We begin with a bit of background about the author and translator of this hymn that will serve as the basis of our Advent preparations, “Come, Thou Ransom, Come.”
The author is the son of Johann Gottfried Olearius. If you’ll remember from last week, we said that the Olearius’ were a very Lutheran family who seemed to love the name “Johann.” And that makes things a little confusing when you’re trying to connect the right Johann Olearius to a particular hymn, especially since several of them were hymn-writers.
Johann Gottfried Olearius was the son of Gottfried Olearius, who may or may not be the same Johann Olearius whom we talked about last week who authored, “Comfort, Comfort My People.” It’s really confusing.
Johann Gottfried was a Lutheran pastor in Germany who, after he graduated from seminary was called to St. Mary’s Lutheran Church in Halle, where his father was also the pastor. Later, he became the ‘chief pastor.’ Then he became a ‘professor of Theology’ at the church school, until he went totally blind.
The translator of this hymn is August Crull. He was born in Germany. He came to the U.S. for college and graduated from Concordia College in St. Louis and Ft. Wayne. After college, he went to Concordia Seminary in St. Louis where he graduated in 1862. He served as an assistant pastor at Trinity Church in Milwaukee and Director of Lutheran High School. He served a parish in Grand Rapids, Michigan and then became of professor of German at Concordia College – Ft. Wayne, now the seminary. He had a passion for hymnody, translating 20 hymns from German to English and publishing a hymnal titled, “Hymn Book For The Use Of Evangelical Lutheran Schools and Congregations.”
Come, Thou precious Ransom, come, only hope for sinful mortals!
Come, O Savior of the world! open are to Thee all portals.
Come, Thy beauty let us see; anxiously we wait for Thee.
Let’s begin by establishing the ‘direction of the text.’ Who is speaking to whom? Last week we said that the direction of “Comfort, Comfort, Ye My People,” was from God to His prophet in stanzas 1 and 2, and from the Prophet to the People in stanzas 3 and 4.
In this hymn, the direction of the text is from us to God. In other words, this hymn is a prayer. And as with all prayers, it is filled with petitions, just as the Lord’s Prayer is primarily seven petitions with an introduction and conclusion. In this hymn, there’s no real introduction. It just starts right off with ‘petition.’ “Come, Thou precious Ransom, come.”
Let’s focus on the word ‘ransom.’ It’s a word that we’ve been hearing a lot lately. Terrorist organizations such as El Qaeda and ISIS have been taking hostages for ‘ransom.’ If a ‘ransom’ is paid, they will let the hostages go free, so they say. Civilized governments have a policy of not paying a ‘ransom’ for the release of captives because it encourages more hostage-taking.
The word ‘ransom’ is a rich word in the New Testament. There’s a whole group of words built on the root word, “lutron” which is the ‘price for the release of a slave or a prisoner.’
Sometimes it’s translated into English as “ransom.” Sometimes is translated as “redemption.” You take the bottles that you have been holding hostage to the ‘redemption center’ and they pay you the ‘ransom price’ to buy them back from you. Or is it you have given someone your nickel for the bottle, and now you pay the ransom price of that bottle to buy back your nickel from captivity?
Let me just recite a list of verses with this word so that we get the idea of how it is used.
• Ephesians 1:7 – “In Him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses…”
• 1 Timothy 2:6 – “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all…”
• Titus 2:14 – “[We] wait for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness…”
• Hebrews 9:12 – “[Christ] entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption.”
• 1 Peter 1:18-19 – “… Conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile, knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.”
• Revelation 5:9 – “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God…”
So if summarize what we’ve just heard, the ransom is paid to free captives from “trespasses,” “lawlessness,” and “the futile ways inherited from your forefathers.”
And the ransom price that is paid is, “the man Jesus Christ,” and “his blood,” “his own blood,” “the precious blood of Christ.”
In Matthew 20:28, Jesus tells His disciples who have just been arguing amongst themselves about who will sit on his right and his left when He comes into His kingdom, “the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:28).
Jesus is the “ransom” price that is paid to set the captives free. Free from what? Free from our captivity to our sinful nature, our sinful deeds, and our futile ways.
Unlike civilized governments that refuse to pay the ransom price, in the Kingdom of God, not only is the King willing to pay it, but He gives Himself as the ransom to redeem us.
And we, who are captive to sin and death, know from His Word, that He has promised to pay the ransom price to set us free. And so we pray, “Come, Thou precious Ransom, come, only hope for sinful mortals.”
