Revised Common Lectionary readings for Sunday, January 12, 2020
Isaiah 42:1-9 – Announcing the majestic but gentle Envoy of God
The Lord has called Him to light God’s way to non-Jewish nations
1“Here is My Servant, whom I uphold, My chosen one in whom I delight; I will put My Spirit on Him, and He will bring justice to the nations.
“Here is My servant” – this is the first of four ‘servant’ (‘trusted envoy’) passages about the Messiah, a royal figure who is the obedient, sensitive and persecuted restorer God uses to bring Israel and also the nations back to Him. This draws a contrast with an earlier picture of blind, fearful and rebellious Israel as the failed servant, Isaiah 41:8-28.
“My chosen One in whom I delight” – at Jesus’ baptism over 700 years later, the voice from heaven repeats this phrase, making the link with this verse and Jesus revealed as the Son, Matt. 3:17 below.
“Justice” – Hebrew mishpat, see Isaiah 51:5, more than legal justice, God’s divine order or in NT language, ‘kingdom of God’.
• For further study, Isaiah’s four Messiah ‘servant songs’, 49:1-13; 42:1-19; 50:4-11; 52:13-53:12.
2 He will not shout or cry out, or raise His voice in the streets.
“Will not shout” – unlike the conqueror Cyrus, Isaiah 41:2, 25, Christ was distinct by His quiet and peacemaking ways.
3-4 A bruised reed He will not break, and a smouldering wick He will not snuff out. In faithfulness He will bring forth justice; He will not falter or be discouraged till He establishes justice on earth. In His teaching the islands will put their hope.”
“Bruised reed… smouldering wick” – the Servant has particular encouragement for those oppressed or weakened.
“The islands” – or coastlands, a way of saying the Servant is a bringer of justice to the whole earth.
5 This is what God the LORD says – the Creator of the heavens, who stretches them out, who spreads out the earth with all that springs from it, who gives breath to its people, and life to those who walk on it:
“God the Lord… the Creator” – the source of all life is well able to deliver the promises of vv.1-4,
6-7 “I, the LORD, have called you in righteousness; I will take hold of your hand. I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people and a light for the Gentiles, to open eyes that are blind, to free captives from prison and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness.
“Covenant for the people” – NLT, “My people”. Compare The Message: “I have set you among My people to bind them to Me, and provided you as a lighthouse to the nations…”.
“Open eyes that are blind, free captives” – see also Isaiah 61:1, quoted by Jesus about Himself, Luke 4:18.
8 “I am the LORD; that is My name! I will not yield my glory to another or my praise to idols.
“The Lord… My name” – Yahweh, meaning “I AM WHO I AM”, Exodus 3:14-16, creator of the cosmos, whose glory is incomparable, is able to empower His servant to both fulfill the Old Covenant, and at the same time be a light to the Gentile nations.
• For further study, see Isaiah 49:5-6 and 8, Luke 2:32, Acts 13:47, Galatians 3:14.
9 See, the former things have taken place, and new things I declare; before they spring into being I announce them to you.”
“Former things… new things” – meaning that as what Isaiah had already prophesied was coming to pass, what he must now speak out would also come to pass. See Isaiah 41:22.
Today’s passages all focus on Jesus being identified by God’s special envoy to us, indeed, His Son – and why this is at the heart of what Christians call the gospel or the Good News of the Kingdom.
God’s purpose, set out long before Jesus was born, with Israel making mistake after mistake, is about His mercy and desire to redeem them – good news. Isaiah uses the term ‘good news’ in the well-known passage quoted by Jesus that echoes verse 7, “The LORD has anointed Me to proclaim good news to the poor,” Isaiah 61:1.
Why is this good news for us? This was an announcement of a new freedom and reconciliation between God and the Jews, His “chosen people” who had alienated themselves from Him by their own rules and obstinacy. At the time of Isaiah’s announcement, things were so bad that conquest by one of the ungodly nations nearby was likely – and 100 years later, that was exactly what happened. Isaiah saw the coming disaster – but he also foresaw (as here) that God had a much greater plan.
