Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Rejoice, Rejoice, Believers - Bible Study

Rejoice, Rejoice, Believers
Matthew 25:1–6; Revelation 5:11–14; Malachi 4:2; Matthew 13:35–37
(Lutheran Service Book 515)
Text: Laurentius Laurenti (1660-1722)

Rejoice, rejoice, believers,
    And let your lights appear;
The evening is advancing,
    And darker night is near.
The Bridegroom is arising
    And soon is drawing nigh.
Up, pray and watch and wrestle;
    At midnight comes the cry.

The watchers on the mountain
    Proclaim the Bridegroom near;
Go forth as He approaches
    With alleluias clear.
The marriage feast is waiting;
    The gates wide open stand.
Arise, O heirs of glory;
    The Bridegroom is at hand.

The saints, who here in patience
    Their cross and suff’rings bore,
Shall live and reign forever
    When sorrow is no more.
Around the throne of glory
    The Lamb they shall behold;
In triumph cast before Him
    Their diadems of gold.

Our hope and expectation,
    O Jesus, now appear;
Arise, O Sun so longed for,
    O’er this benighted sphere.
With hearts and hands uplifted,
    We plead, O Lord, to see
The day of earth’s redemption
    That sets Your people free!

“Rejoice, Rejoice, Believers” was in The Lutheran Hymnal, omitted from Lutheran Worship, and returned to us in the Lutheran Service Book. It was composed by Laurentius Laurenti, a German Lutheran with Pietistic leanings. The man worked in church music all his life and composed 148 hymns. This is the only one in our hymnal, which is actually paired down from the original ten verses.

For those who don’t know, “Pietism” has a bad reputation in the LC-MS. That is because, as a movement, it tended to take our eyes off the objective work of Christ and turn our attention onto ourselves for assurance of salvation. Nonetheless here we have a hymn, written by a Pietist, in our hymnal. Why? The answer is simple: the words are solid. What a blessing for us that our denomination has a strong history of judging music based on the merits of the individual piece, and not based on the comprehensive beliefs of the writer (which may be deeply flawed). While many have strong negative feelings about Contemporary Christian Music (i.e. pop Christian music), we should strive to evaluate the songs of that genre based on the merits of the words and music, and not the comprehensive beliefs of the writers or personal emotional reactions we might have to specific music styles. I have often encouraged writers of CCM to “up their game” when it comes to their lyrics. I also encourage those of us who love hymns to remember they too were once CCM. Listen to the words before rejecting the song. If you don’t have time to attend to the words, withhold your opinion about the song. And now, on with the Bible study based on the words of a Pietist hymn writer.

In Matthew 25:1-13 Jesus tells a parable about being ready for his return. In the parable, there is a bridegroom who is coming for his wedding party. The bridegroom corresponds to Jesus. The wedding corresponds to heaven. The arrival of the bridegroom corresponds to the Second Coming. In the parable there are ten virgins who are waiting for the arrival of the bridegroom. The number ten often represents completeness. Women are often used symbolically in the Bible for the people of God (Jeremiah 2:32; Isaiah 62:5; Revelation 19:7; etc.). The virgins are waiting for the bridegroom to welcome him and accompany him to the wedding.

The bridegroom is delayed. This corresponds to the time between the first advent of Jesus and the second advent of our Lord. During this delay the virgins become drowsy and fall asleep. At midnight they are startled awake with the call, “Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.” As the coming of the bridegroom was delayed longer than expected, five of the virgins were running out of oil for their lamps. As they hurried away to look for more oil, the bridegroom arrives and the party starts. The five virgins who were ready entered the party, but the “foolish” virgins do not gain entrance.

There are many interpretations for the oil. We need to remember that the key to being ready for the arrival of the bridegroom for these virgins was having oil. How are we ready for the Second Coming of Jesus? We are ready by grace through faith in Jesus. This Holy Spirit created faith is engendered in us through the Means of Grace, the word and sacraments. So, while understanding the oil as the Holy Spirit or the Means of Grace, might be okay, the best understanding is faith in Jesus. The light cast by the oil lamps can be understood as the fruits of our faith, our good works. We have light because we have oil, not the other way around.

