Since the year 2004 there has been a show on British Television called "The X Factor", and last weekend it was back on our screens. In 2008 the series was the most popular of all programmes shown on the various channels available with a quarter of the British population having watched it. That being the case, no doubt some of you will be familiar with the show. If not, let me summarise for you what it's all about.
"The X Factor" is a singing talent series which leads to the winner being awarded a one million pound recording contract. Also, as the winner is chosen less than a fortnight before Christmas, the CD that is released immediately after the show inevitably jumps to the top of the charts in the period leading up to Christmas. This arrangement is a winning formula for the show's inventor, Simon Cowell, who owns all the rights to it worldwide, and also makes the winner of each series potentially very rich as the one million pound contract gives them an excellent launch to their singing career.
Although the winner is not chosen until shortly before Christmas, the journey to the final show extends over a period of nearly nine months and follows the following format: At the end of the final show before Christmas, the show's presenter invites viewers who would like to participate in the following year's show to apply for an audition. These auditions are held by the show's producers commencing in April of the following year, and their job is to reduce the numbers that will appear before the show's four judges in June and July.
The numbers that appear before the four judges have to be reduced to a more reasonable and manageable figure, as last year 182,000 people applied to be heard at the preliminary stage. However, the number of contestants that go on to the second stage, and are given an audition by the four judges, is still well in excess of one thousand, and, over a two-month period, the judges will further reduce the figure to 150.
Then, in September, after further auditions, the 150 figure is finally reduced to 12. The 12 are made up of four categories with three acts in each category. At this stage each judge becomes a mentor to one of the categories, and their task is to help those under their tutelage to develop their skills and potential, with the aim that one of the three allocated to them will become the winner of the show.
When the four judges have selected the twelve the competition is shown live on television, commencing in October, and at this stage the viewers are asked to vote for their favourite act. Over a nine-week period nine acts are voted off, so that come the final show only three are left, and only one, of course, will be crowned the winner.
In 2008 the winner was a twenty-year-old girl named Alexandra Burke who received over 4 million votes. Before Alexandra Burke sang her final song and before the results were known, her father, David Burke, said that he wished her well, that she deserved to win, and that he was very proud of her.
Well, she did win with a song chosen for her, the same song that would be recorded for the one million pound contract, a song written, composed and first sung in 1984 by Leonard Cohen.
Since 1984 the song has been recorded more than 170 times. However, it is Alexandra Burkes' version that has been the most successful in terms of sales in recent years, and, as expected, it topped the charts over the Christmas period last year, with another version of the same song by the late Jeff Buckley coming second to it.
Therefore, last Christmas the same song took both the first and second positions in the charts, something that last occurred exactly fifty years before in 1958. The title of the song was "Hallelujah".
All of this happened as a result of an announcement that went out before Christmas 2007 by Dermot O'Leary, the presenter of The X Factor show, saying that there was good news awaiting someone in 2008, the only thing that person had to do, whoever he or she was, was to start the ball rolling by applying for an audition.
Well, some two thousand years ago another announcement went out around the Christmas period, or to be more exact on the night of the nativity of Jesus Christ. This announcement spoke of good news, not just for one individual this time, but for all the people, and this included the 180,000 people who it is estimated lived in the Roman province of Judea at this time according to some historians (they don't all agree), a number which matches nearly exactly the number that responded to Dermot O'Leary's invitation prior to Christmas 2007. The announcement given by the messenger was this:
"Fear not, for lo ! I am bringing you an evangel of great joy which will be for the entire people, for today was brought forth to you a Saviour, Who is Christ, the Lord, in the city of David. And this is the sign to you : you will be finding a Babe, swaddled and lying in a manger" (Luke 2:12).
"And," the scriptures continues, "suddenly with the messenger there came to be a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, 'Glory to God among the highest! And on earth peace, Among men, delight' " (2:14).
The 180,000 plus which responded to Dermot O'Leary's announcement were initially full of excitement, anticipation and hope. However, ultimately, all their hopes were to be dashed and there would be many tears of sorrow, except by one. What a contrast to what will be the outcome of the announcement given by God's messenger, for not only will every one of the 180,000 people living in Judea at the time be in receipt, one day, of something far more precious than one million pounds, but as A.E.Knoch says in his Commentary on these verses, the extent of the great joy is to be far reaching. These are his words:
"The far-flung effects of the incarnation are not confined to humanity. They reach from the highest of heaven's hosts to the lowest of humankind. It is the ultimate that is in view here. Peace has not yet appeared on earth, or delight among men. Even the heavenly hosts have had but a beginning of the glory that shall be. The messengers may not have known the method, they may not have understood the long delay, but they gained a glimpse of the goal. Through the birth of this Babe all God's great purpose of blessing will flow to the utmost bounds of creation. It is the pledge of all that heart can wish or God desire".
