Friday, December 13, 2013

Day 13-14 (9): The Savior-Shepherd-King - Scene 5 (18-21)

(enjoy over the next two days)

Scene 5 - "Christ's redemptive miracles on earth"

18. Aria (Soprano)

Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem: Behold, thy King cometh unto thee: he is the righteous Savior, and he shall speak peace unto the heathen. (Zechariah 9:9, 10; Matthew 21:5)

19. Secco recitative (Alto)

Then shall the eyes of the blind be opened, and the ears of the deaf be unstopped. Then shall the lame man leap as an hart, and the tongue of the dumb shall sing. (Isaiah 35:5, 6)

20. Aria (Alto) (or Duet)

He shall feed his flock like a shepherd; and he shall gather the lambs with His arm, and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young. (Isaiah 40:11)

Aria (Soprano)

Come unto him, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and he will give you rest. Take his yoke upon you, and learn of him; for he is meek and lowly of heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. (Matthew 11:28, 29)

21. Chorus

His yoke is easy, and his burden is light. (Matthew 11:30)


Scene 5 shows all the things that Messiah will do for us: save and speak peace, heal, shepherd, and give rest. This gives us reason to rejoice. 
Let's unpack all of them: 

1) Save and Speak Peace - Zechariah 9:9, 10

This prophecy occurred in 480 B.C. This was more than 500 years before Jesus' Triumphal entry into Jerusalem (Matthew 21:1-5). Zechariah 9:9-10:12 looks toward the blessings of the Messiah who would come in righteousness and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey (Jennens leaves this phrase out of the libretto). In the ancient Near East, if a king was coming in peace, he would ride on a donkey rather than a war stallion. Often, the women of the city would come out to greet the king singing songs of praise and shouts of triumph. Sometimes it was a new crowned king or one returning from a victory in battle. 

In this prophecy, the Messiah will establish peace in His kingdom and regather Israel as the "righteous Saviour" of His people. Zechariah 9:13-17 probably refers to the conflict of the Maccabees (169-135 B.C.) with all the Greek rulers of Syria including Antiochus IV Epipanes (See post for Daniel 11 & 12). While this is a partial fulfillment of this prophecy, the complete fulfillment will come at the Second Advent of Jesus Christ when God will care for them as a shepherd for his flock and Israel will shine in God's land like "jewels in a crown" (Zechariah 9:16).

In the long term prophecy of the Messiah, Jesus is the righteous Saviour who came to the world in order to save us from our sins. He did that by paying the price that satisfied the righteous justice of God through His blood sacrifice on the cross. Sin and death are defeated forever for those who accept this unmerited gift freely offered to them. 

This is reason for rejoicing, and this song exudes JOY! The other key word in this aria is PEACE which is something Jesus came to do for all peoples, Jew and Gentile (Ephesians 2:14-16).  

The King James Version says that He speaks to the "heathen" but this is the same Hebrew word for "people" or Gentiles (goy) that we have been referring to throughout the Bible Book Club. This peace fulfills the promise in the opening song of the Messiah, "Comfort Ye."  Warfare has ended. We have peace through the Messiah!

The "Rejoice" song connects to the end of Scene 4 because we can rejoice at the birth of Christ the newborn King, the Messiah! This song is sung with "melismas" which are groups of notes sung to one syllable of text. Melismatic singing was a common way to express joy and goes back to the time of the early centuries of the church. St. Augustine said that in this kind of singing, "the heart may tell its joy without words, and the unbounded rush of gladness not cramped by syllable" (Expositions of the Psalms: Volume 1, translated by Maria Boulding, O.S.B., Psalm 32 [2]:8).

2) Heal -Isaiah 35:5, 6

In the immediate context, Isaiah spoke of the joy felt when His people would be delivered from Assyria and Babylon, but it is partially quoted in Matthew 11:5 when Jesus responds to the messengers John the Baptist sent from prison with the question "Are you the One Who was to come, or should we keep expecting a different one?" (Amplified Bible, Matthew 11:3) Jesus healed physically, but He specifically states in Matthew 11:5 (and alludes to Isaiah 61:1) that the "poor have the gospel (good news) preached to them." There is also such a thing as spiritual blindness and deafness that keeps us from walking and singing praises to Him. There is a double-meaning in this text!

3) Shepherd Flock - Isaiah 40:11

We have heard in this scene of Jesus as King, but He is a Shepherd-King:
God’s arm is a mighty arm for winning the battle (Isa. 40:10), but it is also a loving arm for carrying His weary lambs (v. 11). “We are coming home!” would certainly be good news to the devastated cities of Judah (1:7; 36:1; 37:26). 
Be Comforted:“Be” Commentary Series, p. 109
Jesus calls Himself the Good Shepherd who cares for His sheep to the point of laying down His life for them (John 10:11-14). 

