Handel’s Messiah — is he yours too?

One beautiful Christmas tradition is the performance of George Frederick Handel’s oratorio, Messiah. Messiah is the Hebrew word for Christ, the Anointed One, and this magnificent work is a compilation of scriptures that describe the birth, mission, death, resurrection and glory of Jesus Christ. Messiah was composed in 1741, the lyrics chosen and compiled by Charles Jennens from the King James Version Old Testament and some of the Psalms reproduced in the Book of Common Prayer. Jennens wrote to a friend: “I hope [Handel] will lay out his whole Genius & Skill upon it, that the Composition may excell all his former Compositions, as the Subject excells every other subject. The Subject is Messiah.”

The oratorio has three parts, each divided into scenes containing individual movements, combination of recitatives, arias and choruses. Part I predicts the coming of Messiah through the prophets and announces his birth through the words of Luke’s gospel. Part II covers Messiah’s passion, death, resurrection and ascension, culminating in the Hallelujah chorus. Part III begins with the promise of redemption, the judgement and resurrection of saints and the final victory over sin and death. As we follow Jennen’s choice of lyrics, to the glorious melodies Handel composed, let’s reflect on what we can learn about our Lord Messiah and his saving work.

Part I

Comfort ye, comfort ye My people, saith your God. Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned” (Isa 40:1–2).
“The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness; ‘Prepare ye the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God’”(Isa 40:3).
“Ev’ry valley shall be exalted, and ev’ry mountain and hill made low; the crooked straight and the rough places plain. And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it” (Isa 40:4–5).

Jerusalem’s comfort comes from the God of all comfort (2 Cor 1:3–5), and her pardon comes from the Lord. This same Lord for whom John the Baptist prepared the way is God himself (Mal 3:1; Luke 3:2–6), whose glory was about to be revealed (John 1:14; 17:5; 1 Cor 2:8; 2 Cor 3:18; Heb 1:3; 1 Pet 4:11). This glory, the glory God will not share with another (Isa 48:11)was revealed in the Son, in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Cor 4:6).

Thus says the Lord, the Lord of Hosts: ‘Yet once a little while and I will shake the heavens and the earth, the sea and the dry land. And I will shake all nations; and the desire of all nations shall come’” (Hag 2:6–7)

The context of this passage follows the theme of glory; the former glory of the first temple was not perceived in the second, but soon the glory would return to the temple in the person of the Lord himself!

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. And he shall purify the sons of Levi, that they may offer unto the Lord an offering in righteousness” (Mal 3:1–3).

It is God who will come to his temple, the Lord YHWH, preceded by his messenger. And when YHWH appears in the wake of John the Baptist, he is Jesus Messiah (John 1:23–30).

Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call his name Emmanuel, God with us” (Isa 7:14; Matt 1:23)

The Word became flesh, took on humanity in the womb of Mary, fully God and fully man, God with us (John 1:1–2, 14).

O thou that telleth good tidings to Zion, get thee up into the high mountain. O thou that tellest good tidings to Jerusalem, lift up thy voice with strength; lift it up, be not afraid; say unto the cities of Judah, ‘Behold your God!’” (Isaiah 40:9)
“Arise, shine, for thy Light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee”(Isaiah 60:1)
“For behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the people; but the Lord shall arise upon thee, and His glory shall be seen upon thee, And the Gentiles shall come to thy light,
and kings to the brightness of thy rising” (Isaiah 60:2-3).
“The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light; and they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined” (Isaiah 9:2).

The good news, the euaggelion or gospel, proclaims the coming of Messiah, with the announcement, “Behold your God.” It is the glory and light of the Lord himself (2 Cor 4:4, 6; John 1:1–9, 14). The light of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Messiah; it is the Lord YHWH who arose and whose glory was seen, a light for Jews and Gentiles, all who would believe in his name.

For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given, and the government shall be upon His shoulder; and His name shall be called, Wonderful, Counsellor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6)

There were shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flocks by night. And lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them,
and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them: ‘Fear not, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.’ And suddenly there was with the angel, a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God, and saying: ‘Glory to God in the highest, and peace on earth, good will towards men’” (Luke 2:8–14)

How fitting that the true Shepherd of Israel should be revealed first to these lowly shepherds. God was the Shepherd of Israel (Ezek 34:15, 23; John 10:11–16) and their only Saviour (Isa 43:11) and he humbled himself, taking the form of a servant (Phil 2:7; 2 Cor 8:9), Christ the Lord.

Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, thy King cometh unto thee; He is the righteous Saviour, and He shall speak peace unto the heathen” (Zechariah 9:9–10).
“Then shall the eyes of the blind be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped. Then shall the lame man leap as an hart, and the tongue of the dumb shall sing” (Isaiah 35:5-6).
“He shall feed His flock like a shepherd; and He shall gather the lambs with His arm, and carry them in His bosom, and gently lead those that are with young” (Isaiah 40:11).

Through the Saviour, people of all nations may become children of God. He achieved peace, reconciliation through his blood (Eph 2:13–18). The warfare, the enmity between God and humanity was ended. He worked the very works of God (John 5:17, 36; 10:25, 38; 14:11) healing, forgiving, the good Shepherd.

Come unto Him, all ye that labour, come unto Him that are heavy laden, and He will give you rest. Take His yoke upon you, and learn of Him, for He is meek and lowly of heart, and ye shall find rest unto your souls. His yoke is easy, and His burthen is light” (Matt 11:28–30)

Such is our assurance; whoever comes to Jesus he will not cast out (John 6:37–40); in him we have eternal life, by his grace through faith, not due to our own merit. Christ has done all that is needful for our salvation.

Part II

Behold the Lamb of God, that taketh away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).

Isaac, a type of Christ, went with his father to what would become the mount of crucifixion, where God would provide the Lamb (Gen 22:6–8). The substitutionary sacrifice of Christ has dealt decisively with our sin (1 Cor 5:7; 1 Pet 1:18–19; 2:24). He was made sin for us, who knew no sin (2 Cor 5:21). He is our Passover, the Lamb slain in lieu of the firstborn of Israel (1 Cor 5:7).

He was despised and rejected of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3).
“He gave His back to the smiters, and His cheeks to them that plucked off the hair: He hid not His face from shame and spitting” (Isaiah 50:6).
“Surely He hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows! He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement of our peace was upon Him.
And with His stripes we are healed. 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).

This passage speaks of the heart of [substitutionary atonement]. He took our sins and the punishment for them. Wholly a work of God, we can have absolute assurance in the power of his sacrifice. But what cost! No less than the precious blood of God’s own Son (1 Pet 1:18–19; Acts 2:28; Heb 10:19; 1 John 1:7).

All they that see Him laugh Him to scorn; they shoot out their lips, and shake their heads, saying: ‘He trusted in God that He would deliver Him; let Him deliver Him, if He delight in Him” (Psa 22:7–8)
“Thy rebuke hath broken His heart: He is full of heaviness. He looked for some to have pity on Him, but there was no man, neither found He any to comfort Him” (Psa 69:20).
“Behold, and see if there be any sorrow like unto His sorrow (Lam 1:12)
“He was cut off out of the land of the living: for the transgressions of Thy people was He stricken” (Isaiah 53:8)

Those who derided Jesus on the cross and challenged him to “prove” his Messiahship by coming down from the cross (Mark 15:29–32) little realised that he proved it by staying there until “It is finished” (John 19:30). He bore the wrath of God (Rom 5:9; 1 John 2:2); it pleased the Lord to bruise him, it was our sins that put him there.

But Thou didst not leave His soul in hell; nor didst Thou suffer Thy Holy One to see corruption” (Psalm 16:10)
“Lift up your heads, O ye gates; and be ye lift up, ye everlasting doors; and the King of Glory shall come in. Who is this King of Glory? The Lord strong and mighty, the Lord mighty in battle.Lift up your heads, O ye gates; and be lift up, ye everlasting doors; and the King of Glory shall come in. Who is this King of Glory? The Lord of Hosts, He is the King of Glory” (Psalm 24:7-10).

