Singing With the Savior
by Michael Glodo
Reverend Michael Glodo is
Assistant Professor of Old Testament at RTS/Orlando, where he has taught for the past
seven years. Prior to his arrival at RTS, Glodo worked in the accounting profession, then
held church staff and pastoral positions in the St. Louis area. He and his wife, Vicki,
have two children, Rachel, 7, and Samuel, eighteen months.
Have you ever heard lyrics to a song that you could not forget? The tune and the words go round and round in your mind. My daughter loves to play the soundtrack of the musical production Les Miserables and every time she does, weeks go by before I can get one song out of my head.
Do you hear the people sing?
The rousing lyrics and march tune combine to make a powerful song not easily forgotten. It is about the freedom that revolution will bring when the new day dawns. Those who sing it are longing for hope in the midst of futility, for they are les miserables ("the miserables ones").
The writer of Hebrews 2, tells us about a different freedom song. It is the one that Jesus sings. "I will proclaim Thy name to My brethren, in the midst of the congregation I will sing Thy praise" (Heb. 2:12). This song was for first century Jewish Christians tempted to turn back from the road of faith on which they have embarked. The futility of life, including persecution and hardship, meant they needed a freedom song. Their faith was failing in the struggle (cf. 10:32ff; 12:12ff.) and they needed encouragement to persevere. To help them he pointed to the superiority of their object of faith, Jesus. Thus the writer of Hebrews gave them the encouragement they needed, including the song of 2:12.
It is also a song for us when we are discouraged and our faith needs strengthening. We can find the same encouragement and hope this song offers as we ask three questions: 1) To whom do we sing? 2) For what do we sing? 3) With whom do we sing?
TO WHOM DO WE SING?
The first eight verses of Hebrews 2 demonstrate the divinity of Jesus. Then the writer draws Jesus divinity into relation to His humanity. The one to whom we sing is the God-man, the fully divine, fully human Jesus. He was "made for a little while lower than the angels" (v. 9). He and His people "are all from one family" (v. 11, NIV). "Since then the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise partook of the same" (v. 14). "He had to be made like His brethren" (v. 17).
The doctrine of the two natures of Christ, human and divine, is a familiar one, maybe even to the point of being taken for granted at times. Why did the writer of Hebrews consider it essential to strengthening faith? It is because he understood the disappointment, doubt, and fear we sometimes feel when "we do not yet see all things subjected to him" (v. 8b). There are times when the heaven reality is obscured by the difficulties of earthly reality. When life is difficult, the doctrine of Christs two natures assures us that God will not forsake us, that He is "able to come to the aid of those who are tempted" (v. 18).
A special friend of mine, until he died last year, always bragged about his baseball playing days. He would relate how, during World War II, his Navy baseball team won the Armed Forces Championship with him at second base. Almost as an afterthought, he would mention that his team had a center fielder named Ted Williams! This tidbit was more than incidental -- in fact, having the greatest living baseball player on their team was absolutely essential to the story. They had a player who could take them to the championship because he was already a champion himself.
We must have confidence in God because He has given us Himself in Christ, who is able to bring us to heaven. In Him we can persevere until the end, because in the flesh He has already finished the race which we now run (Heb. 12:2). God has joined Himself eternally and unchangeably to a human nature. In Jesus, "two whole, perfect, and distinct natures, the Godhead and manhood, were inseparably joined together in one person" (Westminster Confession of Faith 8.2). Therefore, He is able to save those with whom He shares that human nature.
But its not simply that Jesus can take us to heaven. Only He can do so. Were not like the urban convent choir of the popular movie Sister Act. They needed only a good choir director to bring out the best in them, to maximize their full potential. We cant overcome the separation between God and us. Only He who has "clean hands and a pure heart" may approach Gods presence (Ps. 24:4). Jesus is able to bring us to God because He has first come from God (John 3:13). Because the divine Christ shared fully in human nature, we must look to Him as a sufficient Savior.
FOR WHAT DO WE SING?
Once weve established to whom we sing in worship, we must answer the question "For what do we sing?" These verses teach us that we sing to the God-man Jesus for His saving death. In His role as author of our salvation, Jesus was perfected through suffering (v. 10). This suffering brought "many sons to glory." He tasted death for us (v. 9). His death, when our faith is placed in Him, is our death. This is the scandal of the cross, that victory came through death.
A few months back my daughter, Rachel, had something in her eye. You know how painful a speck in the eye can be. At first I tried to remove it gently. But the longer I worked on it, the deeper it went. I lifted her onto the bathroom sink counter and, with beads of sweat forming on my own face, made my last attempt before heading to the doctor. The painful irritation finally pushed Rachel past her limit and, still sitting obediently, she burst into tears. However, as I was beginning to feel hopeless about my efforts, hope came. In mid-sob she began to laugh. You see, the tears of her pain had washed out the speck. The pain at its worst became its ultimate solution.
