News and Articles
7 December 2016
A guide to Hillsong’s latest hit.
I feel incredibly thankful for the ministry of Hillsong.
Over the past few years, the Australian mega-ministry have written, as Paul Webber (one of our ministers) put it, ‘some cracking songs’, many of which have greatly enriched the sung worship of Above Bar Church. Three of the six songs we sang in the evening service last Sunday were by Hillsong. We regularly use many of Hillsong’s brilliantly accessible songs, with uncomplicated melodies, but packed with great theology pointing at Jesus. Man of Sorrows, Christ is Enough, Cornerstone, This I Believe, O Praise the Name - Anastasis (because who doesn’t want Greek in their song titles!?), and now their latest offering What a Beautiful Name, to name but a few! I praise God for the ministry of Hillsong, and pray that for many years they continue to write such biblical, Christ-centred, local church-equipping songs.
Brooke Ligertwood’s latest song, What a Beautiful Name, which we introduced in the evening service last week, speaks powerfully of the supremacy of Christ - His eternal nature; His matchless power; His Kingship and His victory over sin and death. It’s a wonderful song, and I found it hugely helpful on Sunday.
Take a few minutes to listen!
All that said, there are a couple of lines that I stumble over, in what is otherwise a crystal-clear portrayal of the supremacy of Christ:
'You didn’t want heaven without us,
So Jesus you brought heaven down'
It would seem I’m not alone in this: a friend who leads the sung worship at his church also found this phrase difficult. And when chatting about the song with someone after the service on Sunday evening, they mentioned that, though the song as a whole had been helpful, they’d briefly stopped singing when it got to these lines, not out of spite or defiance, but merely out of confusion. They couldn’t be sure what it was they were actually saying or whether they agreed with it.
This confusion isn’t what we want for our congregation when we sing together. We as a music team want people, through song, to understand and express truths about God, allowing people to engage with His word, and respond to it authentically. And so we thought it would be helpful to give our perspective on these slightly confusing couple of lines, hopefully removing any fuzziness there might be, leaving room for crystal-clear, authentic worship of Jesus.
Firstly, it’s important to say that I don’t think Brooke Ligertwood and Hillsong have intentionally written anything incorrect here. They’ve perhaps just not been as clear as they could be. A clumsily written truth is easily misinterpreted and we can quickly fall into error, so let’s try to keep that in mind. What we’re attempting to do is bring clarity to clumsiness and avoid any confusion when we sing, we’re not pointing the finger at unorthodoxy here. So, here we go . . .
1. ‘You didn’t want heaven without us’
The question for me here is whether we’re saying something about heaven – and, more seriously, about the Godhead – that isn’t true: that heaven doesn’t satisfy Jesus; that somehow Jesus rejects a heaven without us in it, because we are what He really wants. This, by extension, then portrays the God of heaven as unsatisfying, even to Jesus, who needs us there as well in order to be happy. Again, I don’t think that’s what Hillsong were trying to say (we’ll get on to what I think they were saying), but unfortunately it’s what the line could be taken to mean. If we endorse this idea, we put ourselves at the centre of the gospel: it becomes about how much we satisfy Jesus. The idea that Jesus doesn’t want heaven as it is, and so He needs us there, is a distinctly us-centred message.
But notice how close it is to the truth - and this is what I think Hillsong were getting at. It is true to say that Jesus wants us in Heaven. Jesus does love us immensely (Ephesians 3:18). He did come to die so that we would be with Him in eternity (1 Peter 3:18). And He does love and long for His bride (Isaiah 62:4-5, Revelation 19:6-9). Jesus has a deep and powerful love for His church, whom He desperately wants with Him in heaven, and I think that’s what Hillsong were trying to get at with this line.
See, the motivation for Jesus coming to die to bring us to Him comes from the overflow of His utter satisfaction in God, not out of any loneliness in His heart. In John 17 Jesus prays for us:
‘Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.’ (John 17:24)
So the reason Jesus wants us to be where He is (in heaven) is twofold:
- To see His glory.
- To see that the glory He has was given to Him by His Father out of love.
Put plainly, before the creation of the world, the Father loved the Son, and so gave Him glory, and the Son loved the Father in return, in complete satisfaction and delight with each other. Then, that great ocean of love within the Godhead could not help but overflow into our world: the Son shared the love of God by coming to die, so that we can be brought into the same relationship He’s had with the Father for eternity.
