The Second Sunday after the Epiphany, 19 January 2020

Isaiah 49:1-7
Psalm 40:1-12
I Corinthians 1:1-9
St. John 1:29-42

Background: The Lamb of God

Biblical references to sheep and specifically to lambs are numerous. The story of Cain and Able is essentially the story of the conflict of ranchers and farmers, and the lamb seems to have won out. The Passover story revolves around the Lamb and the offering of its meat and its blood as a sign over the doorway. David’s story begins with his association with the sheep, and later in the Temple the offering of lambs, and other animals becomes the center of the Jewish sacrificial system. In Isaiah the lamb becomes one of the signs of the peaceable kingdom, and is also associated with the Suffering Servant. In the Gospel of John (see today’s Gospel) John the Baptist sees Jesus and associates him with the Lamb of God. Like the sacrificial lamb, John sees Jesus as salvation itself.

First Reading: Isaiah 49:1-7

Listen to me, O coastlands,
pay attention, you peoples from far away!
The Lord called me before I was born,
while I was in my mother's womb, he named me.
He made my mouth like a sharp sword,
in the shadow of his hand he hid me;
he made me a polished arrow,
in his quiver he hid me away.
And he said to me, “You are my servant,
Israel, in whom I will be glorified.”
But I said, “I have labored in vain,
I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity;
yet surely my cause is with the Lord,
and my reward with my God.”

And now the Lord says,
who formed me in the womb to be his servant,
to bring Jacob back to him,
and that Israel might be gathered to him,
for I am honored in the sight of the Lord,
and my God has become my strength--
he says,
“It is too light a thing that you should be my servant
to raise up the tribes of Jacob
and to restore the survivors of Israel;
I will give you as a light to the nations,
that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”

Thus says the Lord,
the Redeemer of Israel and his Holy One,
to one deeply despised, abhorred by the nations,
the slave of rulers,
“Kings shall see and stand up,
princes, and they shall prostrate themselves,
because of the Lord, who is faithful,
the Holy One of Israel, who has chosen you.”

The message of comfort gives way to a message that may be seen as a sharp sword, and the descriptions of the Servant which preceded these verses take a different tone. The Exile and Babylon are left behind as is the focus on Judea’s captivity. Now the prophet wishes to focus our attention on spiritual things, not only in Israel, but universally in the world. Thus it begins, “Listen to me, O coastlands.” The reference to the Servant’s birth, his being known from the womb, is reminiscent of Jeremiah’s experience as well. And what will this Servant do? He is not a warrior, but one who deals with the Word – with his mouth. These are not to be idle words, but rather a message that makes one ready and prepared for what is to come.

The Servant is named as Israel, but what is Israel’s task? And what about all that faithlessness in the past? This is the new ideal Israel, the pathway to God. The whole people take on a uniform task of guiding the world to the Lord. Thus they are “a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.” That which was once despised for its helpless, which became “the slave of rulers,” that one is now that which monarchs and nobles honor. God, the Lord, the Holy One of Israel has chosen the Servant.

Breaking open Isaiah:
1.            How is a prophet’s word like a sword?
2.            What hard words to do you hear in Christian preaching?
3.            Is our nation a pathway to God?

Psalm 40:1-12 Expectans, expectavi

     I waited patiently upon the Lord; *
he stooped to me and heard my cry.
     He lifted me out of the desolate pit, out of the mire and clay; *
he set my feet upon a high cliff and made my footing sure.
     He put a new song in my mouth,
a song of praise to our God; *
many shall see, and stand in awe,
and put their trust in the Lord.
     Happy are they who trust in the Lord! *
they do not resort to evil spirits or turn to false gods.
     Great things are they that you have done, O Lord my God!
how great your wonders and your plans for us! *
there is none who can be compared with you.
     Oh, that I could make them known and tell them! *
but they are more than I can count.
     In sacrifice and offering you take no pleasure *
(you have given me ears to hear you);
     Burnt-offering and sin-offering you have not required, *
and so I said, "Behold, I come.
     In the roll of the book it is written concerning me: *
'I love to do your will, O my God;
your law is deep in my heart."'
10    I proclaimed righteousness in the great congregation; *
behold, I did not restrain my lips;
and that, O Lord, you know.
11    Your righteousness have I not hidden in my heart;
I have spoken of your faithfulness and your deliverance; *
I have not concealed your love and faithfulness from the great congregation.
12    You are the Lord;
do not withhold your compassion from me; *
let your love and your faithfulness keep me safe for ever,

