“Then they sang a hymn and went out to the Mount of Olives.”
Matthew 26:30 NLT
When it stands alone, it seems like one of those passing verses in scripture no one really pays attention to. Countless times I've read verses like these that only appear to give us limited insight into the lives of the characters, what they were doing, where they would go next. But this verse for me today struck a chord, and it's still resonating.
Jesus was eating passover with his friends - friends whom with one day Jesus said he would be drinking wine with in His Father's Kingdom. Friends that had followed him and given up everything to be with him daily. Friends he patiently loved, instructed and corrected. Friends that had heard story after story about the Kingdom of Heaven and the fate of the Son of Man. They laughed together, faced trials together, saw the power of God calm a raging sea, make the blind man see and even that woman once with the blood disease be healed by touching his robe. These friends looked on their teacher, their lord, their messiah with eyes of hope, even with all their failures and mistakes and lack of understanding.
All except one.
Jesus had just at that moment on that table foreseen His betrayal. Not only that, Jesus confirms to a seemingly dumbfounded Judas that he would betray him. They all asked, one got an answer. Jesus was knowledgeable of how it would be done, the pain it would bring to his heart. This guy followed him for a while. They were close. They were friends.
And to rub some salt on a future wound, Jesus knew they would all scatter, afraid of being caught and killed with him. He was going to leave that bountiful table of bread and food and wine with the guys he was the closest to, and would have to face seeing all of them cowardly run away. Peter, to whom God revealed Jesus as the Messiah, would pretend to not even know him.
Yet Jesus didn't worry about any of that. He knew it had to be done anyway. Because of the joy proposed to him, he would endure the cross and give his life willingly and deliberately for our sake. He would face the agony of being betrayed and abandoned and forgotten and spit on and rejected and beaten and killed. He knew that moment right there would be the very last one he could be with his friends, around a simple table, in somebody else's house. So at the realization of all of this, what does Jesus do?
He sang like there is no tomorrow. And for him tomorrow would come, but would prove to be the darkest hour.
We have so many excuses.
I don't like this song.
The praise is too contemporary.
Where are the old hymns?
I wish we had a better worship team.
I wish my church would be more modern.
Why don't they do something different?
Most of the times these are accompanied by some other daily excuses we have for not serving God with all we have, as Jesus did until the very last minute of His life.
It's not the right time.
I have so many things to do.
I'm so busy at work.
The kids are driving me crazy.
I have no time for myself anymore.
I am the way I am.
There's no changing that.
I need to focus on myself for a little while.
I have to prioritize my goals and stick to my plans.
We've all used at least one of these. And one thing I've noticed after reading this verse is that every time I opened my lips to say or thought in my heart one of these excuses not to give God my absolute best in worship, and subsequently, in life, I was simply pouring out what was in my indifferent heart. If the mouth speaks of what the heart is full of, then the heart sings of what it's full of. And if that's the case, Jesus sang the purest song of praise to the Father. He probably proclaimed His goodness, exalted His name, thanked Him for his faithfulness, embraced His justice. He delighted himself in the Lord as we should, because that's who Jesus was. That was all that could come out of Him because that was the very make-up of his heart and character. He loved God to the point of painful obedience. He lived his life knowing it wasn't his, knowing it would be offered as a sacrifice to save many from their sins and heal many from their hurts. Jesus sang. It was the last thing he did while gathered with his friends.
There is no song that pleases God more than this one. One that comes from a surrendered heart. One that says no matter what we are facing, no matter what the future brings, no matter how many things I have to suffer as a result of obedience, God is worthy to be praised. He is goodness itself. He is life. There's no limit to His love and nothing compares to the hope we have in Him. What is proposed to us is a glory far greater than we can imagine if we would just be satisfied in Him alone. If we would let him fill our hearts with his mercy, his compassion, his justice. Then we would be able to pour out our praise. Not the outward praise of a skeptic, or the indifferent praise of a soul focused on life on earth instead of the Kingdom of God, but the inward praise of a lover of God. Of a friend of God.
There is immense power in praising God with our friends. That's what a worship set should be all about. God is the reason we worship. Not the style, not the people, not the church, not even the very purpose he fills us with, or the mission to be used to save others. He is the priority. He is the focus. He is the mission. He is who we chase after. He is who we love. The rest we worry so much about is done by His Spirit once we come to terms with the fact that he simply called us to sing and pour out our lives as He did.