One of the more popular of the newer “praise songs” is based on Psalm 118: 24“This is the day that the Lord hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it.” Unfortunately, I think that by taking it out of its context like this most people misunderstand the real meaning of the verse. Most people take it to mean to rejoice in each day we are given because our very lives, our very days, are given to us by the Lord. While this is a true sentiment, it is not what the Holy Spirit meant when he inspired the psalmist to write that.
One of the essential rules for interpreting any scripture is to take it in its context. While this applies to the historical context as well, it especially pertains to the surrounding text. To learn what the verse itself means, then, we must look at the verses around it.
Open to me the gates of righteousness: I will go into them, and I will praise the Lord: This gate of the Lord, into which the righteous shall enter. I will praise thee: for thou hast heard me, and art become my salvation. The stone which the builders refused is become the head stone of the corner. This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvellous in our eyes. This is the day which the Lord hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it. Save now, I beseech thee, O Lord: O Lord, I beseech thee, send now prosperity. Blessed be he that cometh in the name of the Lord: we have blessed you out of the house of the Lord. (Ps 118:19-26)
This psalm is a prayer for deliverance. This section is about deliverance from unrighteousness. It appears several times in the New Testament writings. What those writers have to say about this passage must be taken into account as well, if we want to understand even the one verse of the psalm.
The last part of the passage quoted above may be familiar because of its use on an occasion six months away from when it was normally heard. (See “A Celebration Out of Time” in Minutes With Messiah, October, 2000.) “Hosanna [Save now, I beseech thee] to the son of David. Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord.” (Matt 21:9) This was the cry of the people as Jesus entered Jerusalem, a week before his crucifixion. This use of the “Great Hosanna” was not accidental. Matthew is showing us that this psalm was associated with the coming of the Messiah.
The verses immediately before the verse in question are also associated with Messiah. Speaking of Jesus, Peter wrote (1 Pet 2:7) “Unto them which are disobedient, the stone which the builders disallowed, the same is made head of the corner.” Jesus applied the verse to himself (Mk 12:10; Lk 20:17; Matt 21:42). “The stone which the builders rejected, the same is become the head of the corner: this is the Lord's doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes?”
If the verses immediately before and after “this is the day” were applied directly to Jesus as the Messiah, then surely this verse has the same application. The day in question is not each “today” of our lives, but a much longer day. This is a day that does not last twenty-four hours, but rather has lasted for over two thousand years. This is the day of Messiah, the Messianic Age.
The psalmist was asking for deliverance, from his enemies and from unrighteousness. He looked to a day when his salvation would come. We are in that day. We have salvation made readily available to us, through the sacrifice of the Son of God. This day of salvation is the day which the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad we live in the age of Messiah.