Reading Ramblings – January 10, 2016

Reading Ramblings

Date: First Sunday after the Epiphany, January 10, 2016

Texts: Isaiah 43:1-7; Psalm 29; Romans 6:1-11; Luke 3:15-22

Context: Epiphany was officially January 6. Precise information on the sources of this festival are uncertain before the fourth century. It seems to have originated in the Eastern Church and been absorbed into Western tradition. The emphasis of the festival is on the revelation of the divinity of Jesus of Nazareth to the Gentiles, and so forms a counterpart to Christmas, which celebrates the humanity of the Son of God made flesh. This often has been focused, in the Western Church, on the visit of the gift-bearing magi, while in the Eastern Church the emphasis is more on Jesus’ baptism.

Isaiah 43:1-7 – What does the Advent of the Messiah mean? It means deliverance for God’s people. Chapter 42 introduced The Lord’s Servant, the one who will perfectly obey God. It is through this servant that God’s people will receive the deliverance now described in chapter 43. The language of verse 1 evokes the beginning of Genesis. God creates out of nothing. Israel is formed out of nothing. Abram is of no great import and without descendants. The Israelites are slaves in Egypt and not a nation of their own. God shapes the descendants of Abraham into his own people. Verse 2 evokes elements from the Exodus story – passing through the parted waters of the Red Sea, then many years later crossing the Jordan River. God’s people have no fear for the future because God has protected them in the past, with verses 3-4 again calling people to remember how God rescued them from Egypt. God will gather his people together again, regardless of where they have been driven to or run to. God will not overlook or forget or neglect any of his children.

Psalm 29 – This psalm calls the worshiper to acknowledge the power of God. While the power to create of nothing – whether a universe or a theocracy as mentioned in the Isaiah passage – is impressive, we tend to think of power in a comparative sort of way. We can’t properly appreciate the power it takes to call a universe into existence, but we understand the power of natural phenomenae – large bodies of water, massive trees, imposing hills, fire, and even wildlife – which serve to emphasize the superior power of God. Whatever we conceive of as powerful and mighty and awe-inspiring in this world can and should point us to worship and praise of the more powerful God who created these things and maintains sovereignty over them.

Romans 6:1-11 – What are the implications of God made man and come into creation to suffer and die on behalf of us? What are the implications of events 2000 years ago for the lives of you and I today? Paul lays this out beautifully in these verses. By baptism we join Jesus in his death and burial, and are raised again to new life. As such, we are no longer bound by the stipulations of the Law. Not that the Law no longer applies to us, but rather we do not fear the punishment of the Law, that is, death. Our inability to keep the Law made us slaves to sin and Satan, and those are the bonds that are broken through our baptism into the death and resurrection of Jesus. Therefore, while we still sin, we are no longer enslaved by sin. We belong to Christ. We are free from the eternal repercussions of our sin because of his forgiveness.

But this isn’t simply a negative benefit, the removal of the repercussions of sin. Rather there is also a positive aspect – we will live with Christ. We are not simply freed from something but for something – eternal life with the Son of God who offered his life to free us. Our hope has a positive target – eternal life. Jesus’ own resurrection is the proof of this future for you and I.

Paul’s teaching regarding the Law had led some to justify or pursue sin, or to actually claim that Paul was teaching people to sin more, so that greater glory to God through greater extension of grace might result. This is the argument Paul dismisses in the first four verses before launching into more detailed explanation. It is this theme that Paul returns to in verse 10 and 11. Our focus is not to be on our sinful nature, and certainly not to assume we have license to sin. Rather, we must focus on our union with Christ as the source of our eternal hope, and as the continual encouragement for us to move away from sin in our lives.

Luke 3:15-22 – What is the role of the suffering servant of God? What is the role of the Messiah? He comes ultimately to clear the threshing floor, to call to himself all who are his through faith, and to cast out all those who have already cast themselves out by rejecting him. The consequences are eternal, not just temporal. John strongly rejects the idea that he himself is the Messiah. His job is to point to the one who is.

Luke records Jesus’ baptismal event almost as an afterthought to John’s vehement denial of his own identity as the Messiah. It is likely from Luke’s account as well as from John’s Gospel, that there were those who, years after the death of John the Baptist and the reports of Jesus’ resurrection, still clung to the notion that perhaps John the Baptist was really the Messiah. As a final means of refuting such claims, and as evidence of Jesus’ identity as the Messiah, Luke records what happened at Jesus’ baptism. The Holy Spirit descends in some visible sense – resembling a dove but not actually a dove. To this are added the Words of God the Father identifying Jesus as his son and his pleasure with Jesus’ life and work to this point.

It is difficult to know just how many people heard the voice of God and saw the Holy Spirit descend. John the Baptist plainly saw the Holy Spirit descend (John 1:32). It is likely that at the very least, Luke talked to followers of John the Baptist who had heard what he said he saw. Those gathered at the riverside would have primarily been Jews, not Gentiles (though Luke records soldiers as being there, which could indicate curious Roman soldiers – Luke 3:14). As such this doesn’t seem like a big revelation of the identity of Jesus to Gentiles at the time.

Yet it performs that function here and now, today, as people are brought into contact with Jesus of Nazareth through the Word of God, the Bible. They can read of his miraculous baptism as well as his miraculous death and resurrection as evidences that Jesus was not just a nice guy or a confused guy or an evil guy, but rather the very Son of God capable of saving us from our sin.

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