By: Dennis Bates
Sometimes no matter how many times you have read or heard something, truth you never noticed before jumps out at you from the most unexpected places. That happened to me Sunday as I was fortunate enough to attend the annual presentation of Handel’s “Messiah.” at Augustana College, a well respected local college with Lutheran roots.
If nothing else, Lutheran schools are famous for their music programs and Augustana is no exception. The college choir is supplemented by volunteers from the surrounding area, some of whom drive considerable distances just to sing this magnificent piece of music only twice. The group this year had more than 80 basses alone, which literally blew me away having spent decades in small church choirs where a single bass and a tenor was a large men’s section.
When the choir sang the line from the first chorus “And the glory of the Lord” I literally got shivers. The sound was so overwhelming and rich you knew from the opening chords that the Holy Spirit Himself had a front row seat. The decent sized performance hall with its massive pipe organ and live orchestra, as good as they were, were instantly dwarfed.
As I looked around I saw so many members of the audience mouthing the words of the choruses. Some followed the performance word by word in their own personal choral books, which are almost an inch thick for the two-hour plus presentation. As is the tradition, everyone stood for the Hallelujah chorus, which is not the final piece in the program as many people think it is. Believe it or not, there is an even bigger and more compelling piece at the end of the chorus “Worthy is the Lamb.” It just hasn’t had the exposure the world famous Hallelujah Chorus has received.
But as stunning as all of this was, the moment that blindsided me came midway through the presentation of the two back to back choruses taken from Isaiah 53: 5-6. The verses read as follows:
“But he was pierced for our
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us
peace was upon him,
and by his wounds (stripes) we are healed.
We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
each of us turned to his own
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.
I don’t know why for sure, but the words of those two verses mingled with the music as they were sung gripped my heart and squeezing it…hard. I have heard those verses many times before, sung them even, but I have never felt them like I did at that moment…teary eyed, gasping for breath, as I realized the enormity of what they described.
Our Savior, the Son of God himself, was born in a common manger, raised by humble, ordinary people, so that he could be beaten with a cruel whip and by those stripes we areall healed. Even though we are no better than sheep who wandered off, by the stripes on the back of our Lord, we were forgiven of all…not just part, but all…of our iniquities and pardoned.
I could hear the whip crack, feel it tear the flesh, and see the quiet loving smile of Jesus as He looked at me with soft eyes and forgave even the soldier wielding the instrument of brutality. By His stripes, I am healed…and so are you because a babe was born so long ago in Bethlehem and laid in a manger, and that baby was Christ the Lord.