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Saturday, January 10, 2015

Saturday, January 10, 2015
Isaiah 65:1-9; Psalm 147; Revelation 3:1-6; John 6:1-14

God addresses those who had remained behind in Judah at the exile and condemns them for their behavior during that time. He was among them, ready to seek them out, but they did not seek him. He said, “Here I am,” but to a people that did not call on his name. He held out his hand all day long, but the people rebelled and walked in another’s way, following their own devices. Their sin is now named: they provoked the Lord to his face and did so continually by sacrificing in gardens and offering incense on bricks, a reference to the pagan worship of the Canaanite goddess Asherah. They sat in tombs involving themselves in necromancy, long condemned in Israel for seeking wisdom and instruction from the dead rather than the living God. They violated the commandment against eating swine and put other forbidden foods in their broth. In doing so, they thought of themselves as more holy than others. All of this is irritating smoke in the Lord’s nostrils that emerges from the fires of idolatry they burn all day long. Consequently, God will not keep silent, but repay, just as it is written of him (they have no excuse). God will indeed, repay and place into their laps not only their own iniquity but also that of their ancestors. At verse eight the subject quickly changes to those among them who have been faithful; these God will not destroy. Rather, from them he will bring forth descendants from Jacob and from Judah who will inherit the Lord’s mountains, and there serve him as his chosen.

Psalm 147 is a Hallel Psalm; it begins, as each of them does with Hallelujah—“Praise the Lord!” The psalm celebrates God’s graciousness and calls for a fitting song of praise to be sung. The reason for praise is the Lord’s ability and willingness to forgive and restore, to build up and heal. The Lord builds up Jerusalem, gathers the outcasts of Israel, heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds. The one who made the stars, lifts up the down-trodden and casts the wicked to the ground, and delights, not in the strength of the horse or the speed of the runner, but in those who fear him and hope in his steadfast love. Now the psalmist calls on all of Jerusalem to praise the Lord, following with the parallel phrase: “Praise your God, O Zion!” God strengthens the bars of her gates and blesses the children within her. God grants her peace and fills her with the finest wheat. As God commands, the earth quickly responds, giving snow like wool. Frost is scattered like ashes. When he hurls down hail, who can stand before his cold? All of this is the creative force of God’s word, melting snow, making the wind blow and the waters flow. This word God has declared to Jacob, and his statues to Israel. God has not dealt thus with any other nation; they do not know God’s ordinances. The psalm ends as it began, “Praise the Lord!”

The church in Sardis, a large city about 40 miles southeast of Thyatira, was noted for being a thriving and lively church. However, the messenger of the church delivers Christ’s judgment on them—though thought of as lively, they are dead. They are a popular place but have abandoned what they originally received and heard. If they do not repent and obey that word, Christ will come like a thief—at an unexpected hour. The implication is severe judgment. However, there are still a few people in Sardis who have not “soiled their clothes.” Could this again be the Nicolaitan’s influence in accommodation with culture for the sake of public acceptance and success? Rather, they walk with Christ, dressed in white (recalling the baptismal robes converts were given), and are worthy. If any in Sardis conquer—again, the military image of remaining faithfulness under duress—they will again be dressed in white and Christ will not blot their names out of the book of life, but rather, confess their name before his Father and his angels. Again, “Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches.”

The fifth of signs is Jesus feeding of the five thousand, the only one of his signs that is reported in all four gospels. A large crowd is following Jesus because of the things that he is doing healing the sick. Jesus crosses the Sea of Galilee, goes up the mountain and sits down in a grassy knoll with his disciples. We are told that Passover is approaching; Jesus is a full year into his ministry. As he sees the crowd coming, Jesus turns to Phillip and asks where they can buy bread to feed the approaching multitude. Phillip responds that six months wages would not be enough to buy sufficient food to adequately feed these people. Andrew chimes in, reporting on a boy in the group with five barley loaves and two fish, but immediately recognizes that this is nothing in such a crowd. Jesus tells them to have the people sit down on the grass. He then takes the bread, gives thanks and distributes it to those who are seated (can you hear John’s intention of the Eucharistic actions echoing in the background?). Jesus does the same with the fish, giving them as much as they want. “When they were satisfied,” a phrase that John uses to make the point that Jesus is meeting more than their hunger, Jesus instructs the disciples to gather up the leftovers. They fill twelve baskets. It is not only a symbol of abundance; it also has the echo of one basket for each of the twelve tribes of Israel. The people respond, “This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world,” a statement with clear messianic meaning. Once again, a miraculous moment becomes a sign revealing Jesus’ graciousness—he has taken the initiative to care for the people unasked—and his capacity, not only to meet people’s needs, but to do so with a gracious abundance that satisfies is more than apparent to all.

