Thanksgiving for Messiah’s Humiliation & Exaltation 

a brief study of Psalm 118, adapted from PCC Prayer Meeting Exhortation on 20 Jan 2011 

Psalm 118 is the last of the Egyptian Hallels, and it is also one of the most profound. It is quoted or alluded to in the New Testament a total of 24 times! Luther apparently wrote on his study-wall, “The 118th Psalm is my Psalm, which I love. Without it, neither emperor nor king, though wise and prudent, nor saints, could have helped me.”

The Lord Jesus would, no doubt, have sang this psalm with His disciples as they kept the Passover on the night he was betrayed. I would not be surprised if this was the last Psalm that they sang, for in this psalm we have, I believe, a clear reference to the Lord suffering and his triumphs at His resurrection. We may entitle this Psalm, “Thanksgiving for Messiah’s Humiliation & Exaltation.”

You may realise that this psalm begins and ends with a call to “Give thanks unto the LORD.” So this is a thanksgiving psalm. It is a psalm of thanksgiving which our Saviour gives to the church. It is helpful as we look at this psalm, however, to see the first person singular pronouns as the words of Christ for us to sing in union with him, whereas the plural first person pronouns are the words of Christ given to us to sing to Him, to the Father and to one another.

It has a simple three-part structure. From verses 1-4, we have a Call to Thanksgiving. From verse 5-18, we have the first set of reasons for thanksgiving, namely, the Lord’s victory in His humiliation. From verse 19-29, we have the second set of reasons for thanksgiving, namely, the Lord’s triumph in His exaltation.


1. Call to Thanksgiving

1 O give thanks unto the LORD; for he is good: because his mercy endureth for ever. 2 Let Israel now say, that his mercy endureth for ever. 3 Let the house of Aaron now say, that his mercy endureth for ever. 4 Let them now that fear the LORD say, that his mercy endureth for ever.

Gratitude, especially gratitude towards God, is a very important virtue that every believer must cultivate. The Scripture therefore reminds us to give thanks to the LORD over and over again. Our text is among a multitude that we may use to encourage one another in congregational worship to give thanks with a grateful heart.

O give thanks unto the LORD; for he is good: because his mercy endureth for ever” (v. 1). Why give thanks to the LORD? Give thanks because He is good, and does good in His covenant loving-kindness towards His people down the generations. Who should give thanks? Israel, the Israel of God or the Church must give thanks (v. 2). As the Israel of God, we have enjoyed the covenant love of the LORD. If we do not give thanks, who would? If we do not give thanks, we are worst than infidel? 

But who of Israel should especially give thanks? The house of Aaron (v. 3), those whom God has called to serve him officially in the church, must especially give thanks. They are to represent the people, and they are to lead by example.

Who else must especially give thank? Those that truly fear the LORD out of love and reverence must especially give thanks.  In the church of God, there are wheat and tares, good and bad fishes, and there are those who are backsliding or hardened by the deceitfulness of sin, therefore in congregational praise, there will always be a mixture sincere and insincere voices. Therefore, such as truly fear the Lord must all the more raise their voices to praise and thank the Lord with grateful hearts that the voice of congregational worship may ascend to heaven as a sweet savour sacrifice.

What shall we say in thanksgiving? Let not just say ‘Thank you.’ Let us say: “that his mercy endureth for ever!” Let us say it over and over again as we are taught to do in these first 4 verses and in other psalms such as Psalm 136. But let us not stop there, rather, let us use the materials provided by our Lord to give substance for our thanksgiving.

Let us, as a case in point, thank the LORD for the victory of our Saviour in his humiliation, which is the first set of reasons which our Lord supplies for us to join him to thank God for.


2. Victory in Humiliation

5 I called upon the LORD in distress: the LORD answered me, and set me in a large place.  6 The LORD is on my side; I will not fear: what can man do unto me?  7 The LORD taketh my part with them that help me: therefore shall I see my desire upon them that hate me.

I believe that whoever is the writer of this psalm, he wrote it in the Spirit of Christ. He not only reflected his own experience, but the experience of the Lord Jesus in suffering on our behalf.

We can imagine our Saviour singing these words with His disciples in the night he was betrayed: “I called upon the LORD in distress: the LORD answer me… The LORD is on my side; I will not fear: what can man do unto me?

Our Lord was going to the Cross alone. His heart was filled with great distress. We get a picture of how He must have felt in the way He prayed in the garden of Gethsemane. He knew that He would be falling into the hands of man. It was a fearful thing, but He knew that with God on His side, He needed not fear. Though He would be facing God’s punishments for our sins, He need not fear, for God is holy, just and compassionate; He would not suffer the wicked to torment His son unjustly with impunity according to all their false charges.

So we are taught to sing with our Saviour:

8 It is better to trust in the LORD than to put confidence in man. 9 It is better to trust in the LORD than to put confidence in princes.

What a beautiful confession! Though we do not see God with our physical eyes, let us learn trust Him by faith rather than to be tempted to put our hope in man. Men, however powerful they may be, will disappoint, but the LORD never disappoints. He does all things well.

Our Saviour was in a dire strait. Surrounded by enemies who hated Him both of Jews and Gentiles, He would, no doubt, have felt like a king sounded by enemy troops in a time of war; or like bees swarming around Him, ready to sting. But our Saviour trusted in the Father that He would vindicate and fight for him (v. 10-12). His enemies would be destroyed for God will not be mocked.

