I remember the first Bible the church gave me. At the start of each school year, the 1st-graders would be called up on stage and given a Bible to celebrate going to ‘big church.’ It was a blue KJV Bible that had silver-glossed pages and red letters for the words of Jesus. I don’t remember how often I read that Bible, but I do remember thinking the words in red were very important!
As I’ve grown older, I’ve become less enamored by red-letter Bibles. To me, they can give off the impression that some words of the Bible are really Jesus’ words, while the rest aren’t as important. The red letters, those are the real words of Jesus!
I don’t want to be too harsh to them. The men and women who made red-letter Bibles had a worthy goal, to highlight the actual speech of Jesus, the very words he spoke while on earth. It was an important aim, but the apostles and the early church would argue there is a big part of the Bible they missed! A whole book needs to be red-lettered that isn’t: the Psalms. The apostles and the early church went to the Psalms to hear the voice of Christ.
Listen to the words of Hebrews 10:5-7: “Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said, “Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body have you prepared for me; in burnt offerings and sin offerings you have taken no pleasure. Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come to do your will, O God, as it is written of me in the scroll of the book.’”
The author of Hebrews is quoting from Psalm 40. Notice Hebrews doesn’t say merely that Jesus fulfilled the words of Psalm 40 (though he did), but that he spoke the words of Psalm 40. The author of Hebrews understands Jesus to be the speaker of the Psalm, not David. Hebrews is arguing that Jesus is speaking in Psalm 40 before his incarnation about how God the Father has prepared a body for him in the incarnation and how he has come to do God’s will in that body during the incarnation.
Hebrews isn’t the only place in the New Testament that says this. Both Peter and Paul, in Acts 2 and 13, quote from Psalm 16 in their sermons, where David says that God “will not abandon my soul to Hades, or let your Holy One see corruption” (Psalm 16:10; Acts 2:27). They both say that David could not have been talking about himself, because he did die, and his flesh did see corruption. Peter tells his audience they can go look at his tomb for proof!
So if David wasn’t talking about himself, who was he talking about? Peter says David was a prophet who foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of Jesus. God did not abandon Jesus’ soul to the grave, or let his flesh see corruption, because he raised him from the dead. And notice the personal pronoun in the Psalm that Peter quotes. The Psalmist says, “you will not abandon my soul.” It’s as if Jesus himself was speaking through David, giving us a prophecy about how God would raise him from the dead.
When you begin looking for this, you’ll find it everywhere in the New Testament. Because of how often the apostles put the words of the Psalms on Jesus’ lips in the New Testament, the early church began to read the Psalms as the voice of Christ, prophecies given by Jesus himself to tell us about what he will do to save us. Following the apostles, they believed that God tells us the entire gospel story in the Psalms, from Jesus pre-existing with the Father and the Holy Spirit, to his becoming a man, his saving death, his resurrection, his ascension to God’s right hand, his pouring out of the Spirit, the mission of his church, and his return to judge the living and the dead. Because they saw this modeled in the New Testament, they went back to the Psalms with fresh eyes to learn more about the person and work of Jesus.
Listen to Augustine, preaching on Psalm 31 and talking about verse 5. He says:
Let us listen now to something our Lord said on the cross: Into your hands I commit my spirit (Lk 23:46). When we hear those words of his in the gospel, and recognize them as part of this psalm, we should not doubt that here in this psalm it is Christ himself who is speaking. The gospel makes it clear. He said, Into your hands I commit my spirit; and bowing his head he breathed forth his spirit (Lk 23:46; Jn 19:30). He had good reason for making the words of the psalm his own, for he wanted to teach you that in the psalm he is speaking. Look for him in it.
Because Christ is the head of the church–his body (1 Cor 12)–Jesus can speak in our voice in the Psalms as well. If the Psalmist confesses sin, Jesus is speaking of bearing our sin on the cross to do away with it, because what happens to the head happens to the body. If the Psalmist speaks of his own weakness, Jesus is speaking of the weakness he took on in the incarnation, so that we through his poverty might become rich (2 Cor 8:9). Both give an opportunity to be refreshed by the news of the great exchange, Jesus taking our sin so that we can be given his righteousness.
The Psalms are a book spoken by Jesus, about Jesus. We should read the Psalms to press more deeply into the gospel, the good news about Jesus. The more we do, the more we will say with Augustine:
Christ meets and refreshes me everywhere in those books, everywhere in those scriptures, whether openly or in a hidden manner. He sets afire for me the desire to find him as a result of some difficulty in discovering him, so that I may eagerly absorb what I find and hold it for my salvation, hidden within the marrow of my bones.
Psalms are prophecies of Jesus, allowing you to press deeper into the gospel. Jesus is speaking to you in the Psalms. Look for him in them.