Posted January 10, 2015
Friday, January 9, 2015

Friday, January 9, 2015
Isaiah 63:1-5; Psalm 146; Revelation 2:18-29; John 5:1-15

The prophet looks and sees one coming from Edom’s capital, Boz’rah, dressed in garments stained crimson and asks, “Who is this? Who is this so splendidly robed, marching in his great might?” The Lord responds, “It is I, announcing vindication, mighty to save.” The prophet now asks, “Why are your robes red, and your garments like theirs who tread the wine press?” The Lord responds that he has trodden the wine press alone in Edom—no other was with him—and in anger, he trampled Edom in his wrath so that their juices spattered his garments and stained all his robes. The people of Edom, south east of Jerusalem, were believed to have entered into league with Babylon to defeat Judah in 587 BCE; so this is an oracle that promises God’s retaliation for that treachery. The day of vengeance was in God’s heart and the year of redeeming work had come. Yet, there was no one to help. It was with his own arm (that repeated phrase about God’s might and skill as a warrior) that brought him victory. It was his own wrath that sustained him. The image of the wine press as an instrument of God’s wrath and judgment is graphic and appears elsewhere in the Bible in Lamentations 1:15; Joel 3:13, and, of course, Revelation 14:19 and 19:15. It is the image abolitionist Julia Ward Howe used in the Battle Hymn of the Republic, portraying the Civil War as God’s judgment on the American institution of slavery.

Psalm 146 is a Hellel psalm (one whose opening and closing words are Hallelujah: “Praise the Lord!”). It is one of my favorites. After full-throated praise to the Lord and a promise to continue to do so, all of his life, the psalmist reminds us of who alone in life is worthy of trust. “Do not put your trust in princes, in mortals, in whom there is no help. When their breath departs, they return to the earth; on that very day their plans perish.” Conversely, “Blest are those whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord their God.” There follows a recital of all of the good and marvelous things that come from God’s hand—creation, faithfulness, justice for the oppressed, food to the hungry, liberty to the captive, sight to the blind, exaltation for the lowly, love for the righteous. Notice that these are characteristic that the gospels regularly celebrate in Jesus. The Lord watches over the stranger, upholds the orphan and widow, but brings the way of the wicked to ruin. In this highly politicized country, we need to remember this psalm’s council concerning “princes,” regardless of the political party they represent. The one and only source of true justice in this world is the Lord; all other systems simply fall short, even when we “idolize” them, as we have come to idolize democracies, and perhaps, because we do!

