Review: The Nazarene

The Nazarene: Forty Devotions on the Lyrical Life of Jesus, Michael Card. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2020.

Summary: The author helps us consider Jesus through lyrics from his songs and biblically informed reflections.

Michael Card has been singing and writing about Jesus for over thirty years. I first encountered his music in the late 1980’s and was struck with the depth of the lyrics that made the biblical text of the gospels come to life. Later on, he began writing more about the biblical texts that had informed his lyrics in books like Scribbling in the Sand, and commentaries on the four gospels titled The Biblical Imagination Series. Last year, his book Inexpressible made my “Best of the Year” list (review).

This work is a series of forty devotions, nearly all associated with lyrics from his music, beginning with his title “The Nazarene.” They are grouped in four groups of ten based on each of the gospels. Each of the devotions can be read on its own or in conjunction with listening to the recordings (not included with the book).

Each section begins with an imagined reflection on each of the attributed gospel writers. Matthew is found reflecting on the expulsion of Jewish Christians from the synagogues. This gives added meaning to his reflection on Jesus’s words, “I desire mercy and not sacrifice.” His last devotion on the Kingdom reflects on the hidden and revealed, its smallness and enormity, its nearness and far off character.

In Mark, the devotion on “A Great Wind, A Great Calm, a Great Fear” brought to light the demonic character of the storm, enroute to the encounter with the Gadarene demoniac. Most fearsome was not the storm but the authority of the one who calmed it. It raises for me the question of whether I want Jesus to be that powerful. This is followed up with the devotion on “The Stranger” and how we the real Jesus may be a stranger to us. I think of the many times of reading the gospels, and asking, along with Card, “who is this Jesus?”

For me, one of the most thought-provoking of the reflections from the Luke section was number 26 on “The Bridge.” He writes:

From the head to the heart
From the heart to the mind
The Truth must make a journey

He believes that the “bridge” from heart to mind is the imagination–that we often read scripture only with our hearts or only with our heads. He proposes that the parables of Jesus help bridge these. It seemed to me that this devotional captured the essence of Card’s work–a life of studying and meditating on the word and using the imagination in lyric and writing to enter deeply into the narratives of Jesus.

Finally, in John, I felt Card brought to life for me the significance of Jesus’ proclamation on the last day of the feast, “come to me and drink” in the context of the Feast of Tabernacles. He also takes us deeply into the shortest verse in scripture, “Jesus wept” and why he did so at the death of Lazarus.

This work comes out just in time for Advent but equally would make a great collection of Lenten readings. More than that, Card invites us to join him in singing the songs of the Savior. When asked why he writes all these lyrics about Jesus, Card responds, “How can you not sing about him?” Perhaps amid a pandemic and after contentious election, we don’t want to sing at all, and perhaps if our worship is online, it has been a while since we’ve sung the songs of Jesus. This book will restore those songs, and perhaps help us approach with wonder the Jesus we thought we knew, but knew so little.

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review galley of this book from the publisher. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

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