Today we begin reading through the book of Psalms. If you’ve been attending Trinity since I was called as pastor, you know that the book of Psalms is one of the most important books in the whole Bible. When Paul wants to explain sinful human nature, he quotes the Psalms (Romans 3:11-18). When our Savior was on the cross, he was using the Psalms as he cried out to God in distress (Matthew 27:46). And, in fact, the verse from the Old Testament that New Testament writers quote most often is from the Psalms (Psalm 110:1). The Book of Psalms is an important book.
The book of Psalms also has major significance for Reformed Christianity in particular. A defining element of Reformed worship, going all the way back to the beginning, has always been the singing of Psalms. You cannot have rightly ordered worship without singing Psalms. If you don’t believe me, I submit as evidence Colossians 3:16. In this verse there is an imperative, “Let the word of Christ dwell (ἐνοικείτω) in you richly.” That imperative is then fleshed out with three present active participles. In other words, Paul is showing the Colossians how they are to accomplish what he has commanded them to do. They are to do so by “teaching (διδάσκοντες) and admonishing (νουθετοῦντες) one another in all wisdom, singing (ᾄδοντες) psalms.” Paul is clear. If we are to let the word of Christ dwell in us richly, then we must sing Psalms (and hymns and spiritual songs). This is why, off the top of my head, Reformed churches have produced the 1650 Scottish Psalter, The Psalter of 1912 (where I get many of our Psalm selections on any given Sunday), Bible Songs (a psalter put together by the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church in the mid-20th century), The Psalter Hymnal (a Dutch Reformed collection of hymns and Psalms), The Trinity Psalter (a good, inexpensive resource we used in Seminary for singing Psalms in class), The Book of Psalms for Singing, The Book of Psalms for Worship, The ARP Psalter, and The Trinity Psalter Hymnal.
Big Picture Principles
Since the book of Psalms is so important in Scripture (not to mention subsequent church history and especially the history of Reformed Christianity), I think it’s safe to say that a good understanding of the Psalms is vitally important for Christians today. God has given a great gift to his people in the Psalms, and it is therefore incumbent upon us to use that gift as we seek to follow Christ. So, as we embark on a journey through the Psalms this year, I want to set forth some general principles, “big picture” things to keep in mind as we read the Psalms. If you come to our Wednesday night prayer meeting, you’ve probably heard these before, but a good refresher never hurts.
First, let’s remember who the main “character” the “subject” of the Psalms is: Jesus Christ. Jesus said in John 5:39, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me.” He rebuked two disciples in Luke 24:25 and called them fools who were “slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken,” when they didn’t understand why he had to die on the cross. Later, in verse 26, he walked through the entire Old Testament with them and showed how everything had always been about him. The Psalms are not an exception. The Psalms are about Jesus. That’s why we can use them in Christian worship.
Second, let’s remember that the Psalms also show us how God’s people have cried out to him in times of blessing, distress, turmoil, tranquility…the Psalms show God’s people coming to him in every circumstance and finding him to be a faithful, loving, and good God. So we can go to the Psalms and find how God’s people have run to him in whatever situation we find ourselves. For example, at my ordination service, we sang Psalm 133. It’s a Psalm of Christian unity. “Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell together in unity.” David had already given us the words to use for that occasion. Are you struggling with depression? Run to Psalms 42 and 43. Are you burdened by the guilt of your sin? Run to Psalm 51. Are you finding it difficult to praise God as he deserves to be praised? Well, there’s Psalm 8, Psalms 146-150, Psalm 47…there’s lots of Psalms for that. Do you struggle with anxiety? Run to Psalm 23 or Psalm 46. There is literally a Psalm for every circumstance, every emotional state, every need that we could ever have.
At the same time, the third things to remember is that the Psalms were written in an Old Testament context, and they will make use of Old Testament verbiage. In other words, they will speak of the struggle of God’s people in very “earthy” terms. There are enemies. The enemies need to be destroyed. God needs to come destroy his people’s enemies. Often sentiments that we would understand as properly belonging to the final judgment are expressed towards people living at the same time as the Psalmist. This is because, at the time, God’s people were placed in a literal, earthly, political kingdom. They fought actual wars, with actual battles, and actual death. Christ told Pilate, though, that the reason his servants don’t physically fight is found in the fact that his kingdom is not of this world. His kingdom does not engage in battle like the kingdoms of this world because, it belongs to the age to come. One day God’s enemies will be vanquished, but that will come when Christ returns. In this age we live by the words of Christ, “Love your enemies and do good [even] to those who persecute you.”
So those are the “big picture principles.” With those in mind, read through Psalms 1-2. See if you can find Christ in those Psalms. See if you can see how the blessed hope of his return is held out to you. See if you aren’t, perhaps, driven to prayer that you would be like that blessed man of Psalm 1, or that the Royal Son of Psalm 2 would be known by you as the sovereign Lord of all. Above all, read the Psalms. They are God’s gift to you.
 You may also consult Ephesians 5:18-21
 “…and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.”