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Last week, Jon taught us about O Come, O Come, Emmanuel. We’re in lonely exile until the Son of God appears, yet we rejoice in knowing that He will appear. That hymn mentions the cloud guiding the children of Israel and beseeches the branch of Jesse’s stem to come and rescue people from the depths of hell. This morning, we’ll see the Wisdom from on high, the stem of Jesse, the Key of David, the bright and morning star who is the King of nations and is the long-expected Jesus.
Is. 9:7 says, “Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord will accomplish this.”
This very traditional hymn was written in 1744 by Charles Wesley. Charles was born Dec. 18, 1707 and was the 18th child born to Samuel and Susanna Wesley in Epworth, Linconshire, England. He was the younger brother to John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist Church. Charles was educated at the Westminster School in London and Christ Church which was a constituent school of the University of Oxford. He was ordained at Christ Church in 1735 and traveled with his brother John to the great state of Georgia. Charles was appointed Secretary of Indian Affairs by Governor Oglethorpe and John remained in Savannah. In March 1736, Charles would go on to become Chaplain to the garrison at Fort Frederica on St. Simons Island. His message was not widely received by the settlers and he sailed from Charleston, SC back to England never to return to the colonies. In a fascinating turn of events, Charles experienced a conversion on May 21, 1738 that transformed his ministry. It was then that Charles began his prolific poetry career that would see him writing over 6000 poems. He and his brother began their field preaching in 1739 bringing the Gospel message to the common people under the influence of George Whitfield. In 1749, Charles married Sarah Gwynne and they both traveled with John on evangelistic crusades until at least 1753. After 1756, Charles stopped traveling far and wide and would remain close to his home in Bristol traveling only to London. He wrote a number of hymns that remain popular today including Christ the Lord is Risen Today, Hark! The Herald Angels Sing, O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing, and the song we will look at today called Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus.
This carol has four verses. The first and fourth were written in 1744 by Charles Wesley. The second and third verses were written in 1978 by Mark E. Hunt of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. This song was printed in Wesley’s Hymns for the Nativity of Our Lord published in 1744. Verse 1 says, “Come, Thou long-expected Jesus, born to set Thy people free; from our fears and sins release us; let us find our rest in Thee. Israel’s strength and consolation, hope of all the earth Thou art; dear desire of every nation, joy of every longing heart.” Wesley wove the prophecy of Christ’s coming with the expectation of His return. Through our study in Genesis, we know the Messiah was first prophesied in Gen. 3:15. The prophecy was proclaimed immediately after sin entered the world. Humanity shifted from perfect fellowship with the Creator to consequence for sin. I cannot imagine the heartbreak felt by God. Yes, God knew what would happen. That did not change His desire to create beings that would freely and willingly worship Him for who He is. Instead of being in union with God, Adam and Eve chose to follow their own path. Because of the curse, mankind was eternally separated from God. The hopelessness of sin is countered with the hope of the One that would pay the penalty for our sin. Jesus, the Messiah, the Christ, was born out of God’s great love for mankind. Could Adam and Eve have known what the results of their choice would be? Did they anticipate the coming of the One that would set them free?
Of Jesus, Wesley wrote He was, “Born to set Thy people free.” This is a concept that is difficult for people today to understand. We live in a free country; a free society. Do we understand what that freedom means? There are five countries where the freedom is severely restricted. North Korea, China, Laos, Vietnam, and Cuba are the only communist countries. It’s interesting that these countries have been communist for a relatively short time. The oldest being N. Korea in 1948 and China in 1949. Cuba in 1961, Laos in 1975, and Vietnam in 1976. Our founding fathers declared their independence, they’re freedom from Great Britain in 1776. Jesus was, “Born to set Thy people free.” The United States of America is a free country, but are we really free? We might have the freedom to work a job we want to, or go to the school we want to, but we live with restrictions in all facets of life. We have rules and regulations, laws and policies that govern our lives. Jesus was not born to set us free to live as we please although we can to a certain extent. Jesus was born to set us free from the penalty of sin. The curse left us separated from God, but Jesus was born to set us free from that penalty.