Christ turns to address the church at Thyatira, a commercial and industrial city about 45 miles southeast of Pergamum from which Lydia of the Philippian church, a dealer in purple goods, had come. Like Ephesus, Christ commends them for their love, faith, service and patient endurance. In fact, under the hardship and tribulation they are bearing, their works are now even greater than when they first began. Yet, there is one thing Christ has against them: they tolerate the Jezebel among them, who presents herself as a prophet (preacher and teacher). She is like the legendary Jezebel of 1 Kings 18—19, against whom Elijah contended for bringing Baalism into the royal court. This Thyatrian Jezebel is leading people astray, beguiling them to practice fornication and to eat food sacrificed to idols. Christ has given her time to repent, but she has refused. Continuing with the sexual imagery, he promises to throw her on a bed, and those who indulge in adultery with her, unless they repent of her doings, he will throw into great distress. As for her children (probably a metaphor for her converts), Christ will strike them dead so that all of the churches will know that he is the one who searches minds and hearts, and gives to each what he or she deserves. The woman has evidently been teaching what some are calling “the deep things of Satan.” Whether this is, in fact, some secret mystery—a mythological explanation of the origins of Satan—or, simply a parody and disparagement of her teachings as coming from Satan rather than Christ, is a scholar’s conversation; both are possibilities. For those who have not learned or participated in these things, Christ places no other burden upon them. Again, the letter ends with the exhortation to “hold fast” until Christ comes, and with a promise that all who “conquer” and continue to do Christ’s work to the end will be given royal authority and power to rule over the nations with a rod of iron (reference to Psalm 2:9), even as Christ has received authority from his Father to rule. To those who conquer, Christ will give the morning star. This letter is concluded with what, in reformed circles today, increasingly is becoming an ascription that precedes the reading of scripture: “Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Sprit is saying to the churches.”

Today, we are told of the third of the seven signs of Jesus’ identity and authority—healing the man at the pool of Beth-za’tha on the sabbath. We are not told which of the three pilgrimage festivals this is, only that Jesus, as a devout Jew, has come up to Jerusalem for it. (Because Jerusalem is located at the top of Mt. Zion, the highest point in Judah, one always “goes up to Jerusalem,” or “down to” some other place from it.) Jesus seems to have entered by the sheep gate near which was a pool renowned for its healing properties. Notice that in modern translations, verses 3b-4, explaining that an angel would come and stir the water and the first person to enter into the water thereafter was healed, does not appear in the most ancient manuscripts. It seems to be a later scribal addition that only distracts from the purpose of describing this third sign event. The pool has five porticos surrounding it in which many invalids—the blind, the lame and the paralyzed—lie. The focus of the story is on a man who has been there thirty-eight years. Jesus sees him, realizes he has been there a long time and asks him if he wants to be made well? Notice “made well” is sufficiently ambiguous that the man is able to respond to Jesus at its most practical level. Yes, but, having no one to help him, whenever the water is stirred, someone always beats him to it. But there is no need for helpers, angels or stirring water here. Jesus simply says to the man, “Stand up, take your mat and walk,” and the man does! Only now are we told that it is the sabbath. Sabbath observance, including the prohibition against any work on it, was one of the hallmarks of first century Judaism, and the people who see the cured man walking away, carrying his mat, challenge him. Don’t miss the irony here: they are so preoccupied with maintaining Torah that they miss the fact that the man has been healed! His defense is simply that the man who made him well told him to do so. Now the focus turns to who did this, but the man does not know. Jesus simply appeared in his life, engaged him in conversation, told him to stand up, take up his mat and walk, and then disappeared into the crowd. Later that day, Jesus finds the man in the temple, a place the man had been denied entrance to for 38 years because of his paralysis. Is he there to offer thanks for his healing? We do not know, but Jesus again engages him in conversation and says, “See, you have been made well! Do not sin any more so that nothing worse happens to you.” It is straightforward advice as good today as then, whether or not we believe, as people did in Jesus’ day, that illness was God’s punishment for sin, something, by the way, that Jesus seemed not to have believed (see John 9:3). Jesus’ injunction to sin no more probably has more to do with preserving the man’s spiritual health than his physical well-being. The man now knows who Jesus is and goes off to the people who had challenge him for carrying his mat on the sabbath and tells them Jesus’ name. Our lesson cuts out the portion that includes the controversy between Jesus and the Jewish critics, because it wants to focus on the sign nature of this event. Jesus has again healed, simply because it is his nature to do so. There was no belief or special faith involved. Again, as in the two previous signs, the man simply did what Jesus told him to do.

