Engaging the Word: Readings for 1/08/17 (The Baptism of our Lord Jesus Christ)

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 By Barbara Klugh

Isaiah 42:1-9; Psalm 29; Acts 10:34-43; Matthew 3:13-17. Go to www.lectionarypage.net to read or print the weekly lectionary text. Our readings for this week interconnect in a very satisfying way.

Isaiah Bible card by Providence Lithograph, 1904. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Isaiah Bible card by Providence Lithograph, 1904. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Isaiah 42:1-9: This week’s reading is from Second Isaiah (chapters 40-66), which were written during and after the exile. These chapters bring words of hope and comfort to God’s chosen people, and they also speak of Israel’s vocation given by the Lord of all creation.

Our passage is the first of the four Servant Songs. The chapter begins, “Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights.” Scholars say the unnamed servant represents Israel. The Lord delights in all his people and has put his spirit upon them to bring justice to the whole earth. The servant will protect the hurting and the frail: “A bruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick he will not quench.”

The Lord has “taken you by the hand and kept you; I have given you as a covenant to the people, a light to the nations.” In this covenant relationship, Israel will free all who are blind or imprisoned by darkness.

God says, “See, the former things have come to pass, and new things I now declare; before they spring forth, I tell you of them.” God proclaims the coming of his kingdom, when justice will reign and the covenant will be fulfilled over the whole world. Israel never completely accomplished this mission, but Jesus did. As Christians, we identify Christ as the servant and savior of the world. And, as Christ’s disciples, we are called to share in his ministry.

Psalm 29: This rhythmic psalm praises the great glory, power, strength, supremacy, and, especially, the thundering voice of the Lord in the storm. Many scholars think that this is a psalm adapted from a Canaanite psalm to Baal, the storm god.

Peter preaching by Lorenzo Veneziano, 1370. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Peter preaching by Lorenzo Veneziano, 1370. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Acts 10:34-43: The book of “The Acts of the Apostles,” is the sequel to Luke’s gospel, and describes the birth and spread of the Christian church.

In this week’s reading, the Gospel is proclaimed to Gentiles for the first time. This is huge. Actually, we can see how Isaiah’s prophecy begins to work out. Earlier in Acts, we learn that Cornelius, a Roman centurion is called “a devout man who feared God.” He had a vision in which he was told to send for the Apostle Peter. Peter had a vision that it was okay to break the Jewish food regulations, and a message to go to the home of Cornelius.

Our reading begins with Peter arriving at the home of Cornelius where he had gathered his entire household. “Then Peter began to speak to them: ‘I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ–he is Lord of all.’” Peter gets it that the gospel is for all—Jews and Gentiles alike.

Peter then gives a succinct summary of the gospel: Jesus was baptized, anointed by the Spirit, went about doing good, healed the oppressed, was crucified, raised by God, and appeared to selected witnesses. Peter finishes by saying, “everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness for sins through his name.” Our reading ends here.

But it’s good to continue for a few verses to complete the story. “The Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word,” and Peter “ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.” Sometimes this is called the Gentile Pentecost. This is another big deal, because it was the first time the anointing by Holy Spirit came before baptism.

Baptism of Christ by Piero della Francesca (1420-1492). Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Baptism of Christ by Piero della Francesca (1420-1492). Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Matthew 3:13-17: The First Sunday after the Epiphany always has a gospel account of Jesus’ Baptism, the first public act in his ministry. Matthew’s gospel puts it this way:

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.”

There has always been speculation about why Jesus, since he was without sin, came to be baptized by John. To me, it was a gesture of humility and solidarity with the rest of humanity—us—the ones he came to save. Another interpretation I read somewhere is that by allowing himself to be baptized Jesus claimed the sinfulness for Israel for himself; and, as we know, he took on the sinfulness of the whole world at his crucifixion.

Commentaries point out that the first part of the voice from heaven that says, “This is my son, the Beloved,” echoes Psalm 2, v.7: “You are my son; this day have I begotten you.” This is where the king of Israel is addressed as the son of God, which designates the one who rules on God’s behalf. The Interpreters Commentary  observes, “The 2nd half of the statement comes from Isa. 42:1 (today’s OT reading) and was originally spoken to Israel as the servant people of God. Here, then, are combined two great streams of Jewish hope: the coming of an ideal king and the acceptance of the servant role, though now by an individual rather than by the nation as a whole.”

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