1 Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations.
2 He will not cry or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street;
3 a bruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice.
4 He will not grow faint or be crushed until he has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands wait for his teaching.
5 Thus says God, the LORD, who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out the earth and what comes from it, who gives breath to the people upon it and spirit to those who walk in it:
6 I am the LORD, I have called you in righteousness, I have taken you by the hand and kept you; I have given you as a covenant to the people, a light to the nations,
7 to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness.
8 I am the LORD, that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to idols.
9 See, the former things have come to pass, and new things I now declare; before they spring forth, I tell you of them.
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 Judeans who had returned to Jerusalem (which was largely destroyed by the Babylonians in 587 BCE) after the Exile ended.
Today’s reading is from “Second Isaiah” and verses 1 through 4 are the first part of the so-called “Servant Songs” found in Chapters 42, 48, 50 and 52-53. Although there is some ambiguity about whether the “servant” is (a) the prophet Isaiah or (b) Cyrus II (the Great) who defeated the Babylonians in 539 BCE and ended the Babylonian Exile (and who is called the “LORD’s anointed” in Is. 45:1) or (c) the Messiah, or (d) Israel, most scholars conclude – based on the overall sense of the texts – that Israel (or the faithful within Israel) is the “servant” in in this reading and in the Four Servant Songs.
The Jewish Study Bible observes that the text looks forward to the ideal world of the future in which justice will reign and the covenant between Israel and God will be observed perfectly. Even nations far away and apostate Israelites (the “coastlands” v.4) will know God because of God’s treatment of Israel. Because of the covenant (v.6), and in spite of their sins and the Exile, the people of Israel can be assured of their restoration.
Because he relied on a Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures (the LXX), the author of the Gospel According to Matthew (12:18-21) paraphrased verses 1 to 4 as part of the “prediction-fulfillment” approach he used to describe Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah.
The author of the Gospel According to Mark adopted many of the motifs of Psalm 22 and of the Suffering Servant Songs (particularly the 4th Servant Song in Chapters 52 and 53 of Isaiah) to describe the sufferings of Jesus of Nazareth in the Crucifixion.
34 Peter began to speak to them: “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, 35 but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. 36 You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ — he is Lord of all. 37 That message spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced: 38 how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. 39 We are witnesses to all that he did both in Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; 40 but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear, 41 not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. 42 He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead. 43 All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”
The book called “The Acts of the Apostles” was written around 85 to 90 CE by the anonymous author of the Gospel According to Luke. The first 15 chapters of Acts are a didactic “history” of the early Jesus Follower Movement starting with the Ascension of the Christ and ending at the so-called Council of Jerusalem where it was agreed that Gentiles did not have to be circumcised and keep all the Kosher dietary laws to become Jesus Followers.
Chapters 16 to 28 of Acts are an account of Paul’s Missionary Journeys, his arrest, and his transfer to Rome – and the stories are not always consistent with the information in Paul’s letters.
The Gospel According to Luke and the Acts of the Apostles see the Holy Spirit as the driving force for all that happens. The events surrounding today’s reading exemplify this.
As background to today’s reading in Chapter 10, Peter fell into a trance (v.10) and saw a sheet filled with foods regarded by Jews as profane or unclean. A voice admonished him that what God made clean shall not be called profane (v. 15). Soon after, Peter converted a Gentile, Cornelius the Centurion, at the behest of the Spirit (v.19). Peter then gave a speech (today’s reading) that was a synopsis of the major themes in the Gospel According to Luke (vv. 34-43). One of those themes is the idea that being part of God’s people (v.34-35) does not depend on ethnic distinctions but rather by a religious one – fearing God and doing what is right.
In today’s reading, the author presented Peter’s speech as saying it was God who allowed the Resurrected Christ to appear (v.40), but not to all people, but only to those chosen by God as witnesses (v.41). Consistent with Luke’s Gospel in which the Resurrected Christ ate a piece of fish (Luke 24:42), Peter asserted that the Risen Christ ate and drank with the chosen witnesses (v.41). In many ways, Peter’s speech also summarizes the major themes in Acts.
