I have a question for you today at the Forge. It’s kind of macabre but just bear with me for a few minutes. I think you’ll like where it ends up. Here’s the question:
What would I sing if I knew I was going to die tomorrow?
I know, it’s a tough one. Why don’t we let it sit on the back burner for a while and I promise we’ll come back to it in a bit.
Mark 14:26 says,
“And when they had sung an hymn they went out into the mount of Olives.”
I came across this little verse in the gospel of Mark. Not sure how many times I’ve passed over it before and missed that little word “hymn.” A buddy of mine recently bought me a Rose Book. You know, the ones with the detailed maps, genealogies, timelines and other historical stuff? I love theology nerd stuff. Well, this passage was in my new Rose Book and I discovered something about this little-known verse that frankly rocked my world. Part of me can’t believe I didn’t know this already, but in my defense, there is a lot going on in this chapter. This is where the disciples have dinner together and Jesus says, “One of the twelve will betray me.” This is where Peter says, “Though they all betray you, I won’t.” I can’t help but get tickled and feel sorry for Peter at the same time. Ugh, talk about humble pie. This is also Passover week, where Jesus gives us the sacrament of remembering his body and blood through communion. I could go on, but I think you get the point and I think this gives us a little insight into why verse 26 goes relatively unnoticed. Who wants to think about a random hymn being sung when the Son of God is about to be betrayed? Our predictable fallen hearts want to hear the controversy first. Let’s put that aside for a minute and take a good look at verse 26.
It says that Jesus sang a hymn with his disciples. So, here’s the thing; scholars believe they know what this hymn was. Crazy, right? I was skeptical at first, too. Then I learned about something called the Talmud. I won’t get into all the specifics, but basically, the Talmud is the oral traditions of the Jews passed down through their generations. If you study at all about Jewish history, you’ll quickly come to recognize that they are extremely careful in their preservation of scripture and their heritage—some ancient factions even went to the trouble of counting every single letter on their scrolls to be absolutely sure of its accuracy. What happened is this oral tradition eventually became written tradition on scrolls. One is called the Mishnah, the other is the Gemara. Why is this so important? Because this is Passover week! Remember, Jesus has just taken communion with His disciples and now they are singing a hymn as they get ready to go to the mount of Olives. I know this is a bit of an information dump, but I promise it’s going to pay off. The reason that scholars are so certain that they know the song that Jesus and His disciples were singing is because, for centuries, Jews had been singing it at every Passover long before Jesus set foot on earth. What’s really wild is that you already have possession of this song. If you own a Bible, you have the song! It is a set of Psalms (chapters 113-118) called the Hallel. That is what they are singing! Of course, many of the Psalms were written in David’s time which was around 1,000 years before Jesus was even born. So, the Jews (observing the Talmud) have been singing this song for more than 10 centuries all the way up to this very moment in Jesus’s life! And make no mistake, the context of this moment is what broke me. When I found out that the mystery hymn of Mark 14, called the Hallel, was a set of Psalms and that scholars believed it to be, specifically, Psalm 118, I couldn’t believe it! As you can imagine, me- being a worship Pastor/music guy, I made a B-line for Psalm 118. I won’t post the whole Psalm/song for sake of space. I’ll let you enjoy that in your own time between you and God. Don’t miss it!
If you haven’t pieced the context of this together yet with my original question, then let me spill the beans for you. This song is happening mere hours before Jesus’s betrayal, and here, scripture gives us a few heart-pounding stanzas of what a Savior sings before He dies.
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.
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?
Now read verse 24 which might be the most impactful verse for me of the entire song:
24 This is the day which the Lord hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it.
I’m not sure where you are right now, and I never really know how something that God allows me to write will settle on someone else, but I’ll tell you what this did for me. It utterly took away my excuses. It crushed my Americanized, complaining heart to dust.
You see, there’s something I can’t get over. God the Father, scripted out within the measureless expanse of eternity a 24-hour space specifically made for this time, for this day. In other words, God the Father hand-crafted a day for His own Son to die. As if grace couldn’t get any sweeter toward us, Jesus begins to sing a song about it, mere hours before it happens. What a thought… nobody knew what was about to (really) happen but the two of them, God and His Son. To the disciples, this was just another Passover week. To us, this is an often-overlooked verse, passed right by for the hoopla of the betrayal. Most, including myself for a long time, didn’t notice that a man about to die was singing. But I guarantee you this- the Father didn’t miss it! He was listening! And now, I’m listening too! The whole thing strains all that I thought I ever understood about joy through the refrain of this ancient hymn. On this day, of all days, how is it possible for Jesus to sing…
“This is the day which the Lord hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it.”
Remember our question? What would I sing if I knew I was going to die?
In all fairness, I don’t think a person can know what they’d do until they face death for themselves. Unlike His Son, God, in His mercy, has shielded us from facing that future knowledge. But I’ll tell you what I am facing, though. I’m facing the choice to choose joy or not. And if you’re reading this journal, then at this very moment, we’re both facing a hand-crafted “today.” I don’t know about you, but I desperately want my song to be like His song. I don’t want it to be like an overlooked hymn anymore. I want to say, today is the day that the Lord hath made! We will rejoice and be glad in it!