Seward United Methodist Church
Wednesday, January 19, 2022
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Pleasing to God

Matthew 3:13-17 and Isaiah 42:1-9

The key phrase in the story of Jesus’ baptism is when God speaks, “This is my beloved Son, and I am fully pleased with him.” That word “pleased” is what connects this event with Isaiah’s prophecy.

The second half of Isaiah, chapters 40-66, contains many references to a servant. Now, sometimes the servant is obviously a reference to an individual, the Messiah. Other times, it seems that the “servant” refers not to an individual, but to the entire nation of Israel.

Matthew’s Gospel provides an explanation for this. In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus is often portrayed as the ideal Israelite, the embodiment of what Israel was supposed to be. Jesus is the new Moses, the leader of a new exodus, and the founder of a New Israel, which is the Church. The other Gospels portray Jesus in other ways. It’s not that one is right and the others are wrong. Rather each portrayal is intended to speak to a particular audience. In the case of Matthew, the audience is Jewish people, and Matthew wants to show how Jesus is the fulfillment of the Old Covenant and the beginning of a new one.

Isaiah’s prophecy speaks of the character of this servant: He is strengthened by God, chosen by God, pleasing to God, and filled with God’s Spirit.

He reveals justice. Jesus reveals God’s justice on the cross. God’s justice is that the wages of sin is death. And Jesus takes the death we deserve on the cross. Justice and mercy are both revealed in the cross. And he triumphs over the power of death in the resurrection.

He is gentle. Gentleness is not weakness. Rather gentleness is strength under control. He is kind and compassionate. He binds up the weak and the broken, lifting heavy burdens from them.

He brings justice to those who have been wronged. A commitment to justice requires a commitment to oppose the evil systems of this world that rob people of dignity, opportunity, and equality. Systems like racism, sexism, and classism must be opposed if we are going to be committed to justice.

He will bring truth and righteousness to the whole earth. He is a personal confirmation of God’s covenant, and a light to guide all people to God.

He opens the eyes of the blind, and sets the captive free. Not all blindness is physical, and not all captives are held in prisons with bars. To struggle with hopelessness is to be blind to the reality of God and what God can do in one’s life. Addiction is a prison, and so are many other things.

These are the works of God’s Son, the Servant, Jesus, the Messiah. And these things must be our work, too.

Jesus is the unique Son of God. He is the Son of God in a way that no one else can be. We talked about that last Sunday when we looked at John chapter one. But those who are in Christ are also children of God. And children of God must act like the Son of God.

Baptism is the outward and visible sign of our entrance into the family and household of God. Baptism marks us as belonging to God.

What does a child of God do? The same work that Jesus the Son of God did. And the vows of baptism affirm that.

Look carefully at the questions we answer when we participate in baptism or in the reaffirmation of baptism:

“Do you renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness? Do you reject the evil powers of this world? Do you repent of your sin? Do you accept the freedom and power God gives you to resist evil, injustice, and oppression? Do you promise to serve Christ as your Lord in the Church which God has opened to all people, regardless of age, nation, or race? Will you serve as Christ’s representative in the world?”

There are a lot of echoes of Isaiah’s prophecy in those questions. The work of the Son is also the work of the children of God. Baptism, and the reaffirmation of our baptism, remind us to take that work seriously.

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