In the verses that follow today’s reading, the Holy Spirit “fell” (v.44) upon all who heard Peter’s speech. The “circumcised believers” (v. 45) were Jewish Jesus Followers, and they were astounded that the Holy Spirit had been “poured out” upon Gentiles (v. 45). Peter baptized these Gentile Jesus Followers.
These events — the sheet of “unclean foods,” the conversion of Cornelius, the conversion of the Ethiopian eunuch in Chapter 8, and the baptism of the Gentiles upon whom the Holy Spirit was poured – were presented in Acts as critical “precedents” to the spread of the Jesus Follower Movement to Gentiles.
They were also presented as important predicates and precedents for the decision at the “Council of Jerusalem” attended by “the apostles and elders” (Ac.15.4) at which Paul and Peter testified about the Spirit’s coming upon Gentiles and argued in favor of baptizing Gentiles.
James, the brother of Jesus and head of the Jesus Follower Community in Jerusalem, decided (reluctantly) that Gentiles could become Jesus Followers and did not have to be circumcised or keep all the Kosher rules (Ac. 15:19-20).
Following the Council, Acts of the Apostles turned its focus to Paul’s missions to the Gentiles.
13 Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. 14 John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” 15 But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. 16 And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. 17 And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”
The Gospel of Matthew highlights Jesus’ origins and identity. Written around 85 CE by an anonymous author, the Gospel began Jesus’s genealogy with Abraham and depicted Jesus as a teacher of the Law like Moses. More than any other Gospel, Matthew quoted from the Hebrew Scriptures (using the Greek Septuagint Translation) to illustrate that Jesus was the Messiah.
Having been written after the Destruction of the Temple in 70 CE, the Gospel reflected the controversies between the Jesus Followers and the Pharisees for control of Judaism going forward. Accordingly, the Gospel contains many harsh sayings about the Pharisees. The Gospel is aimed primarily at the late First Century Jewish Jesus Follower community.
The Gospel relied heavily on the Gospel of Mark and included all but 60 verses from Mark. Like Luke, Matthew also used a “Sayings Source” (called “Q” by scholars) which are found in Matthew and Luke but not in Mark and John. There are also a substantial number of stories that are unique to Matthew: the Annunciation of Jesus’ conception was revealed to Joseph in a dream (rather than by an angel to Mary as in Luke); the Visit of the Magi; the Slaughter of the Innocents by Herod; the Flight to Egypt; the Laborers in the Vineyard; and the earthquake on Easter Morning, among others.
Because the person performing a baptism is often seen as “superior” to the baptized person, Jesus’ baptism by John created a “need” to show John’s subordination to Jesus. All four gospels contain language about John’s unworthiness to untie Jesus’ sandals (Matthew said “carry” which The New Jerome Biblical Commentary suggests may reflect a later rabbinic refinement). In today’s reading, Matthew added a colloquy in which John recognized Jesus’s superiority by saying to Jesus that he ought to be baptized by Jesus, but Jesus told him to proceed with the baptism to “fulfill all righteousness” (3:14-15).
In A Season for the Spirit, Martin Smith suggests that Jesus’ Baptism was a statement of Jesus’ essential humanity and his relationship with us. Although aware of his sinless state, Jesus did not stand apart from sinners but submitted to baptism as one of us.
The Jewish Annotated New Testament observes that “righteousness” (v.15) is frequently used in Matthew to mean “obedience to the divine will” as in Jesus’ acquiescence to baptism by John, and Joseph’s desire not to harm Mary but to divorce her quietly.
The New Jerome Biblical Commentary points out that in Matthew’s account, the sight of the Spirit of God (a dove) descending on Jesus was private to him (“the heavens were opened to him and he saw” v.16), and it is not clear if only Jesus heard the voice from heaven. The NJBC notes that “Beloved Son” (v.17) has echoes of Isaiah 42:1 in that the word for “servant” in Hebrew (ebed) was translated in the LXX as pais which also has the meaning of “son” or “child.” The phrase also echoes the description of Isaac (Gen. 22:2) as “the son whom you love” in the Binding (or Near Sacrifice) of Isaac.