If Scripture didn’t say it, I wouldn’t either. But it’s true. In four places in Scripture we read that Jesus, the Son of God himself, raised his voice in worship.1
Which is immediately confusing on one level. It's not that there's anything wrong with singing, just that I imagine our Savior much better suited as the silent recipient of adoration and worship (Revelation 5:6–14). But he also sings. And the only way to understand why Jesus sings is to briefly walk through all four passages (here split into three categories).
First, Matthew 26:30 and Mark 14:26 are two parallel texts picturing Jesus “singing a song of praise.”
Both passages are brief. We read that Jesus sang a hymn with the disciples at the conclusion of the Lord’s Supper. It was just before he set out to pray on the Mount of Olives. In their fellowship, Jesus lifted up his voice and sang a hymn, a customary finale to a Passover meal together. And that’s it. The biblical writers have little more to say about it.
Very likely this song was some portion of Psalm 114–118, and very likely it was sung antiphonally, meaning Jesus led the men by singing a line, and the disciples responded by singing a “Hallelujah.” Back and forth they responsively marched through a psalm in song.2 Given the profoundly messianic lyrics, and the timing of the meal, I imagine it was a memorable evening of sober theological reflection.
But most of the details about the song and how they sung it are left unsaid.
Jesus sang. We know that much.
Second, Hebrews 2:12 pictures Jesus “singing a song of praise.”
In this next passage we find a New Testament writer quoting a line from a rich messianic psalm, Psalm 22:22. The psalm seems to be used to illustrate the solidarity of the incarnate Christ and believers.
Apparently embedded in Christ's incarnation is his commitment to participate in community worship. And if this is true, it helps to explain his commitment to local synagogues during his ministry. But this may also help explain why Jesus sings with his disciples. At the Lord’s Supper, he raised his voice in worship of his Father, and by this he actively engaged in the disciples’ humanity. He shared their life, participating in their human experience (Hebrews 2:14).
He sang to make possible his unique, substitutionary work on the cross. Christ was not ashamed to stand beside us. He was not ashamed to become our brother (Hebrews 2:11). What inconceivable mercy that he was not ashamed to suffer and die for us! His participation with humanity qualifies him to suffer as our punitive and substitutionary sacrifice (Hebrews 2:10).
Jesus, as the perfect worshipper, sang hymns to the Father. As we will see in a moment, he continues to sing hymns to the Father. But here we need to see that Jesus sang because he is our Brother.
Third, Romans 15:9 pictures Jesus singing and playing an instrument, fulfilling the role as the Church’s chief worship leader.
In this final text, the Apostle Paul also cites from the Old Testament a line from David and his psalm of thanksgiving (Psalm 18:49). But in the Old Testament language we discover a singer engaged in more than a solo. Here the singing includes an instrument, and David takes a role similar to that of a worship leader (זָמַר). Again, a corporate theme emerges here.
Of course any Jewish worship leader could lead the Jewish nation in worship. But this worship leader has set his sights on something larger, on leading worship among all the Gentile nations. This worship leader will not sing in spite of the Gentiles, but he will sing among the Gentiles.
Paul is speaking about Christ by his reference to Psalm 18:49. The resurrected Christ is a victor and has taken his place as a global worship leader. “According to Paul’s citation, the risen Messiah confesses and praises the divine name among the Gentiles, bringing them salvation,” writes Mark Seifrid, a Bible scholar. “Behind and before the single mouth by which believing Jews and Gentiles glorify God (Romans 15:6) is the mouth of the Messiah, who makes known the name of God to them (Romans 15:9).”3
So Christ fulfills a two-directional ministry as our mediator:
- Jesus mediates our relationship with God (God-to-man).
- Jesus mediates all our worship of God (man-to-God).
This twofold mediating work of Christ is inseparable.
God is worshipped around the globe as a result of the all-sufficient work of the resurrected Christ. In this way, Jesus is the Perfect Worshipper of his Father. And from heaven he fulfills the role of Chief Worship Leader of the global church.
Behind the corporate worship in our local church, and behind the global worship of the nations, is our mediator, our Brother, the Perfect Worshipper, and our perfect Worship Leader. We are united to Christ, and in him all our worship is brought together into one global choir to the praise of the Father.4
Jesus still sings.
Can you hear him?
1 For the technical exegesis behind this conclusion, see Vern Sheridan Poythress, “Ezra 3, Union With Christ, And Exclusive Psalmody,” Westminster Theological Journal, 37/1 (Fall 1974), 73–94.
2 D. A. Carson, “Matthew,” The Expositor's Bible Commentary (Zondervan, 1984), 8:539.
3 In G. K. Beale and D. A. Carson, Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament (Baker Academic, 2007), 689.
4 The concluding summary paragraphs are largely developed from the writings of John Calvin, Edmond Clowney, and from Reggie Kidd’s book, With One Voice: Discovering Christ’s Song in Our Worship (Baker, 2005).
Other posts from Tony Reinke —
- Christian Hedonism in 155 Words
- Parenting as Storytelling
- Why We Read the Bible
- Top 12 Books of 2012
- The Power of ‘Les Miserables’
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