“Hast Thou Heard Him, Seen Him, Known Him?”
July 5, 2015
The disciple has Jesus as unrivalled King.
I. Verse 1 and Chorus (Hosea 6:3, Psalm 27:4)
II. Verse 2 and Chorus (I John 5:21, 2 Corinthians 5:14-15)
III. Verse 3 and Chorus (Titus 3:4-5, John 20:26-29)
What do you have a crush on at the moment? Not who, but what? According to the dictionary the word crush, used this way, means ‘an intense but usually short-lived infatuation.’ So we look up the word ‘infatuation,’ and we find it to mean foolish or extravagant or all absorbing passion. So we define ‘passion,’ which is strong or deep feeling. So, what do you have a crush on? What do you have a strong, deep, extravagant, absorbing passion for? One way to find the answer is to ask ‘what do I think about a lot?’ It can be a person. If you’re a young person here, you’ve probably had or you’re having a crush. Someone seems so wonderful all you can think about is him, or her. You spend time making up stories of the next time you’ll meet him, or how you’ll impress her.
But for many ‘What do think about a lot? What are you obsessed with?’ is not a person but a thing. The Corvette, Z06 3LZ coupe. The apple Watch, or iPhone 6 plus, or OS X, ‘el capitan.’ Or maybe you’re a big fan of ‘America’s Got Talent.’ Or ‘Dr. Who.’ For some people work is an obsession. They are always thinking about it, plotting and scheming how they can accomplish a goal, or get ahead, or just survive. And a focus on doing a good job to represent Jesus well is not bad. In the same way a significant focus on your family is not bad. But they can become obsessions, all consuming passions. For me, lately, the book I’m writing has been a bit of an infatuation. I’ve lived in 1940 Britain with those characters in my head, and spend a lot of time thinking ‘how do I make this work.’ It’s not all bad – but it can be if it takes me away from family or ministry or intimacy with Jesus.
That’s the problem with a crush. The Bible has a word for something that you have a strong or extravagant or foolish passion for. That word is ‘idol.’ We make an idol of anything that we give more of our thought or our heart to than God. Anything we put in God’s place, from an object we obsess over to a person to an abstract like money or power or sex, any of these can become an idol when they consume our heart, our ambition and our thought in the place of Jesus. John Calvin called the human heart an idol factory. Timothy Keller says “The human heart is an idol factory that takes good things like a successful career, love, material possessions, even family, and turns them into ultimate things. Our hearts deify them as the center of our lives, because, we think, they can give us significance and security, safety and fulfillment, if we attain them.”
There is a truth about idols I’ve learned over the years, that many people have learned, but that is easily forgotten: you can’t just pull an idol down and not replace it with anything, because it will very soon be replaced by another idol.
The people of Israel constantly pulled down their idols and cleansed the high places, but they also constantly went on to new idols: the idols of Egypt; the idols of Canaan; the idols of Assyria; and whatever gods seem to offer the most bang for the buck. If we don’t want to follow the same pattern there is only one alternative: to replace our false idols with God himself. He is the only place where an extravagant and all-absorbing attachment can find a proper home. We were made for strong and deep attachment, and our Savior came to be followed and adored. As disciples, we need to make Jesus our unrivalled king.
This week, to show this truth, I’m going to exposit a text. But it’s not a text of Scripture. It’s supported by Scripture, we’ll spend our time in Scripture, but the text I want to explain is a hymn. The words were written in the 1860’s by Miss Ora Rowan. That’s all I know about her. If I was in London I could look at a 35 page book of her poetry that might tell me more. But the hymn is one we’ve sung several times, to a tune by Joel Littlepage as heard on Indelible Grace’s last album. It’s called ‘Hast thou Heard Him, Seen Him, Known Him?” We’ll sing it after the sermon. And the text of the hymn, along with some of the Scriptures implied by this text, teaches us that as disciples we need to crown Jesus our unrivalled king. The only cure for the idol factory in our hearts is the acceptance and adoration of the true God, the true king so that our hearts are passionately, extravagantly absorbed in Him.
The first verse of goes like this: “Hast thou heard Him, seen Him, known Him? Is not thine a captured heart? Chief among ten thousand own Him, Joyful choose the better part.” So the hymn writer is asking, first, if you are someone who has seriously encountered Jesus. Have you heard him? Not just heard of him, but put your faith in him and experienced his voice speaking truth, comfort, and counsel into your life? Last week we talked about the disciple who takes his master’s words seriously. Jesus wants to speak to you through his word.
Have you seen him? Does the reality of who Jesus is and what he has done have as much impact on you as an internet meme or a Facebook post? A few weeks ago I played some words by Kevin Twit, the founder of Indelible Grace: “That’s always what worship is about, about having our eyes opened to see Jesus who truly is more beautiful, and we long for him to be more believable and more beautiful than the other things that vie for our heart’s affection.”
Have you seen him? He’s more beautiful than anything this world offers. And have you known him. Do you have a heart relationship with Jesus. The word know in Scripture, both in the Old and the New Testament has little to do with head knowledge and much to do with relationship.
