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Isaiah 42:1-8 1
1“Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him, and he will bring justice to the nations. 2He will not shout or cry out, or raise his voice in the streets. 3A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out. In faithfulness he will bring forth justice; 4he will not falter or be discouraged till he establishes justice on earth. In his teaching the islands will put their hope.” 5This is what God the LORD says- the Creator of the heavens, who stretches them out, who spreads out the earth with all that springs from it, who gives breath to its people, and life to those who walk on it: 6“I, the LORD, have called you in righteousness; I will take hold of your hand. I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people and a light for the Gentiles, 7to open eyes that are blind, to free captives from prison and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness. 8“I am the LORD; that is my name! I will not yield my glory to another or my praise to idols.

Background 2

Dictionaries define righteousness as “behavior that is morally justifiable or right.” Such behavior is characterized by norms and accepted standards of morality, justice, virtue, or uprightness that are derived from society.  However, the Bible’s standard of human righteousness is God’s own perfection in every attribute, every attitude, every behavior, and every word. In other words, God’s laws, as stated in the Bible, describe His own character as well as create a plumb line by which God Himself measures human righteousness. We will learn that God’s plumb line is no other than Jesus Himself.

This passage in Isaiah shows God speaking to the pain of exile and His plan to send a servant who will bring justice, not only to Israel but to all nations. History tells us that God delivered His people from bondage in Egypt, made a covenant with them, and brought them through wilderness into the land of Canaan. They became a nation and built a temple for the Lord. For centuries they saw military victories and defeats under kings and generals. They strayed from God’s covenant but prophets called them back. Then, in the sixth century BCE, the unthinkable happened.

The Babylonians defeated Israel. They destroyed the temple, plundered Israel’s treasure and livelihoods, took them into bondage, and marched them back to the gates of Babylon in chains, prompting “By the rivers of Babylon there we sat down and there we wept when we remembered Zion” (Psalm 137:1). The Babylonian victory over Israel was absolute and complete, destroying all political, social, economic and religious life as God’s people had known for centuries. Israel was abandoned to its enemies: How could the Mighty Deliverer allow this to happen? Had God abandoned them? Removed from access to the temple and to the land, were they still God’s people? Was God still God? In exile they could only conclude that God had withdrawn favor and allowed the Babylonians to punish them for their sins and disobedience. The exile would last about 50 years.

Isaiah now speaks to their dishearten spirits. The prophet reminds the people of who God is and how God works. He draws their attention from this particular, historical moment, to the larger purposes of God. By reminding Israel of who God is, how God works, and what God is doing by sending a servant; Isaiah expands the frame of reference, re-focusing Israel’s purpose within God’s cosmic frame.

God is not only the God of Israel or even of Babylon, God is the One who “created the heavens . . . and stretched out the earth” (verse 5). This is the God of creation, who made everything that is, and who dwells in universe, not contained by the cramped space of Israel’s earthly exile. This is the God “who gives breath to the people upon the earth and provides the Spirit to those who walk on it” (verse 5). God’s breath gives life not only the people of Israel, but to every living, breathing creature on earth. This is also the God who has reached out to create the people called Israel and to call them to righteousness(verse 6).

Isaiah proclaims that God acts in particular ways. First, God sends a spirit-filled servant not a conqueror or tyrant — (“a bruised reed he will not break,” verse 3). This servant of God will be a liberator who will bring justice, not domination. God is working to bring justice to “the earth,” to bring it to all, everywhere on earth. God sends this servant to persevere until justice is complete everywhere “to the coastlands” (verse 4).

God tells His people, to be “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” (verses 6-7). God calls them to righteousness not for themselves alone, but for all nations. Isaiah reminds this exiled group of people that God has not abandoned them but is indeed at work among them, restoring them so they will become a blessing to the world.

Items for Discussion

  • When society loses God, such as happened or appeared to happen to the Israelites, how does a society get God back?
  • How would believers help others, non-believers with gaining an understanding of our God? Remember, many in the world have a god, but this question pertains to helping the world get to know “Our God?”
  • In what ways does a society fulfill God’s plan for righteousness?
  • Is our society today succeeding, failing and in what ways?
  • How should we bring justice to this earth?
  • What do you think Isaiah’s call to “7to open eyes that are blind, to free captives from prison and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness” means?

Matthew 3:13-17
13Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. 14But John tried to deter him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” 15Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John consented. 16As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. 17And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”

Background

Jesus came into the world as a light that “darkness cannot overcome” (John 1:5), “a light to the nations” (Isaiah 42:6). Matthew 3:13-17 marks the baptism of Jesus with an echo of Isaiah 42:1, “the Spirit of God descended upon him,” and “a voice from heaven” announces, “This is my Son, my Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” The pattern of the servant continues from Isaiah to Matthew. In Jesus, God again sends a servant who will bring justice, who God “anoints to bring good news to the poor . . . proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and declare the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18-19).

Matthew used the Gospel of Mark as one of his sources, adding material from other sources as well. Matthew adds two important pieces to Mark’s brief account of Jesus’s baptism:

  • First, Matthew notes, “Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John.” (vs. 13), making it clear that Jesus took the initiative.
  • Second, “John tried to deter him,,” but Jesus insists on being baptized “to fulfill all righteousness” (vv. 14-15).

John was not the first to baptize people. Jews baptized new converts to Judaism, generally coming from Ancient Greek religions into their faith, but did not baptize other Jews. Jews couldn’t imagine themselves as needing baptism.  There was no written legal requirement for Jesus to be baptized in order to start His ministry. Jesus followed the law, but he also followed the traditions in line with the heart of the law. By this act, Jesus proclaimed the beginning of His ministry. Baptism today is an outward act that symbolizes the inward coming to and acceptance of Jesus Christ as real, as God incarnate, as the sacrificial means by which those who believe in Him can forever coexist with God. The purpose of baptism is to give visual testimony of our commitment to Christ who has facilitated that reconciliation.

When questioned by John as to why, Jesus answers simply “to fulfill all righteousness.” As we see back in Isaiah, Jesus is reminding us that we are to be “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.”  Jesus came to be a light to all nations and He is calling us to do the same.

Items for Discussion

  • What goes through your mind when you see or participate in a baptism?
  • Jesus followed traditions as well as the law – What benefits come from following traditions?
  • Why are public covenants so much more effective than private or personal ones?
  • While Jesus had no sin, His purpose for baptism was to show us He was all in with respect to God’s plan – What does that mean, to be all in with Jesus?

Discussion Challenge

  • How can a church fulfill all righteousness?

Notes:

  1. NIV New International Version Translations
  2. https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1938
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