TEXT: 1 Chronicles 16:34-36; Mark 10:13-16; Romans 16:25-27
Today we come to the last word in our series called “Words Matter.” We’ve been looking at key words in the original languages of the Bible: words like shalom, hesed, sabbath, and hallelujah. It is fitting that the last word we will look at is the one we often use as the last word in our prayers: Amen.
It means ‘truly’ or “let it be so” and it appears frequently in both testaments: 30x in the Old Testament and 127x in the New. Interestingly it’s spelled the same in Hebrew and Greek; more accurately, it is a Hebrew word that was brought into Greek even as it has been brought into English.
Another interesting point: This summer I often found that a word broke down into several uses in scripture and I’d share each one of those with you. For example, sometimes hesed means ‘mercy’ and sometimes ‘compassion.’ What’s interesting about amen is that it’s used in a particular way depending on where you find it in the Bible. In the Old Testament it consistently has one shade of meaning. In the Gospels it is entirely used by Jesus in a slightly different way. And then in the Epistles it is used in a third way. All of them have something to do with truth, but slightly different. We’ll look at that and why amen is an important word for us even now. Let’s dig in!
Affirmation: “This is true”
The first way amen is used in the Bible is as AFFIRMATION. Virtually every usage that I could find in the Old Testament was for this purpose. Our call to worship from 1 Chronicles 16 provides a good example. There is a Psalm or statement about the Lord, often going on to describe who God is and what God has done (this is the purpose of praise, which we looked at last week with hallelujah). And then at the end the people will all say, “Amen.”
Look at the Call to Worship: “Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; for His lovingkindness is everlasting.” (v.34) And then there is a call for God to save His people, followed by more blessing and praise. At the end, when the people say amen, they are saying “This is true!”
This is how we sometime hear it used in a worship service today – at least those of you who “talk back” to the preacher. I or another preacher may say something that strikes you as particularly true or hopeful or even challenging, and sometimes you’ll respond with amen – this is true! Or more in our way of talking: “Yes!”
That’s the first sense of amen – it is a response to something with a “yes, this is true and trustworthy.”
To whom and what to you give this kind of amen in your life? I know the correct answer is Jesus, but what if you were home alone asking yourself this question? Is it your favorite news channel? Is it your politics? Is it an authority figure in your life like a parent, teacher, or preacher? Now back to the church answer… Is there really anyone or anything apart from God that is true and trustworthy enough for an amen? It seems that hardly a day goes by that someone doesn’t tell me something is absolutely true because they read it on the internet or “they just know it.” For the believer we should have our eyes and ears open in this world, but we should be holding everything up to the light of God’s Word. What does God say?
The first Amen challenge is this: Figure out who and what you say amen to and weigh its trustworthiness against God and God’s Word. Are you immersed in scripture and prayer and giving your amen to God?
Assertion: “Truly I tell you”
A second usage of amen comes from the Gospels and the words of Jesus. Every usage I found was on the lips of Jesus and instead of coming at the end of things as in the Old Testament, it’s often the first thing Jesus says. Look at our scripture lesson from Mark 10. The disciples were keeping children from Jesus and he told them to let them come. Then he says this in verse 15: “TRULY I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it at all.” Can you guess where the amen is in that sentence? Yes, the beginning. Jesus said, “Amen, I tell you…” and our English translation made it into ‘truly.’
We’ve already said that amen means truly. How is this different than the way it’s used in the Old Testament? Jesus uses it as an ASSERTION of truth. This is him asserting (some 99x) that what he says is the truth.
That’s important because there always have been and will continue to be voices claiming to be the truth. We just talked about knowing whom to trust. That’s one of the things you have to figure out about Jesus. That’s part of what it means to believe in or have faith in Jesus. You take him at his word. He’s either telling the truth and is the Son of God or, as C.S. Lewis put it, he’s lying or a deluded person.
So the second Amen challenge is this: Do you believe Jesus speaks truth?
Aspiration: “May it be so!”
27 other occurrences of amen in the New Testament come in the Epistles. I’d describe these usages as ASPIRATION, in the sense of “may it be so!” They come at the end of statements of truth and blessing, often about a desired present or future.
Consider our scripture from Romans 16… “Now to Him who is able to establish you…. To the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, be the glory forever. AMEN.” This particular scripture is a kind of benediction, describing what God has done through Jesus, and then declaring praise. The Amen ends that with the sense of “this is what I want and long for Lord, may it be so!”
In other cases in the epistles it may be as short a phrase as “May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all” followed by amen – let it be so, we want to receive and experience that grace!
So the third Amen challenge is this: Besides salvation itself, what of God’s promised blessings in scripture do you long for? To what do you say “Amen – may it be so!” Is it God’s peace? Justice? Mercy? Is it the experience of community together in Christ? What is God doing around you? Where is God leading you? To what can you say an aspirational amen?
Jesus is the Amen
Affirmation of God and God’s works in the Old Testament…
Assertion in the Gospels in the words of Jesus…
Aspiration to experience God’s presence and blessing in the Epistles…
Those account for all but one occurrence of amen in the Bible. The last occurrence is in Revelation 3:14. No longer is Jesus simply saying true words. Here in Revelation Jesus is NAMED as “The Amen, the faithful and true one.” I asked before if you believe that Jesus speaks the truth. Revelation declares that Jesus IS the truth even as Jesus did when he said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.”
Do you believe it? If you do, it changes everything. And to that I invite you to say…. AMEN!
Some Music Used
- Praise to the Lord, the Almighty
- Is He Worthy (Peterson)
- “Amen” (arr. Rick Bean, piano)
- Trading My Sorrow
- Yes and Amen (Housefires)
- Open My Eyes, That I May See