12 January 2010
The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor
Rush United Methodist Church
Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations. He will not cry or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street; a bruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice. He will not grow faint or be crushed until he has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands wait for his teaching.
Thus says God, the Lord, who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out the earth and what comes from it, who gives breath to the people upon it and spirit to those who walk in it: I am the Lord, I have called you in righteousness, I have taken you by the hand and kept you; I have given you as a covenant to the people, a light to the nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness. I am the Lord, that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to idols. See, the former things have come to pass, and new things I now declare; before they spring forth, I tell you of them.
Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”
Numerous times in scripture that pre-dates Jesus
There are references to renewal.
Renewal happens throughout salvation history;
Renewal between God and our Hebrew ancestors;
Renewal between God and God’s chosen people, Israel.
Renewal took place after the Tower of Babel,
With Noah and the flood,
and with Moses.
Renewal is like a bookmark
To a new chapter in our relationship with God.
We find our identity
When we do
What God is doing.
Let this be a lesson to us today.
In our Isaiah passage, in the forty-second chapter,
Israel found itself in need of renewal.
Israel is defeated, enslaved, exiled, and without a leader.
You can’t get any lower
then starving to death in a prisoner of war camp,
knowing that it was your own unrighteous actions
that brought God’s judgment upon you and your people.
There was no food, no means, no leader, no hope.
When Isaiah speaks the Word of the Lord
It is like a soaking rain coming to a desert,
Like Spring after a long and harsh Winter,
Like a doctor telling you that,
Once and for all, you beat cancer and
Go over and ring the bell.
My goodness, renewal is good news!
This is what renewal looks like:
“Here is my servant,” the Lord proclaims,
“whom I uphold,”
“in whom my soul delights.”
The Lord’s promised servant is to assume the role of leader.
This is good news, because
As I mentioned,
The exiled Hebrews had no leader.
The leader, a servant, the prophet Isaiah reports,
will tirelessly work to establish justice.
He will never grow faint.
He might be bent,
But he will never break.
God’s servant is coming
To take the hand of his covenant people,
and lead them home from prison and exile,
returning every child of Israel to their God.
This is more than just going home to Jerusalem and rebuilding the Temple.
This is about returning home to God.
This is what renewal looks like;
Returning home to God.
The servant will guide every captive to righteousness.
Exile and slavery,
All former things,
Have come to pass.
God now declares the beginning of a new era;
All things moving forward
Of course, God keeps his promise.
His promised servant does come …
… after keeping Israel in waiting for 550 years!
That’s a lot of time
Watching and waiting for
The Messiah to come,
The Davidic King to emerge.
For more than five centuries,
Our ancestors obsessed with the question
“Is he the one whom God has promised?”
“Is it this guy?” Or
“Should we wait for another?”
God’s promised servant does eventually come …
And today we find him wading in the Jordan River with John.
When Jesus emerges from the water
The heavens open
And the Spirit of God descends upon him like a dove,
We hear the voice of God publicly affirming
the fulfillment of His promise.
“This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”
It is as if God is saying,
“This is sooo awesome!”
God keeps his promises.
Yes, God remaining faithful is awesome,
But, from the Lord’s point of view,
By submitting to baptism by John,
Jesus is submitting himself
To the intentions of his Heavenly Father.
Jesus affirms his role in God’s greater plan
to bring redemption and salvation into the world.
“I’m on board!” Jesus proclaims
Even as he is plunged to victory!
Baptism, here, is a symbol of
Anointing a new King of Israel.
Fulfilling the promise of God as prophesized by Isaiah,
Jesus submits to become God’s anointed,
Fully accepting the identity, role, and responsibility of Messiah.
If you’re asking the question,
“Why would a sinless Jesus come to John
to be baptized into repentance and the absolution of sins?”
You’ve completely missed the point
our Gospel authors are making
with the baptism of the Lord narrative.
The baptism of the Lord is more about Jesus
Then it is about baptism.
This is not a reference story
For future sacramental or doctrinal debates.
This is a reminder of God’s faithfulness,
God’s trustworthiness, and
Our Lord’s willingness to do what he has promised.
