I’ve just finished reading (again) The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien. I had forgotten what a beautiful storyteller Tolkien was and how much I loved the story of the hobbits of the Shire and the coming of the great King of the West.
There is something deep in the heart and soul of the human race. It is a longing; a longing that we, at times, cannot give a name to. Our stories reflect this. We all love a good story, especially one with a happy ending.
Why do we love story?
I believe we love it because our longing for the story comes from the One true Story. We find its beginnings in Genesis 3.
The story started out so perfectly. Warm, sunny days; abundant and lush food. Peace reigned and the human race was in perfect communion with God and one another. But evil comes, as in all stories. Evil enters, disrupting the entire order of the world. Now instead of peace, there is enmity; shame where there was innocence and darkness where there was light.
But a promise is made. A Redeemer will come, One who will bring the story to its dramatic climax by stamping out this evil. For thousands of years, we waited. The human race floundered in a story of depravity, death and sin. Where was the Promised One, the Redeemer who would crush the evil of the serpent?
This brings us to our readings for this week:
Isaiah 42:1-4, 6-7
Psalm 29:1-4, 9-10
Let us begin by considering the text from Isaiah. Look at the descriptions given for the “servant” of God. We are told he will be:
Upheld by God Himself
The delight of God’s soul
The Spirit of God will be upon him
Bring justice to the nations
He won’t be someone you would notice
He will not be cruel to the oppressed
He will be a light to the nations
He will give sight to the blind and set prisoners free from darkness
He will be a covenant to the people
He will not fail.
This seems impossible when we look at the conditions of the world then. And now. There is none who can fit this mold. Many leaders of the people came along but none of them lived up to these standards. All of them failed. All of them. The people of Israel had to be frustrated. The Promised One, the servant of the LORD, the Messiah was not going to come. I’m sure we would have felt the same had we been alive in those days. For hundreds of years, nay thousands, they had been waiting and continued to wait. Where was this Messiah?
St. Mark and St. Peter tell us. St. Peter, in our text from Acts, tells us and those listening then who this Promised One was and is. St. Mark tells us the story, albeit in his typical succinct way, of the fulfillment of the promise.
Look at St. Mark’s gospel text today. St. John the Forerunner was preaching that someone greater than him was coming, someone that he wasn’t even worthy to untie his shoes for him. You have to understand this in its context. St. John was popular in a sense. Holy Scripture tells us that many were coming to John to be baptized and hear his preaching. St. Luke calls John’s audiences “the multitudes,” while St. Matthew says “all the region” was coming to hear John. There was great anticipation. Was this the One? He seemed to fit the description. But he says no, there is Another.
Into the story steps the most unlikely Redeemer; a peasant carpenter whom no one knew. No one had even heard His name. But look at St. Mark’s account. When Jesus came up out of the waters of baptism, something happens. The Spirit of God (the Holy Ghost) descends bodily upon Jesus and the voice of the Father speaks from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”
Does that sound familiar?
Chosen, upheld by God Himself, the delight of God’s soul, not being someone noticeable…Sounds like Isaiah 42. St. Mark and the other gospel writers will go on to tell us how Jesus fulfills the rest of the Isaiah 42 prophecies.
I want us to go back to something in Isaiah 42 for a second. Look at verse 6. God says, about His servant, “I have given you as a covenant to the people, a light to the nations…”
Notice God doesn’t say I’m “making a new covenant” in a legal sense. Let me explain.
God had been making covenants with His people throughout their history. He made a covenant with Adam (the covenant of works), He made a covenant with Noah (not to destroy the world by flood again), He made a covenant with Abraham (a promised people), He made a covenant with Moses (to be a kingdom of priests) and He made a covenant with King David (eternal kingdom). Then, in the prophets, specifically Jeremiah, Isaiah and Ezekiel, God speaks of a new covenant. What is a covenant? It is a promise that God makes with His people. “If you will do this, then I will do this” kind of thing. God’s covenants are always tied to promise. If you will obey, then I will bless you. But the people could not obey. They did not keep God’s covenants.
Now what? The people have not kept the covenants they made with God. What will God do?
He says, through Isaiah (and others), that not only is He going to make a new covenant, but we see in our Isaiah text today, that covenant is a Person. It’s no longer merely a formal agreement. It is the very person of God in the second person of the Holy Trinity come as one of us.
This is the triumphant and happy ending of the sorry story of the human race! God Himself has become flesh. In His flesh, Jesus is the New Covenant.
