Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.
As a boy, I remember watching TV during the football season, thinking 'Why do the beer companies have the best commercials on television'? This was especially true at Christmas, and there is one class Miller High Life commercial forever etched in my memory.
When I think about the sounds of Christmas, the sleigh bells at the beginning of that commercial come to mind. But Christmas would not be Christmas - as we know it - without being framed by the classic Christmas carols that fill our hearts with happiness.
But not only do they sound good and help us feel better, many of these Christmas carols are chock-a-block full of solid theology and important, Bible-based doctrine. Take, for example, Hark! The Herald-angels Sing, written by Charles Wesley (1739) and edited by George Whitefield (1758). Look at these statements, and the rich scriptures they speak to:
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see
Hail the incarnate Deity
Offspring of a Virgin’s womb
Jesus, our Emmanuel
Hail the Sun of Righteousness!
Light and Life around he brings,
Ris'n with Healing in his Wings.
The glorious truth of God breaking into human history in person through the incarnation is the very heart of the Christmas story. But the purpose of Christmas is God's reconciliation with lost humanity, and this truth is conveyed in the first stanza:
Hark! The herald-angels sing
"Glory to the newborn king;
Peace on earth and mercy mild,
God and sinners reconciled"
Joyful all ye nations rise,
Join the triumph of the skies
With the angelic host proclaim
"Christ is born in Bethlehem"
The glorious truth of 'God and sinners reconciled' is found in Romans 5.1, Romans 5:8-11
1 Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.8God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 9 Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more will we be saved by him from the wrath of God. 10 For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. 11 More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.
Let's take a look at what is taught here:
v. 8: God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
- God shows his love for us: God’s love is shown in Christ’s death.
- The motivation for God’s saving action in Christ – his death – is his love.
- While we were still sinners: Notice the timing: this demonstrates God’s love – the point is that God was the one loving us – not us loving God – and that his death for us was before we loved him.
- The intention of his love is salvation: Christ died for us.
- The key word of the gospel is for - it points to Christ’s work as a substitute on our behalf.
- Paul expands this thought in 1 Corinthians 15.3: ‘Christ died for our sins.
- The point is that Christ’s death was not merely a demonstration of God’s love, but because He loved us, God gave Christ to die for us to deal with the problem of our sin.
v. 9: Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.
- Therefore – Christ died for us, therefore – this means as a consequence of Christ’s death for us.
- We have now been justified by his blood:
- First, now we have been … this is already accomplished; this is something that has happened in the past. But the now means that it is a continuing reality in the life of the believer.
- Second, justified by his blood: the thing that is already done, already accomplished, is justification. Justification is the act of God’s free grace by which he pronounces us not guilty. This is a legal term meaning that we are absolved of any and all guilt towards God. This justification is by his blood. This phrase by his blood reference the death of Jesus as a sacrifice – he died in our Justification is the past acquittal of guilty sinners who have believed in Christ. Therefore, our justification – God’s declaration of not guilty - is based on what Jesus has done for us by dying for us.
- We shall be saved from the wrath of God by him
- First, shall be saved points to the future, and is looking to the great judgment. That is, salvation happens in three time zones. We have been saved – meaning, we have been justified and adopted into God’s family. It’s a fact, it’s in the past, and it’s a reality in the life of believers. We are being saved, this means that during this life we are in the process of being made into the image of Christ. And we will be saved – we have not fully been saved until we receive our glorified bodies in the new age.
- Second, we will be saved from God’s wrath. God loves, and God has wrath. God’s wrath is against all sin, all unrighteousness, everything that violates his will and his character. God’s rather is revealed against all sin, and it is an inevitability that all humans will experience God’s wrath because of their sin – unless God saves them from it. In Chrsit, God saves us from his own wrath. This references the future because it is looking to the great judgment: in that moment, in the great judgment, we will be saved from God’s wrath – not because God’s not wrathful, but because of what he has done for us in Christ.
- By him: that’s the point of by him: our salvation – past, present, and future – our justification in the past and our salvation from God’s wrath in the future – it’s all by him. It has nothing to do with our goodness.
v. 10: For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.
- This verse teaches the same thing but using different language. Paul makes a point about our future by referencing our past.
- while we were enemies Verse 8 mentions while we were sinners, pointing to our moral and legal separation from God – we’ve broken his law. But here, the argument is referencing the fact that we are enemies.
- Enemies is a strong word, and it means that we are hostile towards God – Colossians 1.21 says ‘and you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind,doing evil deeds’. To be alienated is to be estranged, to be shut out from fellowship and intimacy. This is our spiritual condition because of our sin. We are shut out from God because of our sin. But not only that, we were hostile towards God in our minds. This means our natural disposition is to have a hateful, adversarial disposition towards God.
- The while means that it was while we are in this stat of opposition to God that God acted to resolve the opposition. We didn’t move towards God, he moved towards us.
- We were reconciled to God. Whereas justification is legal, law court language that deals with our guilt, reconciliation is relational language that deals with our estrangement from God. To reconcilemeans to bring together, to make peace between two estranged, warring, or hostile parties. This is the beauty of the gospel – not only is our guilt dealt with, but also our separation. We are forgiven, and we are brought back into relationship with God.
- by the death of his Son: Again, this points to the death of Jesus on our behalf as the basis of our reconciliation – we can be reconciled because of Jesus death in our place, bearing our sin.
- We shall be saved by his life. Not only did Jesus die for us, but he was also raised for us. And not only was he raised for us, but according to Hebrews 7.25, ‘Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them’. To save to the uttermost means that God will finish what he has started in our lives; those who are justified will finally be glorified; those who have been saved will be saved fully.
v. 11: More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.
- The Christian life is one of praise and adoration of God because we have now received reconciliation.
- If you understand your reconciliation, you’ll live a life of praising God.
- Notice the verb tense: we have now received reconciliation: our relationship with God has been healed. Though there remains a future consummation, it’s done – our enmity or conflict with God has been resolved. Me and God? We used to be enemies, now we’re friends. We used to be enemies because of my sin; now we’re friends because of what Jesus has done. There is only one pathway towards friendship with God – the atoning sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. This is how reconciliation is achieved.
What this is about
Here's a summary of what Romans 5:8-11 teaches:
- Justification: To be justified means ‘to be acquitted by God from all charges that could be brought against a person because of his or her sins’: to be declared ‘not guilty’.
- Reconciliation: To reconcile means to bring together, to make peace between two estranged, warring, or hostile parties.
Whereas justification is legal, law court language that deals with our guilt, reconciliation is relational language that deals with our estrangement from God. This is the beauty of the gospel – not only is our guilt dealt with, but also our separation. We are forgiven, and we are brought back into relationship with God.
Two time zones
- Past: in the past, we were justified; in the past, we were reconciled.
- Future: we will be saved – our justification and reconciliation will achieve their complete ends, the glorification of our bodies and our eternal fellowship with God in his presence.
- Hope: our future is secure in Christ – we have been justified, we will be saved; we have been reconciled, we will be saved.
- Rejoicing in God: because of justification, peace with God, reconciliation
The Sounds of Christmas
This is just one deep-dive into one phrase from one hymn. It is our hope that this Christmas you will enjoy singing all the great Christmas carols with passion and gusto as you celebrate God's grace given to us in Christ: yes to the incarnation, but also yes to the justificaiton and reconciliation that incarnation enabled.
 Moo, Romans, 227.