When I was considering what Scripture this stanza reflects I ran across Hosea 6:3, and I love it, especially in the English Standard Version: Let us know; let us press on to know the Lord; his going out is sure as the dawn; he will come to us as the showers, as the spring rains that water the earth. It’s great imagery, not just knowing the Lord, but pressing on to know the Lord, knowing him more and more, having a deeper and deeper obsession with our Lord.
And it’s not just our initiative, or even mostly our initiative. He’s after us, like a lover pursuing his love. His going out is sure as the dawn; he will come to us, Hosea says. The context in Hosea is the unrepentance of Israel and Judah. They had sought idols, they have sought help from the nations, but not from God. Hosea will later say “The more they were called, the more they went away; they kept sacrificing to the Baals and burning offerings to idols.” But at this moment in Hosea 6 there is a desire to repent. “Come, let us return to the Lord; for he has torn us, that he may heal us; he has struck us down, and he will bind us up.” But he has also turned to them, going out to come after them. Like spring showers in that barren land, he is seeking them to renew and bless them. That’s a great image and it is in great images like that which capture our hearts, because in them we see the beauty of the Lord. Later still in Hosea there is another great image that captured my heart. God says “O Ephraim, what have I to do with idols? It is I who answer and look after you. I am like an evergreen cypress; from me comes your fruit.” So are you pressing on to know the Lord as that kind of God?
Has he captured your heart and your imagination. The hymn text says “Chief among ten thousand own Him, Joyful choose the better part.” He’s the fairest of ten thousand, Song of Solomon says. He’s the best thing you can choose. But it is hard to sustain that attitude in the face of the idols of this world, the things that vie for your attention, or your passion. This hymn was written to remind God’s people of the beauty of Jesus and the power of that beauty to defeat the lure of idols.
The chorus says: “Captivated by His beauty, Worthy tribute haste to bring. Let His peerless worth constrain thee, Crown Him now unrivaled King.” I love the word captivated. The hymn writer felt there was nothing more authentically captivating in the world than Jesus, whose worth is far more than silver or gold or anything else we might fix our hearts on. The first phase is modeled on the words of Psalm 27. Verse 4 One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in his temple. The Psalmist too, is captivated by the beauty of the Lord. That vision, he says, the goal of his whole life. He’s asked he Lord, ‘let me be in your presence.’
Psalm 27 starts with the assertion “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?” And because those things are true, the Psalmist wants to be in the presence of the Lord. For him that presence was focused on the temple, but for us we can have a more direct experience of God’s presence. The Holy Spirit lives in us to allow us to know God, to know Jesus direction, and to enjoy his beauty.
But the reason this hymn is compelling is because of the contrast between that attraction, God’s presence, and the attraction of idols. There are actually seven verses to the hymn, though we usually only sing three. The first of the verses we don’t sing says “Idols once they won thee, charmed thee, Lovely things of time and sense; Gilded thus does sin disarm thee, Honeyed lest thou turn thee thence.” Do you get that? The hymn writer says “These idols used to win your affection, because they were lovely things of time and sense.” Idols are right here, right now, and they dress themselves up pretty to charm our senses.
Like the Corvette C7, they attract us by their beauty. Man, I want one of those, we say. But in the end they are empty. Gilded on the outside, honeyed on the outside, with nothing of substance within. They can’t really satisfy. If you get the Corvette, you soon want another. A home in our neighborhood has three in the driveway. Riches are never enough – there is always someone who has more, and you want it too. If you give in to porn, you soon have to have more and more. If you reach the top at work, there is someone below trying to pull you down. It’s all a lie: there is no rest, no beauty, no substance in an idol.
So, the second verse we usually sing, “What can strip the seeming beauty, From the idols of the earth? Not a sense of right or duty, But the sight of peerless worth.” For years now I’ve talked about the best sermon I never read, “The expulsive power of a new affection.” It was written around 1830 by Thomas Chalmers, and influential preacher and the founding moderator of the Free Church of Scotland. I’ve never read the sermon, because the title says it all: the expulsive power of a new affection. It is only as we are consumed by a new affection for Jesus and for all God’s good works that we can be set free from our affection for idols. It’s not enough to see what we ought to do, we must be captured by a greater beauty than the false gods that seek our heart’s attention.
Now I think some of you may be struggling with the word beautiful. What does it mean that Jesus is beautiful. Once commentator said that it means ‘good.’ Other things seem good, but Jesus really is good. What can strip the compulsive attraction from the idols of the earth? Not the understanding that they’re wrong or even the desire to do right, but a compulsive enthusiasm for the God who is truly good and the author of all good things.
All through Christian history disciples, followers, have had a burning enthusiasm for Jesus. The first letter of Jesus’ disciple John says And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true; and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life. So, John says, Little children, keep yourselves from idols. We know him who is truth, we are in him who is true, and we are in his Son, Jesus Christ. I did a sermon last summer trying to explain what it means that we are in Him. We are like a plant in the sunshine – drawn to it, nourished by it, growing toward it. As sunshine is a plant’s life environment, so Jesus is our life environment. Just as the plant turns to seek the sun alone, so we turn to seek the Son alone. There is no life anywhere else.
