Alpha & Omega Ministries Apologetics Blog
Hark! the Herald Angels Sing: Part Three
12/24/2007 - Colin SmithWe conclude our series of devotions based on the popular hymn Hark! the Herald Angels Sing.
Hail the heaven-born Prince of Peace!
Hail the Sun of Righteousness!
Light and life to all he brings,
risen 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 us second birth.
Hark! the herald angels sing,
"Glory to the new born King!"
This verse starts with a couple of allusions to Old Testament passages, namely Isaiah 9 and Malachi 4. The reference to Christ as the "Prince of Peace" is from Isaiah 9:6--a passage familiar to many this time of year. Verse 2 of Isaiah 9 begins: "The people who walk in darkness will see a great light"--perhaps this is partly what Wesley refers to by the line "Light and life to all he brings." More on that in a moment. The chapter continues to describe the work of the Messiah, who will "multiply the nation," "increase their gladness," and "break the yolk of their burden." This One certainly is the Wonderful Counselor, the Mighty God, the Eternal Father, and the Prince of Peace.
Note also, He is the "heaven-born" Prince of Peace. Jesus was born of Mary, but His origin was not earthly. He is the gift of heaven to men: "For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us." When Mary quizzed Gabriel over his news of her upcoming pregnancy despite her virginity, he simply said that the Holy Spirit will come upon her, and the power of the Most High would overshadow her. This was not a physical union between God the Father and the human Mary; this was an act of God's power by means of the Holy Spirit. Jesus truly was heaven-born, his lowly crib notwithstanding.
"Sun" in "Hail the Sun of Righteousness" is not a typo! This is a direct reference to Malachi 4 which prophesies the judgment of the enemies of God's people and the coming of their Saviour:
"For behold, the day is coming, burning like a furnace; and all the arrogant and every evildoer will be chaff; and the day that is coming will set them ablaze," says the Lord of hosts, "so that it will leave them neither root nor branch. But for you who fear My name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings; and you will go forth and skip about like calves from the stall. You will tread down the wicked, for they will be ashes under the soles of your feet on the day which I am preparing," says the Lord of hosts.
Does Jesus bring "light and life to all"? This seems a very Arminian statement, and certainly can be understood that way. Of course, given Wesley's own theological persuasion, it is possible he intended it that way. However, I believe the term "light and life" here can be understood both in terms of that special revelatory light God bestows upon His elect leading to everlasting life, and also the light of common grace God gives to all men by which they are able to make some sense of the world around them, and hence live productive lives, albeit in self-imposed ignorance of their gracious Benefactor. In Matthew 5:44-46, Jesus exhorts his disciples to love their enemies and pray for their persecutors. In other words, to show grace to them, and not be hardened against them in vengeance. Their example is God the Father, who sends rain upon both those who love Him and those who hate Him. Coupled with the sun He sends to shine on both, I believe this is intended to convey God's blessings, since in an agricultural society, the regularity of rain and sunshine was something greatly to be desired. God does not favor only His people with the provisions of life; He is gracious to all. Christ Himself not only spoke these words, but He lived a life of grace and mercy toward His own, and those who were not His own. Did He not produce wine for everyone at the feast in Cana? Did He not feed all of those with Him with bread and fish in John 6, even though he would identify many of them as unbelievers (6:60-65), and all but the twelve would indeed desert Him by the end of the chapter?
"Mild He lays His glory by; Born that man no more may die." Philippians 2:5-11 teaches us that Jesus did not hold tenaciously to the glory that was His with the Father, but, for our sake, for the sins of His people, He laid aside the glories of heaven and took upon Himself the humility of flesh, and eventually death. "I glorified You on earth, having accomplished the work which You have given Me to do," Jesus prays to the Father in John 17. "Now, Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was." Note that Jesus prays this prior to the cross. It is in the cross that the glory of God is revealed: the sacrificial love of the Father for His people; the obedience of the Son to submit to this final, and most brutal, humiliation. All for the sake of the salvation of His own.
"Born to raise the sons of earth; born to give them second birth." The connection between Christmas and Easter should never be forgotten, because without Easter there is no reason to celebrate Christmas. That the Word became flesh and dwelt amongst us is indeed a wonderful thing. But what is most remarkable, and the fact worth celebrating, is why Christ did this. Is was not just so God could experience humanity first hand; it was not to set an example of good behavior; it was not to be a great moral teacher and leader. The reason He came was to die on that cross, having lived a life of willful obedience, and rise from the dead that His people may be truly at peace with God, and receive the promise of heaven.
