“I will keep you and will make you
to be a covenant for the people
and a light for the Gentiles.”
– Isaiah 42:6b
The first time Jesus is mentioned in the Book of Luke, when the angel speaks with Mary, we hear:
“He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”
Our Gospel reading for the day ends with the baptism of Jesus. Is it related to what the angel tells Mary here?
Jesus tells John the Baptist that He should be baptized by him at that moment “to fulfill all righteousness”…
…heaven opens up…
…the Spirit of God descends like a dove and settles on Him…
and, finally, a voice from heaven says “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased….”
Again, is this related to the angel’s announcement?
Well, if you are one of those who managed to pay particularly close attention to the morning’s Bible readings, you might have noticed that this sounds a lot like the beginning of our Old Testament reading from Isaiah 42 – which has a wonderful testimony to the Gospel, to the work of God’s Messiah, or Christ:
“Here is My Servant, whom I uphold, My Chosen One, in whom My soul delights. I will put My Spirit on Him, and He will bring justice[, or righteousness,] to the nations…”
The slight difference here is that in the Isaiah reading, God the Father is said to delight in His Servant; not His Son or the “Son of the Most High”.
What is really interesting though is that in Psalm 2:7 – which is also all about God’s Messiah and His anointing – the anointing of the King who would reign in the line of David, we read:
“You are My Son; today I have become Your Father.”
So for the attentive Bible-reader or listener then, the message of all these things – which we can see culminating at the end of our Gospel reading – could not be more clear:
After years of being without a King, Israel has their kings back (Wendt). Specifically, their King back.
And not only this, this Man is a Servant King who is also calling the Nations, or the Gentiles, to Himself…
And, lest there be any confusion about the nature of this kingdom coming to earth, the deeper spiritual message for all of those nations is this:
The New Covenant, Testament, comes in this Kings blood!
The blood of bulls and goats and lambs ultimately could not save, even as Israel’s appointed sacrifices pointed to the Answer:
He is the Messiah, the Christ, not only of Israel, but the whole world!
He is the Perfect Suffering Servant King who, ultimately, sheds His own innocent blood to pay the price for our sins…
…giving us forgiveness, life, and salvation.
Rescuing us from sin, death, and the devil, the Prince of this World.
All of this this can be learned – all these dots connected – by the serious Bible reader…
Perhaps a bit of a harder challenge though comes from a contrast we see between our reading from Isaiah and the chosen Psalm for the day, on this second Sunday of Epiphany….
[One thing that is interesting to think about is why the readings for the day were chosen….
Sometimes it is obvious, but not all the time!…]
For example, our Psalm for the day, Psalm 29, appears for the most part to be provoking us to awe of God… and even terror.
In it, again, we hear that “the voice of the Lord:
-breaks the cedars”
-“strikes with flashes of lightning”
-“shakes the desert”
-“twists the oaks…
…and strips the forests bare!”
Such awe-inspiring strength and power…
…and from only speaking no less!
It seems perfectly understandable that all in his temple would cry, “Glory!”
But then, on the other hand, in our Old Testament reading, what do we read?
In particular, this:
“He will not shout or cry out,
or raise his voice in the streets.
A bruised reed he will not break,
and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.
In faithfulness he will bring forth justice…”
What does this mean? It means that while God has the power and authority to rightly judge, this is what happens when He first comes on the scene in human flesh – prior to His second coming…
His work takes place like yeast working through the dough… subtly… subtly…
It means that he will not break those who, like reeds that grow in the marshes, have been bruised, damaged, or even trampled on… as if by the trials and difficulties of life…
…it means that He will not snuff out the candle wicks that are His people who are flickering with doubt and weakness…
And again, the Gospel writer Matthew also claims these words as being fulfilled in Jesus’s ministry…. Chapter 12 and verses 20 and 21 say:
“A bruised reed He will not break,
and a smoldering wick He will not extinguish,
till He leads justice to victory.
In His name the nations will put their hope.”
