Seward United Methodist Church
Thursday, May 24, 2018
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Identified With Christ

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

 When Jesus went to John to be baptized, John protested.  John was doing a baptism of repentance for sin, so why would Jesus need to be baptized if he was without sin?  

 Jesus answers, “We must do everything that is right.”  Okay, Jesus.  But why is this right?  It doesn’t really answer the question, does it?  I mean I guess it did for John, since he then baptized Jesus.  

 Theologians and Bible scholars have long argued about this:  Why was Jesus baptized in sinner’s baptism if he was without sin?  Some think it was simply a way to inaugurate his ministry, a starting point.  Others think it was Jesus’ endorsement of John’s ministry.  Others think it was Jesus confessing sin on behalf of the nation.  

 I’ve always thought the best answer is that Jesus was identifying himself with sinful humanity.  “Though he was without sin, God made him to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God,” as Paul explains in 2 Corinthians.  Christ became fully human and he identified with humanity, even sinful humanity.  

 And when we are baptized, then we are identified with Christ.  He became sin on our behalf, and we become the righteousness of God through him.  We are born again in Christ, regenerated.  It is the death of the old self and the start of new life.  

 And if we are truly identified with Christ, then we should do the things Christ did.  That completes our identification with him.  

 When Jesus came up out of the water, the heavens were opened up, and the Holy Spirit descended on him in the form of a dove.  And God spoke from heaven saying, “This is my Son, beloved and pleasing to me.”  

 Those words recall the words of the prophet Isaiah we just heard.  Chapter 42 includes one of several passages in chapters 40 to 55 of the prophet Isaiah that are described as the “Servant Songs.”  Traditionally there are four Servant Songs, but some argue there are more.  The name is a misnomer, since there’s no evidence that these passages were ever sung.  But they all do describe this servant of God.  

 Who is the servant?  Some think it’s meant to refer to all of Israel.  Others say it refers only to the faithful remnant in Israel.  Still others say it refers to “idealized Israel,”

a hypothetical perfect Israel.  Still others say it refers to “one ideal Israelite.”  And when we read Matthew’s Gospel, that is clearly the picture Matthew has in mind of Jesus.  Jesus is the ideal son of Israel.  It makes sense because Matthew was writing especially to his fellow Jews, so he portrays Jesus as the fulfillment of all the Old Testament images and promises of the Messiah.  

 What does Isaiah’s prophecy say about this idealized Israelite, this Servant of God?  And this is relevant because if we are identified with Christ, then we should also be doing these things.  

 First off, the Servant is strengthened by God, because he has God’s Spirit upon him.  He is chosen by God.  The language of chosen often referred to being “loved by God.”  And he is pleasing to God.  That is the description of Jesus we find in Matthew 3, as he comes up out of the water.  And it is also true of us, because we are identified with Christ.  We are children of God, strengthened by his Spirit.  We are loved by God and pleasing to God in Jesus Christ.  

 “He will reveal justice to the nations.”  What is justice?  Justice is most essentially fairness.  It’s often easier to talk about what injustice is.  Injustice is discrimination; when people are treated unfairly because they belong to a certain group:  an ethnic minority, a different race, a different sex, and so on.  Injustice is dishonest practices used to cheat others.  Injustice is the oppression of the poor and vulnerable by the wealthy and powerful.  Conversely, injustice is also the preferential treatment of the poor (Exodus 23:3, Leviticus 19:15).  The Old Testament Law condemned both.  Injustice is also the failure of society at large to protect and care for vulnerable people, like widows, orphans, and foreigners.  

 “He will be gentle.”  Gentleness is not weakness.  Rather, to be gentle is to be self-controlled and kind.  A gentle person is empathetic.  They are understanding toward others.  They are able to see from the perspective of others.  

 “He will not shout or raise his voice.”  It’s certainly not that Jesus never raised his voice.  But he didn’t bully people.  He wasn’t a shouting demagogue.  

 Some Bible scholars think that verse should be translated as, “No one will cry out or shout in the street.”  It’s an image of safety.  People are not taken advantage of or mistreated.

 “He will not crush the weak or quench the smallest hope.”  Literally, it reads, “He will not break a bruised reed or snuff out a flickering candle.”  It is a picture of one who helps those who are weak, struggling, at the end of their rope and losing hope.  Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.”  On the other hand, Jesus condemned the Pharisees in Matthew 23, saying, “You crush people with unbearable demands and never lift a finger to help them.”  

 “He will bring justice to those who have been wronged.  He will not stop until truth and righteousness prevail.”  Those three concepts go together.  They are inseparable.  You can’t have justice without righteousness.  Righteousness is right conduct, moral behavior.  And you can’t have righteousness without truth, without knowing what is right and good.

 “You will be a light to guide all nations to me.”  It’s hard to read that without thinking about the command of Christ to take the gospel into all the world.

 “You will open the eyes of the blind and free the captives from prison.”  Not all blindness is a physical ailment.  To be unaware of the truth is to be blind.  To be deceived and living a lie is to be blind.  And not all prisons have bars of iron.  To be hopeless is to live in a prison.  To be addicted is to live in a prison.  To be overwhelmed with grief or anger or resentment is to live in a prison.  

 The language of freeing captives could also refer to a conquering king who vanquishes the enemy and sets his people free.  Christ has conquered sin and death and set us free from those prisons.  

 To be identified with Christ means that we also do these things.  We fulfill our vows of baptism when we do these things.  Look at the questions we answer in the baptismal covenant:  “Do you renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject evil powers, and repent of your sin?  Will you resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves?”  If we are truly going to be identified with Christ and serve him as our Lord, those are the things we must be doing, because they are the things Christ did. 

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