Most everyone has heard of Handel’s Messiah. What’s not so known is how similar those times were (in 1741, the year of its debut) with our times today. For example, the oratorio form did not exist in England before Handel. Not exactly the most popular form of music today either. Secondly, there was a big debate about whether entertainment should have an uplifting moral lesson or sink to the level of mere amusement and diversion. Thirdly, and I think most importantly, then like now, Deism was in full swing. That is, the popular worldview in the Enlightenment was that
“. . . humans had no need of a god because they were innately good and had the resources to solve their own problems. Human perfectibility could be achieved by human resources without divine intervention.” (Stapert, p. 75)
In that sense, the USA with its adherence to pursuit of the American Dream is more Deistic and Theistic. So the question lingers, “Do we need a Messiah?” and if so, “Why do we need a Savior?”
On point one, for me personally, I find very little satisfaction or pleasure in “contemporary” music, Christian or otherwise. I still remember in 1969 spending an afternoon listening to the Messiah while searching my Bible for all the passages that were being sung. For me, I’ll take music of substance that grabs my soul and lifts it to the heavens. Ahh.
On point two, I think entertainment should indeed contain an edifying moral lesson. It may be humorous or it may be serious, but let me take away something to grow by. All art forms have the capacity to teach as well as delight. Good art, in my opinion, should grab us deep and lift us high. Sadly, much entertainment and “art” today simply resonates with the base and abdicates any moral responsibility. Roger Kimball wrote in a 1999 Wall Street Journal article:
“We suffer from a peculiar form of moral anesthesia, an anesthesia based on the delusion that by calling something ‘art’ we thereby purchase for it a blanket exemption from moral criticism – as if being art automatically rendered all moral considerations beside the point. . . . “ (Stapert, p. 70)
I agree with those who say that the artist should produce works that, while pleasing, will do the most good.
On point three, I think the only reason people think that the Messiah, a Savior, is not necessary is that they underestimate the holiness of God and overestimate the good condition of humankind. This is what the Bible refers to when it says
The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked (Jeremiah 17:9)
When I realized that my condition in 1968 was worse than being in the doghouse with God (I was actually in the morgue, dead in my separation from God), I knew I couldn’t make the connection with Him on the basis of my accomplishments. I needed redemption. To see how clearly John Piper summarizes this, click here.
The word “Messiah” means the “anointed One” in Hebrew. That is, God anointed Jesus for a specific task, one that only He could accomplish. “Christ” is the Greek word meaning the “Messiah.” So, when the Bible mentions Jesus Christ, it carries the meaning of “Jesus, that is, the Messiah, the Anointed One, of God.”
The guy who compiled the words to the Messiah, the librettist Charles Jennens, wanted passionately to proclaim to the world that we need a Messiah. You see, when he was 28 years old, his younger brother committed suicide by throwing himself out of a window where he was studying at Oxford. He was found later to have been preyed upon by doubt resulting from correspondence with a professed deist who was gloating over converts to skepticism he had made. (Stapert, p. 78)
A few years ago, I visited the area where Jesus asked this penetrating question to Peter. That time, Peter got it right.
“But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven” (Matthew 16:15-17).
So times don’t change much. We live in an age when many people ignore our message of salvation through Christ. Handel wrote his oratorio in the midst of a culture that did not believe we needed a Messiah. Christ, God himself, came to our planet to seek and to save that which is lost and most people ignored or rejected even him. Many people are unaware that Easter is the celebration of the resurrection of the Messiah. Wise men still seek Him.
But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep. For since by a man [Adam] came death, by a man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive. (1 Corinthians 15:20-22)
I think we need a Messiah. Why? Because apart from God’s indwelling Spirit, we are dead. Following my spiritual rebirth in 1968, I continue to depend on His indwelling Spirit to grow into Christlikeness. Only through my surrendered spirit can He use me to participate in His will. That way, He gets the glory for all that is truly good.
So what about you? Who do you say that He is? Why do you think we need a Messiah?