Amen — ‘A Sound Like Thunder’

The characteristic response to the gracious Amen of heaven is the glad and adoring Amen of the church.

The God of Scripture is the faithful God. He comes to his people in grace and makes his promises with an abundant liberality. Nor does he leave any room for doubt. He means what he says and will perform every word. Christ is his pledge and the Son’s ‘Amen’ is the declaration of the Father’s faithfulness.

 

Usage certainly varies. There is the sonorous ‘Amen’ from the pulpit to which the response is total silence. There is the elaborate musical ‘Amen’ which in some congregations is considered to be the appropriate finale to the service. There is a congregational response which ranges from a perfunctory mumble to a virtually non-stop background sound. For some it seems to be a kind of liturgical semi-colon or full stop indicating either the ending of one item of worship or the final closure of the service. For some it appears to be come form of emotional release; for others a routine formula to be repeated at traditional intervals — the local tradition dictating how long or short those intervals should be. Mercifully there are also many for whom a fervent ‘Amen’ is clearly an expression of confident faith and of glad worship.

Turning to the Bible we find the word ‘Amen’ used extensively in both the Old and New Testament, and particularly by the Lord Jesus Christ. It comes from a Hebrew word whose root meaning is ‘to strengthen’. Hence it is used as a word of confirmation by which a statement is firmly underscored by the speaker, or complete acceptance is indicated by the hearer. In either case the one who says ‘Amen’ lends his personal weight to what is said whether by stressing that he means what he says, or by assuring others that he welcomes and concurs with the statement which has been made.

Christ’s very frequent use of the word is obscured for English readers by the A.V. which translates it ‘verily’. It is, however, his regular word for emphasising his message and especially an issue of particular significance. His ‘Amen’ thus precedes many of his claims, his commands, and his promises. This element of emphasis is brought out even more forcibly in John’s Gospel where the ‘Amen, Amen, I say to you’ with its duplicated refrain adds a further dimension of emphasis. It is as it the Lord were saying — ‘This is of signal importance and particular significance to you. So I want you to pay especial heed to it and that is why I am emphasising it’. So the ‘Amen’ of the Lord Jesus is his assurance that we may take his word seriously and rely on it with implicit confidence.

This same truth is reflected in Paul’s emphatic words to the Corinthians (2 Cor. 1:20) where all the promises of God are reinforced by the emphatic ‘Yes’ of Christ. If we follow Calvin and most of the commentators, ‘the Amen’ which follows is the response of the believers to these promises. But this brings into focus the fact that our ‘Amen’ is simply an echo of his ‘Yes’; and in speaking his decisive ‘Yes’ to the promises he is continuing the ‘Amen, Amen, I say to you’ of John’s Gospel.

John’s vision on Patmos of the ascended and glorified Lord has the same message.

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