Some thirty years after the announcement of the birth of our Saviour another messenger came from God, a man who preached a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins (3:3). Multitudes came to him to be baptised and many became disciples of his. A great number thought that he was the prophesised Christ, as he had something about him, an extraordinary factor - an X factor - that made his followers come to such a conclusion.
John did indeed have something that no other man had ever been given - the Holy Spirit even before his birth (Luke 1:15). Even Christ himself said these words about this remarkable man of God:
"For I say unto you, among those that are born of women there is not a greater prophet than John the Baptist" (Luke 7:28 AV).
What a eulogy! Jesus here gives John a name greater even than Moses and Elijah and places him on the highest pinnacle of human fame.
But John responded to the thoughts of some of his followers by saying these humble words:
"Coming, after me, is One stronger than I, the thong of Whose sandals I am not competent to stoop and loose" (Mark 1:7-8).
John was indeed an exceptional man but a man nevertheless with a human mother and a human father. He came to "prepare the way for his and our Lord" (verse 3) and, following this, the Judge of all the earth began calling his twelve disciples.
In the X Factor show the multiple tens of thousands were reduced over a period to 150 and then to twelve. It is clear from the gospel accounts that as a result of the miracles performed by Jesus many believed in his name, perhaps thousands. However, many feared to profess his name publicly, especially after the crucifixion, and only about 120 appeared ready to be called believers in Jerusalem after Jesus was taken up into heaven.
Of these were the twelve - Matthias having been chosen by the Lord to replace Judas who had settled for a reward of thirty pieces of silver as opposed to the great prize that awaited the others. In contrast to the television show, where only one of the twelve is crowned the winner, God operates in a completely different way. For as the prophet Isaiah says:
"For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways", declares the LORD. "As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts" (Isaiah 55:8-9).
In God's programme for Israel each of the twelve apostles will be given a throne to sit on, not just one of them; for the future King of kings says in Luke 22, verses 28-30,
"Now you are those who have continued with Me in My trials. And I am covenanting a covenant with you, according as my Father covenanted a kingdom to Me, that you may be eating and drinking at My table in My kingdom. And you will be seated on thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel".
In the television show the twelve finalists, divided from one another into four categories, were given four mentors, which were the four judges who were in competition against each other, as their objective was to have one of their disciples win the crown.
A mentor is defined as a teacher and a wise counsellor. Here again God's ways are different in that the twelve apostles were all given the same mentor who was the "Wonderful Counsellor" prophesised by Isaiah in chapter nine, verse six, and the remarkable teacher described by Matthew in his Gospel account in chapter 7 (verses 28 and 29) by these words:
"When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law".
Beyond this the general public has no say in God's programme for Israel when the kingdom is restored to her, neither will humankind have any influence in terms of the celestial destiny and positions that awaits the members of the ecclesia, which is the body of Christ.
In John's Gospel, chapter 17 (verses 11-12), we can see once again how God's ways are so different to man's ways, for he prays to his Father just before his crucifixion that the twelve should not become divided, although he knew that one was about to betray him:
"keep them in Thy name .. that they may be one, according as We are", he prayed.
And, a few verses further along Jesus prays for the same unity amongst all believers with these words:
"Yet not concerning these only am I asking, but also concerning those who are believing in Me through their word, that they may all be one, according as Thou Father, art in Me, and I in Thee, that they also may be in Us, that the world should be believing that Thou does commission Me" (verse 21).
Yes, Christ was carrying out a commission from God which would ultimately lead him to the cross. In the X Factor show, before Alexandra Burke gained her victory, her father, David, gave her words of encouragement. God also gave Jesus, the Son of David, words of encouragement as he began his commission and before his victory. This was at his baptism when the Spirit descended on him like a dove. In Mark's account we have the words:
"And a voice came out of the heavens, 'Thou art My Son, the Beloved; in Thee I delight' " (Mark 1:11).