The Lord is truly our Shepherd (Psalm 23). Also, David was a shepherd turned king:

He also chose David His servant  
And took him from the sheepfolds; 
From the care of the ewes with suckling lambs He brought him 
To shepherd Jacob His people, 
And Israel His inheritance.  
So he shepherded them according to the integrity of his heart, 
And guided them with his skillful hands. 
(Ps 78:70–72)
Really the best kind of King is one who can care for His people. Jesus is the Shepherd-King! I also love how this ties back with the shepherds in the last scene (Movements 13-17).

4) Give Rest - Matthew 11:28-30

These verses are in the midst of Jesus' "woe" statements in Matthew 11. Judgement was not Jesus' primary objective in coming to earth (John 3:17), but He announced some "woe" on Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum. He had been in Galilee performing miracles right in front of their eyes for around a year (five of the ten miracles performed in Matthew 8-9 were in Capernaum), but they still did not repent and believe. Jesus contrasted these three Jewish cities with the wicked Gentile cities of Tyre and Sidon, and the godless city of Sodom. (Genesis 18-19; Ezekiel 27-28). Each was destroyed by God for their wickedness. 

"Woe" can mean judgement, but it can also include pity and sorrow. I think Jesus felt this for these cities too because He follows up this judgment with an invitation. The religious leaders were challenging Jesus because of their pride and would not come to Him like humble, innocent children, but Jesus invites ALL who are weary ("tired from hard toil') and heavy-laden with legalistic religious obligation and the sin of their lives to . . .

  • Come to Him - All are welcome (including you, my dear reader - let's make this personal). 
  • Take on His yoke - A yoke is a heavy wooden harness that fits over the shoulders of an ox or oxen and attaches to equipment they pull. His yoke was easy ("well-fitted") and restful. Sometimes, younger more inexperienced oxen would be paired with an older stronger one. The older carried more of the weight. Jesus carries our weight. With Him there is peace with God (Romans 5:1) and the peace of God (Philippians 4:6-8).
  • Learn from Him - The Greek word for learn is mathete and disciple is mathētēsA disciple is a learner of His words, ways, and wisdom. We can learn much about gentleness and humility from this burden bearer!
      “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”  
Notice that Jennens takes liberty with the libretto by changing Jesus' words to the third person ("come to me" changes to "come to him"). Handel wrote this aria in the same style as the "Pifa" or Pastoral Symphony from Scene 4, movement 13, connecting it to Jesus' role as the Good Shepherd that we just learned about in Isaiah 40. 

After the beautiful, slow aria, the verses at the end of Matthew 11 close with a lively and light final fugue with many rapid runs. But the song and Part I ends with a somewhat "heavy" sound when they sing in unison, "His yoke is easy and His burden is light." This leads into Part II where we learn the price that Jesus had to pay in order to lighten our burden of sin.  

Stay tuned. 


"Come to me. 
Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. 
I’ll show you how to take a real rest. 
Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. 
Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. 
I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. 
Keep company with me and 
you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”
Matthew 11:28-30, The Message

I am talking with someone right now whose heart is tired, heavy laden, and broken. If you could hear her story, you would understand why. Her primary relationship is breaking down and so is she. In the midst of this, Jesus is very distant to her. My heart is breaking too. I am praying she can come to Him today. 

I have compassion for anyone in this situation because I have been there too. Perhaps you are there now. Christmas can be a lonely time for so many when relationships are breaking down. I am praying any who read this will learn to come to Him. 


There is so much here to mull over. Can I suggest taking two things Jesus does for us today (saves and heals) and two tomorrow (shepherds and gives rest) and really let it penetrate your heart?

Here is a possible "I will":

Jesus came to give us rest. How perfect for the busy Christmas season! Sometimes we just need to unload our burdens to the Lord and listen to Him. 

At the beginning of my time with God, I often give Him everything on my "plate": all the things that are burdening my heart and causing anxiety and sin. Sometimes I even draw a plate and put all those things in my life I am carrying on it. (I just did this with the women in my Romans Bible Study last month, and it was a great springboard for our prayer time.)

What are things you can "let go" of this season? Are you carrying too much by way of expectation of the "perfect" Christmas? Have you lost sight of the reason for this wonderful season because you are over your head in gift shopping, cookie baking, decorating, etc? 

Meditate on Matthew 11:28-30 again and let Jesus wash over your soul. Linger long over it. Give Jesus the burdens you have been carrying and take on His easy yoke!
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