Oh Church, do you see?! Do you see the delight of God’s soul, the light to the nations that He has given us? Jesus, the Christ, is the fulfillment of all the promises of God! He has come to the nations as the promised Light, the bringer of justice, the freedom from the darkness of sin, the sight for the blind!
He will not fail!
When I was a Protestant church planter, there were a lot of buzz words we used. One of those was “community.” We were coached to “build the community.” To be honest with you, I look back at that now and I really have no idea what that means. This is a popular phrase among younger people as well. I suspect our older relatives don’t know what we mean by that either.
It sounds really awesome. The media loves to use this kind of language as well. I can’t tell you how many TV shows spend time talking about this sort of thing as well. We are told that we are to “give back” to our community and “serve” our community. These days, we’re told we need to wear masks and stay home so that we can take care of our community. We’re all in this together. Doesn’t that sound nice?
I submit to you that we are not all in this together.
Those of us who follow Jesus are not in “this” (whatever the world means by “this”) together. At least, we shouldn’t be. If you are a follower of Christ, your “this” will look very different from the rest of the world. Well, let me re-phrase that. If we are a follower of Christ, our “this” should look very different from the rest of the world.
The rest of the world is obsessed with self. We see this in our society with the preoccupation with safety and comfort at all costs, freedom from aging and dying, freedom from suffering, the forced acceptance of unholy things and many other things. Our society forces its own definition of tolerance on its members. And you will comply with their definitions or you will be ostracized, called names etc. You get the point.
So, why are Christians so worried about being part of the world? Do we really think we can “be in community” with the world? Now, by “the world,” I don’t mean other humans. I mean what the New Testament biblical writers called “principalities and powers.”
St. Paul says, in Ephesians 6:12,
“For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.”
So, it’s not, like, Coca-Cola and owning homes that we’re talking about here. There are forces at work that we cannot see with our naked eye that currently try to control this world. St. Paul calls them “the rulers of the darkness of this world.” There are forces at work that are against us, against human flourishing and, specifically, against those who claim the name of Christ.
St. John, in his Apocalypse, describes it this way (Revelation 12:17),
“And the dragon was angry against the woman: and went to make war with the rest of her seed, who keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ.”
Go and read Revelation 12 and you’ll get the full picture. The world is not your friend. If you are a follower of Christ (the rest of the seed of the woman), you cannot “live in community” with the world. I’m not saying you can’t go the same grocery stores or be friendly or eat out or go to the movies. I’m not saying you can’t live in this world. I’m saying you can’t follow Christ and “be in community” with this world. The two are diametrically opposed to one another.
Jesus Himself gave us the meaning of Christian community. He told us how we are to live and those who are our “community” when he said,
“For whosoever shall do the will of my Father, that is in heaven, he is my brother, and sister, and mother.” (Matt. 12:50)
Read that again. There are some things that Jesus said (actually a lot of things He said) that are really hard. What He said (and says) demands something of us. When He said that it is only those who do the will of the Father that are His brothers, sisters, mother, His community, we are required to do some things.
If we want to be in the “community” of Jesus, we must do the will of the Father. That means that there are those who are not doing the will of the Father that we cannot be in community with. And that may include other people who claim to be Christian. I know that will sound really harsh and will probably make some reading this angry. But the hard fact is that there are those who claim the name of Jesus that are not part of the “community” of Jesus.
Our Lord tells us,
“Not every one that saith to me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven: but he that doth the will of my Father who is in heaven, he shall enter into the kingdom of heaven. Many will say to me in that day: Lord, Lord, have not we prophesied in thy name, and cast out devils in thy name, and done many miracles in thy name? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, you that work iniquity.” (Matt. 7:21-23)
Now for some good news.
We can be part of a community; the community of saints. The great cloud of witnesses that have gone before us (Hebrews 12:1), those who are of the faith and keep the faith now and those who will faithfully follow after us, they are our community.
And that community is vast beyond number. St. John tells us that a “great multitude” stands around God’s throne worshipping Him even now (Rev. 7:9) and will for all eternity. That is community, my friends! And that community is all in this together because we know the One.
The One who has wrestled with and for us with the principalities and powers and has conquered them!
The One who has given us His testimony to keep and wage war against our great enemy Satan!
The One who has given us the Spirit, by whom we may learn to do the will of the Father!
The One who, if we are faithful, will keep us until the day of His glorious return!
Rejoice, brothers and sisters, in the community of the Lamb who was slain!