Handel’s Messiah Christmas 2

Title: Biblical Passages in Handel’s Messiah 2

Text: Haggai 2:6-7, Malachi 3:1-3

Time: December 31sth, 2012

 

I’m continuing today in explaining the meaning of the different biblical verses found in Handel’s Messiah, the first section that deals with the coming of Jesus.  I’ve already covered the first three verses, so today I’ll cover the next three – “Thus saith the Lord” from Haggai 2:6,7, “But who may abide the Day of His Coming?” from Malachi 3:2, and “And He shall Purify” from Malachi 3:3. As I mentioned last time, few people realize that the entire Handel’s Messiah is made up exclusively of biblical passages. I had heard the Messiah off and on throughout my life, but only came to the realization that it was totally scriptural in the last few years. Someone showed me a program bulletin from a live performance of Handel’s Messiah and I noticed that each separate musical movement was accompanied by a biblical verse. I looked closer and realized that the entire musical score was quotations from the Bible, that there wasn’t a single word of human commentary in it! That was surprising. It got me interested enough to decide that someday I would like to give a message series on Handel’s Messiah using just the verses that the musical uses. Well, I’m not going to give a message series on the entire music, but since it’s the Christmas season I thought I’d at least try to outline the first section that deals with the prophecy and birth of Jesus the Messiah. Our family has attended a couple of performances of Messiah in Ann Arbor, Michigan at the annual Christmas holiday performance in Pease Auditorium. It’s an amazing sight to see a large crowd of a mixture of spiritual and non-spiritual people join together at the end to sing the closing “hallelujah, “ because it’s amazing that such a crowd could sing it together. But even non-Christians, non-religious people seem to enjoy singing what is essentially praise to God – although they may not realize they are singing a praise song. It’s as if the beauty of the music tricks everyone into giving praise to God whether they would naturally do so or not. But it’s not just the musical end of the Messiah that appeals to everyone, it’s also the beginning – the section we are coving today. Why is the Messiah traditionally performed around the Christmas holiday? Probably because the whole first section deals with the birth of Jesus the Messiah, and so much of the entire music deals with this theme. It’s a great way to get into the Christmas spirit. It really puts things into proper perspective, especially in our modern, secular society that needs every help it can get in keeping a proper perspective on Christmas. So let’s jump back into Handel’s Messiah and examine the next three verses. Hopefully it will underscore for us once again the true meaning and purpose of the Christmas season.

 

First, there’s “Thus saith the Lord.” Haggai 2:6, 7, “Thus saith the Lord of Hosts; Yet once, a little while and I will shake the heavens, and the earth, and the sea, and the dry land; And I will shake all nations, and the desire of all nations shall come.” Handel’s Messiah gives us a slightly different perspective on Christmas than the usual New Testament verses found in Matthew and Luke. It begins with the Old Testament prophets and their prophetic foretelling of the Messiah’s coming. But even here, the verses Handel chooses are not typical. Yes, he does include the major prophetic verse found in Isaiah 7:14 concerning the virgin birth of Jesus. Yes, he also includes some other major Old Testament prophecies concerning the Incarnation, such as Isaiah 9:6, the one about “For unto us a child is born, a son is given, and the government shall be upon his shoulders” and so on. But what’s interesting about Handel’s Messiah is that it includes also many obscure verses that take a little reflection as to their connection with the Christmas nativity. For example, in this verse, Haggai 2:6-7, we find a reference to God shaking the earth. But is this a reference to Christ’s first coming in Bethlehem, or is this a reference to his second coming in the end times? Handel links it up with the birth of Christ, and it certainly applies, although more in a spiritual sense than physical. What I mean is, yes, God certainly did shake the earth and nations with the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem, but it wasn’t immediately obvious that he did. In fact, the Jewish people continue today to deny that God did anything spiritually profound in the birth, life and death of Jesus Christ. So the shaking that came is mostly a spiritual disruption. But what a spiritual disruption it was! Today, more than two billion people profess Christianity, the largest religion in the world. Christianity has played a  major role in world history since its beginning. The first earth shaking step was when the Christian church became the official religion of the world’s mightiest powers, the Roman Empire. For the next thousand years Christianity shook the world through the Western World. Then it again shook the world at the time of the Protestant Reformation, essentially launching the world into the modern era, although in the process it unleashed a secularism that is now attacking faith itself. But again, the most profound shaking was the revelation of the gospel of salvation that has benefited millions and millions since the birth of Christ. And there is more shaking to come, at the second coming, where perhaps this verse will find its most complete fulfillment. Are you moved by the mighty works of God? We all should be.

 

