KLMX

December 2010/2013

Christmas Hymns

Joy To the World

Hark the Herald Angels Sing

Silent Night

Good Christian Men Rejoice

Oh, Holy Night

 

I discovered something interesting the last time I was updating the website and that is, the series I did on the theology of hymns are the most popular pages on the website. That was also one of my favorite series and so, with Christmas coming up, I thought Iíd do a sequel. This time, though, Iíd like to look at hymns associated with Christmas. Weíll look at 5 popular hymns and see what kind of theology they have behind them. As always, I will ask for Godís blessing for this message and I pray that it glorifies Him thru the truth and light that is Jesus Christ. Amen.

A good hymn is a powerful thing in that it should contain some serious theology. Modern praise songs can be okay, too, but Iíve noticed that many of them are pretty vague in their wording. I figure that if the song can be applied to a boyfriend or girlfriend, or a man-made God, or to Nature, then the wording isnít strong enough. The purpose of a hymns or praise song should be to sing praises to God Almighty, the God of Abraham, Jacob, and Isaac and the father of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. I personally like to use the Psalms as an example since the Psalms themselves are mostly songs. What kind of themes do they have, what kind of language do they use, and to whom are they directed? There is a saying that "theology leads to doxology" and that saying means that a study of God Almighty automatically and necessarily leads to praise of Him. As Paul might say, this is a good and faithful saying.


Joy To The World

 

With that in mind, letís look at our first hymn- "Joy To the World". Now, I bet nearly everyone has heard this hymn and much like another well-known hymn "Amazing Grace" many of you may have reached the point where you just mouth the words w/out thinking about the lyrics. These are some good words, though, with strong Biblical background.

The first stanza is this:

Joy to the world, the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare Him room,
And Heaven and nature sing,
And Heaven and nature sing,
And Heaven, and Heaven, and nature sing.

The first thing I notice about these lyrics is that they start with "Joy", that this joy is "to the world", and itís joy because "the Lord is come". The hymn will explain why this is so in a few more stanzas, but for now, let show the Scripture behind these lyrics. Weíll go to Luke:

Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. Then the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.

(Luke 2:8-11)

 

The Biblical account of the birth of Christ has an angel proclaiming "I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people." This is pretty much exactly what our hymn says- "Joy to the world". The message being proclaimed here is not one that is limited to a set of people but is one that is applicable to all people, everywhere. Both the Biblical account and our hymn quickly disclose the reason for this joy. Luke says "for there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord." The hymn declares "The Lord is come!"

After this, our hymn says:

Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare Him room,
And Heaven and nature sing.

The Psalms are full of verses which echo this statement, but Iíll pull out just one:

Praise the LORD! Praise the LORD from the heavens; Praise Him in the heights! Praise Him, all His angels; Praise Him, all His hosts! Praise Him, sun and moon; Praise Him, all you stars of light! Praise Him, you heavens of heavens, And you waters above the heavens! Let them praise the name of the LORD, For He commanded and they were created.

(Psalms 148:1-5)

We can find this theme in Isaiah, too:

Sing, O heavens, for the LORD has done it! Shout, you lower parts of the earth; Break forth into singing, you mountains, O forest, and every tree in it! For the LORD has redeemed Jacob, And glorified Himself in Israel.

(Isaiah 44:23)

Note that by declaring "the Lord has redeemed Jacob", the Isaiah passages strongly hints at the coming of a Savior.

In order to finish this in my allotted 15 minutes, Iím going to have to skip the 2nd stanza and move ahead to the 3rd:

No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found,
Far as the curse is found,
Far as, far as, the curse is found.

Here we find the reason for this joy- "no more let sins and sorrows grow." The savior has come not only for personal salvation but to eventually remove the curse that currently exists on the world. We can find the origins of that curse back in Genesis. God placed Adam and Eve in the garden with a single simple instruction- "Donít eat from this one tree." They disobeyed and God, being a holy and just God who, by definition, cannot merely sweep disobedience under the carpet to be ignored, metes out punishment. God punished the deceiving serpent and the deceived Eve, but itís in Adamís punishment that we find this:

Then to Adam He said, "Because you have heeded the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree of which I commanded you, saying, 'You shall not eat of it': "Cursed is the ground for your sake; In toil you shall eat of it All the days of your life. Both thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you, And you shall eat the herb of the field. In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread Till you return to the ground, For out of it you were taken; For dust you are, And to dust you shall return."