Posted January 9, 2015
Thursday, January 8, 2015

Thursday, January 8, 2015
Isaiah 59:15b-21; Psalm 47; Revelation 2:8-17; John 4:46-54

We have now stepped into what scholars call “Third Isaiah,” written from Jerusalem sometime after 537 BCE, upon the return from exile. The words of this prophet appear in two places in the Book of Isaiah as we now have it, in chapters 24-27 and in chapters 56 -66. The glow of Second Isaiah’s words of joyful release and restoration has been dimmed by the hard realities the people experienced on their return to Jerusalem, and soon it turned to gloom on the verge of despair. The people blame God, who they claim is either too weak or too deaf to help, when, in fact, it is their own behavior that is being judged. Justice is turned back, righteousness stands at a distance, truth stumbles in the public square and the upright cannot enter it. Today’s text is an oracle concerning all of that. The Lord has seen it and is not only displeased with the lack of justice, but appalled that there is no one among them to intervene. Once again, God goes forth as a divine warrior, extending his arm—image of God’s strength and might in battle—and puts on his armor of righteousness and salvation. His garments are vengeance and he is wrapped in a mantle of fury. He will repay according to people’s deeds, dispensing wrath and requital to his enemies all the way to the coastlands. His name will then be feared in the west and his glory in the east. Like a pent-up stream driven by the wind, so the Lord will drive on over all opposition. But to those in Jacob who turn from their transgressions, the Lord will come to Zion as Redeemer.

Psalm 47 celebrates God’s reign over all the earth. It is a hymn of praise that may have been used during a festival commemorating God’s covenant with Israel, and calls on the people to celebrate God’s ritual enthronement. It remembers how the Lord, the Most High, is God of the gods, awesome and king over all the earth—not just Israel. Not only has God subdued the nations, the Lord has chosen Israel as his heritage, “the pride of Jacob whom he loves.” “God has gone up with a shout, the Lord with the sound of the trumpet.” All are called upon to sing praise to God as king. “Our King is King of all the earth.” The phrase, “God has gone up with a shout,” caused the church to associate this with Jesus’ resurrection and ascension, while “with the sounds of a trumpet” suggests this was used as part of the liturgy for Rosh ha-Shanah, when the ram’s horn is blown to announce the new year.

Christ continues to speak to his churches in Asia Minor, first to the one in Smyrna and then to the church in Pergamum. It is an odd pairing because Smyrna is totally without rebuke while Pergamum is warned that it is infected with infidelity. Both were cities with large populations, Smyrna, a seaport about 40 miles north of Ephesus and Pergamum some 70 miles further inland, north-east of Smyrna. Both were centers of emperor worship. The reference to affliction and poverty have to do with the economic difficulties the believers in Smyrna were suffering because they would not sacrifice to the emperor. Remember, Jews had an exemption from such practice, but Christians did not. “The synagogue of Satan” may be those Jewish Christians who were using their Jewish identity to escape the suffering and hardship being inflicted on their non-Jewish brother and sister Christians. Or, it may be Jews who turned in Christians to the Romans. Either way, these enemies not only slander the church but are bringing suffering upon it. The church is warned that the devil is about to throw some of them in prison so that they may be tested. It will only last ten days (symbol of a short time). Those faithful unto death will be given the crown of life and not suffer the second death—the one at the final judgment. The church in Pergamum is also commended for its faithfulness under persecution, especially during the time when Antipas was martyred (the only martyr to be named in Revelation and who is otherwise anonymous.) But there are a few things that Christ has against them. They tolerate the Nicolaitans, and those among them who hold to the teaching of Balaam the deceiver, who is telling them that they may eat meat sacrificed to idols and participate in the sexual practices taking place in those pagan temples. Though eating food sacrificed to idols was considered inconsequential in some parts of the church, in others, such as those to whom this book is written, it was seen as a form of idolatry and spiritual adultery—unfaithfulness to Christ. If the church does not repent, Christ will come and make war on them with the double edged sword that proceeds from his mouth. Those in the church who listen and conquer will be given hidden manna to sustain them and a white stone (very positive color in the symbolism of Revelation) on which is written a new name known only to Christ and to those who possess it.