On the third day, God raised his Son from the dead and exalted him. He destroyed sin in the very flesh in which it normally reigned and the grave could not hold him (Rom 6:9–10; 8:3). “I am,” Christ proclaimed, “the resurrection and the life.” He is the King of Glory, he is the Lord of Hosts, he bears the names of God and is worthy of all honour, as God (John 5:23; Phil 2:8–11; Rev 1:5–6).

Unto which of the angels said He at any time: ‘Thou art My Son, this day have I begotten Thee?’ Let all the angels of God worship Him” (Hebrews 1:5–6).

God alone is worthy of the worship of angels, indeed of any and all worship (Matt 4:10; Rev22:8–9) . The Lord Jesus Christ was worshiped at his birth, throughout his earthly life and forevermore (Matt 2:11; John 9:38; Rev 5:11–14).

Thou art gone up on high; Thou hast led captivity captive, and received gifts for men;
yea, even from Thine enemies, that the Lord God might dwell among them ” (Psalm 68:18).

The “Thou” in this Psalm is the Lord God; it is a song of praise to him, but in Ephesians 4:7–10 the verse is stated to speak of Christ.

The Lord gave the word; great was the company of the preachers” (Psalm 68:18).
“How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things” (Isaiah 52:7). “Their sound is gone out into all lands, and their words unto the ends of the world” (Psalm 19:4).

In Romans 10:15–18, Paul places these passages directly in the context of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Truly, “all the scriptures” speak of him (Luke 24:27).

Why do the nations so furiously rage together, and why do the people imagine a vain thing? The kings of the earth rise up, and the rulers take counsel together against the Lord, and against His Anointed. Let us break their bonds asunder, and cast away their yokes from us. He that dwelleth in heaven shall laugh them to scorn; 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 2:1-4, 9).

The apostles identified these rulers as Herod, Pontius Pilate and the peoples as the Jews and Gentiles, who oppose the Lord’s anointed (Acts 4:24-28). This is the one who will rule the nations, none other than the rider on the white horse, the Word of God himself, faithful and true, King of Kings and Lord of Lords (Rev 19:11-16; 1 Tim 6:14–15; Deut 10:17).

Hallelujah: for the Lord God Omnipotent reigneth” (Revelation 19:6)
“The kingdom of this world is become the kingdom of our Lord, and of His Christ; and He shall reign for ever and ever” (Revelation 11:15) “King of Kings, and Lord of Lords”(Revelation 19:16)

There can only be one King of Kings, one Lord of Lords, and this title is ascribed to God and to his anointed Messiah, who shares his throne and reigns forever. They are one.

Part III

I know that my Redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth. And though worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God” (Job 19:25-26).

God indeed stood upon earth, the Word made flesh (John 1:14), who was seen and heard and touched (1 John 1:1–2), and who once again will stand on earth (Zech 14:3-5) and reign for ever, the dwelling of God with men, the Shekinah glory (Rev 21:3).

For now is Christ risen from the dead, the first fruits of them that sleep. 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” (1Corinthians 15:20-22).
“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. The trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption and this mortal must put on immortality. Then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1Corinthians 15:51–57).

Jesus is the resurrection and the life (John 11:25). He has life in himself (John 5:24–27). To him has been granted the power of life and death, of resurrection and judgement because he is the Son of Man, given all authority and worthy of worship (Dan 7:13-14). These are attributes of God, and only one who is God can act as God.

Because salvation is wholly a work of God, Father, Son and Spirit (1 Pet 1:2) from beginning to end, it is totally reliable. Although we may fail and be faithless, God will not (2 Tim 2:11–13). He is able to see his work in us through to completion (Phil 1:6). Those whom he called he has also justified and glorified(Rom 8:30–34). In this, not in any merit of our own, the Christian has absolute assurance.

If God is for us, who can be against us? Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth, who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is at the right hand of God, who makes intercession for us” (Romans 8:31, 33–34).

“Worthy is the Lamb that was slain, and hath redeemed us to God by His blood, to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing. Blessing and honour, glory and power, be unto Him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb, for ever and ever. Amen” (Revelation 5:12-14)

This Christmas, whether you are blessed to hear Messiah performed live, or break out a CD, please listen, really listen to those words and consider Who was born in Bethlehem: the Savour, who is Christ, THE LORD.


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