Wednesday, August 6, 2014

My Hope Is Builtt on Nothing Less

A Bible Study Inspired by a Hymn
Text: Edward Mote, 1797-1874, alt.
(Lutheran Service Book 575, 576)

(Primary Biblical References: Acts 4:11–12; Matthew 16:18; Matthew 7:24; 24:31)

My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness;
No merit of my own I claim
But wholly lean on Jesus’ name.

Edward Mote
Refrain (after each stanza):
On Christ, the solid rock, I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand.

When darkness veils His lovely face,
I rest on His unchanging grace;
In ev’ry high and stormy gale
My anchor holds within the veil.

His oath, His covenant and blood
Support me in the raging flood;
When ev’ry earthly prop gives way,
He then is all my hope and stay.

When He shall come with trumpet sound,
Oh, may I then in Him be found,
Clothed in His righteousness alone,
Redeemed to stand before His throne!

“My Hope Is Built on Nothing Less” will be the sermon hymn this coming Sunday. The original form of the hymn was written by Edward Mote around 1834.The words in Lutheran Service Book are the words usually found in hymnals but, as the “alt.” lets us know, something is changed from the original. In fact, a lot has been changed, and for the better. Mote wrote six verses and, so you can see how the hymn has been improved, I’m going to include the original poem.

Nor earth nor hell my soul can move,
I rest upon unchanging love;
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
But wholly lean on Jesus’ name.

My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness;
Midst all the hell I feel within,
On His completed work I lean.

When darkness veils His lovely face,
I rest upon unchanging grace;
In every high and stormy gale
My anchor holds within the veil.

His oath, His covenant, and His blood
Support me in the sinking flood;
When all around my soul gives way,
He then is all my Hope and Stay.

I trust His righteous character,
His council, promise, and His power;
To save me from the burning lake.

When I shall launch in worlds unseen,
Oh, may I then be found in Him.
Dressed in His righteousness alone,
Faultless to stand before the throne!

The original is good, but the form commonly found in hymnals today is better. There is something to be learned from this by those who write Contemporary Christian Music, (that is, Christian music in a pop/rock style). One of the complaints I've read in several sources such writers have is that their words are critiqued. Perhaps some humility to accept the critique might lead to better lyrics. After all, if you want “the Church” to sing the song, then in a real way the song becomes the Church’s song and the Church should have a say in what it prays, confesses and proclaims. Now, on to the Bible study based on the altered lyrics.

In Acts 3 Peter and John arrive at the Temple one day and find a lame beggar. The beggar asked for a handout. Instead of giving the man some money, the Lord Jesus healed the beggar through Peter. This caused quite a stir. Peter used the opportunity to proclaim Christ. In Acts 4 some of the Jewish leaders arrive and have Peter and John arrested. After cooling their heels overnight in the jail, the Apostles are brought before the Sanhedrin. The charge was, apparently, performing magic. What really bugged them was that the Apostles “were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead” (Acts 4:2). Peter and John do not back down. They testify boldly that Jesus was the power behind the miracle (verse 10).  

Now we come to the part of the story that applies to the hymn. Peter and John go on to tell the Sanhedrin, “This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:11-12).

The refrain in our hymn calls Jesus our “solid rock” on which we (the Church) stand. In 1 Peter 2:4-5 we are called “living stones” built on the “Living Stone,” which is Jesus. Because the “builders” (Psalm 118:22; Acts 4:11; 2 Peter 2:6-8) (the Jewish leadership that rejected Christ) rejected the solid foundation, the solid rock, they are standing on “sinking sand.” The same remains true today. Stand on Christ and you stand on solid ground. Choose a different foundation and you choose sinking sand.

One might ask, “How do you know all other ground is sinking sand? Have you examined all other foundations?” The mind of man is continually developing new systems but there is “nothing new under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9). These “new” systems of thought are just variations on old themes. The judgment of Peter remains eternally true: “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”

Matthew 16 has the Great Confession of Peter when Jesus asked the disciples who they thought he was. Peter said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16). To this confession Jesus responded, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 16:17-19). The Roman Catholic Church uses this passage to support the first place position of the Pope, but actually that doesn’t fit. The Church isn’t built on Peter. Peter wasn’t the Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds, who for us men and for our salvation came down for heaven, suffered and died for our sins, and rose again to life in three days proclaiming his victory over sin, death and the power of the devil. The Church is not called to go into every nation teaching everything Peter taught, nor are we to baptize into Peter. The Church simply is not built on Peter. Peter is part of the Church. The words “this rock” refers to Peter’s confession. It is faith in Jesus as the Christ on which the Church is built. This is the Gospel boiled down to a few words. It is this foundation that the Jewish leaders rejected (Acts 4:2). The “keys to the kingdom of heaven” are given to the Church, of which Peter was a leader.

In Matthew 7:24-27 Jesus tells a parable about being built on the solid rock. Here the solid foundation is the words of Jesus, and doing those words. In other words, believing in them so that they impact how one lives. When the rains come (trials) this house stands. However those who do not built their lives on the Solid Rock have a different result. “And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it” (Matthew 7:26-27). Here, in Jesus’ own words, we find the “sinking sand” image our hymn uses.

“Sinking sand” includes trusting in our own merit and every other earthly prop. The solid ground of Jesus is his blood and righteousness, his unchanging grace, his oath and covenant and blood. When the raging floods of life come, Jesus is our only hope and stay, the foundation that does not give way.

As so many of the great hymns from the past, “My Hope Is Built on Nothing Less” ends on an “eschatological” note, that is, a reference to the Last Day and the days that follow it. “When He shall come with trumpet sound,” echoes the words of Matthew 24:31: “And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.”

On the Last Day Christ gathers his Church from across the globe. They are clothed in Christ’s righteousness (not our merit) and stand before the throne of God unafraid. They are the redeemed. The hymnist’s sincere desire is to be in that throng. So is our desire and, being built on the Solid Rock, it is a desire and hope that will not disappoint. 

One final thought. Notice the hymn does use the pronoun "I." However the hymn does not draw attention to ourselves. It points us to Christ. There is no self-glorification. Again the CCM composers can learn something. We are not the stars in good Church music. 

Below is the Lutheran Warbler singing “My Hope Is Built on Nothing Less.”

Blessings in Christ
Pastor John Rickert

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