A SONG IN THE NIGHT
By Pastor Glenn Pease
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart had a gift and because of his giftedness in music Emperor's and Empresses were always showering him with gifts. Just the sort of thing he really needed too; like gold toothpick holders and silver snuffboxes. He had a fortune in fancy things that could not put bread on the table. He was only 21 in 1777 when he complained, "I now have 5 watches, and am seriously thinking of having an additional watch pocket sewn on each leg of my trousers, so that when I visit some great lord, it will not occur to him to present me with another."
His musical talent did save some money for he and his family however. Once after a 3 year tour of Europe they headed home to Austria. His father stopped at the border and unpacked the clavicle and little Wolfgang played on it so beautifully the officials let them pass through with all their valuable presents duty free. There is power in music to change lives and circumstances.
I share this bit of history of one great musician in order to point out the contrast with the life of our Lord. Jesus was the very Son of God who had for all eternity enjoyed the music of the angels around the Father's throne. Yet, when he came into history and became a man he did not bring with him any unique giftedness in the realm of music. He did not play an instrument, nor did he become a singer. In fact, the only record we have of Jesus ever singing is here in Matt. 26:30. Even then it was not a solo, but he joined in with his disciples in a group song. It would be a delight to hear this apostolic choir. We have no record that would indicate they were talented in the realm of music. Song and music have played a major role in the life of God's people all through history, but we do not know if Jesus had any gift in this area. He was the Son of David who was famous for his talent on the harp, and in composing and singing songs. But there is no record that Jesus ever composed a song.
We know Jesus was an excellent speaker and teacher, and he held the interest of large audiences with his sermons full of everyday stories about life relevant to the masses. But there is never a word about him singing for the crowds. There was never a Jesus and the 12 concert. This is interesting because music and song has played a major role in worship in both the Old Testament and the New Testament. The Old Testament has hundreds of references, and the book of Psalms is a hymnal of songs to be sung in worship and in private. In the New Testament church music and song are also vital. Paul writes in Eph. 5:19, "Speak to one another with Psalms, hymns and spiritual songs, and make music in your heart to the Lord." Songs were to be an assistant to the teaching and training ministry to the church. In Col. 3:16 Paul writes, "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing Psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your heart to God."
Teaching and singing were two key elements of the life of the church, and they always have been. It is of interest to note that Paul is also never pictured anywhere in all of his preaching and evangelism as having a concert. Did Paul ever sing a solo in the many churches he started? We have no record. In fact, Paul's record of singing is just like the record we have of Jesus singing. There is only one reference to it. In Acts 16:25 we read, "About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God." They were not on stage at the Philippian theatre for the last performance of the evening. They were in the Philippian jail and fastened in stocks. Not the best position for singing, nor the best atmosphere, but here they were praising God in song.
The only time we see Paul singing, and the only time we see Jesus singing is at night in very stressful situations. Jesus is about to earn his title as the man of sorrows acquainted with grief. He was heading for the worst and the last night of his life before the cross. The agony of Gethsemane, the anguish of his betrayal, arrest, and illegal condemnation was his agenda for the night, and he knew it. Yet, he joins his disciples in a song. A heart filled with song is better prepared to face sorrow.
The thing we need to see here is that Jesus lived a real life on our level. He had to live a life that could go from singing to suffering in minutes. Real life is like that, and Jesus is singing with his disciples now, and in a matter of minutes he will be on his face with strong crying and tears. Singing and sobbing can come in the same hour, and Jesus knows, not by hearing, but by experience. He can identify with those who celebrate with a feast, and then weep in sorrow the same day. In war time it happens to every family who loses a loved one, but it happens everyday in peace time as well. That is why the Bible stresses that God is a God who gives songs in the night. Songs are therapy and are like vitamins that lift the soul and give it courage to make it through the night. In Ps. 42 where there is a struggle with depression the Psalmist says in verse 8, "By day the Lord directs his love; at night his song is with me." In Job 35:1 we read of God as one "who gives songs in the night."
