My Experience of Handel’s Messiah: The Centrality of Jesus Christ

“For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6) 

This Christmas season, I had the opportunity to witness a production of Handel’s Messiah at Roy Thomson Hall in Toronto. It was performed by the Toronto Symphony Orchestra and the Mendelssohn Choir. The orchestral arrangements were stirring. The vocals, impressive! The ambience, tender! But I came away with something that I’m not sure I was intending to come away with.

You see, the production is known as an oratorio, which is a musical composition for orchestras, choirs, and soloists.[1] It was composed by George Frederic Handel in 1741, and first performed in Dublin, Ireland. The text to the oratorio is taken straight from the Bible or based on the truth of the Bible, and is a narrative of the Person of Jesus Christ – the Messiah! It deals with passages of Scripture that: predict the coming of the Messiah to Israel, declare the Advent of the Messiah, describe the Messiah’s atoning work, declare His universal Lordship, tell of His resurrection, and the resurrection of His people, and ascribe glory to Him. What Handel’s Messiah does so beautifully is capture the story of Jesus Christ from Old Testament prediction to the glorious description of Him in the New Testament’s Book of Revelation. In one production, the truth of the Messiah is so clearly set forth – and movingly done through the gift of music! The production reminded me of this important truth: the utter centrality of Jesus Christ in history and over all of creation. If I may use this word in this way, Jesus Christ is the fulcrum of history. He is the one that plays the central and essential role in all of history.

messiah-1Handel’s Messiah so wonderfully captures the centrality of the Messiah, both as the suffering servant who died for all of humanity to atone for sin, and as the King of Kings, and Lord of Lords who is Lord over creation. Of His role as our redeemer from sin, the second chorus of Part II of the oratorio declares:

Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him… (Isaiah 53:4 – 5)

The fourth chorus of Part II declares:

All we like sheep have gone astray, we have turned ev’ry one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53:6)

And regarding the kingly reign of God and the Messiah, the final chorus of Part II declares:

The Kingdom of this world is become the Kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ; and He shall reign for ever and ever. (Revelation 11:15)

And again of the Messiah, the final chorus of Part II declares:

King of Kings, and Lord of Lords. (Revelation 19:16) 

Part III of Handel’s Messiah begins by focusing on the Resurrection of Christ, and the great hope of Christ’s people: the bodily resurrection of all who belong to Christ:

I know that my Redeemer liveth, and that He shall stand at the latter day upon the earth, and tho’ worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God. (Job 19:25 – 26) 

For now is Christ risen from the dead, the first fruits of them that sleep. (1 Corinthians 15:20) 

Since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. (1 Corinthians 15:21 – 22) 

And the fmessiah-bibleinal chorus of the production – one of my favorites – ascribes glory to the Messiah as the Lamb of God who has redeemed us by His blood:

Worthy is the Lamb that was slain, and hath redeemed us to God by His blood, to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing. 

Blessing and honour, glory and pow’r be unto Him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb, for ever and ever. 

Amen. (Revelation 5:9, 12 – 14) 

Christ is presented in Messiah as the One who has altered history, and who is Lord over that history. It is the story of the God of all creation becoming a man in the Person of Jesus Christ to redeem His fallen creation back to Himself. As a man, Christ met all the demands of the Law of God towards humanity. As the Lamb of God, Christ suffered the just wrath of God towards all human sin in the place of you and me. His victorious resurrection from the dead attests to God’s complete satisfaction in Christ’s work of atoning for all human sin, and assures all those who place their faith in Him that they too will be resurrected from the dead at some point in the future (1 Cor. 15:20 – 22). As King of Kings and Lord of Lords, this Jesus will return at some point in the future and reign over all the earth as a glorious triumphant monarch. And eventually, as we read in Philippians 2, every knee will bow, and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

messiah-4The story and truth of Jesus Christ is what Handel’s Messiah captures so beautifully and movingly. It is a phenomenal work of music! It is also a cultural tradition. Yet it is more: it is the story of Jesus Christ! Jesus the Messiah is central to all of history. We are told in Colossians 1 concerning Jesus the Messiah that “all things have been created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together” (Col. 1:16-17, NASB).

What does this mean for us? For one thing, it means that Jesus Christ is utterly central in history! Indeed, as the second Person of the divine Trinity, He is before history and before every created thing. In becoming a man, Christ Jesus participates in human history and redeems us through His sacrificial death on the cross. And regarding His resurrection from the dead, He is “the first fruits of them that sleep” (1 Cor. 15:20). “…He is the beginning, the firstborn form the dead, so that He Himself would come to have first place in everything” (Col. 1:18, NASB)! And at some point in the future, He will come again and reign over the earth as King of Kings and Lord of Lords! I suspect that in that day, concert halls all over the globe will ring out in joyful exuberance and praise to the righteous Messiah who “will speak peace to the nations” (Zechariah 9:10, NASB) and who’s “dominion will be from sea to sea, And from the River to the ends of the earth” (Zechariah 9:10, NASB).

It also means that we can trust this Messiah – personally! Actually, it is when we personally trust Him – place our faith in Him as He is revealed in Scripture, believing in Him and trusting what He has done for us on the cross – that we enter into a living, vibrant, exciting relationship with this same Messiah who is Lord. The Son of God has entered human history, and altered the human story. And when we personally encounter Him and trust Him for ourselves, He changes our lives personally, and enables our lives to have a sense of purpose, meaning, vibrancy! In Christ we have the hope of eternal life, and the hope of our own future resurrection from the dead. And as we allow Him, He conforms us to His very own image as we allow Him to live His own life in and through us. You see, Jesus Christ Himself is God’s special gift to us. In Christ heaven and earth come together, deity and humanity, God and man! In Christ is the reconciliation between God and humanity. The relationship between God and humanity was ruptured because of human sin. That this rupture occurred is made evident by the hardships and miseries of the human experience. But Christ as the redeemer, and the One who atones for our sin, reconciles us back to God. He restores the relationship. Jesus Christ and His redeeming work on the cross is God’s passionate love for us demonstrated. God’s loving rescue of His beloved humanity is accomplished in Christ. The person who then believes in Christ and accepts Him is restored to a loving relationship with the God who passionately loves them. The story of God and humanity is a love story, and the union and reconciliation between the two is accomplished in the Messiah, Christ Jesus!

It is this centrality of Jesus Christ that I was reminded of through the spectacular production that is Handel’s Messiah. And the wonderful thing is that Christ is not just a Savior and Lord for the “out there” of history – the world at large. Rather, He is deeply interested in each one of us personally! And when our faith responds to His loving call to us, we come alive, and our lives are never the same! When the truth of Christ sets in to our hearts, and our eyes are opened, and when we truly believe and personally trust in this Messiah, we then discover and experience the beauty of Jesus Christ! In this context, it would be most fitting to sing with Handel’s Messiah and shout in loud proclamation: Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!

Handel’s Messiah: Overture

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oratorio

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