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!
We are in a time of darkness and uncertainty. It feels like darkness is covering the whole earth. From bitter partisan politics to worldwide lockdowns, from troubling messages from Church leaders and inaction from others, things seem dark. There are troubling things going on in the world and the Church is not exempt from this darkness.
I’m in the process of finishing up The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien and I must say that story seems to be resonating right now more than ever with me. A creeping darkness pervades and an evil malice is taking over the whole realm of Middle Earth. What can good men do against such reckless hate is the question asked. I feel like Tolkien could have written this book yesterday.
It seems that there is a pervasive darkness and confusion seeping over everything these days, an evil malice that threatens to drown the whole earth in slavery to some nebulous new society that will not lead us to freedom but rather to slavery to the new world order.
It seems to me that the prophet Isaiah speaks to us and our world today in our Old Testament text, Isaiah 60:1-6. “Darkness shall cover the earth and thick darkness the peoples…” Seems appropriate for our world today. This is a spiritual darkness and we see it today not only in the world but, if we’re honest, in the Church.
But even in this darkness, the prophet brings us hope,
“Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you.”
He tells us that the glory of the LORD will be seen, that nations and kings will walk in the brightness of the rising of the light. He tells us that, if we will only lift up our eyes, we will see and be radiant, that our hearts will thrill and rejoice and that the wealth of the nations shall come.
Gotta be honest, I’m not feeling it these days. What exactly is he talking about? How are we to know what he means?
Our Psalm (Psalm 72) tells us what life will be like under the rule of the “royal son.” The Psalmist tells us that the people will be judged with righteousness and that justice will reign. He tells us that the cause of the poor will be defended, deliverance will be given to the needy and the oppressor will be crushed. He tells us that the presence of the royal son will bring refreshment, righteousness, peace and prosperity.
I don’t know about you but I’m not seeing that too much these days. We seem to be a little short of righteousness, peace, justice, freedom from oppression, refreshment, peace and prosperity. This is not just true of the world today either. This is true of the Church these days. There are some really confusing and even dark things coming from our so-called leaders these days and, even in the visible Church, there seems to be dearth of these qualities. Who, then, shall bring about righteousness, peace, justice, refreshment, peace and prosperity?
We begin to get a feel for some of the answer in our Epistle reading (Ephesians 3:2-3, 5-6). We see that this righteousness, peace, justice, refreshment, peace and prosperity is for all peoples, not just the Jews of the Old Covenant. This “mystery” that St. Paul refers to is that the “Gentiles” are fellow heirs. In other words, the promises of Isaiah 60 and Psalm 72 and indeed all of Holy Scripture are for all people. And what is that promise?
A holy and righteous King who will bring peace, justice for the oppressed, refreshment, peace and prosperity. Where shall we find such a King?
Our gospel text fills in the gaps (Matthew 2:1-12). The King has been born in Bethlehem of Judea around 2000 years ago. You would think that the birth of such a King would be heralded and celebrated by the world. Peace at last! Prosperity at last!
Not so with this King. This King’s birth begins a revolution. This King’s birth means that the Light of Life has invaded the darkness of the world. This King’s birth is the answer to all our real problems. When we hear words like peace, justice and prosperity, we think money and freedom from conflict. And so it shall be under the rule of this royal Son.
But His peace is peace between God and man and it lasts eternally.
His justice is the justice of a holy God who cannot abide the oppression of sin and death.
His refreshment is His shed blood and broken body.
His prosperity doesn’t involve nice houses and cars, but rather the prosperity of a world that is free from the corruption of our sinful humanity.
This King has come to set us free; free from the pervasive and spiritual darkness of our own sin. This King is kind and has paid the price on our behalf, for nothing comes without a cost. This King comes as a Son, born of a Virgin, running for His life from a murderous and craven worldly king who will have power at all costs. This King gives up worldly power as He lays down His life so that all peoples may be reconciled to the Creator and to each other.
See your King who has come, Jesus the Christ!