He Spent His Last Night Singing

The Melody of Maundy Thursday

The Lord is on my side; I will not fear.
     What can man do to me?
(Psalm 118:6)

Songs prepared him to die.

On Thursday, the night before Jesus was crucified, he ate a holy meal and sang a holy song with his friends. It was “the first day of Unleavened Bread, when they sacrificed the Passover lamb” (Mark 14:12). So Jesus and his disciples did what they always did on Passover Eve: they ate roasted lamb, bitter herbs, and unleavened bread; they drank wine; they prayed and sang according to the Jewish tradition. But Jesus wasn’t going through the motions on this Thursday night; he was finishing his mission, preparing the last Lamb for slaughter.

Jesus and his disciples sang a hymn before leaving the upper room for the Mount of Olives (Matthew 26:30; Mark 14:26). The chosen hymn for this holy moment was likely one of the “Hallel Psalms” (Psalm 113–118), which the Jews customarily sang to conclude the Passover celebration. They likely sang in two parts: the leader (Jesus) recited the lines, and his followers responded with the refrain, “Praise the Lord” (“Hallelujah”).

Lyrics Prepared Him to Die

Several days before, Jesus cited the last Hallel Psalm to make the point of his parable crystal clear: “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes” (Mark 12:10–11; Psalm 118:22–23). He had set his face like flint for Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets. He had warned his followers that he would be rejected by the religious leaders, then killed (Mark 8:31). He predicted that one of the trusted twelve would betray him, then he roused his drowsy friends and readied to receive Judas’s kiss (Mark 14:18, 42).

The Psalms served as the script of this holy story, and Jesus knew his part: he was David’s Son and David’s Lord, the chosen Cornerstone of the Lord’s true temple (Psalm 110:1; 118:22). The Psalms also were the soundtrack for Jesus’s soul as he prepared for desertion, denial, denigration, and death. Here are four melody lines from the music of Maundy Thursday.

Jesus Blessed the Lord

Blessed be the name of the Lord
from this time forth and forevermore!
(Psalm 113:2)

But we will bless the Lord
from this time forth and forevermore.
Praise the Lord!
(Psalm 115:18).

Jesus did not offer fair-weather praise. He continued to bless his Father as he readied for rejection. Praise prepared him for Judas’s betrayal, for Peter’s denial, for the witnesses’ lies, for the mob’s mocking. Praise prepared him to enter the darkness and bear the cross alone.

The Son sang what was true, right, and good even though falsehood, injustice, and evil seemed to have the upper hand. The Psalms of Praise anchored Jesus’s soul and propelled him forward to finish his mission.

Jesus Looked Forward to Life After Death

You have delivered my soul from death,
my eyes from tears,
my feet from stumbling;
I will walk before the Lord
in the land of the living.
(Psalm 116:8–9)

Precious in the sight of the Lord
is the death of his saints.
(Psalm 116:15)

The Psalms reminded Jesus not only that his righteous death was precious to his Father, but also that death would not have the last word. While the psalmist expected deliverance from death’s doorsteps, Jesus knew that he must experience death’s very depths to defeat it forever.

Death could not hold the Author of life (Acts 3:15). He would take up his cross on Friday confident that he would walk out of the tomb on Sunday. God did not preserve the Son from death, but through death into the land of the living.

Jesus Lifted His Cup

I will lift up the cup of salvation
and call on the name of the Lord,
I will pay my vows to the Lord
in the presence of all his people.
(Psalm 116:13–14).

On Thursday evening, Jesus took a cup, gave thanks, and invited his disciples to partake of the wine representing his blood. Then, in Gethsemane, Jesus pleaded with his Father to remove this cup — the cup of God’s wrath (Isaiah 51:17; Psalm 75:8) — yet he submitted to God’s will.

Jesus’s cup held a strange brew: wrath and redemption, forsakenness and forgiveness, bitterness and blessing. The obedient Son kept his vows and willingly drank the cup the Father gave him. He laid down his life to lift up “the cup of salvation” for us.

Jesus Embraced God’s Help and Expected Ultimate Triumph

The Lord is on my side; I will not fear.
What can man do to me?
The Lord is on my side as my helper;
I shall look in triumph on those who hate me.
(Psalm 118:6–7)

The Psalms reminded Jesus that God was with him and that he need fear no man — not the powerful governor, the mocking priests, the brutal soldiers, or the gawking crowd. “What can man do to me?” They can malign and murder, but they cannot frustrate God’s plans.

Jesus did not defend himself against the lies and lashes, because he embraced his mission and awaited his vindication. He did not seek revenge but prayed for his persecutors and committed himself into his Father’s hands. While his opponents gladly tried to finish him off, Jesus fulfilled the Scriptures and declared, “It is finished” (John 19:30).

The Psalms of Praise served as the melody of Maundy Thursday. The Son blessed his Lord even in his darkest hours. He looked forward to life after death. He lifted the cup of salvation and kept his vows. He embraced God’s help and expected ultimate triumph. These scriptural songs strengthened our Savior to endure Friday’s cross and to await Sunday’s triumph.