(Genesis 3:17-19)

Itís very clear in this passage why the curse was delivered- "Because you have heeded the voice of your wife and have eaten from the treeÖ" The curse delivered was not only to Adam himself but also to the ground: "cursed is the ground your sake; in toil you shall eat of itÖboth thorns and thistles it shall bring forthÖin the sweat of your face you shall eat bread." And we certainly see the fruits of this curse today as any one who works the ground can attest. Ranchers and farmers battle locoweed, snakeweed, sagebrush, thistles, tumbleweeds, leafy spurge, and a million other weeds. Both battle continually against these things and toil to bring forth good plants from the ground.

The Savior, though, will eliminate the curse and the earth will eventually be restored, not just to its former state, but to a greater glory, one in which the curse has been eliminated. We can find that in:

And he showed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding from the throne of God and of the Lamb. In the middle of its street, and on either side of the river, was the tree of life, which bore twelve fruits, each tree yielding its fruit every month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. And there shall be no more curse, but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it, and His servants shall serve Him. (Revelation 22:1-3)

The removal of the curse certainly seems like reason for joy to me! If you think about these things a little bit and think about the state of the world, all the troubles and tribulations, all the weeds and thorns, all the death and suffering, and all the illnesses and disabilities, it can be a pretty gloomy place. If your faith rests in human nature to clean up these issues, wellÖ I just donít see how you can have any hope. Granted, humans might be able to suppress a few problems, but to clean them all up? Itís an immense task. But if your faith rests in the workings of God himself, and if your God is big enough- like, say, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob- then you can have a lot of hope and faith. Weíve got tough times ahead, but Christ has come, just as the Bible promised, and the Bible further promises elimination of the curse.

Christ as Lord and as King of Kings will rule righteously and His people will enjoy being under his rule. The final stanza declares:

He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders, wonders, of His love.

The first line- "He rules the world with truth and grace" is a theologically rich passage which hints at the difference between ruling by law and ruling by grace. Laws only point out transgressions, as Paul makes clear in:

Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin. (Romans 3:20)

What shall we say then? Is the law sin? Certainly not! On the contrary, I would not have known sin except through the law. For I would not have known covetousness unless the law had said, "YOU SHALL NOT COVET." (Romans 7:7)

Laws, then, do not make one righteous, but they only point out oneís unrighteousness. Christ rules in a different and better way:

For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. (John 1:17)

This is the passage referenced in our hymn. As to the next lines, we have a passage from Revelation in which John is describing the New Jerusalem and the world after the curse has been lifted:

But I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. The city had no need of the sun or of the moon to shine in it, for the glory of God illuminated it. The Lamb is its light. And the nations of those who are saved shall walk in its light, and the kings of the earth bring their glory and honor into it. Its gates shall not be shut at all by day (there shall be no night there). And they shall bring the glory and the honor of the nations into it. But there shall by no means enter it anything that defiles, or causes an abomination or a lie, but only those who are written in the Lamb's Book of Life. (Revelation 21:22-27)

The hymn declares:

And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness,
And wonders of His love,

And the Bible declares:

And the nations of those who are saved shall walk in its light, and the kings of the earth bring their glory and honor into it. (Revelation 21:24)

To sum, the coming of Christ heralded the arrival of the Savior of the world, the one by whom the curse would eventually be lifted, the one by whom personal salvation is accomplished, and the one who is King of Kings and reflects the glory of God Almighty. Joy to the World, indeed.

 


 

Hark! The Herald Angels Sing

Hark! The herald angels sing,
"Glory to the newborn King;
Peace on earth, and mercy mild,
God and sinners reconciled!"
Joyful, all ye nations rise,
Join the triumph of the skies;
With thíangelic host proclaim,
"Christ is born in Bethlehem!"

In this stanza we have angels singing "Glory to the newborn King", proclaiming "peace on earth and mercy mild", and joyfully exulting "God and sinners reconciled". These are significant terms and theyíre absolutely worth looking into. Now, in Lukeís account, the angels donít sing "Glory to the newborn King". Instead, Lukeís record says this:

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: "Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!" (Luke 2:13-14)

Thereís the "peace on earth", but here, the angels are actually giving glory to God in the highest. We get Christ as King more from Revelation:

These will make war with the Lamb, and the Lamb will overcome them, for He is Lord of lords and King of kings; and those who are with Him are called, chosen, and faithful." (Revelation 17:14)

And He has on His robe and on His thigh a name written: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS. (Revelation 19:16)

The hymn is accurate in theme if not in exact wording. That is, we donít have in the Bible any place where the angels actually sing what the hymn credits them for singing. We do have Biblical record of Christ as King, and we do know that the angels sang glory to God. But the hymn takes a little liberty with the precise wording.

