The Theology of “Murdered Son” by Ray Hollenbach

A note from John Mark:

At the end of the day, I’m a songwriter who dabbles in theology.  I don’t sing about Jesus because I want to spread a message.  I don’t sing about Jesus because it’s the Christian thing to do.  If I sing about Jesus, it’s for one simple reason, and that’s because I believe he’s worth singing about.   While it’s never been my intention to communicate theology through my music, my heart’s fascination with certain subjects have carved out a good bit of space for it in my songs over the years.

I thought it would be fun to comment on some of that theology this week (specifically in my “resurrection songs”) but being more of an artist who dabbles in the subject, I decided it could be a better idea to employ friends who have an extensive knowledge of these matters.

Today’s guest, Ray Hollenbach, actually made me understand my own song in a way that I never imagined I could.  I hope you enjoy his words and be sure to check out his blog: 

The Theology of “Murdered Son” by Ray Hollenbach

Murdered Son should be on your playlist this holy week. Last year John Mark broke down his thoughts and the Bible roots of Death in His Grave. Perhaps there is room to explore Murdered Son as well. Here are some of the things John Mark’s song stirs up in my heart:

Murdered Son . . .

The title phrase is compelling because it expresses at least two characters in the passionate drama of resurrection: There is a father, and there is a son. God’s son was murdered. The suffering of Good Friday is not for Jesus alone–a father looked on and watched his son die. The pain was multiplied by two.

God’s son chose the public role of victim. The son knew the father’s pain and positioned himself the bridge between Creator and creation.

Together, the Father and the Son suffered the injustice of hatred, torture and death. They faced their enemies with a determination to pave the road home even when no one was interested in the journey.


The father delights to raise people up. Resurrection was God’s method a long time before Easter morning. I like to imagine that the same God who stood back and spoke the universe into existence then chose to kneel in the mud and raise humanity up from the dust. The very creation of Adam is a resurrection. The very act of new birth in Jesus raises us up, daughters and sons, into the heavens at his side. It is the resurrection that comes before resurrection day. That same God has raised us up, and he will again.

Scattered our debt upon the waves:

I don’t know what John Mark had in mind with this image, but I have scattered my father’s ashes across the Kentucky hillside behind my home. I have scattered his memory onto the land where I live. But in John Mark’s lyric I see the a father who pile my sins together like so much deadwood, and sets it ablaze. And after he incinerates my sin he gathers the ashes and takes them to the farthest reaches of the sea, and scatters my debt upon the waves. Just try to find my sin, resurrect it and use it as evidence against me. Good luck with that.

Hidden ours faults even from Your own face . . .

Who hides the faults of others–from themselves? Some of us sweep the faults of others under the rug because they have embarrassed us. But we know what they have done, and we don’t forget. Some people hide the faults of others because they, too, have the same faults–they don’t want to face themselves. But the father–the one who has nothing to be ashamed of and nothing to hide, hides our faults from himself. The one who knows everything chooses to no nothing of us except his love.

Who paid for my resurrection:

How much money does it take to raise the dead? As a pastor I’ve presided over the funerals of rich and poor alike. No one has what it takes to pay the price. It turns out the price for resurrection is the willingness to suffer injustice and give yourself to the very people who want to see you dead. It’s a chorus I can sing over and over: Who paid for my resurrection. On the day he raises me up I am debt free.

The artist is entitled to all the meaning he puts into the song and whatever meaning find there as well. I don’t know all John Mark intended to say, but I know he intended that I should see resurrection wherever I look.

  1. Reblogged this on Along The Way and commented:
    On the Holy Week enjoy this insight from John Mark McMillian’s song “Murdered Son” and also check out “Death in His Grave”

  2. I am sooo diggin’ this breakdown of your songs. Love it.

  3. jfoor said:

    Reblogged this on Life After Normal and commented:
    At The Village, we’ve been doing some of John Mark’s songs for our worship sets. They are great, gospel drenched songs. Theology and music is indeed a beautiful marriage. I’d encourage you to get his albums for your commute!

  4. wbkelly said:

    Hey Ray:

    “No one can redeem the life of another
    or give to God a ransom for them —
    the ransom for a life is costly, no payment is ever enough —
    so that they should live on forever and not see decay.” (Psalm 49)

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