Dash Them in Pieces?
December 9, 2021 | by: Dale Thiele | 0 Comments
Posted in: Pastoral Encouragement
Every Advent season I listen to Handel’s Messiah several times all the way through. Sometimes I have it playing in the background while I am studying for my sermon. Other times, I will sit and just listen. Every time I listen to the Messiah something new catches my attention.
Most of the lyrics are Scripture verses. Handel’s good friend, Charles Jennens, arranged the text and Handel composed the music in 1741. Jennens laid out three parts: The Prophecy of Salvation; Christ’s Passion Accomplishing Salvation; and Salvation Consummated in Eternity. The popular Hallelujah Chorus comes at the end of Part 2, as a triumphal celebration of Christ’s exaltation after his death, resurrection, and ascension.
This last week, I have been struck by the pieces that immediately proceed the Hallelujah Chorus. At first, it was the lyrics of the piece immediately before the great celebration. The strong tenor voice repeats and reverberates the astonishing statement of Psalm 2:9, “Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron; thou shalt dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.” Not really your warm, fuzzy message of Jesus loves me. And then you hear the whole chorus exclaiming:
For the Lord God omnipotent reigneth. (Rev. 19:6)
The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ;
And he shall reign for ever and ever! (Rev. 11:15)
King of kings, and Lord of lords! (Rev. 19:16)
This transition jarred me this week. How can the breaking and dashing of people lead to “Hallelujah!”? This pushed me to dig more into the order and structure of the libretto (the text of the Messiah). There are seven scenes in Part 2:
- Christ’s Passion
- Christ’s Death and Resurrection
- Christ’s Ascension
- Christ’s Reception into Heaven
- The Beginnings of Gospel Preaching
- The World’s Rejection of the Gospel
- God’s Ultimate Victory
The three pieces in scene 6 and the first piece of scene 7 are all from Psalm 2. This psalm depicts a heavenly scene where God responds to those who rebel against his anointed Son. Verse 3 summarizes the attitude of those who reject God’s Anointed (“Christ” is the Greek word for Anointed One): “Let us burst their bonds apart and cast away their cords from us.” These people want nothing to do with Christ. Verse 4 summarizes God’s response, “He who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord holds them in derision.” God is not threatened by those who rebel against him and his Christ.
Right before the Hallelujah Chorus we hear God’s judgment on those who reject him and his Son. Psalm 2:9 says, “You shall break them with a rod of iron and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.” What is emphasized in Handel’s Messiah is that the Gospel message comes with both promise and warning. Christ’s sacrificial death provides the hope of salvation from sin and death for those who receive Christ. Rejecting Christ leads to final judgment.
The Hallelujah Chorus celebrates God’s sovereign reign over both salvation and judgment. There is a comfort in this. If you are like me, perhaps you focus on the comfort of salvation. If you have faith in Jesus, then is it good and right to celebrate the comfort of salvation. Hallelujah! But what is the comfort of judgment? Like God in Psalm 2, we do not need to fret over those who reject and oppose the Gospel. They can never thwart God’s plans. Hallelujah! And we do not need to execute judgment. God has it. We can love and forgive and turn the other cheek and bless and not curse, all because God says, “Vengeance is mine” (Rom. 12:19). Hallelujah! Let’s rest in and celebrate his sovereign reign over all things!