One old Bible commentator, Barnes, explains an interesting little detail there more…
[The Isaiah passage says, ‘bring forth justice faithfully or “in truth”, but] Matthew 12:2 renders this, ‘unto victory.’ The meaning in Isaiah is, that [the Servant of the Lord] shall establish his religion according to truth; he shall faithfully announce the true precepts of religion, and secure their ascendency among mankind. It shall overcome all falsehood, and all idolatry, and shall obtain a final triumph in all nations. Thus explained, it is clear that [the Apostle] Matthew has retained the general idea of the passage, though he has not quoted it literally…”
In any case, the real point I want to make here is that some see a major contradiction here between the focus of our Psalm and the focus of the Isaiah reading… God’s terror-provoking wrath and power vs. this patience and tenderness.
And some will insist that this is not just some apparent contradiction.
They will say that it, in fact, is not logical or rational:
God is indeed contradictory within Himself!
Conflicted inside, it is God vs. Himself!
His law and gospel are in fact violently opposed to one another…
They are polarities, and can never be reconciled…
On the one hand, there is the power of God, the judgment of God over the world… that crushes and destroys it, with His law always and only accusing…
Here, in this sense, the law of God is actually seen as the opposite of God – as not representing who God really is at all!
God’s law, they say, is only present where Christ is absent and is the opposite of the Holy Spirit!
The law has absolutely nothing to do with sharing God’s grace and mercy, or really… what life will be like in heaven at all!
God does not finally mean for Christians to walk in His eternal law and hence fulfill it!
All of this, however, is not true!
True, the law and gospel must be distinguished: the law shows us what we must be and what is required of us, even if, in our sin, we cannot do it.
And the gospel reveals to us not what we must do, but all that God has done in Jesus Christ on the cross for us and freely delivers to His people!
Still though, in the end, both “the law and gospel – not against but with God’s Holy Spirit – reveal an important truth which is exactly the same: God has an overriding desire to do good to all men (even, finally, desiring that each person not despair but be saved in Christ).
And when we become new creations in Christ, we agree all the more that the law is indeed good!
We especially understand when in Matthew 23 we are told that the weightier matters of the law, the heavier matters of the law, deal not just with justice and – but mercy or compassion as well!
Love, after all, is the fulfillment of the law… and I Cor. 13:7 reminds us of the “suffering of love, which bears all things (I Cor. 13:7).”
Hence, it was completely necessary for our salvation to have the Messiah’s, the Christ’s… full obedience to every jot and title of God’s law (Matthew 5), through the Holy Spirit…
In his 1977 book A Guide for the Perplexed, the philosopher and conservationist E.F. Schumacher said the following:
“Justice is a denial of mercy, and mercy is a denial of justice. Only a higher force can reconcile these opposites: wisdom. The problem cannot be solved, but wisdom can transcend it. Similarly, societies need stability and change, tradition and innovation, public interest and private interest, planning and laissez-faire, order and freedom, growth and decay. Everywhere society’s health depends on the simultaneous pursuit of mutually opposed activities or aims. The adoption of a final solution means a kind of death sentence for man’s humanity and spells either cruelty or dissolution, generally both… Divergent problems offend the logical mind. — Schumacher, E. F. A Guide for the Perplexed. New York: Harper & Row, 1977, 127.
Jesus Christ is the One who answers Schumacher’s dilemma.
He is the Wisdom of God who reconciles justice and mercy! (see Romans 3:26-27)
As Hebrews 1:9 proclaims, explaining precisely why God elevates the man Jesus Christ as the world’s King and Savior:
“You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God, your God, has set you above your companions.”
Did you hear that? Did you get that?
Jesus Christ hates. He hates wickedness.
And Jesus Christ is always the One who perfectly distinguishes God’s law and gospel, showing us both tough and tender love as he rightly directs and orders our lives….
Like men such as Job, Jeremiah, Shadrach, Meshac, Abendigo, and Habakuk before Him, He also embraces God’s will even when it is most difficult to understand…
He “fulfills all righteousness” by gladly embracing His Father’s will, fearing, loving, and trusting Him.
And doing so perfectly – even through the ultimate of struggles…
For it was His Father’s will that He be crushed, that is, to pay the debt for our sins, and to bring many sons to glory…
And because of Jesus’ faithful work for our salvation, paying for all our sins which alienate us from God! – and defeating Satan through the cross! – we can truly understand why our Psalm – our Psalm which appeared to terrify us with God’s wrath – ends by saying:
“The Lord gives strength to his people; the Lord blesses his people with peace…”
And with this peace, my friends, this righteousness our Lord gives to us is what we are called to as well….
