Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Easter Heart Preparation: Week 5

This Week's Hymns:

Wednesday, March 13: The Strife Is O'er
Thursday, March 14: O Sacred Head Now Wounded
Friday, March 15: Not All the Blood of Beasts
Saturday, March 16: Arise, My Soul, Arise
Sunday, March 17: This Is the Day the Lord Hath Made
Monday, March 18: All the Sacrifice Is Ended
Tuesday, March 19: All Ye That Seek the Lord Who Died

Special Feature: Christ and the Passover

13 days from today is one of the most celebrated of the Jewish year - Passover. Four years ago (but obviously it’s still left a big impression on me) in my New Testament Literature class at Bryan College, Dr. Davis had us study the Passover. I know, you're asking, "What does that have to do with the New Testament?" Well, through looking at instructions for the Passover in the Old Testament, cultural records of the Jews, and the original Greek New Testament, this is what we discovered:

  • Passover began the Jewish calendar - it changed the Jewish system of time.
  • It is a remembrance of when the Israelites were delivered from Egypt. After nine horrible plagues, Moses instructed each Israelite household to sacrifice a perfect lamb, spread its blood on their doorposts, and stay inside for the night.
  • When the angel of death saw the blood of the lamb on the doorway, he would pass over the home, but if there was no blood (as in the Egyptians' households), the firstborn would be killed.

But it's more than that!

  • According to Exodus 12, each family was supposed to take a perfect lamb into their household 5 days before the Passover... and Jesus entered Jerusalem 5 days before the Passover (we know this because of the seemingly unimportant facts mentioned in John 12:1,12 - most people skip right over them! And remember that on the Jewish calendar, the day begins in the afternoon of the day before.)
  • The Passover lambs were killed at "twilight" on the "Day of Preparation" which, according to the original language, means 2:30-3:00 pm the day before Passover... and Jesus breathed His last breath on the cross around that very time.
  • The Passover lamb was flayed and skinned... does this give us a picture of the suffering Jesus went through for us?
  • He told us to imagine what the doorposts looked like after the Israelites had spread the lamb's blood over them with a hyssop branch - blood dripping down from the top and both sides of the door, yet the door being open for anyone who wants to come in and be safe. Don't you get a vision of the cross of Jesus too?
  • They weren't supposed to break any of the bones of the Passover lamb, and guess what? None of Jesus' bones were broken either.
  • "Firstfruits" were offerings that were waved before God the day after the Sabbath of Passover (the same day as Jesus' resurrection). God said of firstfruit offerings, "The first thing that springs up from the ground - offer it to Me, and everything will be right between us." (If you don't see the parallels between this and Jesus, read it again.)
  • The Passover made slaves transfer over to being free, just as Jesus sets us free from our spiritual bondage to sin.

What a wonderful reminder that nothing is in the Bible by accident - God has placed everything there on purpose, because He has a much bigger story going on than we are sometimes able to see. Now, on to this week’s hymns!

Wednesday, March 13: 

Jesus’ triumph over death is shouted through the powerful words of this hymn. Each stanza begins with a line describing the “death,” “battle,” “stripes,” “three sad days,” and “hell” that Jesus has overcome, while the second line focuses on Jesus’ “victory” – dispersing of death’s legions, rising from the dead, bars falling away from heaven, and freeing us from death’s sting. The final line in each stanza is a call for us to praise Him for His work for us – “song of triumph,” “shouts of joy,” “all glory,” “hymns of praise,” “live and sing” are what Christians are exhorted to do in response.

It was translated from Latin to English by Francis Pott in the 1860s, and it’s still sung today, especially at funerals and on Easter. You can listen to it here.

