“Tell Me the Story of Jesus”

“The Son of man came…to minister and to give His life a ransom for many” (Matt. 20:28)

     INTRO.:  A song that talks about the fact that the Son of man came to give His life a ransom for us is “Tell Me the Story of Jesus” (#156 in Hymns for Worship Revised, and #278 in Sacred Selections for the Church).  The text was written by Frances (Fanny) Jane Crosby VanAlstyne (1820-1915).  The tune (Story of Jesus) was composed by John Robson Sweney, who was born at West Chester, PA, on Dec. 31, 1837, the son of John H. Sweney.  His musical ability appears to have been shown when he was still quite young, because while still a boy, he began to teach music in the public schools and lead singing in church services.  At age nineteen, he started studying music in earnest under Professor Bauer, a celebrated German teacher, taking lessons on the violin and piano, and was chosen leader of a choir.  At the age of 22 he was teaching music at Dover, DE. 

     During the Civil War, Sweney directed the band of the Third Delaware Regiment.  When the war ended, he became a music professor at the Pennsylvania Military Academy in West Chester, PA, and remained there for 25 years, receiving the degrees of Bachelor of Music in 1876 and Doctor of Music in 1886.  During time, he also served as music director at the Bethany Presbyterian Church.  His first wife, Lizzie A. Gould, with whom he had two children, Frank G. and B. Hilyard, died in 1871.  Later, he married again, and his second wife was also named Lizzie; they had one daughter, Josephina.  His unusual abilities as a song leader resulted in his being in demand for work at summer assemblies in New Jersey, Illinois, Indiana, Maine, New York, and other places.   Composing over a thousand gospel songs, he was associated with the compilation of more than sixty collections. 

     “Tell Me the Story of Jesus” first appeared in The Quiver of Sacred Song, published in 1880 by John J. Hood in Philadelphia, PA, which Sweney edited with William James Kirkpatrick (1838-1921).  The millionaire John Wanamaker was also a member of the Bethany Presbyterian Church.  Sweney’s last songbook, Living Hymns for Use in the Sabbath School, Young People’s Meetings, and Church Home was compiled with Wanamaker in 1890.  Sweney died at Chester, PA, on Apr. 10, 1899.  Following this, Wanamaker compiled another collection, The New Living Hymns, in 1902 using materials left to him by Sweney.  Sweney’s daughter Josephina married William J. Kirkpatrick in 1917.  The copyright for “Tell Me the Story of Jesus” was renewed in 1907 by L. E. Sweney and was assigned in 1917 to Homer A. Rodeheaver.

     Among hymnbooks published by members of the Lord’s church during the twentieth century for use in churches of Christ, the song appeared in the 1925 edition of the 1921 Great Songs of the Church (No. 1) and the 1937 Great Songs of the Church No. 2 both edited by E. L. Jorgenson; the 1935 Christian Hymns (No. 1), the 1948 Christian Hymns No. 2, and the 1966 Christian Hymns No. 3 all edited by L. O. Sanderson; the 1963 Abiding Hymns edited by Robert C. Welch; and the 1963 Christian Hymnal edited by J. Nelson Slater.  Today it may be found in the 1971 Songs of the Church, the 1990 Songs of the Church 21st C. Ed., and the 1994 Songs of Faith and Praise all edited by Alton H. Howard; the 1978/1983 Church Gospel Songs and Hymns edited by V. E. Howard; the 1986 Great Songs Revised edited by Forrest M. McCann; and the 1992 Praise for the Lord edited by John P. Wiegand; in addition to Hymns for Worship, Sacred Selections, the 2007 Sacred Songs of the Church edited by William D. Jeffcoat, and the 2009 Favorite Songs of the Church edited by Robert J. Taylor, Jr.

     The hymn reminds us of the suffering that Jesus experienced by coming to earth, being tempted as we are, and dying on the cross.

I. Stanza 1 highlights the birth of Christ
“Tell me the story of Jesus, Write on my heart every word;
Tell me the story most precious, Sweetest that ever was heard.
Tell how the angels, in chorus, Sang as they welcomed His birth,
‘Glory to God in the highest!  Peace and good tidings on earth.’”
 A. The birth of Jesus Christ was special: Matt. 1:18-25
 B. Because it was special, angels announced it: Lk. 2:7-14
 C. Their announcement meant that Jesus was born to redeem mankind: Gal. 4:4-5

II. Stanza 2 highlights the temptation of Christ
“Fasting alone in the desert, Tell of the days that are past,
How for our sins He was tempted, Yet was triumphant at last.
Tell of the years of His labor, Tell of the sorrows He bore;
He was despised and afflicted, Homeless, rejected, and poor.”
 A. The Bible records the temptation of Jesus by Satan in the desert: Matt. 4:1-11
 B. However, it also implies that throughout His earthly life He was tempted in all points like as we are, yet was victorious and without sin: Heb. 4:14-16
 C. The prophet summed up His earthly life as being despised and rejected: Isa. 53:1-3

III. Stanza 3 highlights the death of Christ
“Tell of the cross where they nailed Him, Writhing in anguish and pain;
Tell of the grave where they laid Him, Tell how He liveth again.
Love in that story so tender, Clearer than ever I see;
Stay, let me weep while you whisper, Love paid the ransom for me.”
 A. Jesus died for our sins and was buried according to the scriptures: Lk. 23:44-46
 B. Yet His story does not end there because He also rose again the third day: Lk. 24:1-6
 C. He did all of this because of God’s love for us: Rom. 5:6-11

     CONCL.:  Each stanza ends with a chorus that repeats the opening lines of the first stanza:
“Tell me the story of Jesus, Write on my heart every word;
Tell me the story most precious, Sweetest that ever was heard.”
When I stop and think about everything that Jesus did to save me from my sins, every time someone preaches to me, I will demand that he “Tell Me the Story of Jesus.”


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