We get pretty close with the "peace on earth" segment, though, as Lukeís record shows. Again:

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: "Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!" (Luke 2:13-14)

As for the angels singing "God and sinners reconciled", we again canít quite match that to the Biblical record, but we can easily support the theme. First, from Colossians, we get a clear statement of reconciliation:

Öand by Him to reconcile all things to Himself, by Him, whether things on earth or things in heaven, having made peace through the blood of His cross. And you, who once were alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now He has reconciled in the body of His flesh through death, to present you holy, and blameless, and above reproach in His sight (Colossians 1:20-22)

We can also get this theme from Romans:

For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. And not only that, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation. (Romans 5:10-11)

So, while we again donít quite have a Biblical record of angels singing about "God and sinners reconciled", the theme is clear and evident in the gospel account.

The next stanza goes like this:

Christ, by highest Heavín adored;
Christ the everlasting Lord;
Late in time, behold Him come,
Offspring of a virginís womb.
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see;
Hail thíincarnate Deity,
Pleased with us in flesh to dwell,
Jesus our Emmanuel.

Is Christ by highest Heaven adored? Johnís account says

And I saw in the right hand of Him who sat on the throne a scroll written inside and on the back, sealed with seven seals. Then I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, "Who is worthy to open the scroll and to loose its seals?" And no one in heaven or on the earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll, or to look at it. So I wept much, because no one was found worthy to open and read the scroll, or to look at it. But one of the elders said to me, "Do not weep. Behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has prevailed to open the scroll and to loose its seven seals." And I looked, and behold, in the midst of the throne and of the four living creatures, and in the midst of the elders, stood a Lamb as though it had been slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God sent out into all the earth. Then He came and took the scroll out of the right hand of Him who sat on the throne. Now when He had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each having a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. And they sang a new song, saying: "You are worthy to take the scroll, And to open its seals; For You were slain, And have redeemed us to God by Your blood Out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation, And have made us kings and priests to our God; And we shall reign on the earth." Then I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels around the throne, the living creatures, and the elders; and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice: "Worthy is the Lamb who was slain To receive power and riches and wisdom, And strength and honor and glory and blessing!" And every creature which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, I heard saying: "Blessing and honor and glory and power Be to Him who sits on the throne, And to the Lamb, forever and ever!" Then the four living creatures said, "Amen!" And the twenty-four elders fell down and worshiped Him who lives forever and ever. (Revelation 5:1-14)

So, yes, based on this account, it seems that Christ is adored in highest Heaven. We covered the virgin birth yesterday. What about the lines of the hymn that say:

Veiled in flesh the Godhead see;
Hail thíincarnate Deity,
Pleased with us in flesh to dwell,
Jesus our Emmanuel.

These are nothing less than the whole point of Christmas and that point is, basically, "God became a man". All 4 of these verses are describing the fact that Jesus was God in the flesh, or God incarnate. Can we back that up from the Bible? In Hebrews 1:3, Christ is called the "express image" of God the Father and the Greek word behind "express image" means "stamped from" or "exact representation". 2 Corinthians 4:4 calls Jesus "the image of God" and Colossians 1:15 calls him "the image of the invisible God." The name "Immanuel" occurs 3 times in the Bible, twice in the Old Testament and once in the New, all 3 times associated with Jesus (assuming we use Matthewís association of Christ with the term). The word means, literally, "God with us." Based on this evidence, I think itís fair to say that this stanza in the hymn is Biblically based and the importance of the message presented is to show that Jesus had, literally, the nature of God, yet inside a human body. This enabled Jesus the man to fulfill the law of God and thus be blameless and without sin, himself. And that gave him the right to take our punishment upon himself, which is the gospel message.

Unfortunately, weíre starting to run out of time and will need to move through the remaining 3 stanzas a little faster. Hereís stanza #3:

Hail the heavínly Prince of Peace!
Hail the Sun of Righteousness!
Light and life to all He brings,
Risín with healing in His wings.
Mild He lays His glory by,
Born that man no more may die.
Born to raise the sons of earth,
Born to give them second birth.

