Reading Ramblings – January 12, 2020

Reading Ramblings

Date: First Sunday after the Epiphany/Baptism of Our Lord – January 12, 2020

Texts: Isaiah 42:1-9; Psalm 29; Romans 6:1-11; Matthew 3:13-17

Context: If the season of Christmas calls us to contemplate the divine becoming human, the season of Epiphany calls us to affirm the divinity of the man Jesus of Nazareth. Properly distinguishing and maintaining the divinity and humanity of Jesus has traditionally been one of the central doctrinal battlegrounds. What does it mean that Jesus was both true man and true God? As soon as we attempt to say much more than this, we are likely to stray off the Biblical path into one heresy or another. We struggle to affirm the reality that Jesus is a true person in the fullest sense of the word – not just physically but in terms of his mind and will. Thus, He can be tempted, and if tempted, then it is possible for him to sin, just as Adam did. But we also maintain that in Jesus is also the full divinity of God the Son – He truly is the Word made flesh to dwell among us. Most properly, we bow in praise and adoration of God the Father who could envision such a means of victory for us, God the Son who in obedience came to be the Son of God made flesh, and God the Holy Spirit who directed and guided not just Jesus but you and I still today.

Isaiah 42:1-9 – John the Baptist likely had this passage in mind when he inquired of Jesus if He was the Messiah or not, one of our Gospel readings for Advent last year. Certainly this passage points to a special servant with a special relationship to God the Father as well as God the Holy Spirit (v.1), through which this servant will be divinely enabled to bring justice to the nations. Moreover, God the Father promises that this special servant will be a covenant (v.6) to the nations, evoking Exodus language when God created a covenant specifically with the Hebrew people. This new covenantal relationship brings about a fundamental change in the created order – bringing light, sight and freedom (vs.6-7). God communicates his intentions through Isaiah nearly 700 years before the birth of Jesus. The Word by which creation came into being will itself enter into creation as the Word made flesh, promised by God the Father himself.

Psalm 29 – A call to praise the God of creation, acknowledging him as the source of all strength and power, and therefore accorded highest glory and praise in his holiness. God’s power is described in a series of comparisons. God is more powerful than the great waters that thunder. God’s voice is greater and therefore can exert control over even this least controllable aspect of the natural world. God’s voice is also stronger than mighty trees as well as strong animals. Kadesh is a wilderness area in the north-central area of the Sinai Peninsula, yet even here God’s voice is supreme. All created order is dependent upon the voice of God that continues to create and sustain all things, so that the most appropriate response is to glorify and praise him. Because this powerful creator God is not anonymous or distant, but rather rules over his people, providing them with strength and blessing and peace in his protection. This all-powerful creator God need not be feared because He has expressed his love in relationship to his creation and particularly to his people who trust in him and praise him.

Romans 6:1-11 – What does the victory achieved by the servant of God bring to us? For Paul’s critics, his repudiation of the Law as a means to salvation must have meant Paul advocated for a libertine freedom from the Law, so that sin would be embraced because of the grace of God which alone provided forgiveness. Paul makes it clear this is not what he advocates, and any such effort to abandon the Law as a guide and protector in life is not just dangerous but foolish. Jesus has died for us and we through faith participate in that death. That death frees us from sin, not for sin! Because it isn’t simply Jesus’ death we participate in, but his resurrected life. Our life in eternity is one guided and governed by the Law, because the Law is not an arbitrary addition to creation but is woven into it and by extension, into us. It is an expression of what holiness means and looks like, and as we are now holy in the death and resurrection of Christ, we should cling to the Law not as a hope for salvation but as our future, holy reality. We are dead to the mastery sin once exercised over us as we failed to keep the Law perfectly. Jesus extends to us through faith his perfection, so that we have fulfilled the requirements of the Law and our sin is forgiven us until it is finally and eternally removed from us!

Matthew 3:13-17 – Jesus comes to be one with us, one of us, and specifically to save us from our sin, our condemnation under the Law that Paul claims we are free from in Christ. Thus Jesus arrives where John the Baptist is calling people to repentance, and where people are confessing their sins (v.6). John as the last of the Old Testament prophets well knows that Jesus alone of all people has nothing to confess, and John rightly protests Jesus’ intentions to receive his baptism of repentance. Jesus simply tells John to allow it now, in order to fulfill all righteousness. Jesus’ response acknowledges that what is about to happen is not necessary because of any sin of Jesus, but because Jesus has come to bear our sin. The one who is without sin will become the perfect, sacrificial lamb upon which the sins of all humanity will hang and die. Together, John and Jesus play their parts in this reality, and it is not necessary that John fully understand the why of it all. Isaiah conveyed the word of God that prophesied his special servant would be called in righteousness (Isaiah 42:6), and Jesus and John participate in that righteousness as they stand in the Jordan River together.

Further, Matthew asserts through his account of the Holy Spirit’s descent that Jesus is indeed the prophesied special servant. Jesus is the one who will accomplish all the prophesied renewals in the created order. God the Father picks up again the language He expressed to Moses (Exodus 4:22) and through the prophet Hosea (Hosea 11:1), as Jesus becomes all of Israel, all of God’s people in one person. One person, no less, called out of Egypt as Matthew earlier pointed out. Jesus comes to take the sins of the world upon him and offers in exchange his own holy righteousness and perfection. Through the one perfect sacrifice, atonement is made for all, and those who respond in faith to this promise receive that atonement in full.

God’s people could not be perfectly obedient, but Jesus can and will be perfectly obedient on their behalf, ultimately delivering them not just from political and economic slavery, but from sin and Satan and death. God the Father here is likely making less of a statement about Jesus’ Davidic ancestry (Psalm 2:7), and not a random statement of Trinitarian mystery and reality, but rather an assertion that Jesus now assumes all of humanity upon his shoulders. His obedience becomes the obedience of all, and Jesus stands in as the perfect son Adam was created to be but failed to be.

Jesus’ baptism then, ultimately, is for us, not for him. It marks the start of his public ministry and denotes the particular type of ministry Jesus will perform – that of saving the people of God from their sin by being the faithful son no other person in all of creation can be. John the Baptist calls people to repent of their sins and receive baptism as a sign of their sincerity and the reality of their forgiveness. Jesus enters the waters as the means through which that forgiveness will be granted. Jesus is the One with us and the One for us.

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