What loving and encouraging words these were from the Father to the Son as Jesus began his ministry which would finish in such pain. The dove is a symbol of peace and of sacrifice, and Jesus "went about a meek, harmless, unresisting victim, until He is finally offered up to God. It was in this that God could delight. He was His Son, not merely by birth, but in His likeness to His Father", so wrote AEK in the Concordant Commentary.
X is one of the letters of the alphabet which is in the shape of a cross. And it is the Cross of Christ which is the unique X Factor which leads to real and permanent riches as opposed to the temporary riches which this world can offer, but will one day be taken away by death.
But Christ, through his death on the cross and his resurrection, has gained the victory over death, so that come the consummation of God's plan the death state will be abolished, and
"then the saying that is written will come true: Death has been swallowed up by victory" (1 Corinthians 15:55).
Further, in his letter to the Colossians, chapter one, verse twenty, Paul says that in Christ the entire complement of God delights to dwell, "and through Him to reconcile all to Him (making peace through the blood of His cross), through Him, whether those on the earth or those in the heavens".
Yes, this is the ultimate purpose of God, the reconciliation of all to himself.
The words of Leonard Cohen's song, many Christians believe, are unworthy of the title Hallelujah, which means 'PRAISE YE JAH'; JAH (YAH) being the shortened form of Yahweh. And a reading of the song's lyrics compels one to agree with these critics. I won't elaborate further, but if anyone is interested in reading them they're freely available on the Internet
In addition to this, another Scriptural reason for concluding that the word 'Hallelujah' is demeaned in the song is the fact that it is repeated so many times in the lyrics - over four hundred times in the eighty verses written by Leonard Cohen. The third of the Ten Commandments says that the name Yahweh is not to be used in vain. I don't think any further comment is necessary to validate this further objection.
Even Handel in the Hallelujah Chorus of his moving and best-known composition, the oratorio Messiah, only uses the word 25 times, or 56 times if we include the repeated phrases. Handel's creation, however, in contrast to Leonard Cohen's song, is a solemn piece of sacred music with the words having being taken directly from the Scriptures and is a representation of the unfolding drama of the purpose of God in Christ and the ultimate world-wide triumph that is gained through God's Messiah. Of course, if the Concordant Literal New Testament had been available in Handel's day, and used by him in his chorus, the words "And He shall reign for ever and ever" would, as we all appreciate, be different, and the scope of God's triumph in His Messiah would be understood to be not just world-wide but universal.
As a matter of interest, Oratorio means "oratory by music". Oratorios were originally designed to educate people in significant portions of the Bible. They date back to the time when Bibles were so expensive that few could afford them, and of the few who could, fewer still were sufficiently educated to be able to read them. To overcome the barriers of ignorance, or unavailability of the Scriptures, the great texts of the Bible were put to music, and men were taught to learn and sing them.
Handel's oratorio presents oratory in music capable of thrilling audiences with some of the greatest and most beautiful truths of God's word. This seems to have been partly the intention of the composer. At the conclusion of the first presentation at Dublin in 1742, a friend approached Handel and said: "I must congratulate you upon such a beautiful piece of entertainment". "Entertainment!" exclaimed Handel, "That was not written for entertainment, it was written for education". It is said, that on no occasion did Handel conduct this oratorio for money, but invariably for charity. However, if education was, indeed, his primary concern, it has hardly been an unqualified success, for few, as H.P. Mansfield says in his booklet entitled "The Gospel in Song", have appreciated the power of the words sung or heard.
Now back to the word Hallelujah. In the Scriptures we only come across this word 28 times, this out of a total of over 31,000 verses. And there is a good reason for this, says A.E. Knoch, for the word Hallelujah is
"an exclamatory ascription of praise, used only and exclusively in response to the execution of divine doom".
"It should never be used in rejoicing or worship in the present dispensation of God's grace," he adds.
In view of this, and bearing in mind that the final execution of divine doom is the abolition of the last enemy, death, so that God's ultimate purpose of being All in all (1 Corinthians 15:28) shall come to pass, I think it appropriate, given this wonderful news, if this address is brought to a conclusion by giving glory to God in words appropriate for the present dispensation, the words of Paul in his letter to the Romans, the eleventh chapter, following his declaration that God is going to be merciful to all.
"O, the depth of the riches and the wisdom and the knowledge of God! How inscrutable are His judgements, and untraceable His ways! For, who knew the mind of the Lord? Or, who became His adviser? Or, who gives to Him first, and it will be repaid to him? Seeing that out of Him and through Him and for Him is all: to Him be the glory for the eons! Amen!" (Romans 11: 33-36).
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