The theme of this stanza is the healing power of Jesus. Weíre not talking necessarily about freedom from physical illnesses and disabilities, although Christ has power over those, too. Instead, itís the last verse of this stanza that gives the focus: Born to give them second birth. This, of course, can be backed up from John 3 in which Jesus tells the Jewish teacher, "You must be born again". This second birth, as Jesus explains, is a spiritual birth, not a physical one. Just as Jesus himself was the nature of God in a human body, so must a person be born of the Spirit. Christians, and the term "born-again" must be applied to them, receive a second birth- a spiritual birth- when God applies the atonement of Christ upon them. Itís not something that people do, not something that can be bought or sold, or something that can be earned, but itís a rebirth due 100% to the grace and mercy of God Almighty acting upon a person. Listen closely to Paulís instructions to Titus:

But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior, that having been justified by His grace we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. (Titus 3:4-7)

It is the application of Christís righteousness to our sinful nature, and the removal of our sinful nature to Christís account that saves a person, gives them a new nature, and is the second birth required for salvation. With that said, see if you can spot those points in the 4th and 5th stanzas:

Come, Desire of nations, come,
Fix in us Thy humble home;
Rise, the womanís conquíring Seed,
Bruise in us the serpentís head.
Now display Thy saving power,
Ruined nature now restore;
Now in mystic union join
Thine to ours, and ours to Thine.

Adamís likeness, Lord, efface,
Stamp Thine image in its place:
Second Adam from above,
Reinstate us in Thy love.
Let us Thee, though lost, regain,
Thee, the Life, the inner man:
O, to all Thyself impart,
Formed in each believing heart.

We might have had a little bit of a rocky start in the hymn "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing." I canít show Biblical evidence of the angels actually singing ""Glory to the newborn King", but I can easily show that the themes presented in the hymn are rock-solid. The hymn gives a very good presentation of the gospel message and goes into the theological necessity of the so-called "double imputation" in which our sins are laid upon Jesus and His righteousness upon us. Itís fairly rare to hear preachers expound on this theme, but itís central and crucial to the gospel message. And there it is, at the core of the great hymn "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing."

May God shine the light of Jesus Christ into your heart, to His glory. Amen.

 


Silent Night

 

Today, letís look at "Silent Night". Hereís the first stanza:

Silent night, holy night,
All is calm, all is bright
Round yon virgin mother and Child.
Holy Infant, so tender and mild,
Sleep in heavenly peace,
Sleep in heavenly peace.

First, this has an interesting parallelism in the first two lines- "silent night, holy night", and "all is calm, all is bright". Itís a silent and holy night, and a calm and bright night. Is there a Scriptural basis for these statements? This is Lukeís account of the night:

Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. Then the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. (Luke 2:8-11)

Now, I donít see anything here about it being a silent or calm night. Iím not much a sheepherder and I canít say whether or not the sheep and lambs would be quiet at night. But, I do see that the "glory of the Lord shone around them". The glory of the Lord would, of course, be holy since God Himself is holy. I know that because there are only 2 places in the Bible where a word is repeated 3 times for emphasis and both of those times are when "Holy, holy, holy" is directed at God. I also know from Revelation 15:4 that God alone is holy. Therefore, when the glory of the Lord appears, itís holy. The scripture says that the glory of the Lord "shone", therefore, I know itís bright. As I read yesterday from Revelation, in the New Jerusalem, the glory of God is light:

The city had no need of the sun or of the moon to shine in it, for the glory of God illuminated it. The Lamb is its light. (Revelation 21:23)

And in John, Jesus himself says:

Then Jesus spoke to them again, saying, "I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life." (John 8:12)

So, itís pretty clear that the appearance of the glory of God is both a holy and light-filled thing. The rest of the 1st stanza reads:

Round yon virgin mother and Child.
Holy Infant, so tender and mild,
Sleep in heavenly peace,

Going back to Luke we confirm that Jesus mother was a virgin:

Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin's name was Mary. (Luke 1:26-27)

This is a fulfillment of the prophecy found in:

Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel. (Isaiah 7:14)

Matthew connects this prophecy with Jesus:

And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name JESUS, for He will save His people from their sins." So all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying: "BEHOLD, THE VIRGIN SHALL BE WITH CHILD, AND BEAR A SON, AND THEY SHALL CALL HIS NAME IMMANUEL," which is translated, "God with us." (Matthew 1:21-23)

Therefore, the hymn is Biblically accurate- it is holy and bright, "round yon virgin mother and child, Holy infant, so tender and mild." The next stanza of "Silent Night" is:

Silent night, holy night,
Shepherds quake at the sight;
Glories stream from heaven afar,
Heavenly hosts sing Alleluia!
Christ the Savior is born,
Christ the Savior is born!

