Jesus, Priceless Treasure

Jesus, Priceless Treasure

Call to Worship: Psalm 96:1-9 and Revelation 19:6-7a
Prayer of Invocation
Hymn of Adoration: Rejoice the Lord is King (#310)
Confession of Sin: O For a Closer Walk with God by William Cowper
Hymn of Confession: By Grace Alone
Assurance of Pardon: Colossians 1:12-14 and Psalm 40:1-3
Hymn of Assurance: He Will Hold Me Fast
Catechism/Congregational Prayers
Reading of the Word: Luke 8:26-39 (Jesus Heals a Demon-Possessed Man)
Doxology: #731
Sermon: Eric Irwin
Tithes and Offerings
The Lord’s Supper: Jesus, Priceless Treasure (#656); My Soul Finds Rest in God Alone
Closing Hymn: All Hail the Power of Jesus Name (#297)

“Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” Luke 12:34

“What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ.”  Phil. 3:8 (NIV)

I often tell my students that the notes on the page of a music score are not the actual music. They are just symbols and suggestions scribbled in black and white. The music happens when those notes enter the mind, flow through the heart, and come out on the breath of the voice. Likewise with the lyrics of a song. The poetry on the page is a mere script. The Singer must translate it, understand it, own it for themselves, and then embody it in expression. Those truths don’t only apply for soloists, it is true for ensembles, choirs, and chamber music as well. If they are just reproducing the notes on the page, there may be sound, but no music. In fact, the more musicians gathered in one place, the more this becomes crucial. For instance, a symphony needs two things to make the beautiful music happen, to cause it to leap off the page and into the hearts of those who hear. All players must be watching the conductor, and each musician must play expressively, with feeling. Without individual musicality in each section of the orchestra, the music is lifeless. There is no phrasing, no shape, no flow. They are just “getting it right,” and playing from the script.

I invite you to consider our weekly liturgy as a script or a musical score. I send out each week’s scripture readings and hymns in advance, in hopes that you may have time to rehearse. On Sunday we must all look to our Maestro the Messiah who is active in our worship. He has music he wants to write on our hearts, and so they must be open to him. Worship is so much more than an intellectual assent to doctrinal truths, or a sentimental singing of our favorite songs. It is a dialogue with God himself. In worship we should not just be dutifully moving from part to part, but beautifully engaging in a heart-to-heart. On Sunday, pour out your heart to him. He is Jesus, priceless treasure, source of purest pleasure. He is all our joy.

Jesus, Priceless Treasure
Text: Johann Franck, 1650; tr. Catherine Winkworth, 1863
Music: JESU, MEINE FREUDE, Johann Cruger, 1649

Johann Franck was born in Brandenburg, Germany exactly one week after the start of the The Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648), This made him a member of an ill-fated generation that came of age during the deadliest period in German history. In terms of proportional casualties, disease, and destruction for Deutschland, it was surpassed only by the winter and spring of 1945, when catastrophic loss among German troops spelled the inevitable end of WWII. Franck’s writing reflects the tumultuous time during which he lived. He often wrote hymn verses filled with desperation for God in times of struggle, the long-suffering necessary for the Christian to endure in faith, and the all-sufficiency of Christ’s love to sustain the heart. His most famous and enduring hymn is “Jesu, Meine Freude” (Jesus, My Joy).

When Johann was two years old, his father died. He was sent to live with his uncle, a judge, who gave him a first-rate education and later enrolled him in the school of law at the University of Konigsburg. After he graduated he returned home to live with his mother, who had urgently requested his presence. She wanted him near during wartime primarily because their hometown of Guben was overrun with Swedish and Saxon troops. He worked as a councilor for some years, and eventually became the town mayor. Though not as prolific as some of his contemporaries, he did write a significant number of hymns. A collection of his hymns was published in 1648, but it was the hymn he would compose a few years later that would cement his place in hymnbooks beyond Germany. He spent the rest of his life in Guben, and in his honor there is a small monument on the south wall of the town’s parish church. The inscription at the bottom of the monument is the from the beginning stanza of Jesu, Meine Freude.

Because the original German text of the hymn is so rich, I thought I would provide here a word for word translation of all of Franck’s six verses. I have listed only some of the scripture references, yet there are many more that apply to this text. This hymn is saturated with biblical metaphor and imagery.

