How Do You Plead?

One of the challenges of old hymns is understanding what the words mean. I don’t mean the old-fashioned words that we just don’t use anymore, like “thou” or “surety” or “foe.” Those we can recognize as not part of our regular vocabulary. So we take a moment to figure out or look up or learn their meanings, and move on.

The tough words are the ones we still use, but with a different meaning from the one that was intended when the hymn was written centuries ago.

One of the most misunderstood words in some of the best hymns is the word “plead.” It shows up in several of my favorite hymns about Jesus’ ascension and intercession.

            Before the throne of God above

            I have a strong and perfect plea,

            a great high priest, whose name is love,

            who ever lives and pleads for me

             …

             Five bleeding wounds he bears,

            received on Calvary,

            they pour effectual prayers,

            they strongly plead for me.

             …

            Alleluia, Bread of Heaven, thou on earth our food, our stay,

            Alleluia, here the sinful flee to thee from day to day.

            Intercessor, Friend of sinners, earth’s Redeemer, plead for me

            where the songs of all the sinless sweep across the crystal sea.

These words sometimes raise objections, because in our normal usage, “pleading” means begging, imploring, piteously arguing with someone who is reluctant to grant our request. This, of course, is not a biblical picture of Jesus’ intercession with God. The Father is not unwilling to forgive us – he sent Jesus to die for us so that he could do just that! And the Risen Lord is not a beggar.

So it’s not surprising that some people have tried to change the wording of these hymns. In one hymnal I have, the second to last line of “Alleluia, Sing to Jesus,” has been changed to, “Intercessor, Friend of sinners, earth’s Redeemer, hear our plea.” This removes the offensive image of Jesus begging a vengeful God to let us off the hook, but at the cost of making us plead with Jesus himself.

Advokat,_Engelsk_advokatdräkt,_Nordisk_familjebokBut this is really unnecessary, simply because that’s not what “pleading” meant when these hymns were written. In the British legal tradition, “pleading” is the activity of a legal advocate arguing a case in court. It does not imply begging or imploring, but simply urging the judge to decide in favor of one’s client.

We still use “pleading” this way in the American court system when we are asked, “How do you plead?” The judge does not want to know what it sounds like for us to beg. He just wants to know whether we are going to maintain our innocence, or accept the charge against us.

The good news is that we don’t have to plead for ourselves. We don’t have to convince God that we are innocent, or deserving of forgiveness. We don’t argue our own case. Because Jesus, eternal God and glorified man, has ascended to the right hand of God the Father, we have an unfailing Advocate who never stops interceding for us before our Judge. There, in the heavenly courtroom, Jesus our High Priest, Mediator, and Advocate speaks on our behalf.

How do you plead? If you trust in Jesus as your Advocate, you don’t have to. He does it for you.

Not guilty.

            My God is reconciled, his pardoning voice I hear,

            he owns me for his child, I can no longer fear

            with confidence I now draw nigh,

            and “Father, Abba, Father!” cry.

 

 

Image credit: Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=177661

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Blood and Water

Christmas 2010

 

 

I wrote this meditation a few years ago. May it bless you this season as we remember the messy, marvelous humility and love of the one who came “not in water only, but in water and in blood” (1 John 5:6).

 

 

 

Blood and water outward burst

a sudden stab – his mother cried

and felt again the pain that first

brought forth this man with punctured side

 

This pain, these tears, this bloody flow

that mark his dark and dreadful death

had filled that stable long ago

he cried with her with his first breath

 

Upon the cross again he wailed

the Son of God, of God forlorn

before his mother’s eyes impaled

as naked as when he was born

 

The heavenly host that hailed his birth

he would not call to end his pain

the angel choirs forget their mirth

as Bethlehem’s child is cruelly slain

 

Born his people to deliver

born to die, for sin to atone

slain to rise, to live forever,

his blood to plead before the Throne

 

In blood and water, grief and pain

in mortal flesh for mortal sin

he came to cleanse our nature’s stain

our guilty souls from death to win

 

Image credit: Rebecca Adeney © 2010

Christ is Born: A New Christmas Carol

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I love Christmas carols. From standards like “Joy to the World” and “What Child Is This” to lesser-known carols such as “The Wexford Carol” or “The Holly and the Ivy,” I love singing and listening to the traditional songs that celebrate the birth of Jesus.

This is a carol that I wrote a couple of years ago. Though the words are new, I tried to give it a traditional feel (the tune is from and old English drinking song), and I drew heavily on Scripture (mostly Luke 2, but also Isaiah and the Psalms). My hope is that it will move you to sing, celebrate, and rejoice in the amazing news of the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ.2013-christ-is-born

P.S. This carol is free to download. You may reproduce, use, perform, or distribute it as much as you like, provided that you do not charge for such services or make any changes without permission.

