Lectionary Epiphany 1 – The Baptism of our Lord

I.Theme –  The Promise of Christ and the revelation of the Trinity 

 “Epiphany”

This is the Sunday for the Baptism of the Lord. It takes us back first to Isaiah.

Isaiahs foreshadows the role Jesus will play. Isaiah promises justice and places the eventual Jesus in God’s sphere. “Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight, I have bestowed my spirit upon him.”  Like God he is to be “light to the nations” and to look after the downtrodden (bring out the prisoners from the dungeon) and those that suffer handicaps (eyes that are blind). There are new things to be declared.a 

The Psalm speaks on the role of God noting God’s supremacy, glory,strength and even with a powerful voice that ultimately gives peace to the people. The power of God is particularly evident in nature (waters, trees, the wilderness) . The Psalmist, speaking of God’s covenant with David to be fulfilled in the messianic promise (Psalm 29), is told that he will be named as God’s “first born – highest among the kings of the earth.”

With Isaiah, this story shares the theme of God’s concern for all humankind being impartial, and not limited to the Jews.

The New Testament readings bring Jesus to this mix. Peter is visiting Cornelius in the Epistle, an officer of the occupying Roman army and already a believer in God. Peter breaks Jewish law by visiting a Gentile. The story in Acts 10:34-43 tells of the missionary zeal of the early church in bringing this Good News of the Messiah, the King of Kings and servant King – not only to the household of Israel but to the Gentile world as well. The conversion of Cornelius marks an important turning point in which the Holy Spirit has broken through with a clear new direction, and Peter preaches to this Gentile convert of how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power.” 

With the Gospel, it shares the theme of Baptism. “how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. The reading is a capsule summary of Jesus meanings.  

Jesus baptism by John is to “fulfill all righteousness.”  Jesus baptism in Matthew shows his continuity with God’s will seen in the Old Testament: the coming of the “Spirit of God” (v. 16), an Old Testament term, shows he is the Messiah; the words spoken by the heavenly “voice” (v. 17) are much like Isaiah 42:1: Jesus is the agent of God who will suffer for others – not the kind of Messiah people expected.  

Christ’s baptism in the Jordan was “theophany,” a manifestation of God to the world, because it was the beginning of our Lord’s public ministry. It was also a “theophany” in that the world was granted a revelation of the Holy Trinity. All three Persons were made manifest together: the Father testified from on high to the divine Sonship of Jesus; the Son received His Father’s testimony; and the Spirit was seen in the form of a dove, descending from the Father and resting upon the Son.

The lectionary readings are here  or individually:

Old Testament – Isaiah 42:1-9
Psalm – Psalm 29
Epistle –Acts 10:34-43
Gospel – Matthew 3:13-17 



II. Summary

Isaiah

As appropriate the season of Epiphany, with its theme of revelation/manifestion to the Gentiles, the first reading from Isaiah is a classic text for the idea that God’s chosen one (whether an individual or a collective identity) has a mission to the nations. This was a test time. Chapters 40 to 66 were written during and after the Exile in Babylon. They are filled with a message of trust and confident hope that God will soon end the Exile.

Isaiah 42 is the first of the Servant Songs Growing out of a strong sense of vocation/blessing, these songs develop the theme that those called and chosen will find themselves drawn into a ministry of sharing their knowledge of God with others, and for the sake of others. They can also be understood as aligning Jesus with the shared calling of all Jewish people, and the calling shared with all his followers over time. These are essentially words of solidarity. Rather than marking out Jesus as an exception, they can be understood as celebrating Jesus as an exemplar. 

In 41:1, God speaks to Israelites scattered around the Mediterranean (“coastlands”, also in 42:4) in courtroom language, calling them together “for judgement”. God has “roused a victor from the east” (41:2, Cyrus) to serve him by conquering nations. God has acted in the past (“first”, 41:4) and will prophesy a coming revelation of himself (“last”). Other nations, and the gods they choose, are powerless, for they seek “courage” in what humans make (41:5-7). God demands: “set forth your case” (41:21): prove that you can foretell the future based on the past (“former things”, 41:22)! They cannot (41:28), but God can.

