Sermon for the Baptism of Our Lord, January 12, 2004
St. Paul Lutheran Church, Wallis, Texas
Sermon Text: Isaiah 42:1-9
Sermon Theme: “I Will Take You by the Hand and Keep You”
(Sources: Emphasis online Illustrations; Anderson’s Cycle A Preaching Handbook; Concordia Journal, Fall 2013, Vol. 39, No. 4; original ideas; Believer’s Commentary)
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.
This long passage of prophesy from Isaiah, which is our sermon text, can be a little confusing when you first read it. So let me explain a couple things.
It’s obvious that the main use of the word “Servant” in Chapter 42 refers to the Messiah who is to come; in other words, our Savior, Jesus. But some of the verses do not seem to refer to the Messiah. In one verse in Chapter 42, “servant” refers to the entire nation of Israel; in another verse it refers to the “faithful, godly remnant” of the people. Thus we have the “Servant,” – that’s the Messiah, and we have the “servant-people,” – that’s us, you and me, as we true believers are the New Israel, the faithful remnant.
From their Exodus out of Egypt on, many people had not been faithful, — they whined, they complained, they built a false idol, they broke the covenant with God, etc. As you follow their story in the Old Testament, you see that they acted like children, like spoiled brats. And yet God extended His grace to them again and again.
Internationally famous Christian preacher from Frisco, Texas, Chuck Swindoll, tells about himself when he turned 13 and became a TEENAGER! He really thought he was hot stuff, “something on a stick,” as he phrased it.
This was his birthday and he was lying on the bed in his room, thinking how cool he was, how important he became by turning 13. His father was right outside the bedroom window, weeding the garden, and he asked his son through the window to help him with the task (in those days there was no air-conditioning, so the window was open).
In his newly felt importance, Chuck was very sassy to his father and told him it was his birthday, and he shouldn’t have to help and wasn’t going to do it. Immediately, his dad rushed into the house, yanked Swindoll off the bed and marched him out to the garden where the teen pulled weeds until the cows came home.
That same evening the father took his son to a surprise dinner. He gave his son what he deserved when he marched him out to work the garden, but now at the special birthday dinner, he gave Chuck what he did not deserve. The son experienced grace from the father.
That story of Chuck and his dad reminds me of the people of Israel and God.
So let’s take a look at the Servant and the servant-people.
First, we have the prophesy of the coming of the great Servant of God, the Messiah. He is not going to be a military Messiah, charging into battle, defeating enemies like Captain America! No, instead, He is going to be a Servant-Messiah, bringing peace and healing to the nations. Peace and healing to us.
Isaiah says that this Servant will bear the iniquities of sinners and justify them. He will bring and establish justice, that is, the total redemptive order of God’s rule. “He shall make the right and good and holy will of God everywhere prevail, so that all nations find their sure ground of confidence in Him.” He will bring reconciliation with God, renewal, and deliverance from the moral, physical, and social evils of a fallen world. In Chapter 12 of his gospel, Matthew makes it clear that Isaiah’s prophesy was fulfilled in the messianic work of Jesus.
At the beginning of our text, God is heartily delighted in the work of the Servant-Messiah who is to come, to fulfill His plans for the resurrection of a ruined world. That’s why when Jesus actually began his work in the third Chapter of Matthew, the Father’s voice proclaimed, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” The Father also knew that His Son would be the Suffering Servant, enduring torture and abuse and ultimately crucifixion, taking our place, for our sins because He loved us so much.
One of the most comforting and uplifting verses in the Bible is verse 6 of our text, where God says, “I am the LORD; I have called you in righteousness; I will take you by the hand and keep you. . .”
“I will take you by the hand and keep you.” In today’s gospel text about the baptism of Jesus, God the Father blessed His Son with the Holy Spirit. The Spirit, as a dove, came down from heaven and rested gently upon Jesus’ shoulder. In essence, God held the hand of Jesus. And now God the Son gently grabs us by the hand and takes care of us. He brings us peace and forgiveness and comfort and healing and reconciliation and hope.
It becomes clear that the role of the Servant is also the role of the servant-people. The role of the servant-people is evangelistic in nature. They are to bring forth righteousness to the nations, to be lights in a world of darkness, so that all people might see and know God’s gracious will. In doing this, they must never assume that God has completely withheld the light of His presence from anybody. The servant-people are to gently fan the dimly burning wick into full flame by the breath of God’s Spirit. The Israelites are to go from a surviving people to a serving people, from survival to mission. And so are we, as the remnant of the New Israel.
Not too long ago, there was a sign on the marquee of a church that read, “SERVING, NOT JUST SURVIVING.” It is a danger for any church to fall from a mission mindset into a survival modality.
The servant-people must be like the Servant, by being lights to a dark world, by bringing peace and forgiveness and comfort and healing and reconciliation and hope. As John Wesley once said to his congregation, “Let your light so shine: Your lowliness of heart; your gentleness, and meekness of wisdom; your serious, weighty concern for the things of eternity, and sorrow for the sins and miseries of men . . . your tender good-will to all mankind, and fervent love to your supreme benefactor.”
In closing, I want to share with you a true story that is so symbolically significant, it almost seems like it would have to have been made up.
On a recent trip to a war-torn area in Central America, the visiting bishop was presented with a cross made by the very poor people of the area. The vertical piece of wood was about eighteen inches long, and the horizontal crossbar about six inches. It was made of a very hard wood that is bountiful in the area. On the arms of the cross, at intervals, were metallic bands.
The bishop asked what they were. The people replied that they were bullet casings, also plentiful, lying around on the ground almost everywhere. The people had picked them up from the ground and worked them into the crosses they made, totally unaware of the poignant symbolism in what they were doing. In the crosses they made, one could see the movement from violence to peace, from injustice to justice.
There is a wonderful promise in the symbolism of those crosses: “I am the LORD; I have called you in righteousness; I will take you by the hand and keep you.” Let us live in that hope! Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.