When Jesus Christ gets a hold of us, when He unites Himself with us and incorporates us into His life, we too, can hear the voice:
“This is my Son; I delight in Him…”
And this is where our Epistle reading from Romans this morning rounds out what this all means for us… We are baptized into Christ and now, no longer slaves of sin, have this new life!
So, my fellow heirs of God, my fellow heirs of God, remember our Father in Heaven, Who being the One who is Love, is also the One who is Rich and Powerful in the truest and best sense of those words!
And you, you also, bear a family resemblance…
So, be little Christs!
In Christ we are at peace with God and He works in us to cause us to grow in holiness… to be glorified, to be saved to the uttermost…
Lord, help us not to resist you!
Recently, I read something that I agreed with from a Roman Catholic author. He said:
“Two thousand years after Christ, our definition of goodness hasn’t changed. We all know what virtue looks like. People who aspire to be good must strive to be Christ-like. It’s as simple as that. Eternal, objective truths don’t change. The world, however, is unrecognizable from the time of Christ—more of an obstacle to our salvation in every conceivable way. Our societies may look sophisticated, well fed, and comforting at first blush. That’s only because we’ve exchanged readily visible plagues and poverty for more insidious forms of disease. Beneath the surface, most of us are miserable.
Through consumerism, compound interest, prescription drugs, sex-saturated culture and other addictions, America keeps its people isolated, anxious and compliant. We feel lonelier, poorer, and more anxious, and we are more dependent on substances, self-harm and sin, than at any time since Jesus walked among us. Surely in human history it has never been more difficult to hold on to grace, walk the narrow path, and proceed from charity and kindness in our dealings with others…”
This author, who goes on to talk about how tough love is in fact charity and kindness, isn’t wrong about how failing to follow in the Lord’s way will bring misery.
Even if I have heard some over the years insist, rightly, that God did not come to make us happy but rather holy…
…it is also at the same time true that there is nothing that will bring more lasting joy than recognizing that God has made us holy – that is, set apart in Christ – and calls us to walk in His ways and paths for His glory.
Arguably, no one put this better than Martin Luther in his Small Catechism. In explaining the parts of the Apostle’s Creed he speaks not only about how God richly and daily provides us with all that I need to support this body and life and defends us against all danger and evil. He also shares this exceedingly precious summary of our Christian faith:
“I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary, is my Lord, who has redeemed me, a lost and condemned person, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil; not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death, that I may be His own and live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, just as He is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity.”
Our world, though, is deeply confused and sick…
Forms of what people are calling “identity politics” now reign.
One definition of this is “a political approach wherein people of a particular race, nationality, religion, gender, sexual orientation, social background, social class, or other identifying factors develop political agendas that are based upon these identities…”
Again, our world is confused and sick. Sometimes deeply, deeply evil.
Despite forms of identity politics, it, finally, does not know what to believe about who it really is.
It denies its own Creator even at times asserting there is no God!
Why is this happening? Well, sin, yes… but there’s more. While there is nothing new under the sun, certain ideas, good and bad, indeed gain in popularity in this or that time and place…
Have you heard of Rene Descartes?
He was a 17th century French mathematician and philosopher who perhaps has had the biggest impact on all the key thinkers in the Western world who came after him than anyone else.
He made knowledge primarily something about the self.
He said, “I think, therefore I am.” In other words, I can’t doubt that the thing I call me is really thinking, so I know for sure I exist.
Most people don’t have struggles like this.
That said, it did not stop an early nineteenth century German philosopher who would become very influential – Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel – from expanding on what Descartes said, saying that we can say we are real for a certain reason.
Why? What reason? Because we are creatures and because this is obvious?
No, that would have been the right answer.
Rather, Hegel said we are real because we are conscious that we are real… (and we are conscious of the vast reality we are not, to get into Hegel’s dialectical thinking about how identity is transformed, or becomes…)
When I realize that I am real, after all, I cannot doubt that I doubt, for example… I am real.
(And then Hegel was off to the races with his philosophy, even talking about God Himself learning about Himself which I believe is finally why some see law and gospel as polarities…)
As you can see, this becomes all about not what is true out there and that we all share, but what I, I, I, experience and feel… it becomes about the self, in fact, hopelessly and endlessly focused on the self and the self’s perceptions!