This psalm is a bit of patchwork, made up of different elements. In the first 12 verses we have a thanksgiving psalm, while the verses following these (13-18) seem more a psalm of supplication. More odd is the nature of verses 7-11 which seem prophetic in nature, resembling texts in Isaiah (1:11) and Micah (6:6-7). There is movement in the psalm in which the author know that God stoops down to hear him, and then lifts him up out of the “desolate pit, out of the mire and clay.” This is a reference to the primordial chaos – the teeming waters that the Creator tames. And the human is lifted up out of this and set on a high place. The reference in our translation to “evil spirits,” and “false gods,” Robert Alter translates as “sea monster gods” and “false idols.”[1]This redemption makes for a “new song” and a new ability to listen and discern God’s will. The suppliant chooses not to hide the new things that God has given, but would rather share them. “I have spoken of your faithfulness.” With that he asks for continued compassion and support from God.

Breaking open Psalm 40:
1.        When have you been lift up out of difficulty?
2.        When have you saved someone from a difficult circumstance?
3.        When have you been tempted to sing a “new song”?

Second Reading: I Corinthians 1:1-9

Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and our brother Sosthenes,

To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, together with all those who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours:

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus, for in every way you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind-- just as the testimony of Christ has been strengthened among you-- so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ. He will also strengthen you to the end, so that you may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful; by him you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

With this reading we begin something of a lectio continua in First Corinthians. In our reading for this morning we have Paul’s standard greeting, especially to the church at Corinth, although he envisions a wider audience. There is specificity here as well, for Sosthenes (see Acts 18:17?) is mentioned. He recalls their redemption in Christ Jesus, and that they have been enriched by him, not lacking any spiritual gift. He commends a continuing waiting for the “day of our Lord Jesus Christ.” 

Breaking open I Corinthians:
  1. What is the “Day of our Lord Jesus Christ”?
  2. How have you been enriched by your faith?
  3. What does redemption mean to you?

The Gospel: St. John 1:29-42

John saw Jesus coming toward him and declared, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’ I myself did not know him; but I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel.” And John testified, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.”

The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, “What are you looking for?” They said to him, “Rabbi” (which translated means Teacher), “where are you staying?” He said to them, “Come and see.” They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon. One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He first found his brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated Anointed). He brought Simon to Jesus, who looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas” (which is translated Peter).

Following the Prologue, the Evangelist John has two successive revelations that begin the Book of Signs (John 1 – 12). The first of these revelations (1:19-28) is a conversation in which John more carefully defines who he is. “I am not the Messiah,” he says. Finally he quotes Isaiah to describe himself, “I am the voice of one crying out in the desert…” In these discussions, John the Baptist anticipates the appearance of the Jesus. He sees himself as a servant who witnesses to Jesus. On the second day (1:29-34) John the Evangelist records the testimony that the Baptist makes to Jesus, our Gospel for this day.

In this reading Jesus makes his first appearance in the Gospel. The scene has a certain humanity about it. The Baptist sees Jesus and then makes a comment about Jesus – a revelation really. It is quite bold, “Behold, the Lamb of God.” All at once several biblical allusions are made: the Passover Lamb and the Exodus, the Temple and its sacrificial system which washed people from their sins, and reconciled them to God. Finally we are reminded of Isaiah’s Suffering Servant – “a lamb led to the slaughter”. In the Prologue, John expresses the idea of the pre-existence of the Christ, which is repeated here in John the Baptist’s words, “The one who is coming after ranks ahead of me because he existed before me.” He also repeats what we learned in Matthew, namely the descent of the Spirit upon Jesus. Here, however, rather than being a personal internal event, it is something that John observes as well. This descent of the Spirit, the delineating moment for prophets, applies to Jesus as well. This is the recognition that the Baptist realizes, and that the Evangelist hopes that the readers of his Gospel will see as well.

Breaking open the Gospel:
1.        What is the Baptist’s testimony?
2.        What is your witness to Jesus?
3.        How does your church witness to Jesus?

General Idea:              Recognizing The Lamb of God

First Witness:              The Lamb who is the Servant (First Reading)

Second Witness:         The Lamb who enrichens the people (Second Reading)

Third Witness:            The Witness of the Baptist (Gospel)

After breaking open the Word, you might want to pray the Collect for Sunday. 


Almighty God, whose Son our Savior Jesus Christ is the light of the world: Grant that your people, illumined by your Word and Sacraments, may shine with the radiance of Christ's glory, that he may be known, worshipped, and obeyed to the ends of the earth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Questions and comments copyright © 2020, Michael T. Hiller

[1]       Alter, R. (2007), The Book of Psalms – A Translation with Commentary, W. W Norton & Company, New York, Kindle Edition, Location 3655.


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