During last year’s COVID lockdowns, like many others, I found myself exploring new interests or hobbies. One of them was music. One day while working on a sermon, my Bob Dylan Pandora station algorithm decided to throw in some country and bluegrass along with the usual playlist. To my surprise, I didn’t shut it off. I didn’t change the station. I kept listening. What I found was a deep appreciation of folk, country, and bluegrass musicians’ remarkable ability to tell a story. Good music tells a story.
Of course, this is nothing new. I had simply stumbled upon a truth that God’s people have known and practiced for centuries. A good song has a story to tell.
When God’s people were led through the Red Sea on dry ground Moses, Miriam, and all of Israel sang a victory song, “I will sing unto the Lord for he has triumphed gloriously; the horse and his rider he has thrown into the sea” (Exod 15:1).
When God inspired his servant David to write Scripture, he composed numerous psalms, the hymns in hymnal of the Old Testament: “O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise” (Ps 51:15).
When God sent Ezra, Nehemiah, and the exiled Israelites back to Jerusalem, one of the first things they did after rebuilding the walls and temple was to call the Levitical choirs back into divine service (Neh 12:44-47). After all, they had a story to sing.
When John is given a vision of the heavenly throne room, the heavens reverberate with a new song that sounds familiar. Second verse, same as the first. “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you have ransomed a people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Rev 5:9).
God’s people are no strangers to singing. In fact, at times reading the Scriptures feels a bit like watching a classic Broadway musical, like Westside Story or The Sound of Music. All of a sudden, God will act to redeem, rescue, and save his people, and the main characters in Scripture’s narratives will break out into song. They aren’t singing about themselves, but about God’s great love for them. They aren’t the center of the song, God’s grace is their constant refrain; Christ crucified is center stage. They aren’t concerned with gold or platinum records, but with proclaiming the unending hymn of God’s mercy in Jesus. All spotlights are on the cross and the empty tomb.
When Mary is greeted by Elizabeth and John the Baptist leaps in her womb, and she can’t help but sing the story. “My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my savior” (Luke 1:46-55).
John the Baptist is born and Zechariah’s muted tongue lets loose a hymn of praise. “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people” (Luke 1:67-79).
Angels appear in the skies as the hills outside of Bethlehem are alive with angelic music. Lowly shepherds witness a divine chorus singing the song of salvation, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased” (Luke 2:14).
Simeon holds God incarnate in his elderly arms and fills the temple courts better than old blue eyes ever could, “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples” (Luke 2:29-32).
When God acts to save his people, they can’t help but sing. Whether it’s by the Red Sea, or the hills outside of Bethlehem, good music tells a story. Whether it’s in the Lord’s house or the heavenly temple, wherever you find God’s people gathered together, there you will find them singing. From Genesis to Revelation, Scripture echoes with the great songs of salvation that fill our ears, hearts, minds, and mouths with the good news of salvation in Jesus.
Yes, good music tells a story. The story of God’s outrageous mercy for undeserving sinners. The story of God’s love incarnate as we sing about in Martin Luther’s Christmas hymn From Heaven Above to Earth I Come. “This is the Christ, our God most high, Who hears your sad and bitter cry; He will Himself your savior be From all your sins to set you free” (Lutheran Service Book hymn 358:1).
The story of Jesus’ death on the cross for us as we sing, “O Sacred head now wounded, With grief and shame weighed down, Now scornfully surrounded With thorns Thine only crown” (Lutheran Service Book 450:1).
The story of Jesus' victory over the grave on Easter. “O sons and daughters of the King, whom heav’nly hosts in glory sing, Today the grave has lost its sting! Alleluia!” (Lutheran Service Book 470:1).
As the old Sunday School song goes, God’s redeemed people love to tell the old, old story of Jesus and his love. Every time we sing a hymn at home or at church, we join this ancient choir in singing the songs of salvation in Jesus.
So the next time you find yourself looking for a good story to meditate upon, use for devotions, or read to your children, try joining in singing the story, the old, old story of Jesus and his love for you.
“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord” (Col 3:16).