So turned in on self God becomes invisible…
So when we think about identity politics, we think of people who are, like Descartes and Hegel, relentlessly self-focused and also relentless in determining who is in and who is out, who are finally ruthless…unforgiving and unmerciful (see Rom. 1:31).
But can we as Christians deeply understand why questions of identity, now so twisted and energized by man’s sinful nature, are so important to our contemporaries?
In Christ, the Father delights in you, a royal priest, as well.
We who are Christians should realize more than most that what is most true is deeply bound up with who God is and who we are.
We get a sense of deep cohesion and direction from an identity which derives not only from above, but from a common historical account – of who God is, of who you are, of what He has done, is doing, and will do, with you as an important part of that!
And this has implications.
Take, for example, the Apostle Paul’s heartfelt words in Galatians 6:
“Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.”
One can see how here we imitate, in a less than complete way, the kind of goodness Jesus showed to us, where love – sacrificial actions which bear real costs – covers over a multitude of sins.
And regarding temptation, by the way, remember that while God Himself tempts no one, He at the same time does actually allow them and uses them for our good…
The 16th century church reformer Martin Luther said: “God loves and hates temptations. He loves them when they provoke us to pray to him and trust in Him; He hates them when we despair because of them.“
So, Christian, things are really are different for you, aren’t they?
You, my friend, are not the Christ, but you are, like Him, the Lord’s servant…
Again, as Martin Luther would put it, you are a “little Christ…”
Again, we bear a family resemblance…
This is who we are.
This is our truest and most enduring identity.
Our royal calling!
The Name of the Holy One, the Living God who both strips the forests bare and won’t snuff out flickering wicks is upon our heads!… placed upon our heads in our baptism!
It is not so much that we were baptized, like a man and woman were married…
It is that we are baptized, like a man and woman are married!
And as far as marriage goes, let us also never forget that every marriage we see on earth is meant to point us again to who we are as well!
For we are united to the true King of all nations, Jesus Christ, with He being our Head and we His bride!
Again, this is who you are, Christian!
Wherever you are in your awareness of this fact, this is the thing that ultimately matters for you!
So rejoice evermore!
Pray without ceasing!
And in everything give thanks!
Go and live – and live more and more abundantly – in all the good gifts of your God!
 And in the Old Testament reading this morning, from which I chose our text, has a wonderful testimony to the Gospel…:
…To the work of the world’s Savior or Messiah, Jesus Christ.
Let’s repeat some of that key reading one more time:
“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,
to open eyes that are blind,
to free captives from prison
and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness.
I am the Lord; that is my name!
I will not yield my glory to another
or my praise to idols.
See, the former things have taken place,
and new things I declare;
before they spring into being
I announce them to you.”
Because Jesus Christ was the fulfillment of God’s promise to send His Messiah, He is the One who brings the New Covenant, the New Testament, in His blood.
The blood of bulls and goats and lambs ultimately could not save, even as they pointed to the Perfect Suffering Servant King who, ultimately, would shed His own innocent blood to pay the price for our sins.
This is why Jesus Christ in the Gospels identifies Himself as the fulfiller of this prophecy in Isaiah, the One who definitely deals with man’s sins…
- He is the One who opens the eyes that are blind…
- …brings out the prisoners from the dungeon…
- …and from the prison those who sit in darkness!
 Wikipedia: “This [Revised Common L]ectionary was derived from various Protestant lectionaries in current use, which in turn were based on the 1969 Ordo Lectionum Missae, a three-year lectionary produced by the Roman Catholic Church following the reforms of the Second Vatican Council.”
 Barnes Notes on the Bible:
“He shall bring forth judgment – (See Isaiah 42:1). The word ‘judgment’ here evidently denotes the true religion; the laws, institutions, and appointments of God.
Unto truth – Matthew Mat 12:29 renders this, ‘unto victory.’ The meaning in Isaiah is, that he shall establish his religion according to truth; he shall faithfully announce the true precepts of religion, and secure their ascendency among mankind. It shall overcome all falsehood, and all idolatry, and shall obtain a final triumph in all nations. Thus explained, it is clear that Matthew has retained the general idea of the passage, though he has not quoted it literally.”
 Nicholas Hopman, Lutheran Quarterly, Spring, 2016. From his article:
“[T]he content of the commandment/law is always a weapon attacking human sin” (159).