This is good news because it is an announcement of God’s favour, in place of the judgment the Jews deserved. But it extends in an unprecedented way as favour also for non-Jews like us. It is about freeing people from what holds them, physically or spiritually, and enabling people to see through spiritual confusion to what God is doing. It is especially, outstandingly good because (unlike everything else in life) there are no conditions attached.
God would send His anointed ambassador – with hindsight we know this is Jesus – with a regal but gentle authority, to be the fulfilment of His covenant with the Jewish people. But, importantly, He would carry this Good News, this light, or revelation, of God’s salvation offer, beyond the ‘closed shop’ of the Jewish nation. He would be, and He is, Lord of any person that believes who He is and comes to Him in that lordship.
How much are you put off by the ‘too good to be true’ aspect of God’s offer?
Matthew 3:13-17 – Jesus revealed as the Son and anointed by the Holy Spirit
Jesus is baptised in the water and empowered by the Spirit
13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptised by John.
“Came to the Jordan” – we don’t know exactly where. It is likely John had more than one location for baptising people.
• For further study see Luke 3:3; John 3:23; John 10:40.
14 But John tried to deter Him, saying, “I need to be baptised by you, and do You come to me?”
“Do You come to me?” – the crossroads reached between John’s ministry and Jesus’. John recognises Jesus as the mightier one who brings a messianic dimension of ministry.
15 Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John consented.
“Fulfill all righteousness” – NLT and The Message together render this: “It should be done, for we must carry out all that God requires. God’s work, putting things right all these centuries, is coming together right now in this baptism.”
16 As soon as Jesus was baptised, He went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on Him.
“Heaven was opened” – indicating a revelation from God, as previously in Ezekiel’s series of visions by the Kebar river, Ezekiel 1:1.
17 And a voice from heaven said, “This is My Son, whom I love; with Him I am well pleased.”
“With Him I am well pleased” – The Father’s voice reveals Jesus’ identity as the Son in the language of Isaiah 42:1, “My chosen one in whom I delight”, an ordination signalling to Israel the start of His ministry. See also Psalm 2:7.
“The Spirit of God… alighting… and a voice… this is My Son” – bring together all three persons of the Trinity, in distinct roles but one in seeing God’s kingdom purpose fulfilled.
When Jesus approaches John for baptism, John is reticent – he recognises Jesus as having the far greater ministry, before he hears the voice from heaven saying, “This is my Son…”
Whether he fully grasped who Jesus was is not clear (later, in prison and awaiting execution he asked for further confirmation, “Are you the One who is to come”, Matt. 11:2-3). It takes a bit of grasping – it takes faith – to fully apprehend who Jesus is: one of the Trinity yet lining up with the crowds by the bank of the Jordan. He is God – yet with us.
This takes the Good News to another level. The unconditional offer of forgiveness, salvation and new life comes to us via the person who might have been standing next to us on the river bank. He positions Himself so that we can know Him, in one sense at least, as a regular person – and through Him, know God the Father personally.
What would you say to a friend who could accept Jesus as a historic figure but struggled to see Him as the Son of God? And to see the significance of that?
Acts 10:34-43 – The big discovery: God is not selective but loves everybody
Peter explains who Jesus is and how He is Lord of everyone
34-35 Then Peter began to speak: “I now realise how true it is that God does not show favouritism but accepts from every nation the one who fears Him and does what is right.
“God does not show favouritism” – or “God is no respecter of persons”, KJV, a key truth which cuts across religious and all other human exclusivity. A principal established in the OT (‘further study’, below) but seldom fully grasped until Peter’s dramatic vision, Acts 10:1-33.
“Accepts from every nation the one who fears Him” – exactly what Jesus instructed the apostles to do in some of His last words, Matthew 28:19. See also Romans 10:11-13.
