Mark 14.26 has always struck me as a bit of a funny verse. I’ve always wondered just why Mark felt it was necessary to insert this little detail into the narrative of Jesus’s last night. After they finish eating the Passover meal, where Jesus institutes the Lord’s Supper, we hear this: “And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.”
Why do we need to know that, I wondered.
As it turns out, this was part of the Passover meal as celebrated according to the Mishnah. The Hallel Psalms (Psalms 115-118) were sung at various points in the evening, especially toward the end, with the drinking of the fourth cup (there are four total). And it all wraps up around midnight.
So this detail is important for a number of reasons, not the least of which that it specifies the chronology of events as passing from evening (14.17) to midnight (here), to cock-crow (14.72), to morning (15.1), just exactly as Jesus had predicted the previous day in the Olivet Discourse (Mark 13.35). This is unfolding exactly as Jesus has predicted the ‘coming’ of the Son of Man would.
But beyond that, my (hopefully sanctified) imagination got working. The disciples got to sing a hymn with Jesus. What would that be like? How cool would it be to sing with my Lord? And then I got to thinking about what they would have actually been singing; so I went back and read those Hallel Psalms.
Psalm 118 is significant, of course, because it’s the Psalm that the people are reciting when Jesus approaches Jerusalem in Mark 11. Psalm 117 is glorious, but short, so probably not what they would have been singing (or at least not all that they would have sung). Psalm 115 would probably have been sung earlier, leading to them likely (this is definitely speculation) singing Psalm 116 as Jesus prepares to go out to Gethsemane.
Can I challenge you with something? At some point today, read Psalm 116 as Jesus would have sung it that night. Imagine what was going on in our Lord’s heart as he prepared for Gethsemane and Golgotha. Imagine how these words took on meaning like never before:
I love the Lord, because he has heard my voice and my pleas for mercy.
Because he inclined his ear to me,therefore I will call on him as long as I live.
The snares of death encompassed me; the pangs of Sheol laid hold on me; I suffered distress and anguish.
Then I called on the name of the Lord: “O Lord, I pray, deliver my soul!”
Gracious is the Lord, and righteous; our God is merciful.
The Lord preserves the simple; when I was brought low, he saved me.
Return, O my soul, to your rest; for the Lord has dealt bountifully with you.
For 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.
I believed, even when I spoke, “I am greatly afflicted”;
I said in my alarm, “All mankind are liars.”
What shall I render to the Lord for all his benefits to me?
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.
Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.
O Lord, I am your servant; I am your servant, the son of your maidservant.
You have loosed my bonds.
I will offer to you the sacrifice of thanksgiving and call on the name of the Lord.
I will pay my vows to the Lord in the presence of all his people,
in the courts of the house of the Lord, in your midst, O Jerusalem.
Praise the Lord! (Psalm 116, ESV)
And now, think about us. How amazing is it that we can sing about God hearing our pleas for mercy because Christ went to Golgotha? How precious is it that he inclines his ear to us because he did not incline his ear to his Son in Gethsemane? How wonderful that the snares of death which encompassed Christ have been defeated so that I will never feel the pangs of Sheol! I can call on the name of the Lord and ask him to deliver me, and know for certain that he will because he first delivered Jesus, the firstborn from the dead.
Now I actually can sing Psalm 116 with my Lord in an even truer sense than the disciples did on that fateful night. What they sung, unaware, I sing with retrospective faith, believing that Jesus has forever filled up the meaning of this Psalm, and will always sing it with me.