August 11, 2019

Behind the Hymns – God in Christ

Passage: Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16 and Luke 12:32-40

Today’s hymns look at the relationship of the second person of the Trinity – our Lord Jesus Christ.

And can it be that I should gain – 352

Not sure how familiar this first hymn is but it is one that I learned as a teenager singing in my home church in Montreal. It is one of the more than 6,500 hymns written by Charles Wesley. Both he and his brother John were prolific hymn writers with his brother being responsible for most of the hymns translated from the German language. Charles himself was a devoted Methodist and of course the establishment of the Wesleyan Methodist denomination. Of the 770 hymns in the Wesleyan hymn book, 623 were written by Charles Wesley.

And can it be is a hymn that celebrates Charles own faith in the redemption of his life by God in Christ. Charles recognized that it was not just the sin of the world by led Christ to die on the cross but that it was his own personal sin. Even though he was not alive in the time when Christ was on the cross, Charles believed that his own sin – his own willful separation and alienation from God had contributed to Christ’s death. What amazing love that his God should die for him, take the place that should have been his.

Realizing that Christ could have chosen not to come Charles is struck by the unselfish act of God in Christ who came only in love to offer freedom and hope, grace and forgiveness to all – even those who actively sought to turn away from God.

The image of bondage of his soul that Charles describes in verse 4 is one that many people can identify with. Perhaps for most of us we never have experienced that depth of angst within us but for many others the experience of release and freedom from the weight of their sin is a life-changing experience. Charles certainly experienced this himself.

In the last verse he declares that nothing in the world can ever separate him from God as he now is alive in Jesus who is for him his living head and so he can boldly approach the throne of God and claim the crown of life as envisioned by St. John in his revelation.

Tell me the Stories of Jesus – 348

William Henry Parker who wrote Tell me the stories of Jesus was born in 1845. Early in life he began to write verses. He joined a General Baptist church and became interested in Sunday Schools. He was led to compose hymns for use at anniversaries. His focus on hymns for children is not unique to hymn writers but does help his hymns to be able to be sung and appreciated by all ages.

What a wonderful image this hymn gives us as we imagine ourselves sitting in the presence of Jesus as we hear his words being spoken for the first time. It is certainly wonderful to have the stories of Jesus collected for us so that we can read them for ourselves but imagine what it would be like to hear his voice as he spoke those same words and shared those same stories.

But knowing that that is not possible, William sought for the next best thing and that was to have someone who knew the stories well to tell them to him. As we sing this hymn, I would like us to imagine that we are sitting with someone who knows the stories well and that we are hearing them again as for the first time.

And then, like William, we can follow the children’s band as they wave their palm branches and sing loudest hosannas to Jesus the King!

There is a Redeemer – 358

The author of this hymn is Melody Green. Born in 1946 in Hollywood California, she grew up in Venice, California in a small apartment that faced an alley. The nearby beach became her playground and as she watched the shifting tides, the star patterns, and the sunsets, she realized that there must be a Creator for such perpetual beauty, universal order and symmetry to exist.

Melody was raised in an Orthodox Jewish family. Her grandparents had fled from Czarist Russia barely escaping with their children. Her mother was the first one born in America.
After college, while working at a Production Company, she met Keith Green, an aspiring musician who was on a spiritual journey. Within a year they were married. In 1975 they were invited to a small bible study and their lives were changed forever. They believed that in Jesus they had found their one and only true Messiah. Calling herself a Jewish Christian, Melody and Keith opened the doors of their home taking in youth suffering from addictions and teenage pregnancies.
Eventually the ministry grew. But in 1982 tragedy struck when her husband and two of her children died in a small plane accident. She was left pregnant and with a one year to care for. The ministry team were her support through this difficult time.
Believing that caring for others is not an option, Melody established the Good Neighbour Mercy Fund to raise donations for disaster victims, the sick and needy.
Her hymn is a celebration of her faith and the journey of faith that she has taken throughout her life.

To God be the glory – 350

Last month we heard the story of Fanny Crosby’s life. We know how wonderful the imagery of her hymns fueled by the creative imagination of a lady blind from an early age.

This hymn is different from many of the other hymns which she wrote. Much of Fanny’s hymns focused on our experience of God but this hymn is wholly about God and the perfect glory of God. Singing this hymn reminds us that it is not ourselves who are in control but God.
Our lives are wrapped up in God and so are all our mistakes, wounds and shortcomings – the things we try to avoid while we seek to maintain control of our lives. But what a joy and comfort to know that though these things may happen, because God is ultimately in control, and because our own image does not matter, God is still glorified. While we still try to live a holy and upright life, we do so to bring glory to God, not ourselves. What a beautiful freedom that is.