Sermon by Rev Sydney Maitland for Sunday 12 January 2020.
• Old Testament: Isaiah 42: 1-9 (I am the Lord, I have called you in righteousness)
• Epistle: Acts 10: 34-43 (Anyone who fears Him and does what is right is acceptable to Him)
• Gospel: Matthew 3: 13-17 (Jesus baptized by John at the river Jordan)
We have all seen the political parties go through their manoeuvres as they elect their leaders. Finally, the chosen person is revealed and he or she will then start issuing their rallying cries and start to remodel the party in their own image.
There will be the usual press conferences, party presentations and all the rest of the razzamatazz as they engage in the process of national debate and campaigning.
With Jesus however, revealing Himself to the people was a very different kind of process.
The campaign platform was already there in the OT prophets, and Isaiah said a lot about the coming anointed One or Messiah.
First, He was chosen by God, and not put forward by popular election or mandate. He would serve God’s agenda and not His own or that of any popular opinion-former.
He would be the One in whom God delighted, and God would endow Him with His own personal presence and power. The Holy Spirit would enable Him to see as God sees, to act as God acts, and to lay Himself down as only God could do.
In short He would be filled with the wisdom of God and exercise the power of God, especially in forgiving others their sins. He would act with the authority of God to heal and to restore, even to raise from the dead.
Then He would love as God loves, putting His interests aside for those of God and indeed those of others.
And none of this would be without cost either as He lived or as He died.
But then secondly He would be there to restore and to heal, to edify and to build up. The bruised reed He would not break and the smoking flax He would not quench.
Where there was life, no matter how feeble, He would restore it and where there was hope, no matter how dim, He would renew it. He would be there to forgive when the rest of humanity would only condemn. He would bring healing to the broken of spirit and He would to the flame of life that was about to die out He would breathe new purpose and warmth.
His agenda would be God’s agenda, and this was about eternal life in His presence, the fullness of hope under His providence.
The world might be impressed by great armies and mighty buildings, the infrastructure projects that say look at me and despair.
If I can mobilize such resources to create this bridge or castle or water supply, then imagine how I could bring an army into your lands and borders.
But Jesus had come to proclaim the Kingdom of God and the forgiveness of sins. He would complete His mission with His own body and blood on the cross but long before that He would be releasing the crushed and the broken from condemnation and exclusion.
An earthly ruler may be about his or her legacy. Jesus was about eternal life. No number of schools or hospitals or bridges or even aircraft carriers were ever going to even begin to measure up to this.
What Isaiah was foretelling was far beyond any kind of social or political programme or manifesto.
And so Jesus came to His cousin John the Baptist to receive the baptism of repentance. This is where His ministry would begin, in an act of utter humility as He identified Himself with the whole range and fury of human sin and sinfulness.
Here He would begin that work of atonement in making humanity acceptable in the sight of God – those that is who would choose to be part of God’s agenda and not just their own.
It would only be in that public self-abasement and self-emptying that Jesus was going to proclaim that fullness of God’s mercy and the utter self-dedication of God’s love.
But this this is what God was acknowledging as Jesus came out of the waters of the River Jordan. This is what God’s spoken words were there to endorse and if the word spoken was not enough then the descent of the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove would point to.
This was something of even greater significance than the dove of peace that Noah sent forth, who brought back to the ark that token of renewal.
Noah had built a ship: Jesus would renew a world, and whereas Noah had saved himself and his family from the flood by taking refuge in the ark, Jesus would save the whole of humanity to sacrificing Himself.
Isaiah had sketched out God’s agenda for the Messiah, but Jesus was going to live out that agenda and let it lead Him to the cross.
Isaiah had looked forward to the One to Come – but Jesus was looking towards the Kingdom of God.
It is no accident that one of our gospels sets it out so simply: Repent and believe for the Kingdom of God has come.