Friday, July 16, 2010

"John Saw Duh Numbuh"

Music has always played a large part of my life, and I have been honored to be a recent member of the Canto Deo Festival Choir. Dr. Keith Wells of Denver Seminary (Bass 1 and choir board member) gave a most memorable devotional before the last pre-concert rehearsal. Revolving around the song “John Saw Duh Numbuh” he graciously gave me permission to post this devotional on “Insights from the Furnace” and I am sharing this with you all. The performance can be viewed here.

JOHN SAW DUH NUMBUH . . . Keith Wells

“After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb.” Rev. 7:9 (NIV)

“Then I looked, and there before me was the Lamb, standing on Mount Zion, and with him 144,000 who had his name and his Father’s name written on their foreheads. And I heard a sound from heaven like the roar of rushing waters and like a loud peal of thunder. The sound I heard was like that of harpists playing their harps. And they sang a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and the elders. No one could learn the song except the 144,000 who had been redeemed from the earth.” – Rev. 14:1-3 (NIV)

It has been my privilege to share with the board reflections on the biblical and theological foundation for the ministry of Canto Deo. It is my conviction that what we sing and how we sing it must be grounded solidly in the historic Christian faith. For we sing not just notes in a score of music but we communicate a message, the message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

The singing of the magnificent Parker / Shaw arrangement of the great spiritual, “John Saw Duh Numbuh”, for example, prompts the question, “Who are these 144,000 who have the name of the Lamb and the Father written on their foreheads and who alone sing the ‘new song’? Various Christian groups throughout the centuries have claimed this identity for themselves to the exclusion of other Christians who differed from them in some way. But a closer look at the text provides some insight as to the true identity of these 144,000.

A careful review of the nature of apocalyptic literature and the symbolic use of numbers in that genre builds a strong case that the number is to be taken as one of completeness or wholeness. That is, those included in the 144,000 (12 X 12 X 1,000), are all those who are redeemed throughout the course of salvation history. These are those who have the mark of allegiance, have committed themselves completely to the Lamb, and who have overcome by the blood of the Lamb, by the word of their testimony, and that they loved not their lives unto death. These are the overcomers upon whom the risen Christ has written his own new name.

And what of the ‘new song’ that they sing? Notice that these alone can learn the ‘new song’ because it has to do with who they are, not whether or not they can learn new music! I confess I take some comfort in that! That’s one song that I know I can learn!!

It is identity and not ability that John has in mind here. At the very essence of who we are as a sacred choir, Canto Deo, is our identity as Christians, brothers and sisters in Christ. That identity enables us to sing in a way that native musical ability can never do. So let us sing the ‘new song’ today, and for all eternity! May that be the ‘mark’ of Canto Deo! Praise be to God!!

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