The first sign of Jesus’ identity is followed by a second, again in Cana of Galilee. A royal official, probably a Gentile, whose son is ill in Capernaum, approaches Jesus begging him to leave Cana and come to Capernaum to heal his son. The boy is now at the point of death. Jesus tells all watching that, “Unless you (he is speaking to the crowd, not the man, the “you” here is plural) see signs and wonders you will not believe.” Jesus does not do “signs and wonders” in order that the people might believe in him—there were other magicians and healers about who did that. He does them because it is his nature and purpose to give and restore life. He tells the official, “Go, your son will live.” The man takes Jesus at his word and starts on his way back home. Subsequently, he is met by his slave who tells him that his child is alive. When the official asks about the hour when the boy began to recover he realizes that it was precisely the time when Jesus told him, “Go, your son will live.” Notice that it was not because the official believed Jesus and went home that the son was healed. The healing began the moment Jesus spoke. But, upon hearing that his son has been healed, the official does believe, along with his entire household. They will continue to take Jesus at his word.

Posted January 8, 2015
Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Wednesday, January 7, 2015
Isaiah 52:2-6; Psalm 46; Revelation 2:1-7; John 2:1-11

Some background is necessary before we look at today’s first lesson. In the interval between Christmas and now, we have entered into Second Isaiah, which begins at chapter 40 and is the work of the prophet Isaiah of the exile in Babylon. Its opening words are those of comfort. Israel’s punishment is complete. God is in the process of restoring her, freeing her from exile and bringing her home to Jerusalem. Between then and now there have been three servant poems; a fourth, and the longest, will soon follow, 52:13—53:12, in which the servant suffers vicariously for the people at the Lord’s hand. Scholars debate about who this servant is. Is it a single person or is it the nation Israel as a whole? As time wore on, the servant took on messianic dimensions that the church later capitalized on, understanding the poems as prophetic words about Jesus’ life and work. The first song, 42:1-4, identifies God’s chosen servant as the bearer of God’s spirit who will bring forth justice to the nations and be a light to them. The second poem, 49:1-6, further expands and explains the servant’s mission and explicitly names the servant “Israel.” The servant complains that he has labored in vain, to which the Lord replies, “It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob…, I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.” The third servant song, 50:4-9, is sung by the servant himself to the Israelites who have fallen away. Here the servant is presented as the model of faithfulness before God, knowing that God will ultimately act and vindicate him. The chapter before today’s reading introduces an oracle promising Jerusalem’s restoration. The people are called upon “to listen,” indicating a breach between those in the community who are righteous and those who are not, with the emphasis now upon the righteous. The teachings and justice of the Lord will be a light to the peoples. The arm of the Lord will rule the peoples—note the plural, meaning “the nations.” Again Israel is called upon to listen and at verse 9, God is called upon to “Awake,” put on strength and redeem as he did long ago. At verse 12, the Lord again identifies himself as Israel’s comforter. Nonetheless, Israel has forgotten him. More promises of restoration follow and at this, Jerusalem is told, “Rouse yourself!” She is to awaken from her captivity and exile. She has drunk the cup of the Lord’s wrath with no one to grieve for her or comfort her. But now, the Lord has taken from her hand that cup of staggering. It shall now be put into the hands of her tormenters. Again, Zion is called on to “Awake” and put on her strength. Like the call for God to “Awake” in verse 17, Jerusalem is called to “Awake.” She is to put on her beautiful garments—her wedding clothes. She is, again, God’s bride and God’s Holy City. With that as background, today’s lesson appears to be an insertion in the poem of restoration. Zion (the remnant in exile) is called on to shake herself from the dust and stand up. She is to shake loose the bonds of captivity and exile from her neck. The reason this appears an intrusion in all that has come before is because it suggests that the exile was not God’s punishment for Israel’s unfaithfulness, but rather, as the fourth servant song suggests, it was the Lord’s way of preserving justice. Beyond that, her suffering was without cause—“they were taken away without cause.” The howling rulers that daily despise the Lord’s name are not Israel, God’s chosen ones, but those who have taken God’s people captive. In spite of the enemies’ derision of God’s name, Israel shall know the Lord’s name, and in that day, they will know that it is the Lord who is speaking. Finally, though it is tempting to take the concluding “here am I,” as spoken by the Lord, scholars suggest that because it is a standard prophet’s response to God’s call, it is the servant leaving his signature behind. At verse seven, the song of Israel’s redemption continues with its beautiful poetry leading into the fourth servant song.

