Using musical analogies to explain the gospel

Tom Chevis 25 Oct 16

This Sunday, my pastor opened his sermon by asking us to visualise Mozart turning up to a première of his greatest masterpiece, only to find that the entrance to the concert hall had been crowded out by street vendors, and that inside the orchestra was murdering the piece and the players fighting amongst themselves. Why? He was using this as an illustration of how Jesus must have felt in Mark 11 when he went to the temple – His house on earth, a house that was meant to be a house of prayer for all nations – only to find that it had been turned into a xenophobic self-serving market-place. I found it a useful analogy for the way in which it helped me to grasp the legitimacy of Jesus’ emotions as he upturned those tables in anger.

But it’s also got me thinking more generally about musical analogies. As we seek to share the gospel with fellow musicians, part of the problem we face is the message getting lost in translation. We stumble through half-memorised gospel outlines and use words like sin and salvation, resurrection and restoration, which most non-Christians have very little if any knowledge of, and that knowledge which they do have is often quite off-the-mark. Which is why finding ways to explain these key concepts in ways that our hearers will understand is so crucial, and that’s where musical analogies can come in.

Jesus is our teacher in this. When speaking to people in parables, he often spoke using situations and settings which his hearers would understand. For example, when speaking to the Pharisees in Luke 15, he spoke of lost sheep - sheep being a common financial investment that Pharisees in that day used to make. So too as we seek to present the gospel to our fellow musicians, why not find musical analogies to help explain key concepts? Here are two examples I’ve come up with. Both could probably do with refining, but they’re a good start.

Explaining sin

Imagine there was a conductor-composer who’d written a piece and was trying to conduct it. But instead of following his baton and playing the notes on the page, we just play the notes we want, with no reference to him, to the music or even to the player sat next to us, who is doing exactly the same. The result: a messy discordant cacophony. That would be bad enough. But imagine too, that the composer-conductor has not only written the music and is directing it, but he also owns the concert hall, and everything in it, including all the instruments. In fact, he not only owns it, but made all of it too. In fact, he made and owns you. Can you imagine then, if that were the case, just how wrong it would be to ignore his lead and music and just play the notes we wanted? Well that’s just a small picture of how we’ve treated God.

Explaining the Cross

Imagine the point of your degree is to get into an orchestra or band or ensemble or whatever your preferred musical ensemble is. Your final recital is not merely a recital, it’s also your audition for this ensemble. Imagine also, that being successful this audition is essentially your entry pass into the professional world. Fail it, and there’ll be a black mark by your name.

Imagine then, that despite what I’ve just said, it seems a long way off when you begin college – and it is, it’s a good four years away! So you don’t really practise; you either get bored and distracted by all the other concerts and gigs in the meantime, not to mention the fun social life all around. And yes, you practise in the run-up, but you know you’re gonna fall way short of the required standard. The problem is, there’s nowhere else to go once you fail. Remember, no other professional ensemble will employ you. If you fail this audition, you’ll have a black mark by your name and your life is effectively over. You have nowhere else to go. The problem now is: you know you’re not going to pass. And even if you are delusional enough to think you might, when the audition itself comes, your lack of practice is clear to see in the mistakes that you make…

But imagine then that beforehand Nicola Benedetti, or Yo Yo Ma, or Evelyn Glennie, or Alfred Brendel or whichever equivalent maestro would be appropriate to your instrument, turns up and says that they will play your audition for you. In your place. On the one hand, they will pass your audition for you, and allow you to take their place in the professional ensemble. And on the other hand, you will play their audition for them, in which you fail and thus a black mark is put by their name, such that their life is effectively over.

Now you might say that that isn’t fair, but what if Yo Yo Ma, or whoever it was, was both the President of your music college and the musical director of the professional ensemble? Well then, how could you argue? You could reject their offer, and do the audition yourself. But you won’t pass.

However unmerited, even wrong, it may seem, your only hope would be to accept their offer, right?

Well this is just a tiny tiny picture of that which Jesus did for us on the Cross.

Both of these analogies have flaws, of course, but they do help make the point. What analogies could you come up with to explain other key points of the gospel message? Why not spend 5 minutes coming up with one now?

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