HYMN FOR LENT II I'd Rather Have Jesus
John 3:1-21 Text: Rhea F. Miller (1894-1966) Tune: George Beverly Shea (1909-2013)
1. I'd rather have Jesus than silver or gold
I'd rather be His than have riches untold I'd rather have Jesus than houses or land I'd rather be led by His nail-pierced hand
/RThan to be the king of a vast domain And be held in sin's dread sway
I'd rather have Jesus than anything This world affords today
2. I'd rather have Jesus than worldly applause
I'd rather be faithful to His dear cause I'd rather have Jesus than worldwide fame Yes, I'd rather be true to His holy name
R/ 3. He's fairer than lilies of rarest bloom; He's sweeter than honey from out the comb; He's all that my hungering spirit needs. I'd rather have Jesus and let Him lead
Today’s Bible passage is the story of Jesus meeting by dark of night with Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews, comes to ask him who he is. He is fairly sure Jesus comes from God, but doesn't know what that means. In his answer, Jesus utters the great Bible verse that is the gospel in a nutshell: John 3:16. Nicodemus knows Jesus represents God, but can't imagine how, partly because he can't imagine another reality, or dimension to life, than what he already knows. Yet, Nicodemus will follow, finally, as he is drawn to the light Jesus shines. What Jesus is preaching involves a change so drastic that it involve rebirth. A completely new life. And that new life changes everything about how one lives. St. Augustine, the early Christian father, talked about the life of faith in terms of means and ends, or ultimate and penultimate goals. God has given us the means for the good life in his creation: something Luther describes in his explanation to the First Article: "food and clothing, home and family, and all my property. Every day, he provides abundantly for all the needs of my life, protects me from all danger, and guards and keeps me from all evil." Those are means to a good life. They help us reach our goals, the ultimates, like salvation, life in Christ, and heaven. Should we make any of these means our goals, we become idolators. Nicodemus isn't so much an idolator as he is blind. He comes by dark of night, he is puzzled by Jesus' talk of another reality. Many of the paintings of this scene have Nicodemus looking down while Jesus is pointing up. Later he will bring 70 pounds of myrrh to embalm Jesus, a sign of his love, or at least regard. The hymn was written by a pastor’s widow who had dedicated her life to teaching pastors’ children how to play the piano so they would be able to help in congregations when a musician was needed. While her mother was a sturdy and faithful Christian, her father was an alcoholic who stole money from everyone in the family to get money to support his habit which had become his life.
One day he was taken by the Gospel and his life turned around completely. The family was stunned and thankful. Rhea heard her father’s testimony one day that he now understood that he would rather have Jesus than anything, wealth, riches, fame or power. As he spoke, she realized that his testimony was a hymn, and she wrote it down, making it into poetry.
George Beverly Shea, a pastor’s son from Canada, was 23 and at home briefly. A student of music, who was finding his way in the musical world, he saw this poem his mother had put on the keyboard. As he read it, this tune came to him. As they say, the rest is history. It became a favorite first with the Billy Graham association and its Hour of Power, and then in the hundreds of revivals Billy led all over the world.
Jesus is all that our hungering spirits need. HYMN INFO
This is a big favorite in the repertoire of the Gospel songs in America. Many a Lutheran attending Sunday evening services, or Wednesday night Bible study, probably heard it several times a year, sung by the local soloist.
Shea sang it thousands of times with his rich bass baritone. After How Great Thou Art it is probably his song—especially since he wrote the tune. He probably is the singer who sang before more people than any other singer in history. His records sold in the millions. He won a Grammy for his Lifetime Achievement Award
George Beverly Shea, singing and telling about his finding it
George Beverly Shea telling the story of the song
The Gaither Family
Another Gaither version with a basso profundo!
Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir/riffing on the old tune