God.

I believe it is not difficult for us to see that Psalm 2 is entirely about Christ.

When we realize this is the case, then we see that there is something extremely unique about this Psalm compared to all other parts of the Old Testament.

In no other books of the Old Testament, with the exception of the Song of Solomon, do we find the explicit words of Christ as in verse 7:—"the LORD hath said unto me, Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee."

And in no other books of the Old Testament, do we find a record of words spoken directly to Christ as in verse 9: "Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron; thou shalt dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel."

The 2nd Psalm is therefore Messianic in a way that surpasses most of the other portions of the Old Testament. But the question we must ask is: To what extent is the book of Psalms Messianic? Some scholars say that there are only 13 Messianic Psalms.

But is that correct? What about the ‘my’ and ‘I’ of say, Psalm 3 and Psalm 4? Do they refer to Christ too? Do we have any basis to believe that they may also be interpreted as referring to Christ?

I believe we have a basis. Indeed, I believe that every Psalm is Christological or Messianic. One of the major reasons I believe this is right is that…

2. There Are Psalms That Are Messianic But Not Obviously So.

Psalm 2 is obviously Messianic. Its content leads us to think that it is about Christ and the New Testament confirms that it is about Christ.

But what about Psalm 8? When we read Psalm 8, it appears to us to be setting forth the pre-eminence of man compared to the rest of creation. Verse 4-5 reads:

"4 What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him? 5 For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honour" (Ps 8:4-5).

But what does the inspired New Testament teach us? Look at Hebrew 2:6-9—

"6 But one in a certain place testified, saying, ‘What is man, that thou art mindful of him? or the son of man, that thou visitest him? 7 Thou madest him a little lower than the angels; thou crownedst him with glory and honour, and didst set him over the works of thy hands: 8 Thou hast put all things in subjection under his feet.’ [quoting Psalm 8:4-5]. For in that he put all in subjection under him, he left nothing that is not put under him. But now we see not yet all things put under him [i.e. under man]. 9 But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour; that He by the grace of God should taste death for every man" (Heb 2:5-9).

What is the apostle saying? He is saying, is he not, that Psalm 8 is not really about the pre-eminence of man? It is rather about Jesus Christ. Christ was made a little lower than the angels in that He took on human flesh to suffer and die for us. But now He is crowned with glory and honour.

Psalm 8 is therefore a Messianic Psalm.

Or consider Psalm 19. There is no indication from the Psalm that it has anything to do with Christ. It seems to be about the material heavens, about the cycle of the sun and the moon. Verse 4 reads:

"Their line is gone out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. In them hath he set a tabernacle for the sun" (Ps 19:4).

This seems to be speaking merely about how the glory of God is displayed to all the world through the rising and setting of the sun.

But what does the inspired commentary in the New Testament say? Turn to Romans 10:17-18—

"So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God. But I say, Have they not heard? Yes verily, their sound went into all the earth, and their words unto the ends of the world" (Rom 10:17-18).

Paul is quoting from Psalm 19:4. He has a very different idea of what the verse means, doesn’t he? He tells us that Psalm 19:4 is not just about natural revelation brought about by the glory of the Sun. It is rather about the Gospel radiating from the Sun of Righteousness.

Psalm 19 is a Messianic Psalm.

Both Psalm 8 and Psalm 19 give no hint in their content that they are Messianic. And yet the inspired New Testament teaches us that they are Messianic! Surely we must submit to the infallible interpretation of the Holy Spirit!

Where does that lead us to? Does it not lead us to think about the other Psalms? If even Psalm 8 and 19 are Messianic when there seems to be no indication that they are so, then what about Psalms 3, 4 or 5 which can easily be interpreted in the context of the Lord’s suffering? Does this not lead us to conclude that there is a great possibility that all the Psalms are Messianic?

Indeed, does it not lead us to wonder if the apostles, in fact, presuppose the Messianic character of the entire book of Psalms? There is no indication that they pick and choose verses that are clearly Messianic to support their doctrine. It appears rather that they understood that the Psalms,—as the Jews in the days of the Lord did,— were all Messianic.