People of other nations choose their gods, but God will select his “servant”, his “chosen”; he has anointed this person (or Israel) with his “spirit”. When the agent comes, he will be unobtrusive and quiet (42:2, unlike Cyrus), gentle, respectful of others, and patient (v. 3). He will “bring forth justice”, i.e. take legal decisions ratifying and executing God’s will. He will not fail (“faint”, 42:4) nor be discouraged (“crushed”) until he has achieved God’s purposes; he will win over people to God’s ways (“teaching”). He will continue to do what God did in the past (42:5): he, the creator, is the source of life for his people (as he was in Adam); he will give his “spirit” to those who follow him. God called Israel as his people, led and “kept” (42:6, Revised English Bible: “formed”, as he formed Adam) them, and swore a pact with them. They are to bring enlightenment to others (“as … a light to the nations”, 42:6), to set them free. 42:8-9 returns to the courtroom: God’s name is Yahweh (“the L ORD”); he alone is God. Having seen his integrity in his acts in the past, his people can be sure that the “new things” he announces will indeed happen. He will bring his integrity to all (42:1).

Psalm

This psalm is probably based on one to the Canaanite god Baal, the storm God, who brings the annual thunder-storm, the source of fertility for the land. In Israelite hands it expresses God’s supremacy and universal rule. In vv. 1-2, all other gods are invited to acknowledge the Lord’s supremacy and the glory due to him. (Israel was not yet strictly monotheistic.) Vv. 3-9 give us a picture of the storm. The “voice of the Lord” (vv. 3, 4, 5, 7-9) is thunder (repetitious claps). The storm is first seen approaching over the Mediterranean (v. 3); it sweeps in to the land, breaking the tall “cedars” (v. 5), as it advances across southern Lebanon. It vents its power on Mount “Lebanon” (v. 6) and then on Mount “Sirion”; it proceeds on into “the wilderness” (v. 8, the Arabian Desert). (“Flames of fire”, v. 7, is lightning.) “Kadesh” (v. 8) is probably Kedar, part of the desert. The Word of God is indeed mighty. In v. 9, “all” the gods do acknowledge God’s supremacy; they cry Glory be to the Lord! God rules over all from his throne (v. 10). May the Lord strengthen Israel and give it peace.

Acts

Peter is visiting Cornelius, an officer of the occupying Roman army and already a believer in God. Peter breaks Jewish law by visiting a Gentile. The Greek here is rough, full of grammatical errors, unlike the rest of Acts, so we may well have Peter’s unedited words. He tells the assembled company that God does not favour Jews over others: anyone, whatever his nationality, who reveres God and lives in unison with him “is acceptable to him” (v. 35). In vv. 36-38, Peter summarizes Jesus’ earthly ministry; he applies prophecies found in Isaiah 52:7 and 61:1 to Christ. (Psalm 107:20 says “… he sent out his word …”) Christ is Kyrios, “Lord of all” (v. 36). In baptism, the Father “anointed” (v. 38) Jesus “with the Holy Spirit” and with the “power” of God (but he was already integral with God’s very being.) The good news (“message”, v. 37) spread throughout Palestine (“Judea”); he “went about” (v. 38) “doing good” and combatting evil, doing deeds so powerful that it is clear that he was God’s agent: he is a model for all to follow.

He suffered death as one guilty of a capital offence, per Deuteronomy 21:23: he hung on a “tree” (v. 39) and was cursed. (By Jesus’ time, the “tree”, a pole, had acquired a cross-arm.) But, although cursed, the Father “raised him” (v. 40) and “allowed him to appear” to those chosen by God – to be “witnesses” (v. 41). In Luke 24:41-43, Jesus eats broiled fish with them, so he was clearly humanly alive again, i.e. physically brought back from death, resurrected. Jesus, the Kyrios, is the one appointed by God to set up the Kingdom and to judge both those who are alive, and those who have died, at Judgement Day (v. 42). Then v. 43: he fulfills many Old Testament prophecies: he is the one through whom sins are forgiven. Forgiveness is now available to “everyone who believes”, not just to Jews.

Matthew

The baptism of Jesus by John is a tradition that Matthew shares with the other three NT Gospels, and that fact alone puts this story into a special category. Interestingly, while all the Gospels agree on the tradition that John was baptized by John, they have different stories about the event. The diversity of the stories stands in contrast to the unanimity of the tradition.

However, Matthew does make one very significant change to the story he inherited from Mark. This is to be observed in the protest from John when Jesus requests baptism, and the reassuring response from Jesus: 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.” What matters is not who baptizes but the experience of God, the continuity with God’s will seen in the Old Testament: Jesus really is God’s “Son”;

he is chosen for ministry to God’s people, and

God approves his coming for baptism and his joining with his people in preparing for the coming crisis.

 

III. Articles for this week in WorkingPreacher:

IsaiahIsaiah 42:1-9

PsalmPsalm 29

Acts Acts 10:34-43

MatthewMatthew 3:13-17 

Scroll to Top