Psalm 46 is a communal psalm that is a source of comfort and solace as well as an affirmation of confidence and trust in God as our only refuge and strength in times of trouble. No matter the threat or crisis—even one as dire as massive earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, or the enormous tides, tsunamis and floods created by the sea—we will not fear for God is with us. God is not only stronger than the forces of the earth, God is in the city of his holy habitation—Jerusalem and its temple—and it shall not be moved. The nations are in an uproar, the kingdoms totter, the Lord speaks, and the earth melts. Again, the psalmist repeats the affirmation that the Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge. The psalm then invites us to look upon and consider the works of the Lord: his sovereignty over the chaotic forces of nature and his ability to silence and still warring and ravenous nations. Therefore, be still—know God! Know that God is sovereign over all things that can harm, be it the forces of nature or the brutality of humanity. More; know that the Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge. Be still and know God.

The Book of Revelation is addressed to the seven churches of Central Asia, in which each church is specifically spoken to, challenged, warned and comforted. Today the church is Ephesus. Ephesus was the capital of Asia, its most important city in that Roman province, and the fourth largest city in the empire. The angel of the church in Ephesus is the one to whom this message is given to write down. The one who holds the seven stars in his right hand is the risen Christ, who walks among the seven golden lampstands—the churches to whom these words are given. We are back to the highly imaginative and symbolic language of apocalyptic literature. The risen Christ is among them and commending them for their toil and patient endurance, for their rejection of the “evildoers.” Here, “evildoers” probably refers to the false apostles who have traveled and taught as they have come and gone among them. The Ephesians have tested them and found them to be false, and rejected their teaching. In all of this they have not grown weary. However, the risen Lord has this one thing against them: they have abandoned the love they at first had for one another. Fighting against false teachings can, and almost always causes the church to abandon love for one another for what it thinks more important—the truth. The debates over teaching, doctrine and ethical behavior almost always issue in division and finally, one side calling the other apostate. They are to repent of this, or the Lord will come and remove them from their place within the larger church. They have this to their credit: they hate the Nicolaitans, which the Lord also hates. The Nicolaitans seem to have been a group of believers who were among the false apostles being resisted, who advocated various compromises with Hellenistic culture in pursuit of a more enlightened and progressive Christianity. For many reasons, this text’s message is as relevant today as when it was first spoken: “Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches.” Those who conquer will eat from the tree of life that is in the paradise of God, an obvious reference to life in the garden with God before the fall.

John the Baptist has identified Jesus as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Jesus walks by John, who is standing with his own disciples, and again names Jesus, “the Lamb of God.” At that, two of John’s followers leave John to follow Jesus. One of the two is Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, who quickly goes to Peter and says, “We have found the Messiah.” The next day Jesus goes to Galilee, finds and calls Phillip, who goes to recruit Nathaniel. Jesus promises Nathaniel that he will see far greater thing than he has experienced in the miraculous nature of his call. It is now the third day, and they are all at a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and Jesus’ mother is with them. The story is familiar: the wine runs out early, and Mary (who is never mentioned by name in John’s gospel, but only as “the mother of Jesus”), turns to her son to resolve the problem. Jesus disavows any responsibility, noting that his hour has not yet come. Nonetheless, Mary tells the servants to do what Jesus tells them to do. Standing there are six large stone jars for water used for the ritual of purification (hand washing). The enormous amount of water indicates quite a large crowd—no wonder the wine was gone so quickly. But if the host knew enough to provide that amount of water, why did he not also provide an equally large amount of wine? Jesus tells them to refill the jars, as some have been used and are no longer full. After they have filled them all to the brim, Jesus tells them to draw some out and take it to the chief steward. They do, the steward tastes what has now become wine, and not knowing its origin, goes to the bridegroom to compliment him on having saved this very best until last. Usually the best comes first, with the inferior wine being served when people have had so much that its inferior quality will not be noticed. That’s it! That is where the story ends, with Jesus responding to a need with extraordinary generosity and abundance simply because it is his nature to do so. John tells us that this was the first of a series of Jesus’ signs, John’s term for what we call a miracle, signs that revealed Jesus’ glory (who he is and his generous and abundant nature), and that his disciples believed in him. From here they go on to Capernaum, which will become a base of operations for Jesus. His mother had told the servants to do what he told them to do. They did, and look what came of it. Doing what Jesus tells us to do is the secret to the abundant life.

