Often at Christmas time we hear Handel’s oratorio Messiah with the announcement to Mary and the shepherds. “For unto us a child is born” and “Glory to God in the highest” and then the oratorio moves into the second and third parts with prophesies of the coming Messiah and affirmation that the Redeemer lives and is worthy to receive all power, and honor and glory. All the words are taken directly from Scripture.
The Messiah is really the story of Christ throughout His life with the focal point being His rejection, suffering, death and resurrection. It is, therefore, properly considered at this time of the church year, when Jesus’ passion, His sacrifice and His resurrection is center in our collective minds.
In Part II we are directed to “behold the Lamb of God, that taketh away the sin of the world”. This is a direct quotation of John 1:29, the words of John the Baptist in reference to Jesus Christ.
Then the alto sings Isaiah 53:3.
“He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.”
After describing the misery that the Lord would endure for our sin, the chorus vividly describes mankind, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way, and the Lord hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all.” Isaiah 53:6 ESV
The tenor presents the crucifixion and resurrection, after which the choir erupts into a chorus describing heaven when Jesus defeats death and sin. “Lift up your heads, O ye gates; and be ye lift up, ye everlasting doors; and the King of glory shall come in.” Psalm 24:7 KJV
The oratorio continues by describing the mission of the Lord’s people, going into all the world preaching the gospel and then by telling of the rebellion to that Word. “Why do the heathen rage, and the people imagine a vain thing?” Psalm 2:1 KJV After questioning why, the soloists reveal the Lord’s response to mankind’s opposition:
“He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh: the Lord shall have them in derision. … Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron; thou shalt dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.”
Psalm 2:4, 9 KJV
At this point we hear the famous Hallelujah Chorus, proclaiming the power of the Lord God and that God’s kingdom will reign forever and ever. This too is from Scripture, specifically from Revelation 19:6.
“And I heard as it were the voice of a great multitude, and as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of mighty thunderings, saying, Alleluia: for the Lord God omnipotent reigneth.”
It is at this point that the audience rises in honor of the majesty of the music and of its message. For many of us, this is the crescendo of the oratorio.
After a recent presentation Parts II and III of the Messiah, I found it interesting to think about the placement of the Hallelujah Chorus. It is not at the end of the work, rather it comes immediately after describing God’s prevailing power over man’s revolt against Him and His Anointed One. This should be encouraging for each of us.
The Chorus certainly praises God for His authority over mankind, for the strength of His kingdom, in recognition of His power and of the inviolate guarantee that things that He has ordained will, indeed, come to pass. His providence will not be thwarted by anything that man or any other created being can do. In short, God wins! Hallelujah!
But, this is not the only instance of praise in the oratorio.
Part III of the oratorio begins with the soprano singing “I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth.” Job 19:25. These words should bring praise to the lips of every believer in our Lord.
The substitutionary atonement of Jesus is told when the choir sings “since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.” 1 Corinthians 15:21-22.
And the hope of everlasting life is described when the bass sings “Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed–in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.” 1 Corinthians 15:51-52 NKJV
The final song is one that is sung in heaven: “saying with a loud voice: ‘Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and riches and wisdom, and strength and honor and glory and blessing!’” Revelation 5:12 NKJV
Not only should we sing Hallelujah because God defeats sin and evil, we should continue our praise and worship of our God and of His Son by acknowledging and praising Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, for His work on the cross, for His atoning death and resurrection for us, for He alone is worthy to be praised.
Here is a presentation of the song “Worthy is the Lamb” as found on the album Glory to the Holy One, words by Dr. R. C. Sproul and music by Jeff Lippencott.
I am including the text of the words for your reference:
The veil of heaven opened wide
The scene was clearly set
John saw a scroll writ either side
Where seven seals were met
With booming voice the angel said
To now unseal the scroll
But none was found to meet the task
Not even one lone soul
Worthy, worthy, worthy is the Lamb
Worthy, worthy is the Lamb who was slain
Convulsed with tears and broken heart
John’s hope was now assailed
“Weep not,” the elder counseled him,
“A Lion has prevailed!”
No lion came to take his claim
No beast of royal reign
Instead there stood a bloodied Lamb
Like one who had been slain
Ten thousand times, ten thousand more
The host of heaven cried
All blessing, honor, glory, and pow’r
To Christ, the Lamb that died
Christ the Lamb, who was slain
Father, during this time of the year when we consider the Passion of our Lord, I can do nothing other than fall at the foot of the cross in recognition that He has taken my sin upon Himself and I have nothing to bring other than a broken and contrite heart. May my life reflect praise for my Lord and my King to whom all glory and honor belongs.