“Where there is no accusation, there is no law” (164)
“Only where there is freedom from law… can there be love of the law” (167)
“[T]he law and delight in the law are two mutually exclusive realities” (167)
“The Christian, in faith alone, is beyond the law” (160)
The Christian is successful vs. sin because the Christian and Holy Spirit are not law (171)
“[The] law is present only where Christ is absent” (164), and the Holy Spirit is “the opposite of the law” (166)
“[T]he fulfillment of the law actually empties the law of all its content, namely, its threatening teeth” (160)
Some among us “traditional” Lutherans might have the absolute temerity to suggest:
That sin is not to be understood as anything said, done, or thought against the law of God.
That the Holy Spirit is the opposite of the law and the law is only present where Christ is absent.
That any attempt to find a positive role for the law in the lives of Christians inevitably leads to self-justification.
That “nothing [is] more damnable than someone choosing to act how they think a Christian should behave…”
That God does not finally mean for Christians to walk in His eternal law and hence fulfill it.
That with God’s eternal law behind us, because of the Gospel which frees us… it would be impossible for us to sin, no matter how hard we tried.
That the law “does not give,” but actually “removes faith in God’s word.”
That God did not punish His Son on the cross for our sins.
And, perhaps worst of all, that Jesus Christ commuted His own personal sin….
“Relevant” and culturally compatible indeed!
 Again, if Luther is right when he says “[t]he law does not want you to despair of God… it wills that you despair of yourself, but expect good from God…” (SDEA 367, 369), how can we not conclude this? The Holy Spirit brings God’s good law!
 To seek the weightier matters of the law apart from the complete obedience of Christ—perfectly exemplifying to the world the fulfillment of the eternal law of God in every facet—is indeed, as Andrew Preus clearly sees, “to create justice, mercy, and faithfulness in one’s own image”.
Previously, I have said: “Understood most simply, legal righteousness, or righteousness according to the law, specifically in the Ten Commandments, proclaims an imperfect picture of what must be done, what is prescribed. Even better, given that it is from God, reflects God, and is for man, legal righteousness simply proclaims what real righteousness looks like. And it does us well to note here that legal righteousness involves both justice and compassion (see, e.g., Matthew 23:23).”
 For in the end, not just trust but strong trust in God’s loving and redemptive Providence – sometimes against all appearances to the contrary – is in fact the will of God.
Because not only our Lord Jesus Christ, but saints like Job, Shadrach, Meshach, Abendego, Jeremiah, and, of course, Habakkuk – who ultimately live to testify of Christ – are also to be held up in honor as existing for the life of the world, fallen in sin and cursed.
So our Lord Jesus, although standing out above all others, follows in a long line of the Lord’s servants who realized and enacted God’s will through their suffering.
It is not difficult to see how the faithful words of the prophet Habakuk, in his own circumstances, mirrored our Lord Jesus’ own trust in God:
“I will wait patiently for the day of calamity
to come on the nation invading us.
Though the fig tree does not bud
and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen
and no cattle in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
I will be joyful in God my Savior.
The Sovereign Lord is my strength;
he makes my feet like the feet of a deer,
he enables me to tread on the heights.
 Some of you may have winced when I said God looks at you and also says “This is my Son…” After all, some of you are not men you might say!
The language here is important. In Scripture, it was the firstborn sons who were to be the heirs. When the Bible says that those who have faith in Jesus are all sons of God, it is saying that all of us, male and female, are to be the recipients of the great inheritance that He brings…
 “All this He does only out of fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in me. For all this it is my duty to thank and praise, serve and obey Him.”
He also talks about how the Holy Spirit “calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith”, “daily and richly forgives all my sins and the sins of all believers” and raising us all from the the dead to give us eternal life…
 See here for more: https://www.queenofthesciences.com/e/a-hegel-with-all-the-fixin-s/
 See more in footnotes here: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1rDFfZIGfacvDTFAr5aGPlKZN_l8EvLarNLFrcXladjc/edit?usp=sharing
 Joshua Mitchell: “Man (the servant) does not wish to live in this mixed world, and conceives of a plan to distinguish and separate the wheat from the tares. Identity politics is that plan….” From here: https://www.theamericanconservative.com/ressentiment-as-religion-identity-politics/