We pretty much already read that from Lukeís account, but here it is again:

Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. Then the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger." And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: "Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!" So it was, when the angels had gone away from them into heaven, that the shepherds said to one another, "Let us now go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us." And they came with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger. (Luke 2:8-16)

 

In this Biblical passage, we see that the shepherds "quake at the sight", and that "glories stream from heaven afar". The heavenly hosts sing "Alleluia!" when the Biblical account has them saying "Glory to God in the highestÖ" The angels tell the shepherds that "there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord" and thatís reflected by the hymnís "Christ the Savior is born." So far, the hymn "Silent Night" is Biblically accurate and itís a great example of how hymns should work.

"Silent Night" doesnít lose steam in the 3rd stanza either!

Silent night, holy night,
Son of God, loveís pure light;
Radiant beams from Thy holy face
With the dawn of redeeming grace,
Jesus, Lord, at Thy birth,
Jesus, Lord, at Thy birth.

Here we have Jesus being called "Son of God." With that line, thereís no way you can sing this hymn sincerely unless you accept that Jesus Christ was indeed God incarnate, in the flesh, born of woman, conceived of the Holy Spirit. "Son of God" is a phrase that draws a line in the rock. Thereís another reference to the light of God with "loveís pure light" and "radiant beams from thy holy face."

The line "Öthe dawn of redeeming grace" is another loaded verse. The birth of Christ is the dawn of a new age. Itís not really the beginning of anything, because like any dawn it was prepared long before. When we get up in the morning and see a new day dawning, that day was being prepared all the night before and all the evening before. The day itself is, indeed, a dawn and no matter how much preparation was done, we donít have the actual sunrise until the sun actually rises. Likewise, even though God had been preparing the world for Christ, redeeming grace did not make itself manifest or apparent until the birth of Christ. We have a Biblical passage to that effect in:

But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. (Galatians 4:4-5)

This "redemption" is what we need to look at next. Actually, the Galatians passage makes the point when it says "Öto redeem those who were under the lawÖ" We know from elsewhere in the Bible, and I mentioned it just yesterday that:

Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin. (Romans 3:20)

Those who are under the law are under condemnation. But those who are under grace, by faith, are saved. As Galatians says "Öto redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons." And so, Christ is the "dawn of redeeming grace." It is Christ who paid the price that we could not pay and thus redeemed, or bought us, for God. It was Christís payment that reconciled us to God. As Paul says in:

For it pleased the Father that in Him all the fullness should dwell, and by Him to reconcile all things to Himself, by Him, whether things on earth or things in heaven, having made peace through the blood of His cross. And you, who once were alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now He has reconciled (Colossians 1:19-21)

This is the great truth of the gospel message. Those who are in Christ are saved, not by their own works or their own will, but by the work of Christ and by the will of God. Your salvation isnít dependant upon your works or your will or your efforts, but rest solely upon the grace and mercy of God Almighty working thru Jesus Christ. This should give you great comfort and joy.

Indeed, this comfort and joy lead to praise, and the subject of the last stanza of our hymn:

Silent night, holy night
Wondrous star, lend thy light;
With the angels let us sing,
Alleluia to our King;
Christ the Savior is born,
Christ the Savior is born!

Where are you? Has the atoning sacrifice of Christ been applied to your life? Do you rest and take comfort in your works, or in His works on your behalf? Do you have peace with God? Are you reconciled to Him, or are you still separated by your sin and disobedience? In this Christmas season, please consider the Christmas message- God became a man.

But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. (Galatians 4:4-5)

With the angels let us sing,
Alleluia to our King;
Christ the Savior is born,

 


 

Good Christian Men, Rejoice!

 

Good Christian men, rejoice with heart and soul, and voice;
Give ye heed to what we say: News! News! Jesus Christ is born today;
Ox and ass before Him bow; and He is in the manger now.
Christ is born today! Christ is born today!

What kind of Biblical truths does this passage reflect? The first line calls for Christian men to "rejoice with heart and soul, and voice". The Biblical account of Luke says that after the shepherds in the field had seen the Christ child,

Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told them. (Luke 2:20)

The angels had announced the birth of Christ and the men heeded, just like the hymn says. So far, the hymn is pretty accurate.

