Shortly after the funeral for late President of the United States, George H.W. Bush, Albert Mohler was reflecting on what the service communicated in his daily podcast, The Briefing. One observation he made stood out to me in particular, and it was the fact that, even though the funeral was paid for by the United States government and held in a liberal church, and therefore, the gospel would most assuredly not be preached, it would still be heard in the reading of Scripture and in the singing of hymns. This was a great reminder, not only of the power of music to convey the gospel message but its power to infiltrate the larger culture with that message at opportune times. One of those opportune times is Christmas, and although the typical Christmas carols heard in stores and on the radio are of a secular nature, there are some venues where the word of God is given center stage.
By far, the most salient and enduring of these venues is the performance of George Frideric Handel’s Messiah. I am grateful that, as a fairly new believer, the Lord allowed me to be introduced to this work that dates all the way back to 1741. Composed near the end of the Baroque period, Messiah is an oratorio, which employs an orchestra, soloists, and a choir.
The unique feature of Messiah is that every lyric of the three-part, fifty-three piece work is drawn directly from Scripture; it is verbatim Bible. Although Handel may not have selected the texts of the composition, he alone set the music, and did so in the remarkable span of only three weeks.
At the end of the piece, he inscribed three letters SDG, which abbreviate the Latin, Soli Deo Gloria or “Glory to God Alone.”
Messiah moves from the prophecies of the promised Messiah found mostly in the book of Isaiah to His birth, and then onward to His passion, resurrection, and glorification. It begins with the voice of one crying in the wilderness, announcing the birth of the Messiah, and it ends with the words of Revelation 5:12, “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain…” The most famous piece is “Hallelujah,” and due to the report that King George II was so moved by its first hearing, he stood up, thus prompting everyone in attendance to stand, it has become a tradition for the audience to stand at this point whenever Messiah is performed.
“The unique feature of Messiah is that every lyric of the three-part, fifty-three piece work is drawn directly from Scripture; it is verbatim Bible.
Because of Messiah’s longstanding popularity, it has become a tradition in Western society for it to be performed every year around Christmas in hundreds of venues around the world. And while this was not viewed as anything out of the norm for many years, today in our secular, pluralistic society, the fact that every year Messiah is performed in front of large audiences, in multiple venues all over the world, is not only ironic, but an incredible opportunity for the gospel, because Handel’s Messiah is not merely the singing of a few Bible verses; it is a masterful and comprehensive presentation of the gospel in all its glory!
Even if you are not a fan of oratorio, it behooves every Christian to become familiar with Messiah, and to use it as an opportunity to reach friends and neighbors with the gospel, inviting them to join you for a performance at your local community college or wherever it will be held. It is like inviting them to sit down with an open Bible for a couple of hours and walk them through the gospel systematically! There will likely be questions and there will certainly be a sense of awe and reverence engendered by the moving pieces of music to which the Scriptures are set.
If nothing else, you will be able to rejoice in seeing your unbelieving friend stand as the choir sings “Hallelujah, for He shall reign forever and ever!”
“Handel’s Messiah is not merely the singing of a few Bible verses; it is a masterful and comprehensive presentation of the gospel in all its glory!