Does this not explain why apostle Paul exhorts us:

"Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord" (Col 3:16)

There were no human inspired hymns and songs in the days of the apostle Paul. Paul was, no doubt, referring to the Psalms. The Greek words for ‘psalms’, ‘hymns’ and ‘songs’ were all used in the Greek translation of the Psalms to refer to the Psalms.

The apostle Paul would have us memorise the Psalms that we may admonish one another with them. But notice how he speaks of the Psalms as being the word of Christ. "Let the word of Christ dwell in your richly in all wisdom" says the apostle.

It is no wonder that the Early Church Fathers, almost unanimously spoke of the Psalms as entirely Messianic. We know for example, that Chrysostom, Tertullian, Jerome, Ambrose, Augustine, Hilary, all interpreted the Psalms Messianically. Dr A. Cleveland Coxe expresses their attitude towards the Psalms very well in his preface to Augustine’s Exposition on the Book of Psalms (Nicene & Post Nicene Fathers, vol. 8):

To the primitive believers came the Psalter, like an aftermath, wet with the dews of a new birth as from the womb of the morning. The Spirit had descended upon it anew, as showers upon the mown grass; and it had sprung up afresh, sweeter than before, for the pasture of flocks. The Church received it as full of Christ, as the inheritance of a nobler and truer Israel, for which His coming had illuminated it with a genuine interpretation, painting even its darker and clouded surfaces with the bow of promise, now made the symbol of an everlasting covenant and of all promises fulfilled in Him. Hence the local and temporary meanings of the Psalms were regarded as insignificant.

But history is not normative; therefore let us continue our inquiry by asking: What about the Psalms that were clearly written upon some specific occasions in the life of David? Surely these Psalms cannot be Messianic? But no, for we see that…

3. There Are Historical Psalms
which are Messianic

Consider Psalm 18. The Preface of Psalm 18 tells us that it is:

"A Psalm of David, the servant of the LORD, who spake unto the LORD the words of this song in the day that the LORD delivered him from the hand of all his enemies, and from the hand of Saul."

But we know from the New Testament that this Psalm is clearly Messianic. Look at Romans 15:8-9—

"8 Now I say that Jesus Christ was a minister of the circumcision for the truth of God, to confirm the promises made unto the fathers: 9 And that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy [i.e. in Jesus Christ]; as it is written, For this cause I will confess to thee among the Gentiles, and sing unto thy name" (Rom 15:8-9).

Now if you do a careful study of this verse, you will realize that the apostle is in fact quoting Psalm 18:49. Psalm 18 in other words is not just about David’s deliverance from Saul, but the greater David’s deliverance from death. He died for our sin. He rose again for our justification that He might call a people unto Himself; that He might confess the greatness and mercy of His Father amongst the Gentiles.

Psalm 18 has a clear historical occasion, but it is also Christological.

Likewise there is Psalm 41. This Psalm was clearly written by David upon the occasion of his betrayal by his beloved son Absalom and his trusted counsellor Ahithophel. Verse 9 reads—

"Yea, mine own familiar friend, in whom I trusted, which did eat of my bread, hath lifted up his heel against me" (Ps 41:9).

How does the New Testament refer to this Psalm? Consider the words of the Lord Himself in John 13:18—

"I speak not of you all: I know whom I have chosen: but that the scripture may be fulfilled, He that eateth bread with me hath lifted up his heel against me" (John 13:18)

Notice how the Lord speaks of Psalm 41 as referring to His own persecution and how Psalm 41:9 is to be fulfilled in His own betrayal by Judas Iscariot?

Clearly then, Psalm 41 is also Christological, though it has a clear historical occasion.

Both Psalms 18 and 41 have clear historical backgrounds, but they are Messianic.

What does this lead us to think? Does it not lead us to conclude that the Lord of Providence, so directs the life of David so that his experience foreshadowed the experience of Christ; and his feelings expressed in the Psalms reflects the feelings of Christ in His humiliation and exaltation?

It cannot be otherwise. It cannot be that Christ and the Holy Spirit picked out a few verses out of context to refer to Himself. And it is unreasonable to think that in a single Psalm the first person pronouns sometimes can refer to Christ and sometimes cannot. Is it not much safer to conclude that really, all the first person pronouns can be applied to Christ?

But what about words of imprecation and words of penitence? Surely, they cannot be Messianic. I believe they can, for in the first place,…

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