The Prelude to Calvary

Matthew 26:30

On the holy night in the Upper Room with Jesus and His disciples, we listen to His immortal words that float as music through the night air, and finally to His moving prayer. As we put our ears and our hearts up close to the door of that room, there is one more sound that falls on our ears. Suddenly, all those in the room rise and burst into song. Matthew and Mark both record this moment for us: “When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives” (Matthew 26:30; Mark 14:26).

If only we knew the words they sang as the shadows grew heavy in the dim light of that Upper Room. Those words would be forever sacred. We would want to ponder them, meditate upon their timeless truth and make them a part of our own devotional experience. If only we knew what Jesus sang with His disciples there on that night of nights.

But we do know the very words Jesus and His disciples sang. At the Passover meal, the Hallel Psalms were sung—Psalms 113-118. They were psalms of praise that every Jewish boy had to memorize. Psalms 113 and 114 were sung near the beginning of the observance, saving Psalms 115 through 118 for a later point. At the end of the feast, the great Hallel Psalm 136 rang out from grateful hearts.

It is a salutary devotional exercise for the Christian to read these psalms and consider the words that were actually on the lips of our Lord as He prepared to go out to Calvary. Together He and the disciples stood and sang words of courage: “The Lord is with me; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?” (Ps. 118:6). “The Lord is my strength and song, and He has become my salvation”

(Ps. 118:14). In confidence they sang, “This is the day the Lord has made; we will rejoice and be glad in it” (Ps. 118:24). And in gratitude they exclaimed, “Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good! His love endures forever” (Ps. 136:1).

The music of these psalms was the prelude to Calvary. With these words of praise and confidence, Jesus went on His way to the cross. The medley of praise which the Lord with His disciples sang is one of the hidden highlights of inspiration in the Bible.

Music is to the soul as air is to the body. It was Bach who said the purpose of his music “should be none else but the glory of God,” inscribing at the top of his manuscripts Soli Deo Gloria (to God alone the glory). Our Lord knew the devotional expression of music, and for Him it was a source of strength and inspiration as He journeyed to the cross.

Henry Gariepy, Forty Days with the Savior

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