Second Sunday after Epiphany
Readings: Isaiah 49:1–7; 1 Corinthians 1:1–9 & John 1:29–42
Last Sunday we celebrated the Baptism of Jesus, and we read in Matthew’s Gospel that when Jesus surfaced from the waters of the Jordan River after being baptised, the Holy Spirit descended on him in the form of a dove and settled on him. In today’s reading from the Gospel of John, we hear John the Baptist describing this moment to others. And John uses two different titles for Jesus to declare that Jesus is the Messiah.
First, John states that Jesus is the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” The implication here is that Jesus is taking the place of the sacrificial lamb which is slaughtered at Passover to make up for the sins of the Jewish people. However the sacrifice that Jesus makes is not just for the Jewish people, but for the people of all nations; that is, the whole world. It is interesting to note that the author of the gospel uses the singular in the phrase “Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world”. One possible explanation for this is that there is only one sin and it is characteristic of the entire world: the self-will which places the individual’s way ahead of God’s way—in other words which puts ‘me’ in the centre where only God is in place.
The second title that John uses for Jesus is “the Son of God.” In each of the three synoptic gospel accounts of the baptism of Jesus, the descent of the Spirit is followed by a voice from heaven declaring Jesus to be God’s beloved Son, in whom he is well pleased. With his own eyes, John the Baptist saw the Holy Spirit descend on Jesus, and it would seem apparent that he also heard God’s declaration. So for John, there could be no question that Jesus was the long awaited Messiah.
The prophet Isaiah foretold of the coming Messiah, most famously in four distinct passages that are referred to as the Servant Songs. You may remember that the reading from the Book of Isaiah last Sunday was the first of those songs. And in that passage, we heard the echo of God’s declaration of Jesus as his Beloved Son, when Isaiah wrote, “Thus says the Lord: Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my spirit upon him.” (Isaiah 42:1)
It has been suggested that this first song can be viewed as contemplating the ministry of Jesus, the awaited Servant, from the perspective of his baptism. Today’s passage from Isaiah, which is acknowledged as the second of the Servant Songs, seems to be looking back on that ministry from its close.
Isaiah tells us that the servant was destined for this ministry even before his birth – “The Lord called me before I was born. . .” His ministry is not just one dimension of his life; it is the central meaning of it. This is obviously true of the ministry of Jesus.
Isaiah proclaims that the servant’s ministry is one of speech – “He made my mouth like a sharp sword . . .” This sword imagery is often used for the prophet’s word in the Old Testament , and God’s word in the New Testament. The servant will pronounce God’s judgment on the wicked and speak peace to those who are remorseful and repentant. Again, this is representative of the ministry of Jesus, whom the author of the Gospel of John referred to as the Word of God.
Isaiah informs us that the servant’s ministry is not just to reconcile the people of Israel to God – “to bring Jacob back to him” – but is in fact to reconcile ALL of humanity to God – “to cause salvation … [to] reach to the ends of the earth”. In the same way, the ministry of Jesus, while initially concentrating on the Jewish people (Mark 7:27), was also concerned with reconciling all the nations and people of the world to God. Jesus died to take away the sin of all people – “Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”
And finally, Isaiah predicts that people will initially reject the servant, but one day they will honour him because of what God will accomplish through him. Jesus was ultimately rejected by the people of his day and died on the cross, but through the death and resurrection of Jesus, God has reconciled all of humanity to Himself, and Jesus is honoured and revered by billions of people in the world today.
In today’s reading from the First Letter to the Corinthians, the Apostle Paul guaranteed these believers that God would consider them “free from all blame” when Christ returns. This guarantee was not because of their own talents, or through anything that they had done, but it was because of what Jesus accomplished for them through his death and resurrection. All who believe in the Jesus will be considered blameless when he returns. Today’s struggles, difficulties, and failures don’t tell the whole story. Keep the big picture in mind. If you have faith in Jesus, even if it is weak, you are and will be saved.