King of the Ages

King of the Ages

Liturgy Lessons: October 7, 2018
Call to Worship: Ps. 36:7-9; 104:1-4, 31-33
Prayer of Invocation
Hymn of Adoration: Praise my soul, the King of Heaven (#76)
Confession: John 3:19-20 and prayer
Assurance of Pardon: from 1 John and 1 Peter
Hymn of Assurance: Jesus, what a friend for sinners (#498)
Catechism/Congregational Prayers
Reading of the Word: Luke 8:16-18
Doxology: #731
Sermon: Rev. Eric Irwin
Tithes and Offerings
The Lord’s Supper: My Soul Longs for the Lord; Be Thou My Vision
Closing Hymn: King of the Ages (Getty)

One of the most famous pieces of music in all of history is the oratorio entitled, simply, Messiah. It was written in the spring of 1742 by one of the two titans of the Baroque music world, George Frederic Handel (can you name the other guy?). It took him only 24 days. An astounding feat made possible by inspiration, of course; but, also by recycling of old material. I know it takes some of the luster off of the legend to mention that some of the Messiah was already written before he even started, but that’s the truth of it. For several movements throughout Messiah, Handel borrowed music from his earlier works, adapted it, and then overlaid it with the scriptural libretto. Recycling old material was a practice that was quite common in his day, and something that composers of all eras are known to do. Some of the most beloved choruses from the oratorio appeared years earlier in his Italian operas. “For unto us a child is born” was originally a song about an unfaithful lover. “His yoke is easy,” with its difficult extended vocal phrases on the word “easy” (ironic to say the least), was a laughing duet sung by two sopranos (the Italian word “ride,” meaning “to laugh,” would have been sung on the melismas). I could go on and ruin more of it for you, but I’ll stop there.

Why am I sharing this? Well, it is an elaborate excuse for me to recycle some old material this week. By placing myself in elite company and mentioning a historically great precedent for the practice, I can avoid the label of “lazy.” But the far better excuse would be to tell you that the content of this week’s liturgy contains only hymns which have been featured in previous episodes. Given that “King of the Ages” is still relatively new, and I’m particularly fond of that Liturgy Lesson from back in June, I decided to re-post. And Handel helps me rationalize that decision. The quality you find here is far less than Handel’s winsome genius in Messiah, and my scribblings are nothing compared to the wonder of God’s word that is sung throughout that masterpiece. But the truths that are illuminated in the music and word are certainly worth repeating over and over again. And, as Handel showed us in a truly original work, when declaring the glory of the “King of Kings” and “Lord of Lords,” one “Hallelujah” is just not enough.

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen!” Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?” I said to him, “Sir, you know.” And he said to me, “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. “Therefore they are before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence. They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”
– Revelation 7:9-17

King of the Ages
Words and Music by Keith Getty and Stuart Townend (2005)

Let’s play with this title, shall we? King of the Ages. Emperor of Eternity. Creator of Centuries and Crown of the Cosmos. Master and Monarch of Millenia. Supreme Sovereign of sempiternity. Rex Aeternum – Ruler of all History. Or, to borrow from another hymn written about 150 years ago: “Potentate of Time”

“Crown Him the Lord of years, the potentate of time,
Creator of the rolling spheres, ineffably sublime!
All hail, Redeemer, hail! For thou hast died for me;
Thy praise shall never, NEVER fail throughout eternity!”

Jesus Christ is King of Kings and Lord of Lords. The Alpha and the Omega. He was in the beginning, and all things were created through him (John 1:1-3). He is the ultimate end, as well as the means (Rev. 7:9-17, see above). Scripture reveals that the Lord “lives forever” (Isaiah 57:15), and that he created us to “live forever with him” (1 Th. 4:17). This awesome destiny was planned “before time began” (2 Timothy 1:9). It was “promised before the beginning of time”(Titus 1:2) and “before the creation of the world” (Ephesians 1:4; 1 Peter 1:20, NIV).
Put in musical terms this means that Christ is the Song, and that Song is eternal. This great Love Song sounded and re-sounded by the Transcendent Trio before creation, which was then sung into being through the Word. God, who rejoices over us with singing (Zeph. 3:17), gave us ears to hear it, minds to learn it, and hearts to receive it, and then the very breath with which to sing it back to him. One day, all those who know the Song will sing it together around the throne of Jesus. All nations, tongues, and tribes from every epoch and era will join in the great chorus, now fully realized in the presence of the great Composer himself. It will not be cacophony, nor chaos, but it will be all of heaven and earth in harmony, singing in a superabundant spectrum of sounds that will shake the spheres. Even Saturn, the Sun, and all the other spheres will spin and sing, replacing their groans with shouts of “GLORY!” as they vibrate like cosmic cymbals. And, over the top of it all is the descant of the angels, which will probably make Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” sound like an advertising jingle.

Our congregational singing is an echo of eternity. When we gather and sing together in worship, we don’t begin the song, we simply join it. Best of all, we get a foretaste of the grand climax of this “symphony of salvation”. The veil is lifted just a bit and we catch a glimpse of glory. When the song of heaven is on our lips, the eternal crescendo towards glory is already swelling in our hearts. This is like being backstage at the concert hall during rehearsal; we hear an “already and not yet” music, an imperfect version of what is to come. This is the gift of the great hymns of the faith in the context of worship.

This Sunday we will sing a hymn that celebrates the unending Song and the vision of eternity found in Revelation chapter 7. This hymn, based on the great gathering around the throne, contains a chorus (a fanfare, really) that declares the inevitability of bringing the music back its true source. Notice the rhetorical question in the third line:

“King of the Ages, Almighty God;
Perfect love, ever just and true
Who will not fear You and bring You praise?
All the nations will come to You.”

This bold refrain is interspersed with three verses which further emphasize the reality that the glory of God stands forever and the praise due Him is unceasing. Notice how the content of the verses affirms the work of Christ for all time: past (vs. 1), present (vs. 2), and future (vs. 3).

“Your ways of love have won my heart,
And brought me joy unending;
Your saving power at work in me,
Bringing peace and the hope of glory.

Your arms of love are reaching out
To every soul that seeks You.
Your light will shine in all the earth
Bringing grace and a great salvation.

The day will come when You appear
And every eye shall see You.
Then we shall rise with hearts ablaze
With a song we will sing forever!”

I love how it is not just the content of this hymn, but also the form and structure, that remind us how all history is hurdling towards a heavenly “Hallelujah!” Keith Getty, the composer of this hymn, once said, “when I write a hymn melody for the church, that is my gift to the church. Music, like faith, must be owned by those who sing and speak it.” Brothers and Sisters, the eternal song is yours. Own it! Receive it with gladness and declare it with joy. It is for this you were created!

Sheet music