We who were dead in Adam are raised to new life in Christ. We who were enemies of God are brought near to God and turned into seekers after God. We who were dead in our trespasses and sins have been brought to life by the Holy Spirit who is given to us, giving us faith to proclaim our love for our Saviour. And all of this is because God the Son did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, and for our sake, for the sake of lowly, undeserving God-haters, was born on earth to a young girl in a manger, so that He might become one of us, that He could offer Himself as the perfect sacrifice for our sins. May the name of our Lord Jesus Christ be praised forever!
May you all have a blessed Christmas, as we join with the angel chorus: "Glory to the new-born King!"
Hark! the Herald Angels Sing: Part Two
12/12/2007 - Colin SmithWe continue our Christmas meditation, based on Charles Wesley's hymn Hark! the Herald Angels Sing.
Christ, by highest heaven adored;
Christ, the everlasting Lord;
late in time behold him come,
offspring of a virgin's womb.
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see;
hail th' incarnate Deity,
pleased as man with man to dwell,
Jesus, our Emmanuel.
Hark! the herald angels sing,
"Glory to the new born King!"
We now turn our attention from the angelic proclamation at the Incarnation, to the humility of the Incarnation. If there is one passage of Scripture I would say more than any other lies behind this verse, it would have to be Philippians 2:5-11:
Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
but made himself nothing,
taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
Christ, By Highest Heaven Adored
Wesley follows the Apostle Paul's example by first establishing Christ's original exalted state. He is God by nature, the Unique Son of the Father (John 1:18), and beloved of God (Mark 1:11). Wesley makes allusion to Isaiah 9:6 when he refers to Christ as "the everlasting Lord." The phrase in the passage is "Everlasting Father," which should not be taken to confuse the Persons of the Trinity. The Son is not the Father; indeed, in the beginning, the Word simultaneously "was with God" and "was God" (John 1:1). Rather, the best way to understand this phrase is with regard to His role as both the leader and head of His people, just as an earthly father is the head of his household, and in terms of His loving care for His people in providing for their salvation. Unlike one's earthly father, however, Christ is eternal, and His loving care for His people extends into eternity.
Late in Time Behold Him Come
I don't know that I can say with complete certainty what Wesley had in mind with this phrase. I think he is referring to the fact that the Jewish people were in a state of watchfulness and eager anticipation for the Messiah, especially since they had been oppressed and dominated for over 500 years. "How long, O Lord?" was a cry that often went up as the Old Covenant people of God looked forward to their physical redemption. It is also possible, and poetically satisfying, to see this phrase in contrast to the preceding line: the Everlasting Lord comes late in time. In other words, despite Christ being eternal and dwelling in eternity, he condescends to enter into time, to take on the flesh of humanity, to be born flesh-and-blood, and while being totally human, that flesh only obscuring His true deity, never diminishing it. I like this reading of the phrase because it ties neatly back in to Philippians 2:5-11. If you have wondered at the humiliation Christ suffered on the cross, consider where that humiliation began. It was not with the scourging and the crown of thorns, nor with the desertion of His disciples, nor the Garden of Gethsemane, and not even with the washing of His disciples' feet. It was at Bethlehem, where He who was very God "became nothing," taking on the flesh of humanity with all the physical limitations and pains that comes with it. It was walking this earth as a humble servant, in obedience to the will of the Father, knowing that He could call upon angels to exalt Him and to silence His enemies, but instead being obedient to the horrendous death He knew He must undergo for the sake of His people.
Pleased As Man with Man to Dwell
Again, the humiliation Christ suffered He did willingly. His love for fallen humanity was such that He was willing to become a man, to dwell as a man among men, to live a perfect, sinless life; teaching, healing, comforting, and calling His people to Himself. And then, finally, to demonstrate the love of God by giving His own life for the salvation of His people, being both the High Priest offering the perfect sacrifice of propitiation, and also being that very sacrifice Himself.
The Incarnation and the cross are very closely associated. Though He was only a child in a manger in Bethlehem, He knew the divine plan. Philippians 2:5-11 clearly indicates that Christ knew prior to being born exactly what He was doing. The Gospel accounts show that He was fully aware that His mission did not end with healing the sick, gathering His disciples, and planting a church. Jesus Christ was not crucified because He was misunderstood, or wrongly perceived as a threat, though these might have been true in the minds of His accusers. As Peter said in his prayer recorded in Acts 4:27-28, the Jewish and Roman rulers were merely doing what God had preordained should happen. They were instruments in the hands of God to bring about the salvation of His people.
As we consider Christ in the manger this Christmas, let us not forget who He is. The living God took human form. Jesus Christ is not just fully divine, He is fully human, and willingly accepted all that humanity brings with it. As a result, He completely understands our weaknesses, our trials, and our sufferings (Hebrews 4:15). He knows what it is like to be us, and while He lived a sinless life, He can still relate to us. And this was something He did not have to do. God, according to His perfect justice, could have left us to die in our sin. He was not obliged to save us; in fact, He was obliged to condemn us all for our sin. However, He satisfied the demands of His perfect justice and displayed His incomprehensible love for His people, by sending His Son from the realms of glory to the dust of the Middle East.
