Hymn Story Sermon: Reflection on the Work of Christ

Summary: Reflection on the poems, "O Sacred Head" and "Because He Lives" reminds us of why Jesus came into the world, especially of our sin and the price Jesus paid to redeem us from sin, and especially of the hope of his resurrection which helps to put all of our daily challenges into perspective.

(O Sacred Head)

This morning, we draw near as a people to worship God and encourage one another. Of course it wasn't us that drew near to God first, but God drew near to us first. He became flesh and lived among us as one of us for a time. He drew near in order to pave the way for us to be able to draw near to him. He taught us, guided us, modeled holiness and kindness for us, and ultimately died for us. He paid an awful cost in order to redeem us from sin and death.

God has drawn near to us and intends for us to draw near to him. One of the ways we do this is through singing. Some of the songs we sing are to remind ourselves of Jesus, his birth, his teaching, and his work of atonement on the cross. Some of the songs cause us to consider the weight of sin that could only be removed by our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

One of the songs we sing is, "O Sacred Head," which is a very, very old song. The poem is traditionally attributed to Bernard of Clairvaux, who was very highly regarded throughout Christendom. Bernard was born in 1091 in Dijon, France and died in 1153. His mother died when he was 14, and his father died in battle as a knight. At a young age, Bernard devoted himself to Christ and lived an austere life, teaching and serving in the name of Christ for the remainder of his life. He strove to live a life of humility and simplicity, serving Christ in whatever situation arose before him. He was so highly regarded; the people everywhere sought his guidance and direction, including those in power. The poem reflects something of the humble and reflective nature of the man.

The original poem is divided into seven sections, which are titled, "Ad Pedes", "Ad Genua", "Ad Manus", "Ad Latus", "Ad Pectus", "Ad Cor", "Ad Faciem," which translated is, "To the Feet, Knees, Hands, Side, Breast, Heart, Face/head." Each verse is devoted to a reflection on a different part of the Lord's body as he suffered.

Our hymn is a translation of the section of the poem which is focused on Jesus' head. The poem was translated into English in 1752, but it was the translation made by James Alexander in 1830 that appears in our song book. The music was arranged by Bach and used in his Passion of St Matthew.

The poem is intensely personal and highly reflective. It acknowledges the suffering and shame that Christ suffered in order to pay the price for our own sin. He paints a picture of the crown of thorns, the anguish, the taunting, and the abuse that Christ suffered. He describes the color leaving his face and death robbing him of life. He wonders that the Lord, who causes mighty worlds to fear and flee now is on a cross, pale with anguish. But even more so, Bernard is acutely aware of the fact that this was all to pay the price for our sin. In the second section he writes, "Mine, mine was the transgression, but thine the deadly pain." In the fifth section he writes, " For it was my transgression which brought this woe on Thee. I cast me down before Thee, wrath were my rightful lot." It seems that this poem was the result of a time of sincere and deep meditation.

Let read the text of the song as we have it in our song book:

1) O sacred Head, now wounded, with grief and shame weighed down, Now scornfully surrounded with thorns, Thine only crown; How art thou pale with anguish, with sore abuse and scorn! How does that visage languish, which once was bright as morn!

Think about what this verse expresses. Jesus, holy, compassionate, healer ... now wounded by those he seeks to heal. He is burdened, so heavy with sorrow, public shame, humiliation. He is king, no...he is king of kings. Yet his only crown is not a glorious shining crown suitable for a king, but a crown of thorns, pulled hastily from some unknown plant. Though he is the bright and morning star, he now languishes.

You know, this reflects some of the sentiment we read in the 53rd chapter of Isaiah. Isaiah 53:4-5 says,

"Surely our griefs He Himself bore, And our sorrows He carried; Yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, Smitten of God, and afflicted. He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; The chastening for our well-being {fell} upon Him, And by His scourging we are healed."

2) What language shall I borrow to thank Thee, dearest friend, For this Thy dying sorrow, Thy pity without end? O make me Thine forever, and should I fainting be, Lord, let me never, never outlive my love to Thee.

Indeed, what language can I borrow? We could try and express our thankfulness, our praise, and our devotion in a thousand tongues, yet it still would not be enough. There simply are no words that can capture the depth of our gratitude to God. There just isn't any speech that seems to be adequate or worthy enough to express our thanksgivings and praises to him. Language escapes us. What language shall I borrow? But we still sing to him, praise him, and give thanks to him anyway. We do so for the rest of our lives. And even though we may get weary, may we never, never, never outlive our love, faithfulness and devotion to our Lord and Savior.

