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Thy Strong Word

The hymn of the day for this upcoming Sunday is the great 20th century Lutheran hymn Thy Strong Word. This hymn was written by Martin Franzmann while he was chairman of the department of exegetical theology at Concordia Seminary in St. Louis. Franzmann was a respected scholar, teacher, and theologian, and his gifts shine in this hymn. The text is based on the motto of the seminary, “Anothen to Phos”, which means “light from above”. The hymn takes the idea of light, beginning with creation, and takes it all the way to its fulfillment as we worship the Triune God with all the company of heaven in the splendor of God’s glory.

 

Stanza 1

Thy strong word did cleave the darkness;

At Thy speaking it was done.

For created light we thank Thee,

While Thine ordered seasons run.

Alleluia, alleluia,

Praise to Thee who light dost send!

Alleluia, alleluia! Alleluia without end!

 

This first stanza praises God for the work of creation, specifically the work of Genesis 1:1-4

1In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. 2The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.

3And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. 4And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness.

 

Before God began His work of creation, the earth was dark and formless. It was an endless, bottomless nothing. But God, through His Word, spoke and “it was done”. These first four verses of Genesis set up themes that will run through all of Scripture. God is the creator and giver of light.  The image of light is used for holiness, glory, splendor, and good works. Darkness is the way and works of evil and sin. We once dwelled in darkness, as we will learn in stanza 2.

 

Stanza 2

Lo, on those who dwelt in darkness,

Dark as night and deep as death,

Broke the light of Thy salvation,

Breathed Thine own life-breathing breath.

Alleluia, alleluia,

Praise to Thee who light dost send!

Alleluia, alleluia! Alleluia without end!

 

In Isaiah, chapter 9, we read:

2 The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness,
on them has light shined.

Matthew applies this passage to Jesus in Matthew, chapter 4, as Jesus begins His ministry. We are the ones who have dwelt in darkness, which is the darkness of sin and death and condemnation. Jesus broke into our darkness, becoming a human like us and shining into our darkness, as it says in John 1

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. 4 In him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

This light has not only entered our existence, but He has “breathed “his own “life-breathing breath”. Just as God breathed into Adam and brought him to life, so our God breathes on us in the waters of Holy Baptism and makes us His new creation.

Stanza 3:

Thy strong Word bespeaks us righteous;

Bright with Thine own holiness,

Glorious now we press toward glory,

And our lives our hopes confess.

Alleluia, alleluia,

Praise to Thee who light dost send!

Alleluia, alleluia! Alleluia without end!

In Jesus, our God has paid for our sins, forgiven us, and declared us to be His righteous, beloved children.  God re-creates us as His own, as it says in Ephesians 2:

1 And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— 3among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. 4But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ— by grace you have been saved— 6and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

And keep in mind the words from 2nd Corinthians 5:

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

We been clothed with the righteousness of Christ, which is the righteousness of God. With this glory, we run towards the goal of heaven

4I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3)

And we strive to live lives that confess our faith.

14 “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 5)

Stanza 4

From the cross Thy wisdom shining

Breaketh forth in conquering might;

From the cross forever beameth

All Thy bright redeeming light.

Alleluia, alleluia,

Praise to Thee who light dost send!

Alleluia, alleluia! Alleluia without end!

 

The cross is the wisdom of God, but it is foolishness to the world. Paul lays this out clearly in 1 Corinthians 1:
18For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19For it is written,

“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”

20 Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. 22For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, 23but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, 24but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

26For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. 27But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, 29so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. 30And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, 31so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”

The wisdom of the cross gives all glory to God and through the cross God conquers sin, death, and the devil. Through the wisdom of the cross God continues to bright light and life to all nations.

Stanza 5

Give us lips to sing Thy glory,

Tongues thy mercy to proclaim,

Throats that shout the hope that fills us,

Mouths to speak Thy holy name.

Alleluia, alleluia!

May the light which thou dost send

Fill our songs with alleluias,

Alleluia without end!

We pray in this stanza that God would open our lips to proclaim His love. Notice that the hymn-writer, Franzmann, waits until stanza 5 for our response. Our praise and thanksgiving is always in response to God’s great love for us and all He has done for us, especially through the work of His Son. Peter says as much in 1 Peter 2:

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

Or we can think of the words of Psalm 40:

3He put a new song in my mouth,
a song of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear,
and put their trust in the LORD.

Finally, we come to the sixth stanza, which brings the hymn to culmination in a Trinitarian doxology. The Father is the creator of light, the Son is the light who became flesh, the Spirit reveals light to the world and creates faith in our hearts, and we join with all creation in praising our Triune God forever and ever, amen!

Stanza 6 (is everyone standing yet?)

God the Father, light-creator,

To Thee laud and honor be.

To Thee, Light of Light begotten,

Praise be sung eternally.

Holy Spirit, light-revealer,

Glory, glory be to Thee.

Mortals, angels, now and ever

Praise the holy Trinity!

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