HYMN 328 Jesus Loves Me, This I Know
German: Jesus liebt mich ganz gewisst
John 3: 16; 15:9
Text: Anna Bartlett Warner (1824-1915) Tune: William Bradbury (1816-1868)
1. Jesus loves me, this I know For the Bible tells me so Little ones to Him belong They are weak, but He is strong
R/Yes, Jesus loves me Yes, Jesus loves me Yes, Jesus loves me The Bible tells me so
2. Jesus loves me, He who died Heaven's gate to open wide He will wash away my sin Let His little child come in
3. Jesus loves me, this I know, As he loved so long ago, Taking children on his knee, Saying, "Let them come to me." R/
This song, like John 3:16, is the gospel in a nutshell with similar words: “For God so loved the world….” Karl Barth, the great Swiss theologian, on his tour of America in 1962 was asked to summarize his theology in a few words. He sang "Jesus loves me" which he said he had learned at his mother’s knee.
It is safe to say there is no Christian song that is more popular and better known around the world than this. In fact, it is so well known it is often simply sung in English without benefit of a translation.
It is plain and simple, something everyone can understand immediately. That a theologian of Barth’s stature whose writings fill a whole shelf with their ponderous and complicated theological thoughts would boil down all of those books and deep writings into such a simple song shows how both simple and profound the Christian faith is.
Scholars can spend their lives pondering these profound truths and never be quite able to say anything simple; yet missionaries since the beginning have gone out into the world with this simple message and millions of people through time have responded with joy and tears. A God who loves me? How can that be?
There is a series of movies called The Cross: Jesus in China (available from Amazon) that I watched some years ago enraptured at the sight of people in China hearing the good news for the first time. Most amazing to them, coming from their world view of strict filial piety, was that there was a God who loved them and came to be with them. The good news brought them tears of joy. A loving God!
For Christians love beats at the heart of the universe. God, the creator, who holds all of creation together, sends love through the galaxies in order to keep them spinning, and also into our lives to keep us centered.
Kenneth Patchen, an American beat poet of the 1960s, wrote a poem, “The Roary Night,” that argued that whatever was out there, it didn’t care a bit about us. “All around us / The footprints of the beast . . . / Of something above there / Something that doesn’t know we exist.” He goes on, There is "heartbreak out there."
A child suffering heartbreak, want and abuse could come to believe no one cares; a teenager wondering if they matter at all, could adopt this as a creed; even many of us looking out at the chaos around us can wonder who cares
The God who made everything has also loved us enough to send Jesus into our chaos and unremitting confusion and cruelty, all for love! This is good news indeed. He heals our heartbreak and gives order to the day, turning us around toward the hurting world we live in to serve and bring it this love. Without Jesus, nothing works. Heartbreak is all around.
Jesus came to heal both the physical and spiritual heartbreak we have known and see in the world around us. There is a song I vaguely remember telling Jesus, don’t come back, you won’t like what you see. This misses the whole meaning of Jesus. From the beginning it was his mission to come to us, and get down with us in the mess, to heal our heartbreak. We are weak, but he is strong. Interesting that Whitney Houston, whose heartbreak finally overcame her, is the one with the most recordings of the song on Youtube. She must have desperately needed to sing it to hear the good news. She couldn’t overcome her weakness. Ultimately her heartbreak killed her. Jesus loved her through it all, that is for sure. No matter how much theology one does, the key is knowing that Jesus loves me.
When I came home from my first year of college, I told my father all about what I had learned in Freshman Bible, much of which cast doubt on the veracity of Scripture. He listened quietly and when I was done, said, “Yes, I know all that, my dear. But the real question is, what is your relationship with Jesus?”
All that I could answer was, “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.”
Warner’s poem was published in her two volume novel Say and See in 1859. It was sung by the teacher of a sick boy who asked her to sing something for him. In 1871 another writer added some stanzas, It was noticed by William Bradbury, the great composer of Sunday School songs. He revised it a bit and added the refrain, then set it to the tune that has gone around the world. There is not really a set number of stanzas, but the song always begins Jesus Loves Me.
Bradbury worked with Lowell Mason, the maven of church music in America at the time. He took positions at Baptist churches in New York City and led a children’s choir of over a thousand so he had a good idea of what kind of music they could sing and enjoy. He and his wife traveled to London and Leipzig to study composition and music. They arrived in Leipzig in 1847 in time to attend the funeral of Felix Mendelssohn. Bradbury returned to New York and continued writing and publishing hymns and over 50 songbooks. He died in 1868 of tuberculosis.
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