The battle that our Lord would fight at the Cross is part of the ancient war between the Seed of the Woman and the Seed of the Serpent (Gen 3:15). The serpent would bite the heel of the Lord, but the Lord would stomp on his head to crush it. The idea behind the imagery is, no doubt, the same as what prompted our Lord’s Word in verse 13-16—

13 Thou hast thrust sore at me that I might fall: but the LORD helped me. 14 The LORD is my strength and song, and is become my salvation. 15 The voice of rejoicing and salvation is in the tabernacles of the righteous: the right hand of the LORD doeth valiantly. 16 The right hand of the LORD is exalted: the right hand of the LORD doeth valiantly.

Satan would thrust sore at Saviour in the events leading up to the Cross and at the Cross itself. But our Saviour would experience the deliverance of the Father. “14 The LORD is my strength and song, and is become my salvation.” Note that the word ‘salvation’ does not always mean “salvation from sin,” in this context it is clearly a reference to deliverance from the torment and injustice inflicted on our Saviour by the devil.

The devil and his cohorts would send our Saviour to death. And our Saviour would willingly give up the ghost. Yet He would not remain in the grave for he was perfectly righteous, and His death would more than pay for the sin of a million worlds. Therefore, he would rise again for our justification (cf. Rom 4:25). His sacrifice was sufficient. Thus our Saviour declared:

17 I shall not die, but live, and declare the works of the LORD. 18 The LORD hath chastened me sore: but he hath not given me over unto death.

As our Saviour must have used these words, so all who fear the LORD may confidently sing the same. Our Lord’s righteousness has been imputed to us. Death has lost its sting. The grave has lost its victory (1 Cor 15:55). We shall rise as our Saviour rose. We are more than conquerors through Him who loved us and died for us.

Therefore, let us also join Him to thank the Father for His…


3. Triumph in Exaltation

19 Open to me the gates of righteousness: I will go into them, and I will praise the LORD: 20 This gate of the LORD, into which the righteous shall enter. 21 I will praise thee: for thou hast heard me, and art become my salvation.

The gates of righteousness is the gates of heaven. Christ came precisely so that the gates of heaven might be open for us. When He has finally paid the wages of sin for us, our Lord rose from the dead, and as it were, brought a multitude, being His elect saints, in His train (Ps 68:18). These are imputed with His righteousness and given the privilege of sitting in heavenly places in Christ Jesus (Eph 2:6).

These would join Him to praise the LORD both in this life and for all eternity. Blessed be the LORD. And what will be our song each sabbath when we join together with our Saviour to worship the Father? Our song is beautifully summarised in verses 22-25—

22 The stone which the builders refused is become the head stone of the corner. 23 This is the LORD’s doing; it is marvellous in our eyes.  24 This is the day which the LORD hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it.

The stone which the builders refuse and was put to death is now become head stone of the corner (cf. Acts 4:11). He is risen from the dead. He is now the chief corner stone of the heavenly temple of God, of which we are lively stones.

This day of the resurrection would henceforth be a day of joy and gladness as God’s people commemorate the completion of the work of redemption. In Old Testament days, the saints kept the Sabbath on the 7th day to remember the great work of God in Creation. But there remains a sabbath rest for the people of God (Heb 4:9), by which we commemorate the redemptive rest of Christ (Heb 4:10). Thus God’s people today keep the Sabbath on the first day of the week, the day which the stone which the builders reject is made head corner stone.

How does our Saviour respond to our worship in commemoration of His death and resurrection? His response is in verse 25—

25 Save now, I beseech thee, O LORD: O LORD, I beseech thee, send now prosperity.

Having purged our sins, the Lord our Saviour, rose from the dead and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God as our intercessor (Heb 1:3). What does He pray for us? He prays for our prosperity. He prays for us for victory over sin and Satan. He prays for us that we will make good speed in our Christian race to the celestial city wherein we will enjoy everlasting rest in him.

And how shall we respond? Verse 26-27—

 26 Blessed be he that cometh in the name of the LORD: we have blessed you out of the house of the LORD. 27 God is the LORD, which hath shewed us light: bind the sacrifice with cords, even unto the horns of the altar.

Our Saviour refers to verse 26 in Luke 13:35 where tells the Jews that they would not see Him until they “shall say, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord.” (Lk 13:35)

No doubt, our Lord is referring to himself as He that cometh in the name of the Lord. The Jews who were harden in their hearts would not see Him, but such as would be given faith to be able to praise God for He who comes in the name of the LORD, will indeed see Him both with eyes of faith in their lifetime and with eyes of flesh at the resurrection (Job 19:26).

But what does verse 27 mean? What does it mean to “bind the sacrifice with cords.” Now, these words are difficult to understand for us, but it would have been no problem for the Jews for they would have understood that animal sacrifices which were being consecrated for sacrifice were, as it were, tied to the altar. So this is really a call to the church to prepare to worship the Lord.

When we sing these words in congregational worship we are calling upon one another to worship the Lord with hearts prepared and ready to offer up the calves of our lips on the basis of the death and resurrection of Christ our Saviour.

And what shall we offer but the words of our Lord which we sing in union with Him, which closes these beautiful words of affection and gratitude—

28 Thou art my God, and I will praise thee: thou art my God, I will exalt thee. 29 O give thanks unto the LORD; for he is good: for his mercy endureth for ever.


Conclusion

This, beloved brethren and children, is Psalm 118 briefly. This a very beautiful and profound psalm which I am quite sure would have move our Lord and His disciples to tears as they sang it together on the night our Lord was betrayed. But as you can see, though it anticipates the suffering and death of our Lord, it is not a funerary psalm. It is rather a psalm of victory—victor that was wrought both in the humiliation and exaltation of our Saviour.

It is a psalm that we can use in all occasions when we are anticipating great difficulties and suffering. But it is a psalm particularly for us to remember our Lord suffering and victories on our behalf. May God the Spirit stir our hearts to grateful thanksgiving when we sing this psalm together in union with our Saviour? Amen. Ω