The Spirit, the Servant. Sunday 12th January 2020. Baptism of Christ.
Matthew 3:13-4:1; Isaiah 42:1-9
The Spirit and the Servant.
John the Baptist said: I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him. I would not have known him, except the One who sent me to baptise with water told me, ‘The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is he who will baptise with the Holy Spirit.” I have seen and testify this is the Son of God.” (John 1:32-34).
Jesus the one who will baptise with the Spirit. Next week we baptise Esther which we look forward to. Jesus on whom the Spirit is poured out upon – he is the one who will pour out the Spirit on believers and will pour the Spirit out every day as we seek Him. One part of the Alpha course is a day focused on teaching about the Spirit – who is he, what does he do, what does it mean to have the Spirit poured into our lives – to be filled…
Jesus doesn’t need to be baptised for repentance. He is pure, holy, innocent of sin, though tempted in every way. Yet he is baptised by John. Baptised like one of the crowd by the Jordan. He identifies with them – he is willing to stand there, in fact he is willing to be counted as one of them, as people watch, comment, perhaps even look down upon. Through his identification, which is ultimately shown at the cross, we are able to experience the Spirit in a similar way to Jesus- he was described as being filled with the Spirit – or as Paul says in Galatians 5 – to seek to walk in step with the Spirit. What does a life walking in step with the Spirit, a life filled with the Spirit, look like?
Be filled with peace – heaven opens, we heard, the Spirit of God descends like a dove on him. Dove a symbol of peace. The Spirit who can bring peace to our lives, our hearts, peace within and pace between us and ohers. The Fruit of the Spirit, includes peace, Paul reminds us.
Be assured of your adoption: ”This is my Son.” Jesus is the unique son of God. Yet the Spirit assures all of us, that through what Jesus Christ sacrificed for us, we too are sons and daughters of God. Romans 8 reminds us – that the Spirit witnesses to our Spirit that we are God’s children – now, in this life – and by the Spirit, we cry deep down, Abba Father. The Spirit assures us that we are adopted as God’s children.
Know we are loved by God. The voice said – whom I love – Paul describes not only that through the death of Christ, through the cross, we know we are loved. But also ”God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.” Not just an intellectual acceptance. But to know in the depths of who we are – in our hearts – we are loved by God.
Guided forwards. ‘Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert’. The Spirit not only helps us bask in the sunshire of who we are in Christ and our relationship with him, but also this knowledge – love, adoption, peace, gives to us fresh resources each day new strength to go where he leads, to serve, to enter the battles. Jesus knows he is the Son of God. He does not need to give into the tests when Satan asks ‘if you are…’
The Spirit. The Servant. ”This is my Son, whom I love, with him I am well pleased.” These words point to Isaiah 42. Matthew, when describing Jesus ministry, of healing and how he warned people not to spread news about him, Isaiah 42:1-4 are quoted, saying Jesus fufills them. Who is the servant? Jesus par excellence. But remember how Acts begins – all Jesus began to do and teach. Then Paul declares (Acts 13): when he takes the gospel to the Gentiles: ”For this is what the Lord commanded us : I have made you a light for the Gentiles that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.” Isaiah 49 is quoted, another one of the passages about the servant. The people of God – we continue to be about the servant’s work – Jesus.
What is the servant called to do? To bring God’s justice to the nations. People – who have no assured relationship with God. They are in the dark how to truly live. God wants to bring them out of the dark – light for the Gentiles, to free captives, help blind to see. God wants to bring relationship with him. They may have ignored him or given up on him, but he has not given up on them. Yesterday, I and three others were at an Alpha Netherlands training day. 700 people were there. Testimonies shared of how Alpha had changed lives – people in the dark learned how to truly live. They entered into a life changing relationship with the creator God. People were putting their hope in the revelation of God.
How is the servant called to act? The candle – not out, but very low. A broken reed – people do not try to mend it, but if it bends, it is trampled under foot. People do not take a flickering stub of a candle to read from, they put it out, light a new candle. There are many who are afflicted and oppressed. Yahweh, and his servant, do not snap off broken reeds, he binds them up, he support them. He does not quench flickering flames. He fans them into flame. The world out there – and also here – is full of broken reeds, fading flames – often we disguise ourselves, present ourselves as strong, aggressive, sorted – yet some of us who project strength – we may be the most bruised. The servant of God is called to a ministry that does not break, but binds. Does not snuff out. But gently flames. And if you were describing Jesus ministry wouldn’t that be such a wonderful description. We see his caring for the failure Peter, for the grieving widow of Nain, for unpopular rejected Zaccheus, for the woman caught in adultery. This care an important part of the Alpha group discussions, people given room to share, to discuss. At times, people choose to make themselves very vulnerable talking about their past, their thoughts, their present. Where people come as bruised, broken, wavering, the group are safe spaces.
