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.


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

Review: Inexpressible


InexpressibleMichael Card. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2018.

Summary: A study of the Hebrew word hesed, exploring what this says about God, about the objects of hesed, the incarnation of hesed in Jesus, and how then we should live.

“When the person from which I have a right to expect nothing gives me everything.”

After studying all the uses of the Hebrew word hesed, this is how Michael Card ended up defining this word. This whole book is about one amazing word. Translators have groped for words to express in one or a few words the inexpressible wonder of this word, particularly because it most often is used to describe God in his action toward humanity. At the beginning of Card’s book, Card lists over a hundred words or phrases the translators have come up with for this word. The King James Version came up with a compound word, loving-kindness, to try to capture its essence.

Card takes us through his own extensive study of every use of the word in the Hebrew Bible. He takes us through passages that have to do with the God of hesed, explores what it is like to be an object of hesed, considers how Jesus incarnates and teaches hesed, and what hesed meant for the Jews after the destruction of the second temple, and what this says for us. Appendices give us a list of every text with the word hesed, the words used in different translations, the words associated with hesed, and ideas for further study.

Card tells memorable stories to illustrate hesed such as that of Keshia Thomas, a black demonstrator at a Klan rally who saw a Klansman who had wandered mistakenly into her group of protesters, and was being attacked until she shielded him with her own body, possibly saving his life. Card speaks of his first visit to a black church, and a black woman, Dinah, who held his hand, and extended welcome. He develops the argument of Moses with God that he is slow to anger and abounding with hesed, a refrain recurring throughout scripture. God may deal with Israel’s sin, but he never gives up on her.

One of his most striking reflections is on Jesus with the Roman centurion, who is described as deserving by the people, but describes himself as undeserving and yet, out of love for his servant, and faith, the like Jesus had not seen in Israel, asks for what he does not deserve. He found the hesed he believed in. Eventually, at the cross, Jesus would give to all humanity what we did not deserve, making peace between God and us.

His concluding reflections challenge us to live in this world. He begins with how the followers of Hillel in Judaism dealt with the fall of the temple, drawing on the statement of Hosea 6:6 which says, “For I desire hesed and not sacrifice.” The doing and living of hesed, along with the idea of tikkun olam (“repairing the world”) have become central to modern Judaism. Card invites us to live into that same reality:

“The final challenge to you and me is to take whatever understanding we have in our heads of hesed and allow the Spirit to move it into our hearts. We must enter into the world of the word hesed and then take that world into our world, back to our families, to our churches and towns–to our enemies. The Scriptures are offering us an unimaginable opportunity to make Jesus believable and beautiful by offering everything (even our lives) to those who have a right to expect nothing from us.” (p. 135)

To read this book was to allow God to thaw my heart, reminding me of the everything I have so undeservingly received. To read this book was to clear the fog from my eyes, to give me at least a glimpse of the inexpressible beauty of the God of hesed. Finally, to read this book was to stir my will, my hands, my feet, to think about the places where I might repair the world through the loving-kindness of hesed. 


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.