Second, there’s “But who may abide the Day of His Coming?” Malachi 3:1-2, “The Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to His temple, even the messenger of the covenant, whom ye delight in. Behold, He shall come, saith the Lord of Hosts. But who may abide the day of His coming? And who shall stand when He appeareth? For He is like a refiner’s fire.” Now the first verse actually is included in the previous section, at the end, but I include it here in this part because it is the beginning of the passage itself. The issue that Handel seems to be dealing with here is the appearance of the Lord in the flesh on the earth – and what that means to us as feeble humans. Remember, the prophets who foretold the birth of the Messiah didn’t know how it would actually come about, or what it would actually look like. They were seeing ahead, down the road, so they might ask, “If God appears on earth, then who can survive such a powerful event?” Again, we see a mixing of the prophecies concerning the birth of Jesus and the second coming of Christ.  The prophets tunnel them all together into one, but in fact, they are two separate events. Jesus comes once as the babe in Bethlehem, and then he comes again in glory and power from the clouds at the second coming. Many of the prophecies combine and mix these two events, so naturally anyone looking forward might wonder at the coming of Messiah, “Who can abide the day of his coming, who can stand at his appearing?” But we know now that Messiah came in a non-intimidating way in the form of a baby born in Bethlehem on that silent night two thousand years ago. He laid his glory aside and appeared as a humble baby, grew up in poverty, lived obscurely until his short ministry began, and then died abruptly. He rose again triumphantly, but even this wasn’t done in public or in front of the world, but only to his faithful. But his second coming will be in glory and in power, where he shakes the nations visibly and rules victoriously not only spiritually but politically as well. So was Handel confused by the different prophecies? Did he confuse the first coming with the second coming? No. Christianity had sorted out these differences long before Handel created his musical masterpiece. I believe Handel was trying to capture the mood and setting of the prophetic time prior to Christ’s birth. He wanted to set the context of the Incarnation. We often miss this today, the context. The fact is, nobody really knew exactly how the Messiah would appear, so we have anticipation. This is what the Advent season is all about in the Christian church – it’s the remembering of the waiting for the Messiah’s birth. We should fully appreciate the great anticipation there was concerning the coming of Messiah. It was a big deal back then, and we should fully understand it to better appreciate Christmas.

 

Third, there’s “And He shall Purify.” Malachi 3:3, “And He shall purify the sons of Levi . . . that they may offer unto the Lord an offering in righteousness.” This part opens for the first time with female singers and then later combines men and women singing. The theme is the purification of the Lord at his appearing. It’s a short verse, or at least the singing portion simply repeats the phrase, “And He shall Purify,” over and over again. Now the big question is, how would God purify at his appearing in the Messiah? From the standpoint of the first appearing, the babe in Bethlehem and the adult Jesus, we can see, again, a spiritual activity taking place. For example, Jesus the Messiah was born, lived and died on the cross for the forgiveness of sins. Those who by faith trust his saving work are forgiven and receive eternal life. The purification would be Christ’s own atoning death as purification for our sins. We are purified through Christ’s death in our place, for our forgiveness. But again, this wasn’t know in all the details by the prophets who foretold it. They were also thinking in terms of making holy and pure not only individuals but society as well. But again, that’s a reference to Christ’s second coming more than his first. Again, the prophets combined many elements of Christ’s first appearing with his second and final appearing. In the second coming Jesus will purify society as well as individuals. He will reign on the earth in a revolutionary way, where spirituality will lead all other areas of life, including political and economic. Today, we have this completely reversed, or upside down. We are led by political and economic concerns — which is a mistake, but it’s a reality. One day, when Christ appears again, he’ll purify humanity of this error, this false vision, and rule and lead spiritually as his first priority. Then every other aspect of life will take its rightful place. But we shouldn’t think that we have to wait for Christ to come again a second time before we get his priorities in our lives now. We should prioritize God’s spiritual truths in our lives. We shouldn’t simply follow the secular modern world’s priorities of politics and economics. We should receive the Lord’s purity through faith and also strive towards holiness through the power of the Spirit in our individual lives. Yes, we are purified through the Messiah’s atoning sacrifice now, and society will be purified by the Messiah’s second coming in the future. Is this a theme you often think about? Are you looking for Christ’s coming? Are you praying for it? It’s a major theme in the New Testament church, so let’s give it more concern in our lives today as Christians. God is wanting to purify his church and his people today. Are you willing to undergo that purification and live a holy life in the midst of a fallen and sinful world?

 

You may ask, “Why was there so much uncertainty and confusion about Christ’s first coming in the prophetic writings? Why were the prophets mixing the Messiah’s first coming with his second coming?” That’s easy for us to ask today, after the fact of Christ’s appearance on earth two thousand years ago, but consider a parallel situation today. We know that Christ is coming back a second time, but how will it actually take place? What will it actually look like? And when will it happen? Now you can sympathize with the prophets and the people of the Old Testament and early New Testament times. They knew something big was coming but they didn’t know all the details of how it would come about. The prophets were correct in everything they said, but they just weren’t very specific in the details. But who can fault them in that? The New Testament writers, prophets and apostles speak of Christ’s second coming, but are they really very detailed and specific? We read from the Book of Revelation, and it certainly tells us a lot about the end times, but is anyone actually clear on how Christ’s coming will really look? No. It’s such a fantastic and wonderful event that how can it even be described until it actually happens. When it comes the prophetic writings of both the Old and New Testaments will completely make sense. But until then, we have to accept the fact that much of prophecy will be difficult to understand, just like it was for the Jews waiting for the coming of Messiah in the first century. Consider the prophet John the Baptist. He was sent by God to “prepare the way of the Lord,” and so he went about teaching, preaching and baptizing in preparation for the coming of the Messiah. But even he wasn’t exactly sure on all the details. He correctly identified Jesus as the Messiah, but even John had to go back to Jesus and ask for clarification: “John’s disciples told him about all these things. Calling two of them, he sent them to the Lord to ask, ‘Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?’ When the men came to Jesus, they said, ‘John the Baptist sent us to you to ask, “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else,”’” Luke 7:18-20. As we look for the Lord’s second coming we should bear in mind that although we have our Bibles and we hold our ideas about how it will take place and what it will look like, it may well be very different than what we imagine. So in other words, we shouldn’t worry ourselves about all the details of the future, but we should prepare ourselves for it by being as close to God as possible. Are you preparing yourself for Christ’s appearing? Or are you caught up in the world’s agenda of power, position and prosperity? Let’s use this Christmas season as a reminder that God has a plan and let’s join his plan for the future. It’s the only future with a future.

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