Lesson: Isaiah 52:7-10
7 How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger who announces peace, who brings good news, who announces salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.”
8 Listen! Your sentinels lift up their voices, together they sing for joy; for in plain sight they see
the return of the LORD to Zion.
9 Break forth together into singing, you ruins of Jerusalem; for the LORD has comforted his people, he has redeemed Jerusalem.
10 The LORD has bared his holy arm before the eyes of all the nations; and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God.
The Book of Isaiah is a composite of writings from three distinct periods in Ancient Israel’s history. The writings were compiled from about 700 BCE to about 300 BCE.
Chapters 1-39 are called “First Isaiah” and are the words of a prophet (one who speaks for YHWH – translated as “LORD” in all capital letters in the NRSV) who called for Jerusalem to repent in the 30 years before Jerusalem came under siege by the Assyrians in 701 BCE. “Second Isaiah” is Chapters 40 to 55. In these chapters, a prophet brought hope to the Judeans during the Exile in Babylon (587 to 539 BCE) by telling them they had suffered enough and would return to Jerusalem. “Third Isaiah” is Chapters 56 to 66 in which a prophet gave encouragement to the Judeans who had returned to Jerusalem (which was largely destroyed by the Babylonians in 587 BCE) after the Exile had ended.
Today’s reading is from Second Isaiah told the Exiles that the sentinels (prophets) can “see” (v.8) the triumphant return of YHWH/LORD to Zion/Jerusalem (v.8), the restoration of the ruins of Jerusalem and that YHWH/LORD will bring salvation to his people.
Consistent with the understanding of YHWH as a warrior god, the LORD has “bared his holy arm” (v.10) before the “nations” (pagans, Gentiles).
Epistle: Hebrews 1:1-12
1 Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds. 3 He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word. When he had made purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, 4 having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.
5 For to which of the angels did God ever say, “You are my Son; today I have begotten you”? Or again, “I will be his Father, and he will be my Son”?
6 And again, when he brings the firstborn into the world, he says, “Let all God’s angels worship him.”
7 Of the angels he says, “He makes his angels winds, and his servants flames of fire.”
8 But of the Son he says, “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever, and the righteous scepter is the scepter of your kingdom.
9 You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness beyond your companions.”
10 And, “In the beginning, Lord, you founded the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands;
11 they will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like clothing;
12 like a cloak you will roll them up, and like clothing they will be changed. But you are the same, and your years will never end.”
The Letter to the Hebrews was an anonymous sermon addressed to both Jewish and Gentile Jesus Followers which urged them to maintain their Faith in the face of persecution.
Although the Letter to the Hebrews is sometimes attributed to Paul, most scholars agree that it was written sometime after Paul’s death in 63 CE, but before 100 CE. The letter introduced many important theological themes.
Later in the letter, the author interpreted the life, death, and heavenly role of Jesus through the category of the “high priest’ who perfected the ancient sacrificial system of Judaism which ended when the Temple was destroyed in 70 CE.
In today’s reading, the author asserted that God had spoken to us (Jesus Followers) by a Son, and that this is better than the “many and various ways” God spoke to “our ancestors” by the prophets.
The author then shifted to “Christology” and identified the Son with Holy Wisdom that was present at creation (Prov. 8:22) with the words ”through whom he also created the worlds.” (v. 2). In addition to seeing the Son as present at the creation, the author also saw the Son as “sustaining all things by his powerful word” (v.3). This idea was anticipated the LOGOS philosophy of the Stoics and the language of the Gospel According to John – “all things came into being through him” (John 1:3).
Because the theology of the Trinity was still evolving, the author stopped short of identifying the Son with the Father as God. He referred to the Son as “a reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being” (v.3) and as superior to angels (v.4).
In stating that God never said to the angels “you are my Son,” the author quoted Psalm 2:7 and 2 Sam. 7:14 which were references to David as God’s son.
The author of Hebrews had great familiarity with the Hebrew Scriptures and verses 5 through 12 are all quotes to show the inferiority of angels to the Christ.
Gospel: John 1:1-14
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4 in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. 8 He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. 9 The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.
10 He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. 12 But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.
14 And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.
The Fourth Gospel is different in many ways from the Synoptic Gospels. The “signs” (miracles) and many stories in the Fourth Gospel are unique to it, such as the Wedding at Cana, Jesus’ conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well, and the Raising of Lazarus.
The chronology of events is also different in the Fourth Gospel. For example, the Temple Event (“cleansing of the Temple”) occurred early in Jesus’ Ministry in the Fourth Gospel, rather than late as in the Synoptic Gospels. In the Synoptic Gospels, the Last Supper was a Passover Seder, but in the Fourth Gospel, it occurred the day before the first day of Passover so that Jesus (who is described as “the Lamb of God”) died at the time lambs were sacrificed at the Temple for the Passover Seder to be held that night.
Today’s reading is generally called “the Prologue” to the Fourth Gospel and it signaled the major concerns of the Gospel. In referring to “the Word” (v.1), the author was speaking about the LOGOS – a philosophical idea developed in First Century Stoicism.
LOGOS has multiple meanings: it is the organizing principle of all creation; it is the “force” that differentiates all created items from one another; it is the underlying unity for all reality; it is the principle that gives meaning, coherence and order to the complex universe.
For the author, “the Christ” and the Word and the LOGOS and “the light” (v.7) are all ways of describing the same concept.
In describing John as a “witness” (v.7), the author followed the Synoptic Gospels in making clear that John the Baptist was subordinate to Jesus of Nazareth and was not the Word/the light/the Messiah.
In the Fourth Gospel (as in many of Paul’s writings), “the world” is understood as fallible social systems and social relations created by humanity. In saying that the Word “became flesh and lived among us” (v.14), the author emphasized the humanity of Jesus of Nazareth.