Stayed tuned for the final installment! :-)
Carla Strikes Again
12/10/2007 - James WhiteJust in time for that hard-to-please person on your gift list...I mean, hard to please Calvinist on your gift list! I first heard this phrase from my fellow elder at PRBC, but Google tells me he didn't invent it. I have no idea who did, but I sure use it enough, and the Scripture reference, at least, is mine. Any quick review of the landscape of post-evangelicalism will prove the truth of these words, so why not get a few conversations started in the process? Don't forget the other designs in Carla's AOMIN store, including "Theology Matters." You can click here or use the Shop TeamApologian button to the right to visit!
Hark! the Herald Angels Sing: Part One
12/10/2007 - Colin SmithAs December 25th draws ever closer, I would like to begin a brief series of meditations that will, hopefully, conclude on or near Christmas Day. While I would normally advocate very strongly that Scripture alone should be the basis of our meditations, I would like to deviate from that principle and make use of a hymn as the springboard for this series. The hymn I will use, Hark! the Herald Angels Sing is excellently suited to this task. It is packed full of very meaningful theology, and brings to the fore subjects that should be close to our hearts and minds this time of year (and, arguably, all year). (If you are interested in the history of the hymn, a brief Wikipedia entry exists to jumpstart your studies.)
Hark! the herald angels sing,
"Glory to the new-born King;
Peace on earth and mercy mild,
God and sinners reconciled!"
Joyful, all ye nations, rise.
Join the triumph of the skies.
With th' angelic hosts proclaim
"Christ is born in Bethlehem!"
Hark! the herald angels sing,
Glory to the new-born King!
We begin with a consideration of the message of the angels proclaimed to the shepherds in Luke 2:10-15, along with the message of the angel to Joseph in Matthew 1:20-23. Historically, the nation of Israel had gone through a period of revelatory darkness. For a period of about 500 years, the voices of the prophets had fallen silent. Within that time, the Jews had been scattered, exposed to (and in some cases been consumed by) foreign culture, and were now an occupied nation under Roman rule. While some happily accepted the limited privileges and protection offered by their Gentile overlords, many took exception to the presence of foreigners in the Promised Land. They would look to a coming Messiah, prophesied about in the Scriptures, that would come and overthrow their oppressors, and lead the scattered nation in a victorious uprising against the Romans to claim back their land and their culture.
It is with this in mind that we approach the text of Scripture (Luke 2:10-15 and Matthew 1:20-23). It should be plain from the text that the message of the angels was not precisely what many had in mind. It was indeed a message of great joy to all the people, and the announcement that a "Saviour" had been born, one who is "Christ [i.e., Messiah], the Lord" would have stirred their hearts enormously. Could this be the one who has come to conquer the barbarians and re-establish David's throne in Jerusalem? Perhaps, in the midst of the excitement, they missed the heart of the message--the very message that Charles Wesley highlights in the first verse of our hymn:
Peace on earth and mercy mild,
God and sinners reconciled!
"Peace on Earth" is a popular theme at Christmas, and is normally associated with the idea of the cessation of conflict, brotherly love, Germans and English soldiers playing soccer on Christmas Day during World War I. However, the idea of peace between people was not at all what the angels meant when they proclaimed that a time of peace had come to the earth. What did the angel say to Joseph? That his child's name was to be Jesus ("God Saves"), because "He will save His people from their sins." As Wesley phrased it, "God and sinners reconciled." It is important to note that this is not a mere statement that, because Jesus has come into the world, there is no longer enmity between God and man. Rather, the statement is proclaiming the role of the Saviour: He is the One who will bring peace between sinful men, and God. Note also, the scope of the Saviour's saving activity: "He will save his people from their sins" or, as the NASB translates the Greek of Luke 2:14, "And on earth peace among men with whom He [God] is pleased." This is not a proclamation of amnesty with those who have managed to earn God's favor. No, rather, it is a just and holy God providing a means by which He will save those He has called to eternal life (Acts 13:48).
For the sinner whose heart has been convicted of sin, who is anxious over his standing before God, and who is moved to repentance, this is truly good news. Here is a reason for joining with the angelic triumph and proclaiming "Christ is born in Bethlehem!" Indeed, the Messiah has come; the Saviour--not from oppression, or from poverty, or war, or debt, or sickness, or whatever evils may come upon us in this world--but from sin and its devastating effects. The One has come who alone can pay the only acceptable price to satisfy God's holy justice against sin, and thus make peace between God and man.
And if your heart is broken over your sin, and you have been moved to repentance, then this glorious proclamation is for you!
Stay tuned for Part Two... :-)