Take a quick look at Rom. 6:1-7. You can be in chains and be free from sin. You can be in prison and be free from sin. You can live in a communist country and be free from sin. Jesus was, “Born to set thy people free; from our fears and sins release us; let us find our rest in thee.” Jesus has also released us from fear. I think this is something that many of us get hung up on. Many people are afraid of what may or may not happen, especially during these times of uncertainty. Not only has Jesus freed us from sin, but He freed us from fear. There are a couple of words used for fear in the Bible depending on the context. Pro. 9:10 says, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” This is a reverential fear. A respect. The other fear is what Wesley mentions here. This is the paralyzing irrational fear that is the Greek word phobos where we get our English word phobia. There is nearly an infinite number of recognized phobias that are fairly common. Arachnophobia: fear of spiders. Ophidiophobia: fear of snakes. Agoraphobia; fear of open spaces or crowds. There are some phobias that aren’t so common. Arachibutyrophobia; the fear of having peanut butter stick to the roof of your mouth. Barophobia: fear of gravity. Ephebiphobia: fear of teenagers Porphyrophobia: fear of the color purple. Jesus has set us free from even that which seems to paralyze us. Don’t be confused today when people tell you that you are xenophobic because you want people to immigrate to the U.S. legally. Don’t worry when you are called homophobic or transphobic because you stand on the truth of God’s design for human beings.
Verse 1 goes on to say, “let us find our rest in Thee. Israel’s strength and consolation.” In today’s culture, rest is something that seems to be out of balance. It’s either a single focused pursuit or completely neglected. We are consumed with the busyness of life that pushes out God’s desires for us. If you’re around my age, we experienced this shift as we began having activities on Sundays that were not Christ centered. From ballgames, to chores around the house, to homework and secular work, we have turned Sundays into a day to catch up or we use it as a family day. Life used to be centered around Christ and His church and now it is centered around life and we “try” to squeeze Christ into our busyness. Today, we take a break from church because we’re tired and worn out, but not from church, from life. Today, we call attending church once a month regular. Bible study doesn’t really happen and prayer is something that is done before a meal. We have products designed to make our lives more manageable. Dishwashers, washing machines, microwaves, and refrigerators that will tell you what is inside. We have automatic vacuum cleaners. We have Alexa and Siri because we can’t be bothered to take the time to type on the keyboard on the phone attached to our hand.
When Wesley speaks of rest, he’s speaking about the burdens of life and the responsibilities that pull at us. Jesus knew what life was like and that’s why He said, “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” (Matt. 11:28-30) Of course, in those days, life was far more challenging in many ways and far simpler too. If we really think about it, our busyness is a result of our own decisions. We don’t have to plant crops and tend to them to eat. We don’t have to milk the cows to get our non-fat, non-dairy, organic pseudo milk. We don’t even have to go to the store to get food anymore, we tell them what we want and they’ll bring it to us. In fact, you can even go out to eat and yet stay at home. Think about all you have to do this holiday season. School parties, work parties, neighborhood parties, family parties. Gift shopping even if it’s online. School programs. Decorate the house. Is this the year we will rest in Christ or will we shift that to next year?
Jesus is our strength and our consolation. In Luke 2:25, Simeon was looking for the consolation of Israel. Anna the prophetess was looking for the redemption of Israel in v. 38. Consolation means comfort in the specific sense of help or rescue. Simeon was waiting for Israel to be delivered by the Messiah. The Holy Spirit of God revealed to him that he would not see death until he laid eyes on the Christ. Can you imagine holding an infant that you knew was your hope? This is our hope in the long-expected Jesus. Our hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness. I dare not trust the sweetest frame, but wholly lean on Jesus’ name. The hope is not just for Believers. The only hope for humanity, for all the earth that Wesley wrote about in this carol, is Jesus Christ. This is the, “dear desire of every nation, joy of every longing heart,” that closes the first verse. Wesley knew about Rom. 1:18-23. God put the desire to know Him into every human He has or will create. Our longing, our desire is to know Him because He put that desire in us.
While this hymn is not particularly well used today in church, the meaning behind it should still be at the forefront of our minds. We covered just the first verse, but the rest are just as rich and deep. In virtually every phrase of this carol, Wesley points to one or more verses of Scripture. He points to the advent of Christ and also to His return. We remember how Jesus came to earth and we eagerly anticipate His return. The rest of the carol goes like this.
Joy to those who long to see thee, Dayspring from on high, appear; come, thou promised Rod of Jesse, of thy birth we long to hear! O’er the hills the angels singing news, glad tidings of a birth; “Go to him, your praises bringing; Christ the Lord has come to earth.”
Come to earth to taste our sadness, he whose glories knew no end; by his life he brings us gladness, our Redeemer, Shepherd, Friend. Leaving riches without number, born within a cattle stall; this the everlasting wonder, Christ was born the Lord of all.
Born Thy people to deliver, born a child, and yet a King, born to reign in us forever, now Thy gracious kingdom bring. By Thine own eternal Spirit rule in all our hearts alone; by Thine own sufficient merit, raise us to Thy glorious throne.
Wesley did not leave Jesus in a manger like many other hymns. He wanted you to understand the Christmas story and apply it to your life. Jesus was born and infant so He could rule over as King. This is why John Wesley wrote Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus.