” A New Hope”
EPIPHANY 1: THE BAPTISM OF OUR LORD, JANUARY 8, 2017
“A New Hope”
Text: Isaiah 42:1–9
Keith Allen Barton made lots of promises, according to NBC news in San Diego. He claimed he could cure things like cancer and HIV with a new alternative therapy. People trusted Dr. Barton, and many put their lives in his hands. That was a mistake. He wasn’t a doctor. He had no medical training. His treatments didn’t cure anyone. They only left patients robbed of tens of thousands of dollars. In one case, a nine-year-old girl died because she didn’t get the real treatment she needed. Barton preyed on those who were desperate and needed hope. In the end, those who came to him had their hopes dashed when he failed to deliver (http://www.nbcsandiego.com/news/local/Phony-Doctor-Keith-Barton-Claimed-He-Could-Cure-HIV-Cancer-DA-186240712.html).
Our text from Isaiah 42 shows a much different story. After exposing all the “pretenders,” all the false gods who could do nothing but snuff out all hope (Isaiah 41), the Lord introduces the real contender, His chosen Servant who will contend for us and deliver exactly what is promised to those who need real hope. That Servant is Jesus! JESUS IS THE REAL CONTENDER.
People have lots of choices. The people of Isaiah’s day had lots of options when it came to looking for hope. There was the hope that their king could help them stay safe and prosperous through military might or political maneuvering. There was the hope that they could somehow make their own way through life. Then there was the hope that Isaiah’s prophetic prediction of doom, defeat, and downfall was just wrong. And, of course, there was the hope that was offered to the followers of the false gods worshiped in Babylon, such as Marduk, or the Canaanite gods, Baal or Asherah.
People still have lots of choices today. And they’ll always choose what they think will bring meaning and security to their lives. Rev. Reed Lessing in a presentation said, “An idol is anyone or anything we believe will give us what only God can give. An idol is whatever we look at and say, ‘If I can get that, then I’ll feel my life has meaning, then I’ll know I have value, then I’ll feel significant and secure.’” Or, to put it negatively, an idol is something we feel we cannot live without. Which one would you say you couldn’t live without this week: Church or your paycheck? Prayer or Facebook?
So people will choose money, self-indulgence, sexual pleasure, power, and success. They will look to princes and rulers to keep them safe and prosperous. They will look to their own good works or to the praise and compliments of others to give their lives meaning. But all these things, they’re all pretenders, and there’s greater danger here than just making the wrong choice. There’s the danger that the choice will destroy you and leave you with nothing but eternal regret and despair.
That’s why Yahweh says to each one of us who’s clinging to false hopes, “No! Here is my Servant.” Here is God’s choice for hope and salvation, the one who will contend for us. We will see soon enough that this one will be ridiculed and rejected by man (Is 53:3; Lk 23:35). And so, God points to His chosen One well before the ridicule and the beatings begin, so that when it does happen, we will not falter in our faith. My brothers and sisters in Christ, when the folks out there mock you and your faith, turn back to this text and hear God say, “Behold, my servant . . . in whom my soul delights” (v 1).
This Chosen One of God will be set apart from the pretenders by a special anointing of the Holy Spirit, which will indicate to all that He is the one set apart by God. “I have put my Spirit upon him” (v 1). Please note this happened for our benefit, not Jesus’. He is true God, the Savior, before His baptism. No others will receive this anointing, the Spirit of God descending upon Him in bodily form like a dove. No others will be guaranteed to do what He does and bring what He will bring for those who desperately need hope. In the events of the Gospel today, God tells the world that Jesus is His Son, the Savior.
That’s what makes the Servant of the Lord different from the pretenders. First, he “will not cry aloud or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street” (v 2). He is not going to walk around going, “Look at me!” Because He is chosen by God and upheld by Him, He carries out His task in the quiet confidence that He is doing God’s will (Is 53:7). When this true Servant of the Lord was arrested and stood before Pilate facing many false accusations, He had no need to defend Himself. So He remained silent. Because He is the Savior, God, He does not need to depend on persuasive arguments or slick promotional campaigns to convince people He is able to bring God’s justice to the world. He doesn’t sell himself. He gives himself.
The Servant of the Lord is also different from all the pretenders because He will show compassion on those weak and wavering—near the breaking point—or whose faith is flickering (v 3). If you are dealing with addiction, if you have been a lousy spouse, if you have been a lousy parent, if you’re one whose conscience is wounded and spirit is weak, He will not write you off as someone beyond hope or not worth the effort. He won’t tell you that you need to try harder to escape your problem, or pray harder, or have more faith. He is so different from the pretenders. He’ll come to you and fill you up with His healing Word of forgiveness.
This Servant of the Lord is also unique, is the real contender, in that He shines above the pretenders. This Servant of the Lord shines above them because He is sent to set the prisoner free from the dungeon of darkness and sin (v 7). While all the false gods only imprison, this Servant of the Lord sets free and brings light and life. Only Jesus has won the forgiveness of sins. Only Jesus was the perfect sacrifice in our place when He died and rose again. Only Jesus brings real hope.
We begin to sum up this way: Last month the new Star Wars movie came out. I like Star Wars. I am a Nerd. I admit it freely. In 1977 when I first saw the first film, I was so psyched when I saw the words crawl up the screen, “It is a period of civil war.” I must have seen it three times that summer. And I saw it again the next summer, only the first words on the screen said, “Episode IV, A New Hope.” And I was like, “Where did that come from?” In the new movie that is now playing in a theater near you, hope is the theme again. As the rebels debate trying to snatch the Death Star plans from the Evil Galactic Empire, one of the main characters points out, “Rebellions are built on hope.” And I do not think this is a spoiler when I point out that at the end when the disk with the plans is handed to…someone, when asked what it is they just received, they say, “Hope.”
Isaiah was sent with the prophecy revealing the Servant of the Lord. It was a message for those who would be tempted to find their own hope in this world. It was a message for those whose misplaced trust was about to leave them with nothing but brokenness and death. It was a call to turn away from the false gods and prophets and live. We know that this one was promised and has come, revealed at the waters of the Jordan River. God has not only promised; He has delivered. And in Him, He has delivered you. In Jesus, you have Hope.
(Adapted from a sermon outline in Concordia Pulpit Resources, Vol. 27, Part 1.)