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The First Hymn

The church's first hymn retells the story of Jesus with poetic beauty.

Please turn to the first hymn. No, not the first one in the hymn book. The first one in history, or at least the first one in the history of the church. The first hymn was not "Christ the Lord is Risen Today" by Charles Wesley, or "A Mighty Fortress" by Martin Luther. The first hymn was one the early church used to sing around the year 60. You can find this ancient hymn in 1 Timothy 3:16.

Imagine entering the church in Ephesus. That's where Timothy was the overseer. On this particular day, or perhaps this particular night, Timothy might have been visiting the church that met in the lecture hall of Tyrannus. Paul had previously been there for two years. As we enter the hall we see that it is a simple building with benches and a low platform. They've arranged it like a synagogue with a lectern and a large chair on the platform. Off to the side, a cantor starts to sing, almost chant:

He was manifested in the flesh,
vindicated by the Spirit,

seen by angels,
proclaimed among the nations,
believed on in the world,

taken up in glory.

The cantor reads well and the people appreciate the beauty of the language and the depth of the thought.

The first hymn is a beautiful poem.

Like all poetry, this hymn makes use of sound. It sounds beautiful. Each line has a verb ("manifested," "vindicated," "proclaimed," and so forth), and in Greek each of those verbs ends in "thā"—ephanerothā, edikaiothā, ophthā, ekeruxthā, episteuthā, analempthā. And following each verb (except for one) is the small word "en," ephanerothā en, edikaiothā en, and so forth. It is poetry. It is musical.

The hymn also moves. It has form. It starts on earth and ends in heaven. The first line says he "appeared in the flesh." That ...

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Jeffrey Arthurs, Ph.D., is the Professor of Preaching and Communication & Chair, Division of Practical Theology at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.

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Sermon Outline:


I. The first hymn is a beautiful poem.

II. The first hymn describes the work of Christ.

III. The first hymn declares Christ's resurrection.

IV. The first hymn declares our mission.