Jesus is a man of sorrows, but we miss the balance of the Bible if we do not also see he was a man of song. Jesus and Paul, and all of the disciples sang all the time. It was a part of life, and there is no more need to reveal it than to record that they put on the sandals and robes each day and ate lamb often. What is important for us to see is that they were given songs in the night, and that Jesus needed it, and got it. The strength and encouragement of songs in the night meant much to him. Sorrow is a universal experience, and that is why Jesus entered into the life of a man of sorrows. He drank the cup that all have to drink, but he drank it dry while many only have to sip it in comparison. But the songs God gives in the night of this fallen world are the foretaste of heaven where night will be no more, and we will sing new songs forever. Song will be eternal, but sorrow will pass away. Jesus needed this assurance to get through his awful night, and so do we all.
When Richard the lion-hearted was captured during one of the crusades, his men were frustrated because they wanted to fight for his release, but they did not know where he was imprisoned. One of them remembered a song that he had been taught by Richard, and he went by prisons singing this song in hopes Richard would hear it and give a signal of his presence. Prison after prison yielded no result, but finally one day as he stood by a stony wall singing he heard a voice joining in, and he knew he had found his king. Our king, the Lord Jesus, joins in as we sing our songs in the night, for he has been there and he knows the need. In this song in the night we find our king, not to rescue him, but to be rescued by him from the fears and discouragement of the night.
Jesus faced the worst that a fallen world could throw at a man: rejection, hatred, mockery, and unjust crucifixion. Still he had a song in the night because he knew that the darkness would pass, and the light of life would shine forever. A song in the night is always a song of faith that night is sure to give way to the light. Francis Ridley Havergal, wrote so many of the songs we love to sing, like,
I Gave My Life For Thee.
Who Is On The Lord's Side.
Like A River Glorious.
Take My Life And Let It Be.
She always had her ear tuned into the Christ who sang songs in the night, and when she lay dying she sang clearly but faintly a song she had composed:
Jesus, I will trust thee,
Trust thee with my soul,
Guilty, lost, and helpless,
Thou cans't make me whole.
There is none in heaven, or on earth, like thee.
Thou hast died for sinners, therefore, Lord, for me.
Because Jesus endured his dark night of the soul and went to the cross, he made it possible for every child of God to have a song in the night. It can never get so dark that the sound of music cannot penetrate it. The worst that can happen to us is that our life will be taken from us, but Jesus says, fear not those who can kill the body and that is all they can do. The forces of darkness have great power, but they are also greatly limited. When they have done their worst and killed you, they can do no more. Beyond death they have no more power. In that realm we enter into the hands of him who has the keys to death and hell, and he will set us free to enter the kingdom of light. There the Christian can look at the total picture of the final night of Jesus, and realize his song was symbolic of the hope he would give to all of his followers that would enable them to always have a song in the night.
There is no power that can offset the power of the cross, and so there is no darkness that can stop us from singing songs in the night. G.Campbell Morgan, the prince of expositors, said, "Nobody who has truly seen the cross of Christ can ever again speak of hopeless cases." There is an absolute optimism that says no matter how hard life gets, and how dark fallen man can make the night, there is, because of Jesus, always a basis for songs in the night. Jesus could sing that night in spite of the fact that it would reveal just how far man could descend into the pit of darkness, because he knew just how far he would ascend to purchase our salvation. He would rise higher in love than man could fall in hate, and the result would be, even these wicked men would be made candidates for forgiveness, and entry into the family of God. It was an awful night, but the light of his love was even more awesome, and that is why he could sing as an introduction to this night of nights.
Ordinarily you do not begin a death penalty trial with a song. Singing does not seem consistent with tragedy. But when you see what the cross means in God's plan you realize it is the ultimate plus sign that adds a reason for a song at any time in life. The cross is the plus sign that cancels out the negatives of life.