The next line says "Ox and ass before Him bow, and He is in the manger now." There are 3 references in Luke that Jesus was in the manger.

And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. (Luke 2:7)

And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger." (Luke 2:12)

And they came with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger. (Luke 2:16)

We donít have any indication of the ox or donkeys bowing before the manger in Luke, but thereís another interesting passage from Job that we should consider. In this passage, God is asking Job some questions and says:

"Will the wild ox be willing to serve you? Will he bed by your manger? (Job 39:9)

 

Now, thatís kind of interesting because in this Old Testament passage, God Almighty is asking Job if the ox would bed beside Jobís manager. The implication, of course, is that the ox would bed beside Godís manager. But whatís God doing in a manger? We know the answer to that because we have the New Testament, but itís still interesting to look back and see that reference in Job.

The next stanza of the hymn is this:

Good Christian men, rejoice, with heart and soul and voice;
Now ye hear of endless bliss: Joy! Joy! Jesus Christ was born for this!
He has opened the heavenly door, and man is blest forevermore.
Christ was born for this! Christ was born for this!

It starts with the same repeated line about rejoicing with heart and soul and voice. It would be easy to blow over that repetition, but I think the hymn makes an excellent statement and that is that Christians should be constantly rejoicing. Paul writes:

Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord. For me to write the same things to you is not tedious, but for you it is safe. (Philippians 3:1)

Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice! (Philippians 4:4)

Rejoice always, (1 Thessalonians 5:16)

Christians who rightly understand salvation by grace should be constantly rejoicing. Their salvation is secure and the amazing grace of God is inexhaustible. Therefore, rejoice! And actually, the second line of this stanza suggests this attitude when it says "Now ye hear of endless bliss: Joy! Joy! Jesus Christ was born for this!" The 3rd line details why this is such a joyful occasion by saying "He has opened the heavenly door, and man is blest forevermore." Christ has made peace between man and God and allowed access to God directly. I know that because Paul says as much in:

Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. (Romans 5:1-2 NKJV)

There is another very significant indication of this "opening the heavenly door" that occurs in the accounts of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Weíll take Mark:

And Jesus cried out with a loud voice, and breathed His last. Then the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. (Mark 15:37-38 NKJV)

This veil previously separated the Most Holy place where the ark of the covenants was kept from the rest of the temple. Only the High Priest could enter the Most Holy place- the ordinary priests could not, and the common people certainly could not. But when Christís sacrifice was complete, it was now possible for any man to have full access to God, through the atonement of Jesus Christ. Thatís why Paul says "we have access by faith into this grace in which we standÖ" You should also note that the temple veil was torn not from bottom to top, which would suggest man reaching to God, but from top to bottom, indicating that the access was due to Godís actions, not manís.

The last line of this stanza proclaims "Christ was born for this! Christ was born for this!" Jesus himself acknowledge that truth and it was recorded in the gospel according to John:

"Now My soul is troubled, and what shall I say? 'Father, save Me from this hour'? But for this purpose I came to this hour. (John 12:27 NKJV)

The epistle of John also recognizes the purpose of Christ:

He who sins is of the devil, for the devil has sinned from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil. (1 John 3:8 NKJV)

Paul acknowledges the purpose of Christ:

This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief. (1 Timothy 1:15 NKJV)

And Peter does the same:

"Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ." (Acts 2:36 NKJV)

The hymn is dead-on accurate when it proclaims

He has opened the heavenly door, and man is blest forevermore.
Christ was born for this! Christ was born for this!

Letís move on now to the last stanza of the hymn.

Good Christian men, rejoice, with heart and soul and voice;
Now ye need not fear the grave: Peace! Peace! Jesus Christ was born to save!
Calls you one and calls you all, to gain His everlasting hall.
Christ was born to save! Christ was born to save!

Thereís that comforting repetition of the 1st verse again, calling Christian men to rejoice with heart and soul and voice. As with the previous stanzas, the hymn now elaborates on the reasons for rejoicing, namely "Now ye need not fear the grave: Peace! Peace! Jesus Christ was born to save!" Paul has this to say about the victory of Jesus over death:

"O DEATH, WHERE IS YOUR STING? O HADES, WHERE IS YOUR VICTORY?" The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 15:55-57 NKJV)

Paul also gave us one of the classic lines of evangelical Christianity:

For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:23 NKJV)

The point the Paul is making and the point that our hymn makes is that Christ has defeated death. The whole purpose of the resurrection was to demonstrate that death had no claim on Jesus. Since the wages of sin is death, and since death couldnít hold Jesus, it follows then that Jesus was sinless. I mean, besides the fact that we have several verses that explicitly claim the sinlessness of Christ, we can demonstrate his sinless nature from both approaches. If sin leads to death, then only a sinless person will defeat death. And the other approach is to just take it at face value- Christ was sinless and therefore did defeat death.

Well, thatís fine for Jesus, but how does that help you out? It helps you because Christ took your sins upon himself. The payment therefore has been made for your transgressions and because that payment has been made, death has no claim on you either. Thatís what Paul was referring to when he said "thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ." Maybe youíve heard people say "trust in Jesus" and wondered what that was all about. Well, thatís what itís all about- you trust that Jesus made the payment for your sins, that the payment was sufficient, and that it applies to you personally, as a result of Godís grace. Thatís what the gospel message is all about, and thatís it! The gospel message doesnít mean that you have to pray several times a day, or eat the right foods, or wear the right clothes, or do any other thing in order to obtain forgiveness and the resulting salvation. Those things certainly may come about after your conversion, as God sets you on the right path and purges the dross from you, but conversion doesnít come about because of those things. If it did, then weíd have salvation by works and the Bible is very, very clear that faith is a gift of God, not of works (Ephesians 2:8-9).

That leads up to the last 2 lines of this hymn, which are:

Calls you one and calls you all, to gain His everlasting hall.
Christ was born to save! Christ was born to save!

Now, itís certainly true that not everyone is saved. Godís mercy cannot be taken for granted nor is it something that you deserve. As God says and is quoted by Paul in Romans 9:

For He says to Moses, "I WILL HAVE MERCY ON WHOMEVER I WILL HAVE MERCY, AND I WILL HAVE COMPASSION ON WHOMEVER I WILL HAVE COMPASSION." So then it is not of him who wills, nor of him who runs, but of God who shows mercy. (Romans 9:15-16 NKJV)

At the same time, though, we have passages like this:

Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent.. (Acts 17:30 NKJV)

For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all menÖ (Titus 2:11 NKJV)

We also have Jesus saying:

All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out. (John 6:37 NKJV)

Christ was born to save and He will not cast out anyone who comes to Him in faith and repentance. True faith and repentance, though, are a gift of God, not an exercise of human will. You can know if your faith and repentance are true if you find yourself on the other side of the cross. Paul writes to the Corinthians:

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. (1 Corinthians 1:18 NKJV)

And thatís how you can know. Is the message of the cross foolishness or is it the power of God? Christ was born to save, Christ was born to save. Do you hear him calling?

 May God apply the atonement of Jesus Christ to your life and bring you from darkness to His everlasting light, to His glory, alone. Amen.

 


 

Oh, Holy Night

Our hymn today is "Oh, Holy Night". The first stanza of it goes like this:

O holy night, the stars are brightly shining;
It is the night of the dear Saviorís birth!
Long lay the world in sin and error pining,
Till He appeared and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope, the weary soul rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.
Fall on your knees, O hear the angel voices!
O night divine, O night when Christ was born!
O night, O holy night, O night divine!

The first two verses are statements that weíve already seen in the account of Christís birth as given by Luke. Iíll start instead with the next two verses- "Long lay the world in sin and error pining, Till he appeared and the soul felt itís worth." Is that Biblical? I think it is. We can bump back to Genesis and see the appearance of sin in the world, when Adam and Eve disobeyed God in the Garden of Eden. That was indeed a long time ago, and until Christ was born, lived, and then died on the cross, that sin hung over the world like the curse that it is. But after Christ made the payment, then we who believe in Him have confidence that the curse will eventually be removed completely. Let me point out some Bible passages that illustrate this theme.

First, we can see from this Galatians passage that there was a certain period of time in which Christ needed to appear.

But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.

(Galatians 4:4-5 NKJV)

Paul calls it the "fullness of time". There was a time, determined by God, at which it was appropriate for the Christ to manifest Himself. The Old Testament spoke of this time, but it wasnít apparent exactly when that time was to be until it happened. Peter uses this knowledge in his sermon at Pentecost when he says:

"Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a Man attested by God to you by miracles, wonders, and signs which God did through Him in your midst, as you yourselves also know Him, being delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God, you have taken by lawless hands, have crucified, and put to death;

(Acts 2:22-23 NKJV)

Peter uses the words "determined purpose and foreknowledge of God" to convey the fact that God determined the exact time at which Christ would appear. Thereís an interesting point made by Peter:

Of this salvation the prophets have inquired and searched carefully, who prophesied of the grace that would come to you, searching what, or what manner of time, the Spirit of Christ who was in them was indicating when He testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow. To them it was revealed that, not to themselves, but to us they were ministering the things which now have been reported to you through those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven- things which angels desire to look into.

(1 Peter 1:10-12 NKJV)

Peter is saying, basically, that the prophets- that is the Old Testament prophets- "inquired and searched carefully" who, when, and how the grace of which they spoke would come. Peter says that it was revealed to them that their words would minister not just to themselves but to those people who would come at a later time. The Jews of Jesusí time knew that a Messiah would come- we can clearly see this from both Nathanielís and the Samaritan womanís responses upon meeting Jesus- but they didnít know when this man would appear. Thus, Jesusí birth was cause for great celebration to those to whom God granted the ability to see. Others failed then and fail today to see the significance of this humble birth. The author of our hymn clearly falls in the former camp:

O holy night, the stars are brightly shining;
It is the night of the dear Saviorís birth!
Long lay the world in sin and error pining,
Till He appeared and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope, the weary soul rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.
Fall on your knees, O hear the angel voices!
O night divine, O night when Christ was born!
O night, O holy night, O night divine!

Moving to the second stanza, we have:

Led by the light of faith serenely beaming,
With glowing hearts by His cradle we stand.
So led by light of a star sweetly gleaming,
Here came the wise men from Orient land.
The King of kings lay thus in lowly manger,
In all our trials born to be our Friend!
He knows our needóto our weakness is no stranger.
Behold your King; before Him lowly bend!
Behold your King; before Him lowly bend!

From here, let me focus on the lines "In all our trials born to be our friend, He knows our need- to our weakness is no stranger." This line can be found in:

Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

(Hebrews 4:14-16 NKJV)

And earlier in Hebrews, we have:

Therefore, in all things He had to be made like His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For in that He Himself has suffered, being tempted, He is able to aid those who are tempted.

(Hebrews 2:17-18 NKJV)

Many people are reluctant to come to Christ. They feel that theyíre not cleaned up enough, or that their problems are too great. No, no, noÖ Christ is the one who cleans you up and Christ understands all your problems. The author of Hebrews urges us to "come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need." Itís when you have a time of need that Jesus is particularly there for you. As he himself said:

Ö "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance."

(Mark 2:17 NKJV)

The gospel of Jesus Christ is not a message of works salvation. To the contrary, itís a message of salvation by grace and mercy. Itís a message for sinners, people in need, and people with burdens. Hereís Jesus again:

Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light."

(Matthew 11:28-30 NKJV)

Itís this message that makes true Christianity different from all the religions of the world. Religions- every single one of them, including the religion that masquerades as Christianity- puts the burden on you. You have to pray numerous times a day, you have to not do this, you have to get yourself in order, and so forth, and then maybe, if your good outweighs your bad, youíll be acceptable to God. True Christianity, however, says this- for those to whom the message of the cross is the power of God, God has taken their sins and placed them on Jesus, while at the same time placing his righteousness to your account. Youíre not righteous, but you are sanctified by Christ. Your faith is not in yourself or of yourself, but your faith is in Christ and by the grace of God. In short, the true gospel is one of grace and mercy, not of works. What a glorious message that is and what confidence that gives me to know that my salvation is in the hands of God, not in my own efforts.

This spirit of thankfulness and joy is what should drive our praise and the last stanza of todayís hymn ends on that theme:

Truly He taught us to love one another;
His law is love and His Gospel is peace.
Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother
And in His Name all oppression shall cease.
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,
Let all within us praise His holy Name!
Christ is the Lord! O praise His name forever!
His powír and glory evermore proclaim!
His powír and glory evermore proclaim!

That about winds up our study of 5 hymns associated with the Christmas season. As we go into that season, I urge you to skip the commercialism and focus on the true Christmas story. If you donít understand the uniqueness of the gospel message, then by all means ask someone or dig into the Bible for yourself. Read it and see what it says. May the truth and light that is Jesus Christ shine into your heart, by the power of the Holy Spirit, to the glory of the grace and mercy of God the Father. Amen.

 

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