Paul had this burning enthusiasm for Jesus. In Second Corinthians he says For the love of Christ controls [or compels or constrains] us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; 15and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and rose again. I love he word ‘controls’ or ‘compels’ or ‘constrains’ us. The love Christ has for us and the love we have for Him binds us and calls us and directs us on the path of discipleship. This is what the chorus of the hymn is getting at: Let His peerless worth constrain thee, Crown Him now unrivaled King. If love for and love from Jesus constrains you, no idol, no crush, no infatuation with things worldly will distract you.
The fourth stanza of the old hymn says “Not the crushing of those idols, With its bitter void and smart, But the beaming of His beauty, The unveiling of His heart.” Even if we were able to crush the things we have a crush on, they would leave a bitter and painful void in our hearts. Instead, the stanza says, we need the new preoccupation he gives as he beams his beauty, unveils his heart. This is the expulsive power of a new affection.
One of the most well-known myths from Greek and Roman days is of the Sirens, beautiful creatures who sang so enchantingly that they drew sailors to death on their rocky islands. The most well-known account is in Homer’s Odyssey. Odysseus put wax in his sailor’s ears but asked that he himself be tied to the mast of his ship so he could hear this song but not respond to it. That’s one way to handle idols: ‘tie me to the mast.’ But another Greek myth, Jason and the Argonauts, offers a better way. Jason brought Orpheus, the sweetest singer in all the world, with him into his encounter with the Sirens. As they drew near the islands, Orpheus began to sing and so beautiful was his song that no one on the ship could respond to the lesser song of the Sirens. This is the expulsive power of a new affection. So lovely is the song our Savior sings that we are no longer drawn to the destructive and empty songs of our idols.
The sixth stanza, the third one we normally sing is my favorite “’Tis that look that melted Peter, ’Tis that face that Stephen saw, 'Tis that heart that wept with Mary, Can alone from idols draw.” The hymn writer picks three people whose lives were transformed by their encounter with Jesus. The look that melted Peter happened when Peter denied Jesus. “And immediately, while he was still speaking, the rooster crowed. 61And the Lord turned and looked at Peter. And Peter remembered the saying of the Lord, “Before the rooster crows today, you will deny me three times.” 62And he went out and wept bitterly.”
The face that Stephen saw was at his martyrdom. As they were stoning him, Acts 7:56, he said “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” The heart that wept with Mary is an image from John 11 where Jesus stood with Mary and Martha at the tomb of Lazarus and wept. The sacrifice, the glory, the compassion of Jesus draw us like a magnet.
Ora Rowan didn’t include Thomas in this list of people whose hearts were drawn to Jesus, but he’s one of the best examples. Thomas, as we know, doubted the resurrection. John 20:25 “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.” 26Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” 28Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Thomas was instantly and forever drawn to faith in Jesus. But Jesus says, verse 29, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” That’s you and me, folks. We are blessed when we see Jesus with the eyes of faith, call him “My Lord and My God,” and allow ourselves to live by faith in that consuming reality.
We make him, in the words of Ora Rowan, “unrivaled King.” If we are disciples, he is our king and there is no rival for our affections. The things of this world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life no longer attract us because Jesus attracts us. And as unrivaled king he has the right to tell us what to do, and what not. When Jesus sends us out as disciples, he says ‘all authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth.” All authority. Paul says of him that he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. In the book of Revelation he is called the King of Kings and Lord of Lords who will reign forever and ever. Jesus is, in fact, the unrivalled king of the universe. But is he unrivalled in our lives?
The seventh stanza of the full hymn, is partially a prayer “Draw and win and fill completely, Till the cup o’erflow the brim; What have we to do with idols Who have companied with Him?” Lord Jesus, do draw us, and win us and fill us completely, until we overflow with the reality of your presence, until we can with whole heart make you the unrivalled king of our lives. Because what power can idols have in our lives when we are with you?
Kevin Twit concludes his commentary on this hymn by saying “There is nothing more powerful than seeing the mercy of God expressed in the person of Jesus. As Romans 2:4 teaches us, God’s mercy and kindness is designed to lead to repentance, and in Jesus the mercy and kindness of God appeared.” He’s referring to Titus 3:4-7 But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, 5he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, 6whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.
There is nothing more powerful than this mercy poured out, his kindness and love which he gave for us in the sacrifice of Jesus. We’ll remember and rehearse that love in a few moments in communion. But he did not do it for no reason. His heart’s desire is that, having been saved by faith in him, we would make him our unrivalled king. He wants us to turn and look at him so that every idol, every crush, every infatuation this ingenious fallen world can parade before us grows dim in the light of his glory and grace. Where is your heart drawn? Disciples of Jesus find their hearts drawn to him. Like the people of Israel in Hosea 6 we choose to turn and return to the Lord, to know him, and to press on to know him, but we also know that his going out precedes ours, and he comes to us like the spring rain that gives life to the barren ground. It is only in love of him that our false loves can fade away.