Sin the cross = forgiveness.
Death the cross = heaven.
Hate the cross = the victory of love.
Loss the cross = gain.
No wonder Paul said, "God forbid that I should glory save in the cross of Christ." The cross alone can turn every defeat into victory, and every negative into a positive. Jesus did not have to be revealed as singing any other time, for song was just a part of life. But he had to be revealed as singing on this night before the cross, for he had to set this example for all time, for all believers, that because of the cross it is always right to sing, and especially to sing songs in the night. Songs in the night are the trade mark of the Christian, and that is why the only revealed songs of both Jesus and Paul is their songs in the night.
There is much evidence that the trials of the night add to the beauty of the songs we sing. During World War I it was no longer possible to import the beautiful singing canaries from the Hertz Mountains of Germany. So a dealer in New York decided to start a system of training canaries in this country so they could sing. He had bird songs on record that he played over and over, but it was not working as well as he hoped. He discovered that if he covered the cages and shut out the light, then the birds would learn the songs. The darkness forced them to concentrate on the one stimulus they could experience, and the result is they learned songs in the night.
Jesus is the great encourager, and this record of his singing songs in the night is for our encouragement. We need to know that we can keep on singing in the rain, and when the storms of life block out the sun they do not need to hinder our voice of praise. History is full of examples of those who did not let the darkness of life stop their songs in the night. Paul and Silas are great examples, and because they sang in the night other prisoners heard them, and God gave them a night of victory, and they led the jailer and his family to a saving faith in Jesus.
We need to forsake the idea that if we have a handicap or some other limitation of health, wealth, or circumstance, we are not capable of being useful for the kingdom of God. Most of the people God has used in and out of the Bible were people who had all kinds of problems. We often think gifted people are people who just sail through life enjoying success, and do not know what the dark night of the soul is all about. But the more you study the biographies of great people the more you realize they had awful burdens, and they would have been total flops had they not been able to sing songs in the night.
Beethoven had a chronic alcoholic father and a sickly mother, and by both inheritance and environment he was burdened with bad health. He never had good health, and then at 32 he lost his hearing. He became a tragic figure of his day. A composer who could not hear his own music. He did not face this calamity with a peaceful spirit. He hated it and fought it and was miserable, but he did not give up and let his handicap ruin his life. He prayed, "One thing I ask of thee, my God, not to cease thy work in my improvement. Let me tend toward thee, no matter by what means, and be faithful in good works." It was hard for him, but he never ceased to compose songs in the night of his deafness, for he lived in hope, and his dying words were, "I shall hear in heaven." His songs in the night have encouraged many others through their night.
William Cowper wrote many of the great hymns of the church even though he was a physical and mental wreck. He battled depression all of his life and spent 18 months in an institution because of a breakdown. Because he never stopped singing, his songs in the night are sung by millions. He wrote,
There Is A Fountain Filled With Blood.
O For A Closer Walk With God.
God Moves In A Mysterious Way.
This is his song in the night, for it represents the theology that kept him singing when world became so dark. Listen to a couple of the verses.
You fearful saints, fresh courage take,
The clouds you so much dread,
Are big with mercy and shall break
In blessings on your head.
Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
But trust Him for His grace.
Behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face.
That is the very kind of song Jesus needed the night he went into Gethsemane. He was facing the darkness night of history, but he could see beyond being forsaken by man and God to the joy of victory for man and God. Because of his long range vision he could have a song in the night. You can have it for a song we say when we refer to getting something dirt cheap. But we are usually saying, the thing to be bought is not worth much. The Bible says you can have it for a song, and it is referring to a very valuable possession. It takes courage and strength to face a fearful night with a peace that passes understanding. The song in the night is a gift from God, but when we sing it, it is our gift back to God as a sign that we will walk into the night trusting him, just as did our Lord when he began his journey into the darkness of hell for us, with a song in the night.