A New Testament Hit Parade

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Over the past few weeks, we have looked at some songs/hymns in Scripture. These songs may not look like the songs we have today, but they were songs nonetheless. Mary’s song, Elizabeth’s song, Zechariah’s song…all these songs were sung by people whose lives had been touched and changed by God. These songs are chock-full of praise to God. They are also packed with dynamic theology. The songs in the New Testament—and there are plenty—are all like that; full of solid teaching about all things theological. And this makes all the sense in the world. Think about all the songs or especially advertising jingles that fill your mind every day; they’re hard to forget.  The New Testament songs and confessions not only served to glorify God, but also to help people remember the truth of God’s Word in the face of constant false teaching. A catchy tune and slick lyrics stick in the mind! Paul and other New Testament writers, even without the benefit of a business degree, understood this.

1. Songs of Faith

Beyond all question, 1 Timothy 3:16

It is quite true that the way to live a godly life is not an easy matter. But the answer lies in Christ, who came to earth as a man, was proved spotless and pure in his Spirit, was served by angels, was preached among the nations, was accepted by men everywhere, and was received up again to his glory in heaven.

Paul begins his confession or hymn with the obvious: living a godly life is NOT easy. Everybody knows this, which is why there is so little godly living going on. Back in verse 9, in fact, Paul referred to godly living as “the mystery of the faith.” His answer or solution to the quandary of living a godly life is giving as six succinct statements about Christ given in chronological progression. This list includes (a) the Incarnation, (b) the resurrection, (c) the ascension, (d) the preaching of the Gospel, (e) the response to it, and (f) the ultimate victory of Christ.

This IS the mystery of godliness, or the mystery of our faith. As Christians, our final witness to the Truth is in our transformed lives—lives transformed by the power of Christ. This is such an urgent need in the Church today, and this ancient hymn ought to be sung every Sunday! Living a godly life may not be easy, but it is necessary and it is possible through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

A faithful saying, 2 Timothy 2:11—13

I am comforted by this truth, that when we suffer and die for Christ it only means that we will begin living with him in heaven. And if we think that our present service for him is hard, just remember that some day we are going to sit with him and rule with him. But if we give up when we suffer, and turn against Christ, then he must turn against us. Even when we are too weak to have any faith left, he remains faithful to us and will help us, for he cannot disown us who are part of himself, and he will always carry out his promises to us.

In the KJV, this section begins with a familiar refrain, “It is a faithful saying,” which usually served to introduce a fragment of a creed or hymn or even liturgical prayer. These verses are generally believed to be taken from an early Church hymn, well known by Timothy and the Ephesian church. Suffering on account of the faith was all-too common in the days of the early church, so it’s no wonder a hymn dealing with suffering was so well-known. It’s not easy nor desirable to suffer even for Christ, but, as this song points out, the prospect of eternal life after the suffering more than makes up for the present difficulties. Imagine what that new life involves: living and even reigning with Him!

But, because knowing doctrine and theology was and is so urgent, there is a kind of sad note struck in this hymn: there are awful consequences in turning your back on Christ even while you are suffering. If, under persecution, a man disowns Christ, that is seen as unfaithfulness in God’s eyes and will result in he himself being disowned by Christ.

But, there is hope. God knows the weakness of the heart. And He promises to strengthen those who are on the verge of giving up. This reminds us of what the father of the dying child exclaimed to Jesus:

Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24 NIV)

The help is there for the taking! Giving up does not have to be an option.

Song of celebration, Revelation 15:3, 4

…and they were singing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb:

Great and marvelous are your doings,  Lord God Almighty.  Just and true are your ways, O King of Ages.  Who shall not fear, O Lord, and glorify your Name?  For you alone are holy.  All nations will come and worship before you, for your righteous deeds aave been disclosed.”

This great song is also found in Exodus 15:1—21 and Deuteronomy 32:1—43. All versions of this song speak of God’s deliverance, salvation, and of His wonderful faithfulness. A fact that often gets lost in studying the Book of Revelation is that it is all about Christ. We focus on the four horsemen and the Antichrist and things like that, but Revelation is essentially all about the final victory of Christ over sin and Satan. In this book, we see Jesus Christ as He really is, in all His power, majesty, and holiness. We see Him as the One in charge, as the King and Lord of the universe. Think about the wonder that is Jesus Christ. The Son of God who is also the Son of Man, who alone is able to grasp God’s hand and man’s hand at the same time and become the great Bridge between the two. No wonder John used Moses’s great hymn to describe the Lord Jesus!

The final phrase, “For your righteous deeds have been disclosed,” may seem odd to you. You may not see what God is doing right now. Most of us don’t. But know this: whether you see it or not, God is at work in your life and in the world right now. It’s the foolish man that won’t acknowledge this. One day, all will be revealed and, like the prophet, we’ll be amazed at what God was doing.