• For further study, see Deut. 10:17; 2 Chron. 19:7; Job 34:19; Romans 2:11, 3:29, 30; James 2:1.
36 You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, announcing the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all.
“The people of Israel… Lord of all” – the message is first for the Jews, Romans 1:16-17, but not just for them as Jesus is “Lord of all”: the message is for all people.
“The good news of peace” – as proclaimed in Isaiah 52:7, “good news,… peace… good tidings… salvation… “Your God reigns!”. Now made explicit in the lordship of Jesus, a choice available to anyone who turns to Him.
37-38 You know what has happened throughout the province of Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached – how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how He went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with Him.
“Doing good… healing… under the power of the devil” – short but profound summary of Jesus’ earthly life. A mission statement for all His followers.
39-40 “We are witnesses of everything He did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed Him by hanging Him on a cross, but God raised Him from the dead on the third day and caused Him to be seen.
“We are witnesses of everything He did” – Peter’s overview of the nine key events of Jesus’ ministry:
- John the Baptist preaching;
- Jesus anointed with the Spirit at baptism;
- Healings and deliverances in Galilee;
- Journey through Judea to Jerusalem;
- Arrest and crucifixion;
- Resurrection on the third day;
- Resurrection appearances;
- The disciples commissioned;
- Jesus appointed to return as judge of all.
“Cross” – literally xylon, tree, the same word used in Deut. 21:23 in the Greek translation of the OT (Septuagint): “Cursed by God is everyone who is hanged on a tree.” Jesus was subjected to what the OT says is a cursed death, taking on Himself the curse and therefore the legal penalty for our sin.41 He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen – by us who ate and drank with Him after He rose from the dead.
“Seen… by witnesses whom God has already chosen” – Jesus was not seen by everyone, but by believers, giving them unarguable confirmation that He had risen and was alive.
• For further study, read Luke 24:42–43; John 21:12–15; 1 Cor. 15:5-8.
42 He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that He is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead.43 All the prophets testify about Him, that everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins through His name.”
“All the prophets testify” – a phrase used elsewhere by Luke, e.g. Acts 3:18. Two clear examples of prophets testifying about Jesus and forgiveness of sins are Isaiah 52:13-53:12 and Ezekiel 36:25-26.
• For further study, see Jeremiah 11:19; Daniel 9:26; Zechariah 13:7; Psalms 22, 69.
Scripture is a progressive revelation – meaning that God reveals Himself through Scripture, consistently, but adding to the picture. So in the OT we have a pen-and-ink drawing, black and white but lacking detail. The gospel accounts reflect a time of transition between the Old Covenant era, and the New Covenant which Jesus establishes in His death and resurrection. There is shading and details but this is a pre-resurrection picture. Moving into Acts and the letters, Jesus has risen and the Holy Spirit, the Helper, Encourager and Teacher, has come – this is like a set of fine watercolour perspective views of the other angles of the scene.
Here Peter is has that perspective, able to look back on Jesus’ life and death and reflect on what it meant. He doesn’t reference Scripture – he is speaking to Roman-culture Gentiles, not Jews – but he headlines who Jesus is and why He came and the commission given to him and the disciples.
He particularly emphasises his personal lesson about God abolishing the distinction of Jew or Gentile and making His offer of new life to all without condition – good news indeed. This confronts the doubts we may carry about whether deserve God’s favour. No one does, of any class, race or background or religious rank! We all choose to receive freely what we could never earn – the love and favour of a truly good, impartial and unconditionally loving God.
On this occasion, a distinctly working-class and ordinary Jewish fisherman was teaching a mixed group in a Roman household. The hearers were also called to be “no respecter of persons” in receiving his message. How much of a barrier is it for you to learn from someone you might consider a social inferior?
Lord, we ask for more of Your Holy Spirit’s revelation of who You are – the Son who is our advocate in heaven and Saviour here on earth. Help us to know You more, and so to live for You with greater faith, and to grow in confidence to speak of You to others. Amen.