This is exactly what the servant pain of Jesus death became for us. And through that death we have two things. We have freedom from sins guilt because through faith our sin was laid on Him and His righteousness credited to us. God has punished our sin in Christs death and, by faith, we know the approval of God. But--and this is the part that many Christians today dont adequately understand--we also have been granted freedom from sins power. Hebrews 2:10 tells us that Jesus has broken the power which Satan had, the power of death. Death is Satans ultimate weapon, and it has been de-barbed (1 Cor. 15:55-57). By persevering in faith in Christs death, Christians can mortify the flesh day by day and know freedom from the power of the sin which entangles us (Heb. 12:1).
The death of Christ is our victory over sins guilt and power. Just as it is modeled frequently in the Psalms, Gods great work of redemption is at the focal point of our worship (cf. Psalm 114). And thats why we sing the "new song" of victory for His servant sacrifice (Psalm 40:3). Because the God-man Jesus frees us through His suffering, we must look to Him as a servant Savior.
WITH WHOM DO WE SING?
We sing to the God-man Jesus as our sufficient Savior. We sing about his redeeming work as our servant Savior. But Hebrews 2 doesnt stop there. It also tells us with whom we sing in worship. Hebrews 2:12 tells us that Jesus is singing in the midst of the assembly, the gathered people of God. Imagine what this means. Do you ever wish your worship in general and your singing in particular could be more heart-felt or sound better so that God would take more delight in it? This verse tells us that, when God hears our singing, He hears the voice of His son mingled with ours.
Ive spent a good bit of time in small churches, including the one in which I grew up in rural Southern Illinois. It seems like every small church choir, by the grace of God, has one good singer to hold them together. Usually its a robust soprano voice. But the real anchoring voice of the choir is Jesus voice. The beauty of our worship, just as our righteousness before God, is not found in ourselves but in Jesus. The voice of Jesus singing with us perfects our worship as it reaches the throne of God. While Christs righteousness is the answer to our doubt about God accepting us, Christs worship is the answer to our doubt about God being pleased with our worship. In this we see that our life with God is by grace from beginning to end.
We sing to Him as our sufficient Savior. We sing for His salvation as our servant Savior. And we sing with Him as a singing Savior. Because Jesus joins our worship as our victorious brother, we must join with him as our singing savior.
These truths alone give us grateful hearts to sing whole-heartedly to God in worship. But taken together they can produce an overwhelming passion for God. You see, verse 12 quotes from the Old Testament. Often, when a New Testament passage quotes the Old Testament, the broader context of the Old Testament passage is being invoked. In this case, the quote is from Psalm 22:22. This is the psalmists victory chant celebrating Gods deliverance.
But up until that point, Psalm 22 is a litany of desperate cries to God. It contains numerous images which the New Testament writers associated explicitly with the crucifixion of Jesus: The jeering of the witnesses (v. 7); the taunt for Him to appeal to God (v. 8); Jesus searing thirst (v. 15); the piercing of His hands and feet (v. 16) and the dividing of Jesus garments (v. 18, cf. Matt. 27:35). Most significantly, Psalm 22 begins with the cry of dereliction, "My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?" (Matt. 27:46). This was the cry of Jesus from the cross as He felt the hot anger of the Father against Himself, God waging war against our sin in His Son.
The victory song that Jesus sings among us when we worship began with the anguish of abandonment culminating in His being "under the power of death for a time" (Westminster Shorter Catechism 27). It wasnt just Jesus death that gives us the new song to sing with Him, but His standing in our place to receive the judgment of God against our sin. "He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him" (2 Cor. 5:21).
As a child I enjoyed the familiarity and informality of Sunday evening worship. Still fresh in my mind is the image of the open church doors and windows on a summer evening with the sound of hymns floating out on the summer breeze. We frequently had hymn sings on Sunday nights with the service open to requests. When singing favorites the leader shouted instructions between the verses: "Women on the next verse!" "Now men only!" "Everybody together again!"
The most profound lesson Hebrews 2 teaches us about worship is that, because Jesus sang the first verses of Psalm 22, we dont have to sing them. Instead, we sing the verses of praise with Him. Because he cried out "Abandoned!" we can sing out "Found!" Under the weight of our sin He declared Himself "a worm and not a man" (Ps. 22:6) so that each of us is "no longer a slave but a son" (Gal. 4:7). The frown of God was upon His beloved Son so that divine justice satisfied smiles at us.
In worship we sing with our Savior because He first sang for us. It is not the song of angry men hoping for freedom tomorrow, but the song of a victorious Savior voicing the victory over sins power that we have in His saving work. As Edmund Clowney has said, "Jesus Christ is the singing Victor of the Psalms [T]he risen Savior sings in glory. He is not ashamed to call us brethren, but sings in the midst of His assembled saints in the heavenly Zion and on earth where two or three are gathered in His name."
Reformed Quarterly, Volume 17, Issue 1
© Reformed Theological Seminary
Articles may not be reprinted without permission.
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QUARTERLY SPRING 1998
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Last updated 7-16-99.