Image Credit: Rebecca Adeney, © 2013. Used by permission.

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Holy Spirit, Wind of Heaven

Polska Cerekiew

A poem for Pentecost 2015

 

Holy Spirit, Wind of heaven,

breathe fresh life into my soul

Come again, Thou Gift once given,

raise these bones and make me whole

 

As at creation, Lord Life-Giver,

stir the depths within my heart

Spring in me, Thou living River;

fill and flow through every part

 

Seal, Deposit, Guarantee,

Earnest of my Savior’s love,

grant me eyes of faith to see

his face who pleads for me above

 

Then come in fire in this dark hour,

Christ’s image in our hearts restore

Revive your church, your saints empower;

make us your witnesses once more.

 

Image Credit: Church of the Assumption of Mary, Polska Cerekiew – By Ralf Lotys (Sicherlich), CC BY 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=39175499

The Sight is Glorious

Giovanni_vendramin,_jacopo_filippo_argenta_e_fra_evangelista_da_reggio,_antifonario_II,_1482,_06,2

Today is one of my favorite days of the year. No, I don’t mean Cinco de Mayo, important as the Battle of Puebla was in North American history. Today, with people around the world, I am celebrating a far greater triumph.

Today – forty days after Easter Sunday – is the Feast of the Ascension of Jesus Christ. The book of Acts begins by declaring that, after Jesus rose from the dead, he appeared to his disciples over a period of forty days before gathering them together to receive his final commission to be his witnesses once the Holy Spirit came upon them. Then he blessed them and visibly ascended into heaven (Acts 1:1-11).

The ascension of Jesus matters. It is the climax and completion of the rescue mission that brought the eternal Son of God to earth to share and redeem our fallen human nature. In his exaltation to the right hand of his Father, Jesus has brought the humanity he now shares with us into intimate and glorious fellowship with the Creator of the universe.

The New Testament is full of vivid illustrations of Jesus’ exaltation. In John’s gospel, Jesus declares that he is going away “to prepare a place for us” as the unique Way to the Father (John 14:1-6). Paul repeatedly celebrates Christ’s exaltation over “every rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that his named, not only in this age, but in the age to come,” an exalted status which he extends to his church, the members of his mystical body (Ephesians 1:18-23; 2:6; cf. Philippians 2:9-11; Colossians 3:1-4; Romans 8:34-39). Hebrews explains Jesus’ ascension as the entrance of the eternal high priest “not into a sanctuary made with hands, a copy of the reality, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us” (Hebrews 9:24; cf. 6:19-20; 10:19-22). Revelation portrays him as both conquering Lion and sacrificed Lamb, who alone is worthy to approach the very throne of God to receive worship and honor from all creation, along with the authority to unseal the destiny of the world (Revelation 5).

The ascension is the moment of Jesus’ triumph, enthronement, and coronation. That makes this a day to celebrate and sing! Numerous great hymns have been written to help us do that, from “Crown Him with Many Crowns,” “All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name,” and “Jesus shall Reign” to “Before the Throne of God Above.” But one of my favorites is “Look, Ye Saints, the Sight is Glorious.” The words (below) were written in 1809 by the Irish preacher Thomas Kelly. Many hymnals set it to Regent Square (the same tune as “Angels from the Realms of Glory”), but I love the new tune written a few years ago by my friend David Jordan, which you can listen to here.

Look, ye saints, the sight is glorious!
See the Man of Sorrows now,
from the fight returned victorious.
Every knee to him shall bow:
Crown him! crown him! crown the Savior!
Crowns become the victor’s brow.

Crown the Savior; angels, crown him;
rich the trophies Jesus brings;
in the seat of power enthrone him,
while the vault of heaven rings:
Crown him! crown him! crown the Savior!
Crown the Savior, King of kings!

Sinners in derision crowned him,
mocking thus the Savior’s claim;
saints and angels crowd around him,
own his title, praise his name:
Crown him! crown him! crown the Savior!
Spread abroad the victor’s fame!

Hark! those bursts of acclamation,
hark! those loud triumphant chords!
Jesus takes the highest station:
O what joy the sight affords.
Crown him! crown him! crown the Savior!
King of kings and Lord of lords!

Image Credit: Giovanni vendramin, jacopo filippo argenta e fra evangelista da reggio, antifonario II, 1482 – Image by Sailko – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2865976