Seward United Methodist Church
Wednesday, February 20, 2019
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Remember Whose You Are

Luke 3:15-18 and 22-22 and Isaiah 43:1-7

 Our Gospel text this morning includes a little bit of John the Baptist’s preaching and the baptism of Jesus.  The question that has sometimes come up is that if Jesus was without sin, and if John was baptizing people as an expression of their repentance and desire to be free from sin, then why was Jesus baptized?  

 Some have thought this was just a way for Jesus to inaugurate his ministry; a starting point.  Others have thought that Jesus was instituting baptism as an example for us to follow.  Both of those are true, but I think the better explanation of why Jesus was baptized was to show that he was identifying himself with sinful humanity.  The religious elites did not go to John to be baptized.  They were secure in the presumption of their own righteousness.  They saw no need to be baptized.  It was the penitent sinners who went to be baptized, those who acknowledged their need for grace.  Those are Jesus’ people.  That’s who we should be.  And Jesus identified himself with them.

 After he was baptized, God the Father claims Jesus as his own:  “You are my beloved Son.  With you I am pleased.”  Those words are reminiscent of this prophecy in Isaiah 43.  

 Isaiah 43 is part of his message to the nation in captivity.  That would be the Babylonian Exile, which lasted from 586 BC to 538 BC.  It was called the 70 years of exile, and of course, you can figure out that’s more like 40 years than 70.   Well, the Jerusalem Temple wasn’t rebuilt until 516 BC, exactly 70 years after it was destroyed.  Or maybe the number 70 is a rounded number.

 Most of the people of Israel were taken into captivity when the Babylonians conquered Jerusalem in 586 BC.  It was a common practice in the ancient Near East world that when you conquered another nation, you would take most of their people away as captives and replace them your own people.  The thinking was that then they would never be able to rise up against you in revolt because they were divided.  The captivity ended after the Persians, under King Cyrus, defeated the Babylonians, and subsequently allowed the captive peoples to go home.  The Persians figured that conquered people would be better behaved if you didn’t take them away from their homeland.

 God’s message to the exiles through Isaiah is “Fear not, for I have ransomed you.”  To ransom is to pay the price to set a captive or prisoner free.  “I have called you

by name; you are mine.  When you go through difficulty, I will be with you.”  Notice the word is “when,” not “if.”  God never promises us that we will not go through difficulty or trouble or oppression.  He only promises that he will be with us and that if we trust in him, we will not be overwhelmed.  

 “I gave Egypt, Ethiopia, and Seba as a ransom for your freedom.”  The Persians conquered those nations in the years after they allowed Israel to return home.  Isaiah depicts this as those nations being the ransom payment for Israel’s freedom.  Egypt, we know of course.  Ethiopia is actually Cush, also called Nubia, the southern part of the Nile River valley; what is today Sudan, not Ethiopia as we know it today.  Seba is a bit of a mystery.  The best guess is that Seba and Sheba in the Bible are both actually Saba, which was a kingdom in southern Arabia, what is today Yemen.  Those facts are interesting to people who like geography, which in this case might just be me.

 “Others died that you might live.”  I think this is a foreshadowing of the sacrifice of Christ.  “You are precious to me, honored, and I love you.”  

 The last three verses depict a gathering of God’s people and a restoration.  Now, there was a return from exile at the end of the Babylonian Captivity, but it was only a partial restoration.  Many of the Hebrew people never returned to the land of Canaan.  That’s why in the New Testament we find Jewish synagogues in every city Paul visits in the book of Acts.  So the real fulfillment of that promise will not be until Christ returns and gathers the Church, the New Israel, on the day of his return.  On that day, there will be a gathering of all who claim God and who are claimed by God, from north and south, east and west, the farthest corners of the earth.  

 What was true for Jesus in his baptism is true for us in our baptism.  We are claimed by God as his own.  We are loved by God.  And God is pleased with us, not because of our own righteousness, but because we are covered and filled with the righteousness of Christ.  

 When we remember our baptism, we remember who we are and whose we are.  We are God’s people.  He has ransomed us with the price of his own Son.  He is with us.  And we are loved by him. 

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