(Because He Lives)

Of course, our Christian faith is not limited to the events of the cross, but also the empty tomb. In fact, 1 Corinthians 15 reminds us that if Jesus did not raise from the dead, then our teaching is worthless, our whole Christian faith is worthless. And it he didn't raise from the grave, then we are still in our sins. The story of the cross is incomplete without the empty tomb.

We have several songs in our repertoire that celebrates this. One of them is entitled "Because He Lives." This song was written by Bill and Gloria Gaither. They were originally English teachers before they started writing and singing music full time in the 1960s. Since then, they have written over 600 songs. Most people who enjoy southern Gospel music are probably familiar with the Gaither name, and probably can name at least one or two of their songs, such as "There's Something about that Name" or "He touched me."

In the late 60's, Bill was recovering from an illness, their second child was only three months old, the marriage of Billís sister had just failed and a close friend had accused them of crass commercialism. In addition to these personal problems, there was a lot of turmoil going on in the world around them. It was the height of the drug culture, the whole "God is Dead" theory was running wild in the country, and it was the peak of the Viet Nam war. On top of all this, Gloria was expecting a child. This just didn't seem to be the right time to bring a child into the world. It was as if a dark cloud was looming over them. But, during a prayer session with a close friend, they rediscovered the power of the resurrection, which caused them to take heart. It was from this that the song, "Because He Lives" was born.

I want to go ahead and read what they personally shared about the writing of this song:

"I can remember at the time we thought, "This is really a poor time to bring a child into the world." At times we were even quite discouraged by the whole thing. And then Benjy, did come. We had two little girls who we love very much, but this was our first son, and so that lyric came to us, "How sweet to hold our new born baby and feel the pride and joy he gives, but greater still the calm assurance that this child can face uncertain days because Christ lives." And this gave us courage to say, "Because Christ lives we can face tomorrow." We can keep our heads high and hopefully that could be of meaning to other people. Its rather interesting now, that although we don't consider ourselves as "old" writers, we've had many people tell us that they have used that song at a funeral of a loved one; and it has been very encouraging to them at a time where they were very discouraged. So evidently a lot of people have shared the same kind of experience of being discouraged.

Listen to the words they wrote:

1) God sent His son, they called Him, Jesus; He came to love, heal and forgive; He lived and died to buy my pardon, An empty grave is there to prove my Savior lives!
The called him, "Jesus," which means deliverer. He lived and died to deliver us from sin and death. But he rose from the grave, the tomb was empty, he is alive. Death couldn't hold him, and through him we also have life.

2) How sweet to hold a newborn baby, And feel the pride and joy he gives; But greater still the calm assurance: This child can face uncertain days because He Lives!
We often say we live in uncertain times. But that is the nature of this world. It is fleeting, it changes, it decays, it is not dependable. But the one certain thing we know is that our savior lives and is with us through the end of the age.

3) And then one day, I'll cross the river, I'll fight life's final war with pain; And then, as death gives way to vict'ry, I'll see the lights of glory and I'll know he reigns!

Jesus left this earth, alive, and will return...alive. He will take us to the home which he is preparing for us. There will be no more sin, death, mourning, sickness, or pain. He will reign for eternity. No matter what happens on this earth, we are assured it is temporary, but life with Christ is eternal.

Chorus: Because He lives, I can face tomorrow, Because He lives, all fear is gone; Because I know He holds the future, And life is worth the living, Just because He lives!

Yes, Jesus lives, and no matter how uncertain the future may seem on this earth, we know that he is the one that holds the future. All of this will pass away, but his kingdom is eternal and he will reign forever in his eternal kingdom. Even though he has returned to Heaven, he is not absent. He said "Lo I am with you always, even to the end of the age." In Revelation 1, we see him walking among the lampstands, which represented churches facing all kinds of persecution and challenges. He rises up on behalf of his people. 1 Jn 2 says he is our advocate to the Father. He will see us through any challenge until the time he returns and we leave this earth with him.


Because of our sin, Jesus died on the cross, was buried, but rose on the third day. He defeated the power of sin at the cross and the power of death at the empty tomb. He has paved the way for you to be able to come to God. What does he want you to do? He wants you to accept him as your crucified savior and your risen Lord. You can't save yourself from sin, only Jesus can do this. You are not your own Lord and master, you were created by God to serve his purposes. If you are ready to accept him as your savior and Lord, then the next step is to be baptized. At that point you become a child of God, he washes away all your sins, and you become a new person in the eyes of God. Your old self is put to death. It is a new start in Christ.

If you have already done this, then it is good to take time to reflect, to meditate on the great gift that Christ has given you, and the great price he paid. You have been raised with Christ and now walk in newness of life ... his life. You are completely devoted to him. May you never, never outlive your love for him.