2. Song of the Incarnation, Philippians 2:5—11

Talk about a powerful hymn! In this group of verses, the apostle Paul links the Incarnation, the lynchpin of Christian doctrines, to how you and I should be living our lives. It all boils down to attitude, which the KJV calls “the mind of Christ.” Humility marked Christ’s attitude and it should mark how we live our lives. There is no room for pride or arrogance of any kind in the life of the believer because Jesus had nothing to do with those attitudes. Our Lord put the needs of sinners ahead of His own needs as Heaven’s Son. He gave up so much to take on the problem of OUR sin. Now, we can’t do what Jesus did for anybody, but may certainly adopt His attitude of heart!

John Walvoord made this wonderful observation about the Incarnation:

To achieve the divine purpose of becoming the Savior, the divine glory needed to be veiled. Christ voluntarily, moment by moment, submitted to human limitations apart from sin. The humiliation was temporary. The Incarnation was everlasting.

Humility drove Jesus to the Incarnation, something that will remain part of Him for all eternity.

But, with obedience comes reward. Consider:

Yet it was because of this that God raised him up to the heights of heaven and gave him a name which is above every other name, that at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:9—11 TLB)

Christ’s humiliation didn’t occur in a vacuum; His Father honored His Son’s actions and obedience. God the Father exalted the Son because the Son willingly emptied Himself and embraced the Cross in complete obedience to His Father. Just how significant will Christ’s final exaltation be? Well, first of all, the final exaltation of the Christ has not happened yet. It is true that we, as Christians, exalt Jesus every Sunday at church and other times when we gather en mass to worship Him. We also exalt the Name of Jesus in how we live our lives in the world and how we share our faith with others. But that’s not the whole story! Paul notes this:

..at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11and every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:10, 11 TLB)

The word EVERY means EVERY. At some point in the future (because it hasn’t happened yet), EVERY single tongue EVERYWHERE will finally acknowledge the Lordship of Jesus Christ! Now, that doesn’t mean every tongue everywhere will be happy about it or will claim Jesus as Savior. It means that even in the depths of Hell, the worst of the worst demon will be forced to admit to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. What a day that will be for our Lord!

3. Victory over death

Singing as children of light, Ephesians 5:8—14

It was no less a person as Michelangelo who said,

I live and love in God’s peculiar light.

And that’s how we should “live and love,” too.

For though once your heart was full of darkness, now it is full of light from the Lord, and your behavior should show it! (Ephesians 5:8 TLB)

In other words, if you claim to be a Christian, you had better start living like one! One scholar put it this way:

Let the children of the light express their true nature. Let them live in accordance with it. Christ is the light and He creates children of light.

When the light dwells inside you, it will shine through you; you will be full of God’s grace for living a godly life. Jesus taught this:

Your eyes light up your inward being. A pure eye lets sunshine into your soul. A lustful eye shuts out the light and plunges you into darkness. So watch out that the sunshine isn’t blotted out. If you are filled with light within, with no dark corners, then your face will be radiant too, as though a floodlight is beamed upon you.” (Luke 11:34—34 TLB)

Verses 10 and 11 tell us an important, often overlooked, aspect of the Christian life:

Learn as you go along what pleases the Lord. Take no part in the worthless pleasures of evil and darkness, but instead, rebuke and expose them.

Christians are not supposed to be sitting around waiting to be given divine, supernatural knowledge. According to Paul, the Christian life is a “learn-on-the-job” deal! The Christian life is meant to be LIVED! If you make a mistake, there is grace and forgiveness aplenty. God doesn’t want His children sitting on the sidelines. God doesn’t want His children compromising with the world—going along to get along. In fact, He expects the opposite! Christians are supposed to be aggressively pushing back against the darkness. You may do this in many ways, from how you live your life, how you speak, to the attitudes you adopt, and even the people you associate with. Everything you do, how you do it everyday, will tell people what you believe.

Celebrating the final victory, 1 Corinthians 15:53—58

We usually read these verses at funerals, but they really are highly theological teachings that tell us a lot about our bodies. They are just temporary. No matter how much you work out, no matter how many vitamins you take, no matter how much you abstain from alcohol and cigarettes, your body will eventually stop working and you will die. Unless the Lord Jesus returns first, you will die.

But, the death of your flesh and blood body isn’t the end, it means you can then receive your NEW body! Your “resurrection body” is just waiting for you to die! You have to die so that you can progress to the next level of life. Even Christians get caught up in all the sentimentality of death. We lose a loved one and we grieve so much we forget the truth of what Paul is trying to convey here. There is a time to grieve. But grieving must give way to rejoicing. When one dies in the Lord, his death is really a blessing because it opens a door through which he must walk without his earthly body—he must leave it behind. That’s as it should be because on the other side of that door is a brand new body! Death is not defeat for the Christian, it’s the ultimate victory.

Sigmund Freud, who was so wrong about so much, was also wrong about the subject of death. He noted,

And finally there is the painful riddle of death, for which no remedy at all has yet been found, nor probably ever will be.

In fact, the truth was written by Paul:

O death, where then your victory? Where then your sting? (1 Corinthians 15:55 TLB)

When you know Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, the horrific fear of death is gone.

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