Olearius has us pray, “Come, Thy beauty let us see…” That’s remarkable. For the ‘ransom’ that is paid is His blood shed for us on the cross. To all the world, the cross is a thing of disgrace and shame that we don’t avoid seeing if at all possible. But to the Church, Christ crucified is a thing of beauty because He is paying the ransom price that sets us free.
Enter now my waiting heart, glorious King and Lord most holy.
Dwell in me and ne’er depart, though I am but poor and lowly.
Ah, what riches will be mine when Thou art my guest divine!
In stanza 1, we prayed for the ‘precious Ransom’ to come. Now in stanza 2, we identify WHERE we pray He would come. We do not pray that He would come to Bethlehem – He has already come there. Nor do we pray that He would come to Jerusalem – He has already come there as well. We pray that He would come to ‘my waiting heart.’
Even before we pray, He has already answered. Our ‘precious Ransom’ has come to our ‘waiting heart,’ in our Baptism. And He has come and continues to come to us in His Word and by His Supper.
For the most part, our attention during this season of Advent is directed to the 2nd Coming of Christ on the Last Day of the world to judge between the living and dead. But Olearius has us praying for a much more immediate visitation – ‘enter NOW my waiting heart.’ The only way that we will ever be able to persevere in faith until the Last Day is by His dwelling in us NOW.
He comes to us through these lowly means of grace – water, word, bread and wine. But we dare not be deceived by appearances. Hidden behind these masks is the “glorious King and Lord most holy.”
I am pretty confident that if we were to ask any earthly King or Lord or President to come and live with us, we would not stand much of a chance of having our request fulfilled. But this King and Lord, who is far above any other King or Lord or President, delights to be invited to live with us.
And why is it that we want this “glorious King and Lord most holy” to “dwell in me and ne’r depart”? It’s because we get rich. “Ah, what riches will be mine when Thou art my guest divine!”
Not only does He ransom us and set us free from our captivity to sin and death, but in making His home in us, He shares all that He has with us – His love, His life, His Kingdom.
My hosannas and my palms graciously receive, I pray thee;
Evermore, as best I can, Savior, I will homage pay Thee,
And in faith I will embrace, Lord, Thy mercy through Thy grace.
Stanza 3 grows straight out of Palm Sunday, which is where the season of Advent began. Here now, the tone of the prayer changes. Stanzas 1 and 2 were petitions. We were asking “our precious ransom,” and “our glorious King and Lord most holy” to do something for us – to COME TO US.
But now in stanza 3, we are telling our glorious King and Lord what we plan to do for Him. We are PLEDGING our devotion and “homage” to Him. This is the natural response to His humbling Himself to be our ransom and dwell in our hearts.
And our pledge is threefold.
1st – “Hosannas and palms” are how the people of God worship their Lord. The Greeks, the Romans would not have understood this. Why that language? Why the palm branches? But the people of God were very familiar with these liturgical forms of worship and their meaning. The liturgical forms may change over time, but what they signify remains. We express our joy and relief at His coming to us to be our “precious Ransom.”
2nd, “I will homage pay Thee.” “Homage” is an old word that we don’t use very much anymore. It means “to honor, to show respect, to recognize someone for a great accomplishment.” Interestingly, it’s usually something that is ‘paid.’ Typically, ‘homage’ is ‘paid’ by bowing or kneeling. It’s a gesture that says, ‘you are my Lord and Master and I am your servant.’
And so, we pledge that we will submit to His lordship and kingship over us. That we will honor Him and obey Him and serve Him and not any other lord or king.
3rd, “And in faith I will embrace, Lord, Thy mercy through Thy grace.” We pledge to hold onto the most precious gift of “mercy.” “Mercy” is undeserved help. When the lepers and the blind called out to Jesus – “Kyrie, Eleison – Lord have mercy,” they weren’t suggesting that they deserved His help. They were hoping that He would help them solely by GRACE.
That’s the way our Lord wants us to approach Him and respond to His help. He shows us MERCY because He is MERCIFUL. He helps us solely by GRACE because He is GRACIOUS. To pledge that we will “embrace, Lord, Thy mercy through Thy grace” is to embrace Him on His terms and not ours.
“Hail! Hosanna, David’s Son! Jesus, hear our supplication!
Let Thy kingdom, scepter, crown, bring us blessing and salvation.
That forever we may sing; Hail! Hosanna to our King.”
Now we return to a PETITION again. It’s a SUMMARY PETITION that bundles together everything we’ve prayed for so far and extends it from the present into the future.
We ask that the King who is our ransom, having brought us into His Kingdom of Grace where we live by faith for a lifetime, would not leave us nor forsake us, but sustain us in this one true faith and bring us into His Kingdom of Glory where we will “FOREVER we may sing; Hail! Hosanna to our King.”