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Today’s numbers will give us a great example of how Handel paints an appropriate tone for the lyrics through his musical setting of the text. In the first (#9), which presents “good tidings”, we have a very joyful and bouncy setting. In #10, listen for the change in tone between “darkness shall cover” and “the Lord shall arise”.
#9: Air (Alto) & Chorus
Isaiah 40:9; 60:1 — O thou that tellest good tidings to Zion, get thee up into the high mountain. O thou that tellest good tidings to Jerusalem, lift up thy voice with strength; lift it up, be not afraid; say unto the cities of Judah, behold your God! O thou that tellest good tidings to Zion, Arise, shine, for thy Light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee.
#10: Accompagnato (Bass)
Isaiah 60:2-3 — For behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the people; but the Lord shall arise upon thee, and His glory shall be seen upon thee. And the Gentiles shall come to thy light, and kings to the brightness of thy rising.
Commentary from the Daniel Block essay:
Having presented the name Immanuel, meaning “God with us,” Jennens’ thoughts return to Isaiah 40, verse 9 to be specific (#9), where the “Gospel according to Isaiah” calls for a bold, uninhibited, and enthusiastic declaration by the bearer of the good news, “Behold your God!” Jennens interprets the significance of the event by juxtaposing verse 9 with Isaiah 60:1-3. Recognizing the shift in mood between vv. 1 and 2, Handel integrated the former with 40:9, which he appropriately set to an enthusiastic ode of praise. The birth of a child to a virgin(!) and the ascription of his name as Immanuel “God with us,” is cause for celebration. The bass recitative from vv. 2-3 (#10) provides interpretive commentary, explaining why this is cause for such joy: while the whole world is enveloped in darkness the brilliant light of God’s glory will come to Zion, attracting the gentiles and their kings like bugs and moths to a yard lamp.
I love the phrase “Gospel according to Isaiah”. It is remarkable how often this prophetic book speaks of proclaiming good tidings of the coming of our God to be with us. There’s a reason Jesus quoted the prophet Isaiah so often… just like all the other Old Testament prophets, Isaiah was writing about Him!
The word “gospel” comes to us from an old English phrase “god spell”, meaning “good news”. In the Bible, we read about good news in both testaments. In the Old Testament, the Hebrew word is “basar” (Strong’s #1319), which in addition to “bringing good news” can also be translated “a primitive root” (i.e. – a root that is fresh and full, and brings forth good things). In Revelation, Jesus calls himself the Root of David (see Strong’s #4491).
In the New Testament, the Greek word is “euangelion” (Strong’s #2098). This is a combination of eu – “good” + angelion – “message”. You may notice in there the word “angel”, which we learned from the last entry means “messenger”. This is where we get our English word “evangelism”.
The “Gospel” is not a book. “Evangelism” is not a five-step program that we do on Tuesday nights. Nor is it something to be left to be handled by “professional” missionaries. Proclaiming the gospel is not just something we “ought” to do. It is the mark of a true Christian! These were our marching orders left to us by Jesus Christ before he ascended into Heaven following His resurrection from the dead: “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.” (Mark 16:15) This is why we call ourselves “evangelicals”.
Our evangel — our gospel — is the life-shattering news that, though darkness (sin, evil, and death) has descended upon the whole earth, God has sent His son to bring us light and life! Without Jesus Christ, humanity is left helpless in the dark, hopelessly lost and condemned to die in our sins, separated from a holy God. Isaiah’s good news was that light was coming. Ours is that LIGHT HAS COME!!!
If prophets like Isaiah (62:1) and Jeremiah (4:19) could not keep silent when confronted by the darkness surrounding them, how then can we whose news is so much greater keep silent now? Sharing the gospel is costly, but the cost of silence is much greater. Jesus came to bring us hope of salvation, but He is coming again. The next time He will come bringing judgment. This is good news for those of us who know Him, but for those who do not, it is the worst news imaginable.
Time is short. God conveys a sense of urgency to His people through the Word and the Holy Spirit. We love because He first loved us (1 John 4:19). We walk as Jesus walked (1 John 2:6). We obey His Word because He has enabled us to do so through the regenerating work of the Spirit (1 John 3:9). We are unable to perfectly obey because, until we are glorified at Christ’s return (1 John 3:2), we continue to be slaves to our sinful nature (Romans 7:18; 1 John 1:8). When we do sin, we confess our sins (1 John 1:9), praise God for our advocate, Jesus Christ the righteous (1 John 2:1), and proclaim His good name to the world for whom He died (1 John 4:14).
I could continue referencing 1 John, but you’d be better off simply reading the entire book! It’s short, and packed with encouragement and assurance of the salvation for those who are in Christ Jesus. However, it is also packed with repeated accusations that those who say they are Christians yet do not tell the world what Christ has done are liars who have no fellowship with Him. This is a chilling thought when church pews throughout this nation are filled with “evangelical Christians” who are perfectly happy to condemn the sins of their neighbors but never tell their neighbors of the One who has made an end of sin (Hebrews 9:26).
Christians, let us no more be silent! We have good news for the world!