The Expository Files


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 the Spirit.

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 Jesus.

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