Praising Jesus - A First Century Hymn
1 Timothy 3:16
There is room for quite a bit of variation in the way public worship is
conducted. Of course we must always be subject to the will of Christ in the
things we do and say, but there is room for tradition and custom as well. For
this reason, different local churches might do things in different order, or
one might spend more time on one aspect of worship than another does, and yet
both still be in subjection unto the will of our Lord. I'm told that Americans
would find a "typical" worship service of brethren in Nigeria to be quite
different to what we are accustomed to. The songs would sound different, the
sermon might be quite a bit longer, the method of partaking of the bread and
cup would be different and so forth.
Time changes things too, as far as customs are concerned. Have you ever
wondered exactly what the procedure of public worship was in the first
century? Did they sit in a circle or in rows or just here and there? What
postures did they assume for the different things they did? What did they
wear? How did they begin? What did their singing sound like?
History supplies some of the answers in the form of personal letters of early
Christians which give accounts of such incidentals. A good compilation of this
is in the book Early Christians Speak by Everett Ferguson. We have a
copy of this book in our church library.
But back to singing; what lyrics did their songs have? There is an interesting
passage in the Bible where Paul evidently quotes the words of a first century
hymn. It was a song of praise unto Jesus, and went like this:
"He who was revealed in the flesh,
Was vindicated by the Spirit,
Beheld by angels,
Proclaimed among nations,
Believed upon in the world,
Taken up in glory." (I TIM 3:16)
Let's consider the message in this early hymn.
He Who Was Revealed in the Flesh
"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was
God… and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us..." (John 1:1,14). When
God the Son became flesh, we beheld the heart, mind and actions of God in a
form we could comprehend. We also understand that the Son did not begin His
existence at His conception, but has existed from all eternity. As Jesus said,
"Truly, truly I say unto you, before Abraham was born, I AM."
(John 8:58). Jesus here does not only affirm His pre-existence, but also takes
upon Himself the Divine name of God-”I Am” (Exodus 3:14)!
Jesus became flesh for our sakes. He had to take upon Himself a fleshly body
so that He might die for our sins. We are forever indebted unto Him for His
kindness and mercy!
Was Vindicated by the Spirit
"When the Helper comes, Whom I will send to you from the Father, that is,
the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, He will bear witness of
Me." (John 15:26). To be vindicated means to be shown righteous or
truthful. The Spirit bore witness of Christ in various ways during His
personal ministry. He came upon Jesus in the form of a dove when Jesus was
baptized, He empowered Jesus to do mighty works, and He fulfilled Jesus'
promise to His apostles by arriving to guide them unto all truth just as Jesus
had promised. Jesus' claims concerning His identity were indeed vindicated by
Seen By Angels
"...these things which now have been announced to you through those who
preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven-things into
which angels long to look" (I Peter 1:12). The angels watched with great
eagerness and wonder as our Lord became flesh and worked out for us redemption
from sin. They were always ready to serve their Lord and ours. They would save
Him from the cross if He so desired, or they would restrain themselves
obediently if that was His will. They are said to rejoice over every sinner
that repents. They are much more interested in the plan of human salvation
than even most humans are!
Proclaimed Among Nations
"Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name
of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit" (Matthew 28:19). Jesus
belongs to no particular race or nation. He did not come to exalt one nation
over another but to save all men and women everywhere. Such had been
prophesied (Isaiah 2:2,3). Sin knows no national boundaries so neither does
Believed on in the World
"When He comes to be glorified in His saints on that day, and to be
marveled at among all who have believed - for our testimony to you was
believed" (2 Thessalonians 1:10). Thessalonica was a city far removed from
Jerusalem where just three short decades before the above was written Jesus
had been crucified as a common criminal. It is a wonder that they ever heard
of Him let alone became convinced to entrust their very souls to Him!
Certainly belief in Christ is something to sing about, but how did the message
ever spread to this and other cities? The answer is because of what happened
following the cross!
Taken Up in Glory
"And after He had said these things, He was lifted up while they were
looking on, and a cloud received Him out of their sight" (Acts 1:9).
Jesus' death was not the end of Christianity, it was the beginning. The angels
pronouncement at the empty tomb rang through the world, "He is not here, He is
risen!" Jesus' resurrection and exaltation is our hope and peace. Those who
believe Him will not be put to shame. Certainly these are things to sing
about, in the first century as well as the twentieth*!
By Jon W. Quinn
From Expository Files 20.1; January 2013