Posted January 7, 2015
Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Tuesday, January 6, 2015, Epiphany
Isaiah 52:7-10; Psalm 72; Revelation 21:22-27; Matthew 12:14-21

In an oracle of Jerusalem’s salvation, Isaiah announces, “How beautiful are the feet of the messenger on the mountain announcing peace” and brings the good news of their salvation, saying, “Your God reigns.” Jerusalem’s sentinels shall rejoice when they see their redemption in plain sight. The ruins of Jerusalem are commanded to “Break forth together in singing; for the Lord has comforted his people and has redeemed Jerusalem” (notice the past tense—the redemption has happened, it is the result of that redemption that are now happening). The Lord has bared his holy arm before all the nations. “All the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God.”

Psalm 72 is a royal psalm that prays for the king, the son of a king, and may have been used as part of an annual enthronement liturgy. The attribution in the heading: “Of Solomon” suggests that its roots are in the reign of King Solomon, King David’s son, at the height of Solomon’s reign. It describes the boundaries of Solomon’s kingdom: dominion from sea to sea and from the River to the ends of the earth. It recalls the tributes paid to him by kings from Sheba, Tarshish and the isles. It extols the kings goodness, delivering the needy, having pity on the weak, saving the oppressed from violence and holding them precious in his sight. The psalm intercedes, asking for long life and all of its blessings, and that he may continue to judge God’s people with righteousness and justice. It ends, blessing the Lord as the God of Israel who does wondrous things. It is not the king, but the Lord who stands behind the king’s righteousness. May the Lord’s name and glory fill the whole earth, “So be it; let it be!”

John now looks more closely at the New Jerusalem and discovers that there is no longer any temple within it, for the city itself has become the temple—the dwelling place of the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. The city has no need for sun or moon, for the Glory of the Lord is its light, and the Lamb is its lamp. Finally, the nations will walk by its light and all the kings of the earth will bring their glory. The gates of this city will never be shut for there is no danger that can harm it, and it will never be night. People will bring into the city the glory and honor of all of the nations. But again, it is stressed, that nothing unclean will be there; only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life.

Jesus has healed the man with the withered hand, and has done so on the sabbath. As a result, the Pharisees go out and begin to conspire against Jesus, seeking to destroy him. Aware of this, Jesus departs, but the crowd continues to follow him. As they do, Jesus cures all of them, but orders them not to make him known. Matthew now quotes the first of the four Servant Songs, this from Isaiah 42:1-4 to illumine his readers further, reminding them that Jesus is the Lord’s servant long ago foretold, the chosen, God’s beloved, in whom the Lord is well-pleased (notice the words also appear in the baptism). The Lord has put Spirit upon Jesus, who will proclaim justice, not just to Israel, but to the Gentiles as well. But in doing so, he will not argue or shout out in argument in the city streets, but rather will proclaim God’s mercy in such a way that not even a bruised reed will be broken or a dimly-burning wick be quenched, until he brings justice to full victory. In him and his name, even the Gentiles will hope.

Posted January 6, 2015
The Rev. Dr.       Fred R. Anderson

Author: The Rev. Dr.       Fred R. Anderson
Created: June 21, 2012

The Rev. Dr. Fred R. Anderson, Pastor of Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church, offers thoughts on today’s lectionary readings.

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