The Father and the Son eternally loving one another, sharing that love with undeserving sinners like us ha– that’s the essence of the gospel. And so it is true to say that Jesus wants us in heaven. He wants us to experience the love that He and the Father have always had. However, it’s not true to say that He ‘didn’t want heaven without us’, because heaven without us was and is completely and utterly satisfying – He and His Father have been enjoying it for eternity – and they graciously share it with us, Jesus' undeserving but deeply loved bride.
As I said before, I don’t think that’s intentionally what Hillsong were trying to convey – that Jesus was somehow lonely without us. They merely wanted to express something of the love of Jesus for his bride, that He would come to die to bring us to be with Him in heaven. It’s perhaps just not as clear as it could be. So when we sing that line at Above Bar Church, fix your eyes on the Jesus who passionately and powerfully loves His bride so much that he would come to die for her, so that she can be with Him in Heaven, experiencing His Glory, and the love of the Godhead.
2. ‘So Jesus you brought heaven down’
This second line was a real head scratcher for me. I couldn’t for the life of me work out what it would mean to ‘bring heaven down’! It’s a confusing phrase, and not one we hear that often, so it’s harder to pin it down. But I’ve done my best.
Broken down, here are some of the key things I think it conveys:
- Jesus came down in some respect
- Jesus brought something with Him (heaven, in this case?)
- This happened in response to Him wanting us in heaven with Him - ‘you didn’t want heaven without us, so Jesus you brought heaven down.’
Now for me that’s begun to put some meat on the bones – solid stuff that we can all get along with (unless you’re a vegetarian). We’d all agree that Jesus did come down from heaven, perhaps not geographically down, but in some sense, certainly, He lowered himself. Whilst never ceasing to be what He was (the reigning, sustaining, eternal, all-powerful Son), Jesus humbled himself, becoming like us, found in human form, born into the poverty of a stable, eventually to die on a cross (Philippians 2:8; John 1:14; Luke 2:7). We’d all agree, Jesus did this because He loves us immensely as His bride, and because He wants us to share in the love of the Godhead as we saw just now.
The rather hazy part of the picture for me still lies in that second point though, that Jesus ‘brought heaven’ with Him. I’m not sure it’s immediately obvious quite what that means, and there’s certainly potential confusion in using language like it. Here’s what I mean: From a line like ‘Jesus you brought heaven down’, it could be understood that we’re currently living in heaven, couldn’t it?
To use a technical term, this is called ‘over-realised eschatology’, and it’s been a problem throughout church history. Essentially, its an over-exaggeration of the current outworking of Christ’s victory over Satan – believing that the end has come already. It’s the tendency to rush ahead, thinking that Satan, sin, and evil have no remaining sway in the world, because Christ has established His kingdom already through His death and resurrection. ‘Heaven is here now’ might be a neat summary. Or perhaps you could say ‘Jesus you brought heaven down’ . . .
Now, to clarify, I fully agree that Christ has already won the victory over Satan, sin, and evil through His death and resurrection. There’s no denying it: Satan is defeated – hallelujah! But the final nail has not been hammered into the coffin yet. He has suffered a mortal wound, and he will surely die, but he is not dead yet; heaven is not yet here. This is sometimes called the ‘now and not yet’, and it’s a huge theme of Paul’s New Testament writings: the idea that everything has been achieved, but it’s not yet been fully realised. As New Testament Christians, we live in this now-and-not-yet period, where Christ has won the victory, has ascended to heaven until the time is right when He will return to strike the killing blow and bring in the age of the new heavens and the new earth. For Christians, Satan has lost his sting (1 Corinthians 15:55) but remains active in the world until Jesus comes to destroy Him forever (1 Peter 5:8; Revelation 20:10).
So yes, it’s true to say that Jesus ‘brought heaven’ with Him, if what you mean is that, by dying and rising again He paved the way for the new heavens and the new earth, breaking the power of Satan, sin, and death, setting history in motion, culminating on the day when He returns to bring this new creation into being. It’s not true to say He ‘brought heaven’ with Him, if what you mean is it’s already here in its fullness. And if you asked Brooke Ligertwood if she thought heaven was already here, surely she would say no (at least I hope she would!).
So again, when we sing that line at Above Bar Church, be careful not to fall into an ‘over-realised eschatology’. Rather, worship the Jesus who has broken the power of sin (as the next two lines of the song go on to say!), and has set history in motion, establishing himself as Lord of the universe who will one day return to crush Satan forever. Hallelujah!
So there you have it: two slightly fuzzy but, at heart, truthful lines in a fantastic song that so clearly portrays a beautiful, wonderful, and powerful Jesus. I hope that through this I’ve managed to bring that little bit of clarity to the fuzziness, and I pray the song helps you to love and adore Jesus all the more, that He might be glorified in Above Bar Church and across the world.