Take My Hand, Isaiah 42:1–9 (Matthew 3:13-17), The Baptism of Our Lord, January 12, 2020
A father was walking with his toddler close behind. They were going from a Sunday school building to the sanctuary of the main church building. The father, knowing they were approaching a set of about 20 steps going down to a parking lot, and concerned that the son may fall, admonished the two-year-old, “hold daddy’s hand.” The youngster sternly shook his head ‘no’ and kept following along a couple steps in behind dad.
They came to the top of the steps. The toddler stopped, looked down that long drop, looked up at his dad, and reached his hand out for his father’s firm grip. How often we are like that with our heavenly Father. He asks of us, “take hold of my hand.” Often, we see no need. But our Father knows what lies ahead. Better to place our hands firmly in the grip of the Father before we face the possibility of perilous times.
Our Old Testament reading begins, I am the Lord; I have called you in righteousness; I will take you by the hand and keep you; 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. I am the Lord; that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to carved idols. (6-8)
When someone takes us by the hand and leads us, like when we were children being led by our parents, we are safe, we are on the right course, and we are being helped.
Of course, this passage refers to Jesus, whom the Father takes by the hand today in baptism and leads through ministry, suffering, death, resurrection, and glorious victory. But God took Him by the hand for a very specific reason. God sets Him as the covenant to the nations who brings light and sight to the blind and leads the prisoner out of the dungeon.
This morning the baptism of Jesus proclaims that God has sent His Son, the Servant of whom Isaiah sings, into this world with a purpose. He has come because God has seen the plight of sinful, broken, miserable, suffering people. His answer to all this is Jesus.
What do we know about this Servant? This Servant is gentle. He brings justice, but not like we expect justice. We look for justice to come from power properly wielded. We look for a government to send in the police, arrest the bad guys, work justice for the oppressed by sending the oppressor to jail or worse. But this Servant works another way. He does not put out the dimly burning wick. The bruised reed He does not break.
He does not grow weary in His pursuit of justice. He is relentless in His pursuit of Justice for this world, but His relentless pursuit eventually brings Him to a cross and tomb. He does not throw the bad guys in jail but prays for them as He hangs there dying. We grow discouraged sometimes, He never does.
God takes Him by the hand so He can take us by the hand. The fact that we hear this morning that Jesus is standing there in a muddy river getting baptized today is important. He has hands, you see. He is one of us, so He can take us by the hand. He knows what it is like to be in prison. He knows what it is like to be blinded by grief and subject to darkness. He stands between us and the transcendent God, conveying the very love of God for His fallen creation through His perforated hands. He can take us by the hand and lead the prisoner out of the dungeon because He has been there!
That said, He works with the very authority of the Father. He is fully human but it is God Himself who sees us through. When Jesus speaks justice it is no sham, it is no ineffectual mouthing of meaningless words. God will share His glory with no other. He will do this Himself. As it says in Hebrews 1, in the past God spoke through prophets, but now He speaks through His Son.
This is why we can be comforted: We can delight that God has seen eyes blinded by tears and the sense of entrapment which the death of a loved one brings to us. Jesus shines in that moment and leads us out into life. He stands in these waters of John’s baptism today because that is where we need Him.
Our Old Testament reading in Isaiah is the first of the four great Suffering Servant Songs, prophecies of Jesus Christ as the Servant of the Lord who will come to save God’s people. (The others are Is 49:1–7; 50:4–11; and 52:13–53:12.) Here the Suffering Servant is designated by God as “my chosen one.”
Isaiah was written in the eighth century B.C. The Servant is presented to the Israelites who were exiled in Babylon in the sixth century B.C. Their temple had been burned and demolished; their king had had his eyes gouged out after witnessing the butchering of his sons.
Judah’s entire way of living had come to a brutal end by the hand of Nebuchadnezzar and his hit man. The exiles only knew defeat. Their lament is summarized in these words from Isaiah 40:27: “My way is hidden from the LORD; my cause is disregarded by my God.”
If you’ve ever been divorced by a spouse or abandoned by a parent, you’ve echoed these words.
If you’ve ever been hurt so badly that you couldn’t reach deep enough inside to express the pain, you’ve lived this nightmare.
If you’ve ever fought horrifying demons from your past, you know this chaos.
Overcome by the lack of order in their lives, the exiles turned to the fleeting, the temporary, and the quick fixes. They were so bold as to say in Isaiah 56:12: “Come, let me get wine! Let us drink our fill of beer!”
In the agony of defeat, so often you and I get sucked into what is shallow, superficial, cheap, and dirty. Looking for quick revenge, spouses get tangled up in one-night stands. Students take shortcuts that can really only be called cheating. Parents neglect their children to pour everything into their own careers. The result? We find ourselves in the despair of exile: “My way is hidden from the LORD; my cause is disregarded by my God” (Is 40:27).
Enter Isaiah’s Suffering Servant, who has so hidden Himself in the flesh of man that He needs to be pointed out to us or we would miss him. So authentic is His humanity that we might simply pass over Him as another simple human being, one of the billions who have run this race. But this contestant in the human struggle is no mere man.
He is also the Lord of heaven and earth, He is God. So, lest we miss what we have already been told, our ears and our eyes are given to see and hear that this man who stands under the trickling waters of John’s baptism is not simply another in a long line of penitents. He is man and God.
Jesus is revealed today as the one who bears our sins. He not only bears the sins of our naughtiness, but also the sins of our brokenness. We just are not very good at this human race. So He runs it all for us.
But the final restoration is yet to come. At His final epiphany, the Servant will return as a rider on a white horse. His name will be called Faithful and True, and King of kings and Lord of lords. On that day the ultimate victory will be uttered. John records it in Rev 21:6: “It is done.”
To the student who holds defeated dreams, He speaks. To the couple with a barren womb and fervent prayers, He speaks. To the Christian who daily fights with his flesh only to lose time after time, He speaks. To any person who has felt the sting of death, the power of the Law, the torment of guilt, He speaks. And He says, “I love you!”
Anyone who is suffering with grief knows what it means to be blinded by tears and trapped in a reality which they cannot change. Jesus leads the mourner by the hand. That is not to say that it is wrong to weep at the death of a friend, but the divine promise that is spoken through the death and resurrection of this servant takes us past grief to laugh and rejoice again. Jesus does this very thing today. He does it all the time.
In one of the funniest films I’ve ever seen a teenage boy travels back in time in a DeLorean which has been converted into a time machine. In “Back to the Future,” Marty goes back to when his parents were teenagers and interacts with them. His actions have serious consequences that change the course of history. This fictional movie challenges us to use our imagination to reflect on how the past affects the future.
Imagine stepping into a time machine. You turn on the power and set the dial to the past. You go back 100 years when Woodrow Wilson was president, then past 1000 to 2000 years ago when Jesus walked the earth, then to 4000 years ago when Abraham lived, then past Noah, Enoch, Cain, Abel, to the sixth day of creation when God made Adam out of the dust. You keep moving back through the six days (now this is where you really must use your imagination) and you set the dial as far back as it goes, to eternity. Finally it stops and you get out. What do you find?
“In the beginning was the Word [Jesus Christ], and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1). What was God doing before he made the universe? He was thinking about you and your salvation. It was at that time that He first loved you, even before you existed, and He chose you, planning heavenly blessings for you.
It was then that God chose His Son to be revealed to the Magi, to be baptized into His role as the Suffering Servant, and to die on the cross to save you. God “chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight” (Eph 1:4). This is the comfort of the gospel. It lies beyond your wildest imagination, and gives you a peace beyond understanding. Amen.