Dr. Charles Franklin DeVane, Jr., Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
March 15, 2015
As they were gathering in Galilee, Jesus said to them, “The Son of Man is about to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him, and he will be raised on the third day.” And they were greatly distressed.
— Matthew 17:22-23, ESV
The best music can break your heart. Good, honest songwriting combined with good, skilled musicianship can give you a good, therapeutic case of the blues. At least that’s the way it is with my favorite songs, and my favorite story.
My favorite story is the greatest story ever told, the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is good news, lyrically, literally, and eternally. But even the good news can give you the blues.
Three times in the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus gives His first followers a pre-release version of the complete gospel (ref. 16:21, 17:22-23, 20:17-19). The big three — Peter, James, and John — mar the first and third versions. But in this second coming of the song, the disciples get it just about right. As Matthew remembered it, “They were greatly distressed,” or, they got the blues from the good news.
If You Love Him
The good news can give you the blues, if you truly love the Lord Jesus Christ. Do you love Jesus? I’m sure you do.
The twelve, minus one, had developed an especially intense love for Jesus. It was forged over significant time spent in spiritual combat, fruitful ministry, and jovial fellowship. Soldiers who spend one year together on a tour of duty become a band of brothers for life, so imagine how it must have been for them at this stage of their three-year tour. They loved Him. They could not imagine life without Him. Then, they were told He was about to be killed.
The first time Jesus told them, Peter went into denial. The third time He tells them, James and John get plum giddy by asking for the best seats at the marriage supper of the Lamb. But in this concert, as Jesus sings the gospel to them, they get a good, healthy case of the blues.
Blue should be the first color you see when you hear the gospel. Realizing all the Old Testament sacrifices are pictures of the crucified Christ, reading Isaiah 53, traveling through the Gospels and arriving at Good Friday, and listening to certain gospel songs should grip your heart like a vise. If you love Him, if you realize the terrible pain and suffering He endured, if you believe He was killed in the manner in which He predicted and the biblical writers recorded, then it should make you sad, at first. But then, it gets worse.
If You Have Betrayed Him
The tune of the gospel turns truly forlorn when you go back and listen again to the first verse. Before “they were greatly distressed” and before Jesus revealed the shocking stanza, “they would kill Him,” He told them what would precipitate it all. Jesus was “delivered into the hands of men.” The killers conspired in the religious and political courts of the day, to be sure, but their dirty work could not have been done without inside help. One of the ones who claimed to love Jesus “delivered” Him over to the authorities, literally handed Him over, or as some translations say, betrayed.
This sour note cannot be attributed to Judas Iscariot alone. Forever inscribed in Scripture as the ultimate traitor, this devil deserves his due. He loved Jesus, when he thought Jesus shared his own political and economic views of how things ought to be. He followed Jesus, when he thought there was some prime position in it for him. He sang the song so well that all the others thought he was a leader in the band, until he bailed out at the last minute for another record contract that paid him thirty pieces of silver. Thanks to Judas, Jesus was betrayed, delivered, arrested, punished, crucified, killed. Or, at least that’s how the song goes.
I’ll ask you again, do you love Jesus? Sure, you do. Have you ever betrayed Him, denied Him, or otherwise turned your back on Him? Judas Iscariot did. Simon Peter did. I did, too. And, so have you. It’s a song called sin, and we can all sing it in the wrong key.
Critics of Christianity castigate us a guilt-mongers. Who can blame them? One of the great advantages of being a Christian pastor, Christian parent, or Christian witness in general, is that you can heap out a serving of old-fashioned guilt hot or cold. However, we must remember that guilt without grace is not the gospel. But neither can their be redeeming, divine grace without real, human guilt.
When the gospel is sung, there is a part of it that clearly says we are all guilty. It is not just the traitors, not just the serial killers, not just the war criminals. We are all sinners, we have all betrayed the Lord, we have all disobeyed His word, which is a supreme betrayal of love. While we may not have hammer the nails into His hands and feet, we put the nails in the hands of those who did.
The good news puts forth that fact that bad people did bad things to Jesus. Each one of us stands among those bad people. So when the gospel is sung, those of us who love Him and have sinned against Him should be touched with more than a tinge of the blues.
If You Can’t Sing the Chorus
Everyone loves Jesus. Everyone has sinned against God. Everyone can sing these parts of the song. Therefore, everyone gets the blues from the good news. But, not everyone gets to keep them, unless you stop short of the chorus. The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is the chorus to the gospel. It gives you the blues, then chases them away, all in the same album.
Jesus’ death was not accidental nor incidental. It was the intentional plan of God that allowed for the sinful choices of man to put the sinless Son of Man, Messiah, Lord Jesus Christ to death upon a cross. The melody for this part of the chorus is written by the doctrine of double imputation. The blues deepen as our sin is placed on the back of our sin-bearer and Savior, but the blues disappear as His righteousness is applied to our account, making us rich and right before God.
It is the miraculous manner in which the great double imputation of a person’s sin upon Christ and Christ’s righteousness upon a person can take place by grace through faith.
Jesus’ resurrection was real, bodily, visible, and this same Jesus will really, bodily, visibly return to earth one day. When He does, even Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus” will not do it justice. But the saints of all time, those saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, will sing a heavenly new song that will melt the blues faster than a popsicle in hell. It should forever be sung in the key of salvation.
Love without repentance and faith will leave you with the permanent pain of the blues. Sin without salvation makes those blues even darker and deeper. But your acceptance of the atonement, the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ, is the chorus of the gospel. It is the good news that blows the blues away.
In the immortal words of Isaac Watts:
When I survey the wondrous cross, On which the Prince of glory died,
My richest gain I count but loss, And pour contempt on all my pride.
Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast, Save in the death of Christ my God!
All the vain things that charm me most, I sacrifice them to His blood.
See from His head, His hands, His feet, Sorrow and love flow mingled down!
Did e’er such love and sorrow meet, Or thorns compose so rich a crown?
Were the whole realm of nature mine, That were a present far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine, Demands my soul, my life, my all!