Jesus, my joy, my heart’s pasture, Jesus, my treasure!
Ah, how long has my heart suffered and longed for you!
God’s lamb, my bridegroom,
besides you on earth nothing shall be dearer to me.
(Jn. 1:29, Rev. 19:7; 1 Peter 1:8-9)

Under your protection I am safe from the attacks of all my enemies.
Let Satan rage, let my enemy fume, Jesus stands by me.
Even if there is thunder and lightning, even if sin and hell spread terror
Jesus will protect me.
(Is. 54:17, Ps. 121:7-8, 2 Tim. 4:18)

I defy the old dragon, I defy the jaws of death, I defy fear as well!
Rage, world, and spring to attack: I stand here and sing in secure peace.
God’s might takes care of me; earth and abyss must fall silent,
however much they rumble on.
(Ps. 63:7-8, James 4:7, Rom. 16:20, Rev. 20:1-3)

Away with all treasures! You are my delight, Jesus, my joy!
Away with empty honors, I’m not going to listen to you, remain unknown to me!
Misery, want, affliction, disgrace and death, shall, even if I suffer much,
never separate me from Jesus.
(Ps. 62:10, Matt. 6:19-21, 2 Cor. 4:7-18, Rom. 8:31-39)

Good night, existence that cherishes the world, you do not please me.
Good night, sins, stay far away. Come no more to the light.
Good night, pride and splendor, once and for all, sinful existence,
I bid you good night.
(2 Cor. 5:17, Phil. 3:7-14)

Go away, mournful spirits, for my Master of Joy, Jesus, now enters in.
For those who love God even their afflictions become pure sweetness.
Even if here I must endure shame and disgrace, even in suffering you remain,
Jesus, my joy!
(Ps. 94:19, Ps. 34:18, Rom. 5:3-5, 1 Peter 4:13, James 1:2-4)

Defiant, dramatic, and deeply devotional, this is an impassioned hymn! It is full of longing for mystical union with Christ. And though it is lacking in the objectivity of some of the older German hymns, the fierce and fervent faith, deep earnestness, and expressive character of the hymn makes it deeply stirring. Every time I read it I am stirred in spirit, and I also can see the obvious influence of Martin Luther (the godfather of German hymnody). It is open, honest, direct, and well…quite Franck!

Jesu Meine Freude was translated and versified in the 19th century by Catherine Winkworth, and that is the version we have in our hymnal. There have been many other translations of this hymn, with minor alterations or updated language, but all of them are faithful to the spirit and content of the original German.

The 20th century hymnologist John Julian loved Jesu, Meine Freude, but thought that the overemphasis on personal piety, intimacy, and emotionalism made the hymn unsuitable for Church use (a sentiment also expressed towards Jesus, Lover of My Soul, and My Jesus, I Love Thee). He seemed to suggest limiting it for prayer or private devotion. Well, thank you for that Mr. Julian, but I beg to differ.

Our worship needs the sort of language of closeness and warmth that Jesus, Priceless Treasure gives us. Without hymns like this one, worship can feel like all handshakes and no hugs. All exposition and no embrace. The Holy Spirit hovers but does not breathe into the nostrils. Granted, we are called to “admonish one another” as we sing (Col. 3:16); therefore, hymns that celebrate the great truths of who God is and who we are as his people need to be the main course offerings of our sung  worship. However, the Psalms, being the God-given guidebook of our praise, provide a model for a broader and deeper outpouring of the human heart in worship. Transcendent truths are trumpeted: “The Lord reigns, let the peoples tremble!” (Ps. 99) and “Splendor and majesty are before him; strength and beauty are in his sanctuary” (Ps. 96); but there is also language of deep affection and intimacy, some of which are the most famous passages in all of Scripture: “As the deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God” (Ps. 42) and “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He restores my soul.” (Ps. 23). Sometimes we find this mixture of declaration and devotion in the same passage: “O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water. So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary, beholding your power and your glory. Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you. So I will bless you as long as I live; in your name I will lift up my hands.” (Ps. 63)

This Psalm, which is a life-long favorite of mine, clearly expresses that the outpouring of each individual heart is encouraged and expected in public worship. Simply put, the psalmist is declaring to the Lord, “I seek you, and have found you in the sanctuary. Your love has won my heart, and so my lips will declare  your praise. I want to bless you, and will lift up my hands to you!” God wants more than our appreciation of his goodness, agreement with his law, and affirmation of the truth. He wants the affection of our hearts. After all, in Christ we have seen His glory, the glory as of the only Son, full of grace and truth. That same glory, power, and love that was made manifest to mankind in the incarnation is present when we gather in the sanctuary. Our response should be like that of the shepherds and the wise men. Let us fall down, worship, and give him our hearts. O come, let us adore Him!

The melody for this hymn is by Johann Cruger. It is set in a minor mode with descending lines that suddenly leap up in unexpected bursts of delight. Overall, the mood of the music is somber, and it feels very much like a twin to the sorrowful O Sacred Head now Wounded. The music has inspired so many great composers, the most notable of which was Bach who based a cantata, a motet, and a funeral prelude on this tune. It is his harmonization that we have in our hymnal. Have a listen to the links below, and imagine what it must have been like to hear such music premiered at St. Thomas church in Leipzig in 1725. It is gorgeous and I am grateful.

My prayer is that having read this, and listened to the excerpts, you may embrace this hymn more at a heart level, and when we gather on Sunday, we can then sing it together with more openness, more honesty, more…what’s the right word?…well Franckness.

See you on Sunday.

Sheet Music
Recording of English Version of Hymn
Bach’s Chorale settings