Sermon / The Baptism of Christ / Isaiah 42:1-9 / “Sustainer of Wicks, Mender of Reeds”

A sermon on Baptism of Christ Sunday, Isaiah 42:1-9. Given by the Rev. Justin Clemente at New Creation Church (Anglican), Hagerstown, MD on January 10, 2021.

I. Fixing our Eyes on Jesus

We are here today to commemorate and remember, recall and be recalled by, participate in and receive as our own, the baptism of Jesus. Isaiah, in his Servant Songs, spoke of this moment when he wrote, “Behold, my servant!” Our passage from Isaiah 42 actually begins and ends with the same word in Hebrew – “look!”

Brothers and sisters, how we need to look this morning and see Christ being baptized for us! We are every day looking horizontally, left and right – looking at the chaos of the world around us. Christ’s baptism recalls us to look vertically – to look to him! To see the Father, pouring out his delight into his Son, and the Spirit coming to rest solely on him.

(Side note: We met together as a Vestry on Thursday night and we spoke about our theme as a congregation for 2021. Very quickly, we all agreed around theme of “Anchored in Christ, Persevering Together.” In many ways, that what the Baptism of Christ is all about. Will you pray with us as we flesh out what that means for this church?)

II. Jesus’ Identity (v. 1)

Jesus’ baptism is all about his identity. Though we might not always think of this way, this is an epic moment in the Bible. The stage has been prepared, the curtain is being drawn back, and now out walks the central protagonist of the story itself. Isaiah’s song, give by God himself, anticipates this moment. The Lord says, here is my servant, in whom my soul delights (v.1)!

Barry Webb writes of these words: “Samuel used a similar expression when he presented Saul to the people as their new king, and Pilate did the same when he presented Jesus to the crowds at his trial: ‘Here is your king.’ It is like a sudden blast of the trumpets or roll of the drums in an orchestral work. We immediately sense that a climax has been reached, or that a significant change in the tempo or direction of the work is about to take place.” (Barry Webb, The Message of Isaiah, pg. 170)

Yeah, if we know who Jesus is, that’s exactly right! One of the breathtaking things about this Servant in Isaiah, is that the Lord makes clear two things:

  • He does not share his glory with anyone. Jump down to verse 9:

I am the Lord; that is my name;
    my glory I give to no other,
    nor my praise to carved idols.

So, even if you are, God is not a pluralist! He will not share his glory with gods made by men. Idols always lie because they do not show us what the living God is truly like.

  • The Servant of the Lord will share his glory. Look at verse 1 again:

Behold my servant, whom I uphold,
    my chosen, in whom my soul delights;
I have put my Spirit upon him;

So we have an apparent contradiction: no one shares God’s glory, but the Servant of the Lord does. Unless, of course, the Servant is the Lord himself. The Lord is saying to us – do not bring your idols to me to tell me what I am like! I will show you what I am like in the person of my Son!

Or, as Jesus says, “All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.” (Matthew 11:27)

And so the Father says of the Son at Jesus’ Baptism, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”

In God the Son, the Trinity has dived down into creation to show the world what he is really like. This is good news for us – if we’ll receive it.

III. Jesus’ Mission (vs. 2-4, 7)

  • To bring forth justice to the nations… (vs. 1-4)

This term justice is used three times in the opening four verses of Isaiah 42. Must be important, but what does it mean? Well, we have to be careful here. This term does not mean many of things that people today mean when they speak of “justice.” Just to give one example, many people today speak of “reproductive justice,” which includes the “right” to abortion at any time for any reason. This is completely incompatible with what Isaiah is saying here.

The term used again and again for justice is Mishpat, which can be summarized as God’s truth and revelation going forward to the world. Barry Webb elaborates on this: Mishpat means, “to make the truth about the Lord, Israel’s God known everywhere, especially the fact that he alone is the sovereign creator and Lord of history.” (Barry Webb, The Message of Isaiah, pg. 171) More to come on how he’s going to do that.

  • To heal and sustain… (vs. 2-3)

He will not cry aloud or lift up his voice,
    or make it heard in the street;
a bruised reed he will not break,
    and a faintly burning wick he will not quench;

So, how will the servant of the Lord bring worth justice to the world? By binding up the wounded and providing sustenance for the empty. If that doesn’t describe where the sinless Son of God meets the human condition in his baptism, I don’t know what does.

Alec Motyer powerfully writes, “[The Servant] is not dismissive of others: however useless or beyond repair (bruised reed), however ‘past it’ and near extinction (smouldering wick) they may seem. The negative statements imply their positive equivalents: he can mend the broken reed, fan into flame the smouldering wick. The former has been internally damaged, the latter lacks the external nourishment of oil. The servant is competent both to cure and supply.” (Alec Motyer, Isaiah, pg. 193)

People are internally and deeply bruised. Like a bone that needs to be set right. Jesus will set us right and heal us, for he is the straight shoot of Jesse. In the ministry of Jesus, Matthew applies these verses directly to him: “Many followed him, and he healed them all and ordered them not to make him known. This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah.” (Matthew 12:15-16)Jesus has come to heal the human condition in God’s way.

Perhaps some of us are faintly burning. Smoldering with events out of our control. Tired. He is the lighter of such wicks. In fact, you must know yourself to be such a one – a bruised reed, a wick lacking fuel in order to come to Christ at all. And just as you came to him, so continue to come to him, Church – look to him to provide what you need.

  • To liberate and enlighten… (vs. 6-7)

6b I will give you as a covenant for the people,
    a light for the nations,
    to open the eyes that are blind,
to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon,
    from the prison those who sit in darkness.

“The Servant will undo all the horrendous and degrading effects that sin has had on the human race and restore to people their true freedom and dignity as sons and daughters of God.” (Barry Webb, The Message of Isaiah, pg. 170)

Isaiah knows there is a more debilitating blindness than physical blindness. There is a weightier chain upon humanity than those found in physical prisons. The Servant of the Lord has come such deep darkness and such iron bars on to himself, breaking their power forever.

IV. Where the Servant is Headed (v. 4)

Let me end by taking one last look at verse 4: “He will not grow faint or be discouraged till he has established justice in the earth.” That verse implies that the Servant is going to personally suffer. In fact, if you know where the Servant Songs are headed in Isaiah, the Servant will suffer immensely – but he also will triumph. Ultimately, Jesus will bring forth justice to world in his Cross, where grace and mercy meet!

Kathryn Scott, in her moving song “At the Foot of the Cross” sings this:

At the foot of the cross
Where grace and suffering meet
You have shown me your love
Through the judgement you received

Now I can trade these ashes in for beauty
And wear forgiveness like a crown
Coming to kiss the feet of mercy
I lay every burden down
At the foot of the cross

Smoldering wicks can become lamps. Bruised reeds can be healed. But only through the Servant of the Lord. So look to him. Look to him. Amen.  

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