Handel’s Messiah: A Missional Reading I

Handel’s Messiah is a musical proclamation of the gospel, the good news of the kingdom of God.

My wife and I, along with my sister-in-law Melanie Crotty, attended the Nashville Symphony’s performance of the Messiah last Friday evening. We used this to celebrate Melanie’s graduation from Lipscomb’s Hazelip School of Theology. We were all enthralled with the presentation.

George Frideric Handel (1685-1759) composed the Messiah in three weeks and was first performed in Dublin, Ireland in the Spring of 1742. It is an oratorio rather than an opera. The former combines the entertainment value of the latter with moral exhortation. While an opera is musical theatre, an oratorio is a concert piece that is more appropriate for “sacred” settings. The first performance of the Messiah in London was controversial because it was a “sacred” piece offered in a “secular” locale.

It is a musical proclamation of the good news of the kingdom of God. Part I moves us from the prophetic anticipation of the coming kingdom through the appearance of the Christ child to a conclusion in the ministry of Jesus. Part II begins with the passion of Jesus through his resurrection to his exaltation as reigning Lord.  Part III, the shortest, is humanity’s response to God’s redemptive act and is focused on the hope of resurrection which leads to a final praise of the Lamb.

The text weaves Scripture quotations into a coherent plot that tells the story of the coming kingdom. The Messiah is King of Kings and Lord of Lords as the “Hallelujah Chorus” announces that the “kingdom of this world is become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ.”

This plot is a missional one, that is, it draws us into the story of God’s intent to shake the kingdoms of this world with God’s own reign.

  • “all flesh shall see [the glory of the Lord] together”
  • “I will shake all nations; and the desire of all nations shall come”
  • “the Gentiles shall come to they light, and kings to the brightness of thy rising”
  • “Prince of Peace”
  • “Glory to God in the highest, and peace on earth, goodwill towards men”
  • “He is the righteous Saviour, and He shall speak peace unto the heathen”
  • “and He will give you rest”
  • “He hath borne our griefs and carried our sorrows”
  • “He trusted in God that He would deliver Him”
  • “But Thou didst not leave His soul in hell”
  • “Who is the King of Glory? The Lord of Hosts, He is the King of Glory”
  • “Why do the nations so furiously rage together”
  • “The kings of the earth rise up, and the rulers take counsel together against the Lord and against His anointed”
  • “Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron”
  • “He shall reign for ever and ever. King of Kings. Lord of Lords.”
  • “I know my Redeemer lives”
  • “”yet in my flesh I shall see”
  • “We shall all be changed”
  • “Worthy is the Lamb…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.

The reign of God means a different allegiance, a different power, a different kind of life–one of peace, rest and healing. The King has come; the kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of God.

Over three coming posts I will examine each Part of Handel’s Messiah. 



One Response to “Handel’s Messiah: A Missional Reading I”

  1. Profile photo of Wendy Scott Cayless  wjcsydney Says:

    It’s my favourite Christmas music! Last Christmas christianaudio.com were giving away a free audiobook on “Handel’s Messiah”. It blessed my Christmas cooking greatly!
    “Handel’s Messiah: Comfort for God’s People by Calvin Stapert is a special one to listen to. Not only is the book extremely well-narrated by James Adams, it also includes some of the music to illustrate the history and theology of Handel and the music. Even if you are not a music lover, this is still a fascinating study into the life, thought, and theology behind the best-known score of all time.”

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