Naida Hearn (1931-2001) was a New Zealand housewife doing ordinary household chores one day in 1974—but her thoughts were on Jesus rather than laundry. She had made a list of the Biblical names of Jesus, and placed the list on the windowsill of her washhouse where she could see it as she worked.
As she worked, the words to this song began to come to her mind—and then a tune. Finding herself singing a line, she interrupted her chores to play a few notes on the piano and to transcribe the words and music onto paper. Then, of course, duty called her back to more prosaic chores.
But by the end of the day, she felt that she had created something important—and she had, indeed.
The words to this song are quite simple—only one stanza of four lines—no chorus. Its words are inspired by various scripture verses:
• The title and first line are based on Philippians 2:9-11. Paul had been telling about Jesus emptying himself of his Godly glory so that he might come to earth to minister among us—and die for us. Then he said:
Therefore God also highly exalted him,
and gave to him the name which is above every name;
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
of those in heaven, those on earth, and those under the earth,
and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2:9-11).
• The second line refers to Jesus as “Beautiful Saviour” (the British spelling). The word Savior (or Saviour) is found frequently in the New Testament—for instance, the angels’ announcement to the shepherds, “For there is born to you, this day, in the city of David, a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11; see also John 4:42; Acts 5:31; Ephesians 5:23; Philippians 3:20, etc.).
• The second line also refers to Jesus as “Glorious Lord.” The primary Biblical words associated with glory are kabod (Hebrew) and doxa (Greek). Glory is characteristic of God, and refers to God’s awe-inspiring majesty. God shared this glory with Jesus. Like God’s glory, Christ’s glory is revealed in his presence with us, in his salvation work, and in judgment. We saw Jesus’ glory revealed at the Transfiguration (Luke 9:28-36) and through his death and resurrection (Luke 24:26). At the parousia (the Second Coming), Jesus will return “in a cloud with power and great glory” (Luke 21:27).
• The third line says “Emmanuel, God is with us.” This comes from Matthew 1:23, which says:
Behold, the virgin shall be with child,
and shall bring forth a son.
They shall call his name Immanuel;
which is, being interpreted, “God with us.”
The word Emmanuel (or Immanuel) comes from the Hebrew, ‘Immanu-el. The word El is one of the Hebrew words for God, and Emmanuel means “God with us.”
• The last line says, “Blessed Redeemer.” In the Bible, redemption involves bringing liberty to a captive, usually through the payment of a price. The New Testament presents Jesus’ death on the cross as a redemptive act for humanity—as a “ransom for many”—a ransom from our slavery to sin (Mark 10:45). Paul speaks of “the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:24). He tells us that “we have our redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace” (Ephesians 1:7)—and that Jesus Christ is the one “in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Colossians 1:14).
• The last line also says, “Living Word.” As the Word (Greek logos) Jesus was both God’s messenger and God’s message—the ultimate revelation of God to humans. If we want to know God, we can see him in the face of Jesus. If we want to know how God would have us live, we need only read the Gospels (and, perhaps, Philippians 2:5-11) to see a perfect example of a Godly life. If we want to know something of God’s grace, we need only look at the cross. If we want assurance of our future, we need only look at the open tomb.
(The Bible includes a number of other names for Jesus. Christ or Messiah is the most prominent. Other names include Holy One, Lamb, Lord, Master, Rabbi, Rabboni, servant, Son of David, Son of God, Son of Man, and teacher.)
This song was first sung in the North Palmerston, New Zealand New Life Church. Missionaries heard it, and carried it to other lands, where its popularity quickly spread. It has been sung by many Christian recording artists, and is included in a number of Christian hymnals.
Scripture quotations from the World English Bible.
Copyright 2014, Richard Niell Donovan