Bible Tuesday for Sunday, January 10, 2016
This Sunday is the feast day of the Baptism of Jesus. These Bible passages were chosen by the Revised Common Lectionary https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Revised_Common_Lectionary
for their mention of water, specifically how God uses water or rescues beings from water, and how water symbolizes God or God’s activity.
But now thus says the Lord, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. I give Egypt as your ransom, Ethiopia and Seba in exchange for you. Because you are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you, I give people in return for you, nations in exchange for your life. Do not fear, for I am with you; I will bring your offspring from the east, and from the west I will gather you; I will say to the north, “Give them up,” and to the south, “Do not withhold; bring my sons from far away and my daughters from the end of the earth— everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.”
The context of the book of Isaiah is that the nation of Israel has been divided into two kingdoms along clan lines due to arguments over royal ascension; the Northern Kingdom was most frequently referred to as Israel while the Southern Kingdom was most frequently referred to as Judah. The Northern Kingdom of Israel has been in great part decimated by Assyria. Just over 100 years later, after Babylonia defeated Assyria, Babylonia came after the Southern Kingdom, laid siege to Jerusalem, and in 586BC conquered Judah and hauled the educated royalty and priests into captivity in Babylon, leaving the farmers and tradespeople to continue production to be tribute to Babylonia. The book of Isaiah was written from the time Babylonia threatened Judah, through the siege and fall, through the captivity, the conquering of Babylonia by Cyrus of Persia, and into the return of the exiles to Jerusalem.
In the above passage/pericope, the prophet assures the people of Judah (who are in fact Israelites, that is, descended from Jacob whom God renamed Israel which means, “He who struggles with God” Ishra-man who struggles el-God) that God has not forgotten them in captivity but will most assuredly redeem them and they will go home. Notice the waters in this passage. These references to waters and rivers harken to Israel’s past, when God brought Noah and his family and all the animals through the terrifying flood, when God brought Abraham and Sarah through the Jordan River to the Promised Land, when the Israelites crossed through the Red Sea/Sea of Reeds to escape the Egyptians, and when the Israelites crossed the Jordan led by Joshua to conquer Jericho and to resettle in the Promised Land. The prophet assures the people, just as God kept the peoples of Israel and led them with an outstretched hand and protected them with a mighty arm, so will God care for you, even though you are a conquered, enslaved people confined to foreign soil.
Ascribe to the Lord, O heavenly beings, ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.
Ascribe to the Lord the glory of his name; worship the Lord in holy splendor.
The voice of the Lord is over the waters; the God of glory thunders, the Lord, over mighty waters.
The voice of the Lord is powerful; the voice of the Lord is full of majesty.
The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars; the Lord breaks the cedars of Lebanon.
He makes Lebanon skip like a calf, and Sirion like a young wild ox.
The voice of the Lord flashes forth flames of fire.
The voice of the Lord shakes the wilderness; the Lord shakes the wilderness of Kadesh.
The voice of the Lord causes the oaks to whirl, and strips the forest bare; and in his temple all say, “Glory!”
The Lord sits enthroned over the flood; the Lord sits enthroned as king forever.
May the Lord give strength to his people! May the Lord bless his people with peace!
At first glance, this psalm is obviously one which praises God for the power and strength visible through nature and the universe. Liturgically, the Israelites used this psalm as a prayer for rain during agrarian festivals such as Sukkot. Due to the geographic locations and sentence structure of parts of this psalm, some scholars believe this to be an ancient hymn to Baal that was adapted by Israel for praise of Yahweh.
Baal was frequently depicted in statuary as riding a golden bull or golden calf, with a lightening bolt clenched in an upraised fist. Baal supposedly controlled water through the chaos of storms. But in this psalm, Yahweh speaks through/over water, and wind, His voice, thundering and crashing. Later in the psalm, God is enthroned over flood waters. In these ways, the psalmist is showing God as more powerful than Baal, since God is not in the water but merely using it as a tool, a voice, and is enthroned not in it but above it.
Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them. The two went down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit (for as yet the Spirit had not come upon any of them; they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus). Then Peter and John laid their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.
This pericope from Acts is the only exception to our water themed Bible passages for this week. However, this one does deal with baptism and the giving of the Holy Spirit.
Since baptism, no matter what tradition of Christianity one might consider, is quite uniform throughout Christianity, it is hard to imagine how varied it was in the first centuries of the faith. Contemporary questions regarding Christianity are: dunking or water on head only, infant or “believers” baptism, one baptism for all or rebaptized into a different denomination? But in the early church, in addition to those three questions, also up for discussion was “In whose name do we baptize?” and “Why do we baptize?” and “Where should we baptize since many bodies of water are worshipped as idols?”
This passage of Acts shows the confusion that arose from inconsistencies in baptismal practices. These Samaritans had been baptized but only in the name of God the Father and Jesus. They did not receive the Holy Spirit, nor were they baptized into the Holy Spirit. Note: the remedy for not receiving the Holy Spirit was NOT rebaptism but rather laying on of hands. In the book of Acts, evidence of the Holy Spirit being manifest was frequently speaking in tongues, or in other languages as happened on Pentecost as recorded in Acts 2.
As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, John answered all of them by saying, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people. But Herod the ruler, who had been rebuked by him because of Herodias, his brother’s wife, and because of all the evil things that Herod had done, added to them all by shutting up John in prison.
Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
In this, the third year of the three year Revised Common Lectionary cycle, we will be spending a lot of time in Luke. Luke, along with Matthew and Mark, tell us through the proclamation of John the Baptist, that Jesus is the conveyer of the Holy Spirit through baptism, which somehow happens on Pentecost. In the gospel of John, the Holy Spirit is given on Easter Sunday evening through Jesus breathing on the disciples. In Luke, as well as Matthew and Mark, Jesus himself is baptized, and appears to be baptized by John. In the gospel of John, Jesus never is baptized.
An important theme in the gospel of Luke is one of hypocrisy. Here the words of John the Baptist foreshadows Jesus’ exposure of hypocrites. “His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” Hypocrites who rely on their own supposed righteousness and do not receive Jesus’ good news are chaff. Those who welcome Jesus’ good news because they recognize their need for it are the harvested grain.
One question that the gospels answer differently is, “When did Jesus become God?” Mark was the first gospel to be written and Mark begins his gospel with Jesus baptism, during which God declares, “You are my Son, with whom I am well pleased.” This statement is legal language that was common in patronistic adoptions in the Roman world. Mark appears to be saying that Jesus was just a regular guy until God called him through baptism and made Jesus God’s son. Matthew and Luke both used Mark as a source for their gospels which are believed to have been written contemporarily but independently. While they both record the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist, and God’s declaration, both Matthew and Luke include stories of Jesus’ conception by Mary through the Holy Spirit and of his infancy; shepherds in Luke, and wise men in Matthew. Both Matthew and Luke appear to be saying that Jesus was God’s son at his miraculous conception. It is only the gospel of John that begins, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…” Christianity has completely embraced John’s teachings on the origin of Jesus, or complete lack thereof. Jesus/God/Holy Spirit are three persons of the one true God, and this teaching is only found in the gospel of John.