A while back, a friend of mine came up with a pithy tweet. “You’re so vain, you probably think this Psalm is about you.” The character limit didn’t permit an explanation but I am pretty confident that this was an argument that the Psalms, like the rest of Scripture, are first and foremost about Christ not us. The Psalms of David are not to be read initially as reflective of any human experience but as a foreshadowing of the story of Jesus.
I wonder how you respond to that. My suspicion is there is a degree of tension in your mind. We know that after his resurrection Jesus taught his disciples about how the Psalms were fulfilled in Him (Luke 24:44). And yet we sort of feel robbed. Perhaps the experience of the Psalmist had spoken strongly to our hearts in times past and now we query whether that was legitimate if the Psalm really isn’t about me.
We have recently been looking at several of the lament Psalms in our Behind the Mask sermon series. That has forced me to ponder this question- who are the Psalms really about?
One of the phrases I have used lots is this- “David’s story is Jesus’ story.” It is abundantly clear that certain Psalms can only describe Jesus- Psalm 110 is perhaps the most obvious example. But the whole pattern of most of the Psalms is deeply reflective of Jesus. Psalm 55 is typical- the King who is betrayed by a close companion, faces violence in the city and yet is confident that He will emerge triumphant over His enemies. This is the story of Jesus- the suffering yet victorious King. In passing, we might reflect that it is moving to consider the young Jesus studying the Psalms and the Spirit opening His heart to realise that this would indeed be His story.
There are depths to this, though, beyond a simple assertion that the Psalm is about Jesus. One of my new reflections from this series has been seeing the Garden of Gethsemane as a place of fulfilment. A repeated theme in the Psalms is of David crying out and the Lord hearing him. Is not Jesus’ prayer in the Garden an echo of that as He prayed that the Father’s will would be done? “During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered prayers and petitions with fervent cries to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission.” (Hebrews 5:7). You might ask the question- in what way did the Father save Jesus from death? To which the answer must be the resurrection. One of the reasons Jesus was raised from the dead was because the Father heard the cry of the suffering King.
David’s story is Jesus’ story. And yet there is another step that we must take. I was first put on to this a few years back when I was preaching Psalm 35. At one level this is a description of God’s King being opposed by His enemies. Shortly before His death Jesus applies it to Himself- “They hated me without cause.” (John 15:25). But the context in John 15 is Jesus teaching His disciples that they will face similar opposition to Him for a servant is not greater than his master. In other words Jesus was teaching his disciples that his story would, in some sense, be their story.
Of course, that is not an isolated piece of teaching. The path for the believer is to take up the cross and so find life. It is why the apostle Paul will talk about sharing in the sufferings of Christ. The Christian’s future is to reign with Christ. We are those who are in Christ- united with Him. Of course, there are aspects of Jesus’ identity and work that are unique- Psalm 110 is never going to be about us (in the same way that Psalm 51 is never going to be the experience of Jesus.). But there is a strong theme of continuity in the New Testament- Jesus’ story will be, at one level, our story.
That has effectively been my strapline for the series- David’s story is Jesus’ story is our story. Truth be told, David is not the only character in the Old Testament for whom that is the case. Teaching the end of Genesis reminded me that Joseph’s story (of unjust suffering that God intended for good) is Jesus’ story and, often, our story. That seems to me to be the way to respect Christ’s teaching that the Scriptures point to Him as well as the New Testament’s insistence on the continuity of Jesus’ experience into our lives.
This should be hugely encouraging. Can I read the Psalms as a window into my experience? Yes- that is entirely legitimate. And yet, even as I do that, I ponder the fact that this was Jesus’ story before mine. He has gone this path before me. I have a companion in suffering and- praise God- His triumph will become mine. And so I sing this song:
Crown Him the Son of God, before the worlds began,
And ye who tread where He hath trod, crown Him the Son of Man;
Who every grief hath known that wrings the human breast,
And takes and bears them for His own, that all in Him may rest.
For David’s story is Jesus’ story is our story.