The baptism of Jesus is God’s enduring commitment
To his creation and his people.
It reflects his desire for renewal;
To love always,
And to always save.
Consistent with Matthew’s unique tenor and character
The baptism of the Lord is the first of many passages in the Gospel of Matthew
That challenge us to
Open our eyes!
Be ready for the unexpected!
How does one expect the unexpected?
Look to Jesus, people.
Look to Jesus.
So how are we to respond to the baptism of the Lord today?
Here are a few insights I’ve been chewing on all week:
1. First, we find our identity
When we do
What God is doing.
Consider what we do, as a church,
And consider what you and I do as individuals.
Do we justify our actions and our words
By claiming some greater moral or religious high ground?
Do we decorate it in beautiful church language
and call it mission and ministry?
We better be certain
that our actions and behaviors
are the result of submitting to
God’s will and God’s intentions,
just as Jesus submitted to John and his baptism of repentance.
Is it possible to discern God’s future plans
That we might faithfully respond?
How do we know what God is doing?
Watch for signs of God’s presence and action.
Listen and pray.
Study and learn.
Dive into the Gospels with the same commitment
Jesus had when he waded into the Jordan River.
Discovering God’s will
And doing God’s will
Wraps us into the identity God desires
And results in faithful discipleship.
2. God keeps his promise.
So, too, should we.
We live in an age where promises are broken,
reality is distorted, and
truth is elusive.
Take this to the bank:
God keeps his promises.
God is light in the middle of darkness.
God is truth engaged in a cosmic battle against lies and those who tell lies.
God keeping his promise,
… God’s faithfulness,
Should give us confidence,
Should give us assurance,
Should become an anchor to our faith
In an ever-faithless world.
We know politicians fail us.
We know sports teams don’t follow through on their promises.
We know that even family members and friends
will, on occasion, fail to follow through
with what they promised to do.
Yes, there are times that we even fail to keep our word
and end up breaking the commandment about bearing false witness.
Yet, God is always faithful.
God will keep his promise.
It’s also important to note that
God works in God’s time, not our time.
I’m sure we had many anguished ancestors
during that 550 years of waiting
who died disappointed that
the promised Messiah did not come during their lifespan.
From our after-the-fact point of view, however,
We can see that God was working a greater plan
according to God’s own time.
Therefore, be patient.
Keep your eyes open.
3. Jesus is affirming his role in God’s plan
To bring redemption and salvation to the world.
As the final authority and judge, yes, Jesus comes to establish justice, as promised in Isaiah.
His justice levels the playing field and
separates the wheat from the chaff,
burning the chaff in unquenchable fire.
As our Divine teacher, yes, Jesus comes to
Teach us the ways of love,
To teach us the ways of peace,
To teach us the ways of healing a broken and sin, sick world.
Yet, God’s mission statement for Jesus,
was to die to take away the sins of the world and to raise from the dead,
that all who believe in him might also be given eternal life.
As our redeemer, Jesus saves us from our past sins.
Your slate has been washed clean
By his blood,
Shed for you on the cross.
You’ve been transformed,
Renewed, from sinner into saint,
And given the charge to
Share this Good News with the world
That all might share in the gift of God’s redemption.
Being freed from our past
Sets us loose to witness;
Which is the most important activity
Of every disciple of Jesus.
We are freed to not only witness to the redemption of the world,
But also to God’s gift of eternal life.
Just as Jesus won victory over the grave,
So, too, have we been given the gift of eternal life.
The old body may be broken down, dead and buried,
But the soul is transformed,
Renewed, if you will,
From dead to living once again,
Resurrected and invited to live in God’s heavenly kingdom.
Align yourself with God.
Like Jesus, do as God does.
In doing so,
We affirm who we are and were God wants us to go.
We can count on God to keep his promise:
The Lord is our God
And we will forever be his people.
The Lord will keep us always.
Be the faithful disciples of Jesus.
Witness to the fact that,
By his baptismal waters,
Jesus is anointed
To fulfill God’s plan
To bring redemption and salvation to our world.
Spread the word.
It’s a new day dawning.