All ten virgins were sleeping on the job. All ten seek to relight their lamps. Some have faith (oil) and are able to relight their lamps. Others lack faith (oil) and therefore cannot relight their lamps. The fact that all ten virgins fell asleep indicates that even Christians with a strong faith can get “spiritually drowsy.” Jesus wraps up the parable with the main point, “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour” (Matthew 25:13). So, while we don’t’ know when Jesus will return (though the timing will be surprising, “midnight”), we are to be prepared by keeping our faith (oil). Clinging to the Gospel makes us ready. This is done for us by the Holy Spirit working through the Means of Grace. So we attend worship regularly in a church that properly divides the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15; Colossians 1:5; Ephesians 1:13; 2 Corinthians 4:2; etc.), administers the Lord’s body and blood for the forgiveness of sins (Matthew 26:26-29; 1 Corinthians 11; etc.), and baptizes in the name of the Triune God (Matthew 28:19; 1 Peter 3:21; etc.).

This parable is the main background for the hymn Rejoice, Rejoice, Believers. “Let your lights appear” refers to the effort to relight the lamps. “The evening is advancing, and darker night is near,” reminds us that we must pass through many hours of “night” before it is “midnight” and the bridegroom appears. “Up, pray and watch and wrestle” reminds us that we must be diligent as we await our Lord’s return. There are many things that can lull us to sleep.

In Revelation, John also uses the bride/bridegroom image to reflect Jesus and his Church (Revelation 19:7; 21:2; 22:17). (The Old Testament tends to use the image of wife/husband while the New Testament tends to use the image of bride/bridegroom.) Another common image for Jesus in Revelation is that of a Lamb. The Lamb is the Bridegroom. In Revelation 5:11-14, John sees everyone in heaven worshiping Jesus.

11    Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, 12saying with a loud voice,

      “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain,
      to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might
      and honor and glory and blessing!”

13    And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying,

      “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb
      be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!”

14    And the four living creatures said, “Amen!” and the elders fell down and worshiped.

The third verse of our hymn picks up this image, “Around the throne of glory The Lamb they shall behold; In triumph cast before Him Their diadems of gold.” The idea of casting our golden crowns (diadems) before the Lord as part of our worship comes from Revelation 4. Christ is worthy of our worship because he was slain for our sins (Revelation 5:12).

In verse four of our hymn we sing, “Arise, O Sun so longed for.” This image is drawn from Malachi 4:2.

But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall.

This is a play on words by Laurenti (Sun/Son). The faithful have looked for God’s sun from of old, the sun that brings light into the world of darkness, sin and death. The Son comes with “healing in his wings.” This thought of healing being brought by the longed for Messiah is found also in Isaiah.

But he was pierced for our transgressions;
      he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
      and with his wounds we are healed. (Isaiah 53:5)

The ultimate healing comes at the Second Coming, when the bridegroom arrives to take his bride into the eternal wedding feast of heaven. Then we will dwell in glorified bodies (1 Corinthians 15:43).

As the story of the ten virgins which inspired our hymn demonstrates, Jesus often taught through parables. Jesus explained his reason for this in Matthew.

35    This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet:

      “I will open my mouth in parables;
                  I will utter what has been hidden since the foundation of the world.”

36    Then he left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples came to him, saying, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.” 37He answered, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man. (Matthew 13:35–37)

Many in Jesus’ day categorically rejected the teaching of Jesus. This has ever been the case. Today many still reject the teaching of Jesus. However the disciples truly sought to understand. So we see in the Matthew reference the disciples asking Jesus just what the parable of the weeds in the field meant (Matthew 13:24-30). Jesus clearly says he is the one who sows the good seed. As we go on with his explanation we discover that the good seed produces good plants and those good plants are believers in Jesus. The weed seed has been planted by Satan. They are those who reject Christ. On the Last Day Christ will return with his heavenly hosts and the “harvest” will be gathered. Those who reject Jesus are thrown “into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (42). On the other hand, “the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father” (4.).

As the “Bridegroom” draws near, we are encouraged to arise, and look forward in great anticipation, to the Day of Judgment where we will shine like the sun.

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