Thursday, March 14:

Beautiful (and gory) descriptive words bring the meaning of this hymn alive. The author details all that Jesus suffered for our sakes, making it clear that “it was all for sinners’ gain” and “I deserve Thy place.” The fifth stanza is personal and humbling. The author falls down before the Lord begging, “Have mercy, I implore Thee; Redeemer, spurn me not!” And the sixth stanza is a turning point, as the author seems at peace and grateful beyond understanding or speech. Nevertheless, he continues for several more stanzas, seeking forgiveness for daily wrongdoings and looking to Jesus for comfort and strength in death. 

This is another one that was probably written just a century or two after Jesus’ death. It was translated from Latin to German by Paul Gerhardt in 1656, then into English by James Alexander in 1830. The melody is haunting – in a minor key that augments the grief found in the words. I love Fernando Ortega’s version, although he only sings 3 of the 11 stanzas.

Friday, March 15:

Going along with the Passover theme, this hymn reinforces that our redemption can only be purchased by Jesus, the perfect, spotless Lamb of God. Hebews 10:4 says, “It is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats should take away sin.” Only Jesus can do that. No matter how many other things you try or animals you slay or good works you do, He is the only way, truth, and life, and no one can come to the Father except through Him.

Saturday, March 16: 

Wow, lots of amazing hymns this week! The truth spoken through these words is life-changing and empowering! The main picture I get when reading these words is Jesus standing before His Father’s throne in heaven and being my Advocate. In the first stanza, His “bleeding sacrifice in my behalf appears.” In the second stanza, He is constantly interceding for me. In the third stanza, He is remembering the cross and how He cried out, “Forgive!” in His prayer for me. In the fourth stanza, God the Father responds to Jesus’ pleas – “His Spirit answers to the blood and tells me I am born of God.” And in the final stanza, the author hears God’s “pardoning voice” and can call Him “Abba, Father.”

This is my mom’s favorite hymn, and here is a video to hear the tune and appreciate it even more fully.

Sunday, March 17: 

No, this isn’t the upbeat, childlike ditty that repeats the same 18 words 37 times. Here we find a doctrinally sound retelling of the gospel revealing the character of God and reminding us that He is worthy of our worship.

He came down from heaven “to save our sinful race” not only so that we might rejoice, praise Him, tell of all His wonders, but also so that we might “descend and bring salvation [to others] from Thy throne.” The final stanza reminds us that we will never fully be able to fully worship Him as He deserves; the church’s best praises will pale in comparison to the worship He receives in heaven.

Monday, March 18: 

We don’t have to keep working for our salvation from sin – Jesus has already sacrificed Himself and has purchased our pardon through His sacrifice on the cross. Or, as this hymn more beautifully states, “Christ as Man hath comprehended all the human law of death!” 

Though the first stanza describes Jesus’ death, each of the other stanzas describes His resurrection: “Yet not there His soul remaineth, nor His body in the tomb”; “Now He lives and reigns forever!” Jesus has defeated death, so “eternal life shall never taste of sorrow or of sin.” And the fifth stanza brings eternal security that nothing can separate us from our Lord – “no death shall sever those He vanquished death to win.”

The tune for this is actually the same as the Christmas hymn “Angels from the Realms of Glory.” Listen to the beautiful music on this video.

Tuesday, March 19: 

Here is another inspired masterpiece that God used Charles Wesley to write! This reads like a story detailing the events between the crucifixion and the resurrection, with implications for Christians today as well. The second stanza describes the mourners who came to the tomb to finish embalming Jesus’ body on Sunday, then in the next stanza, their “sorrow shall be turned to joy” as they realize He is no longer dead. 

The following stanzas paint the pictures of the earthquake, the door of the tomb bursting apart, the angel guarding the tomb, the guards falling “as dead,” and the command to “go tell the followers of your Lord their Jesus is to life restored.” It repeatedly mocks the efforts of earthly (and demonic) powers “to keep one body in its grave.” And Christians are exhorted: “your faith with joyful hearts confess, be bold, be Jesus’ witnesses.”

Tune in next week for more preparation for Easter, and don’t forget to check out the other hymns in this series!

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