WELS Hymnal Project

Project Blog

Insights, analysis, techniques, opinions, and experiences from the team behind the WELS Hymnal Project.

“Look at the finish line, not your feet.” When my daughter Priscilla and I were running in a race, those were the words I told her. The Third Sunday of End Time, Saints Triumphant, is that sort of Sunday. It’s a day where we lift our eyes up to the finish line and those waiting for us there in heaven. One of the hymns we sing on that Sunday is “Jerusalem the Golden.” It was written by Bernard of Cluny in the 1200s. With beautiful words it lifts our eyes up above the crosses we bear and the trials we endure to the finish line of heaven. In the first stanza, he writes:

Jerusalem the golden, With milk and honey blest—
The sight of it refreshes The weary and oppressed:
I know not, oh, I know not What joys await us there,
What radiancy of glory, What bliss beyond compare:
To sing the hymn unending With all the martyr throng,
Amidst the halls of Zion Resounding full with song.

There are so many pictures and promises of heaven in God’s word. Bernard reminds us that even though we do not know exactly what heaven looks like, we have every right and joy of pondering what these pictures and promises in God’s word are portraying. In verse 2 he writes:

Oh, sweet and blessed country, The home of God’s elect!
Oh, sweet and blessed country That eager hearts expect,
Where they who with their leader Have conquered in the fight
Forever and forever Are clad in robes of white.
Jesus, in mercy bring us To that dear land of rest
Where sings the host of heaven Your glorious name to bless.

Can you see yourself there in heaven? Can you see your sins washed away in Jesus’ blood, wearing the white robe of his righteousness? Can you focus in on the victory that the Lamb of God has won for us and gives to us? Do you yearn for “that dear land of rest?” That’s why this is one of my favorite hymns. It focuses our faith on the finish line. It gives us the privilege of singing a heavenly song knowing that even this song is nothing compared to singing with all the assembled hosts and martyrs when we get to heaven. That is a finish line worth lifting our eyes up to.

 

Thank you to all those who took the time to share their thoughts on, "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God." We hope you enjoy hearing a recording of this hymn and seeing some of the comments that we received.

Next week we'll feature another hymn from the list of Fifty Favorite Hymns: "Jerusalem the Golden" (Christian Worship Supplement #728).

“One little word can fell him.”

Do you know what word Martin Luther had in mind? If so, you might be a better Lutheran than I am. I have to admit that even with all the times I’ve sung the hymn, I never bothered to find out the answer to that question.

Maybe I sort of assumed it was something like “Jesus” or “grace.” Maybe I assumed Luther didn’t necessarily have one specific word in mind but rather was making the point that the Word of God in general — even in the smallest of quantities — holds total power over Satan.

But then a recent sermon on verses from Revelation led me to investigate the question further. The verses in front of me were Revelation 14:6,7. They describe an angel, a messenger sent from God, who delivers the gospel to every nation on earth until Jesus’ return. From the earliest days of the Reformation, many have identified Luther as at least part of the fulfillment of this comforting promise. These verses served as the sermon text at Luther’s funeral and have been used on anniversaries of the Reformation for centuries.

The beauty of the picture of that angel is highlighted by the surrounding context. John had just seen a vivid vision of the Church’s greatest enemies: a ferocious red dragon and his two allies, the beasts. That dragon represents Satan, whose goal it is to lead “the whole world astray” (12:9).

As Satan carries out that work, lies flow out of his mouth like water. His liquid lies seep into every nook and cranny of our world. They seep into our homes, our churches, and our hearts. They come in many different shapes and sizes. But one common thread ties them all together. More than anything else, the devil wants us to believe one grand lie, the same lie that he used to get Adam and Eve to bite: God doesn’t love you.

But then amid all of those lies, this angel goes out to do his work. He implores people to worship God and give him glory rather than paying homage to the dragon by listening to his lies. Why? The angels tells us. “The hour of his judgment has come” (14:7). Against all of the devil’s lies that God doesn’t love you stands one accomplished fact. One finished event demonstrates beyond doubt that the devil’s greatest lie is just that, that God most certainly loves us: Jesus’ death on the cross.

“He’s judged. The deed is done.”

So when the devil tries to convince you that God doesn’t love you because of the sins you’ve committed… When the devil tries to convince you that God doesn’t love you because of the suffering you’re enduring… When the devil tries to convince you that God doesn’t love you because of the struggle he’s asking you to take up against the deeply-rooted desires of your heart... Rather than listening to those lies, remember Jesus’ cross as indisputable, irreversible evidence to the contrary.

Then answer the devil with that one little word that, as Jesus has clearly demonstrated, describes him so perfectly: “Liar.” 1


  1. Luther himself identified this as the word he had in mind. When speaking about one of the books written against him, Luther said, “For all such books, even if there were as many as thousands of them written every day and every hour…, are very easily refuted with the single word, ‘Devil, you lie,’ just as that haughty beggar Dr. Luther sings so proudly and boldly in those words of his hymn, ‘One little word shall fell him’” (Luther’s Works, American Edition, vol. 41, pp. 185–186). ↩︎

 

Thank you to all those who took the time to share their thoughts on "My Hope Is Built on Nothing Less." We hope you enjoy hearing a recording of this hymn and seeing some of the comments that we received. We also thank the members of Koiné for giving us permission to use their recording.

Next week we'll feature another hymn from the list of Fifty Favorite Hymns: "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God" (Christian Worship #200/201).

Silhouetted on a frightening sky, unmanned ropes whip wildly from each of the lost ship’s masts. Helplessly they wrap and unwrap themselves; they tangle and untangle through the night without help. The sails have long been shredded. The timbre of her timbers hammer horror through the hull. Massive crests mount up and climb each side, dwarfing the very ship that once boasted of her might at the harbor. With unsteady surprise, the wind and waves play catch with her, threatening at any moment to cast her aside like an unwanted old toy.

It’s the perfect scene to teach fear - to describe the pounding drum of our worries, the anxious sweat from unfamiliar circumstances, the movable moments of our lives that perplex us when we beg life to just stay the same, the painful memory of our sins.

But it’s an even better scene to teach faith. “When ev’ry earthly prop gives way, He then is all my hope and stay.”

Inside the ship’s belly, the crew communes with unshakable confidence. There are no hopeless huddles here, only relaxed songs and joyous laughter as they rehearse their immovable state: “On Christ, the solid rock I stand; all other ground is sinking sand.” Each scream of the storm is met with the peaceful silence in their souls. Every violent quake is answered with unstirred calm because of the Lord. Let the storm rage and flood. Let the gale be high and stormy. Neither sinful conditions nor weather conditions determine confidence in this boat, Christ does.

Dear Christian friends, keep singing this audacious anthem of faith that shines on the darkness, stills the storm of our sins, and ties up every troubled thought. Each verse of this hymn is carried by a tune that rises and falls, yet growing ever higher like surging waves that prepare to overwhelm us. But God has given us repose. In the midst of hopeless destruction, he fills faith’s eyes with his Son. Our answer is Jesus: his blood and righteousness, that is, his active and passive obedience to God the Father for us. The answer is sworn by God and made secure by faith, as the hymn-writer sweeps us to safety in the sentences of Hebrews 6-9 and shouts with us: “his oath, his covenant and blood...” Your answer is anchored in heaven. The refrain returns us to the security of the solid Rock, no matter the storm that surrounds us.

Let us then fix our eyes on Jesus and be the merry crew that worships in the nave!1


  1. The nave is the main area of a sanctuary where the congregation sits and worships. It comes from the Latin navis, meaning ship. ↩︎