What is the servant to be careful of? He will not shout out or cry out. The word ‘cry out’ is a word for distress, used when it says the Israelities cried out in their distress in Egypt (Exodus 2:23). When he minsters to the bruised reeds and smouldering wicks, in the NIV it says he will not falter or be discouraged. But the Hebrew words are the same. So when he ministers to the bruised / broken, and wavering flame, he will not break or waver. In the midst of demand and the suffering around him, despite the pressures, he has the staying power, he has the personal resources…
What resources does the servant have?
To fulfil his calling, he is not dependent on people’s awareness that they need God’s truth or that the bruised / broken / wavering need him. His strength does not come from on people needing him. He does not depend on his own resources – time, energy, abilities, gifts, experience. He knows everything does not rest upon him. His encouragement lies in God himself. God created the world – and God sends him into the world. The people reading Isaiah could have said – well, why go the nations, the Romans occupy us, the Babylonians stole the treasures and destroyed the temple. Or could have said – how can one person do all that God asks, it is too much, for light to be brought to others.
Yet God sends. God is mighty enough to ensure any plan he makes is effective. If he says he will use the servant in a way, he can do so, for he created the universe out of nothing. He not only has power. He is also the one who cares for all. He created all. He cares for all. He isn’t interested in just a few. He sends the servant out into His world. He sends him to the creatures he cares about, all of whom he cares about.
God’s power. God’s plan. God’s relationship. A powerful descriptions of the special relationship between the Lord God and his servant. He is chosen. He is called. His is taken by the hand. He is given God’s Holy Spirit. He is upheld. He is kept. This is part of God’s commitment to him. He does not send the servant into his world, with power, he sends him, personally committing himself to the servant. The servant does not act on his own initiative – it is God’s plan – or in his own strength, experience, abilities – but in all the resources that come from this special relationship.
Jesus was the servant par excellence. He is the light of the world. He is the good news and brings the good news of God’s kingdom. He personally cared for all the broken, wavering, bruised. In all he did, all he faced, he did not get dragged down, he remained burning, he was not broken inside. He had a confidence the plan would succeed. God’s purposes would be achieved. When he was let down by his own people, he friends, chosen followers, and his family. John’s Gospel presents Jesus, in his trial, ordeal, crucifixion, as totally in control.
Yet. He was light of the world. The one to lighten the Gentiles. Yet we are called, he said, right at the start of his description of the kingdom life – ‘you are salt of the earth, you are light of the world’. Jesus said ‘As the Father sent me, so I send you’..The ones to bring to the world, so people can be free, not blind, not captive, so they put their hope in God’s revelation – his self revelation, Jesus. That is one reason why we run Alpha as a church – and will pray for it – that is a place where people put their hope in the good news in Jesus.
As followers of Jesus we follow in our master’s footsteps how to act towards people. To show a new way. Not to break the reed, not to snub out the flame. To be that type of people where we work, where we study, where we go to the gym. A way of grace and mercy. To show that in the world. But of course to show that here. That All Saints truly is seen as a hospital, where people who are wounded or bruised are not abandoned or told to heal themselves but to be a place where people say – go there, for if you are a bruised reed or a stub of a candle, you will not be trampled or stubbed out, and in fact, through God you can be bound, fanned into flame, healing can come.
However to be careful. The need to draw on the resources of God. We are sent by him into his world. This is not our initiative. Someone said – it isn’t that God’s church has a mission. But God’s mission has a church. We go into his world a world he cares for and loves no matter how dark. We are promised we will bear fruit.
To go into his world, we go in our special relationship with him. The servant is chosen, called, taken by the hand, given the Spirit, upheld, kept. Jesus declared, ‘ you did not choose me, but I chose you’. You are chosen. You are kept ‘ I give them eternal life and they shall never perish.’
‘No one can snatch them out of my hand. My father who has given them to me, is greater than all no one can snatch them out of my father’s hand.” We do not hold onto him. As he told the servant, ‘I will take hold of your hand.’ If he sends us, as the Son was sent, the Spirit is given – Jesus breathed on them. We have the resources of God – the Spirit who hovered over the waters poured out or he can be poured into our lives, who brings peace, assurance of being God’s child, to know we are loved, and to guided forward into the purposes of God.
So as you begin your week, your service of the Lord. Think of when Jesus began his public ministry. Let those words of Jesus spoken over Jesus, slightly rephrase the, be over us.
‘You are my child, whom I love and am committed to, I’m for you not against you and I give you my Spirit afresh.’
Prayer: Lord thank you how you call me into the work of the Servant. Thank you for the gift of your Spirit. Help me to walk in step, doing what you call me do, in the way shown by Jesus, depending now on myself but on you and your commitment to me. Amen.