Lesson: Isaiah 43:1-7
1 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.
2 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.
3 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.
4 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.
5 Do not fear, for I am with you; I will bring your offspring from the east, and from the west I will gather you;
6 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–
7 everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.”
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 and is a poetic oracle of salvation in which the prophet spoke for YHWH (translated as LORD in all capital letters) who emphasized a close relationship with Jacob/Israel.
The prophet (speaking for YHWH) told the Exiles in Babylon that all Israel would be redeemed and its sons and daughters would be brought back to Israel. Verses 3 and 4 “anticipated” (with 20-20 hindsight) that Cyrus the Great of Persia would conquer Babylon, Egypt, Ethiopia, and Saba (Arabia). The “people” and “nations” (i.e. Gentiles) would, according to the prophet, be given as ransom for the Judeans (v.4).
Epistle: Acts 8:14-17
14 When the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them. 15 The two went down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit 16 (for as yet the Spirit had not come upon any of them; they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus). 17 Then Peter and John laid their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.
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 Paul’s letters.
Today’s reading described the spread of the Jesus Follower Movement from Jerusalem to Samaria. Ever since Samaria was conquered by the Assyrians in 722 BCE and Samaritans intermarried with non-Jews, Samaritans were looked down upon by Jews from both Judea and Galilee. Samaritans worshipped at Mount Gerizim (not Jerusalem) and had their own version of the Torah.
In the verses just before today’s reading, the author stated that persecutions against Jesus Followers occurred in Jerusalem, and Philip (one of the seven deacons appointed by the apostles in Acts 6) went to Samaria and “proclaimed the good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ” (v.12). Men and women were baptized.
The apostles (who remained in Jerusalem and were coordinating the spread of the good news) sent Peter and John to convey the Holy Spirit by laying hands (a ritual of consecration) on the Samaritans who had been baptized (v.17).
This passage reflects a continuing theological evolution in the Jesus Follower Movement in the First Century. According to the author, Baptism “in the name of Lord Jesus” (v.16) was not seen as infusing the baptized with the Holy Spirit. In other parts of Acts, however, the Holy Spirit came upon Gentiles listening to Peter even before they were baptized (10:44). Later in Acts, Paul encountered 12 disciples of John the Baptist who had received the “baptism of repentence.” Paul had them baptized in the name of Jesus and then laid hands upon them so they would receive the Holy Spirit. (Acts 19:1-5)
One of the major themes of both the Gospel According to Luke and the Acts of the Apostles is the impact of the Holy Spirit – often portrayed as the driving force for all that happens. Today’s reading is an example of the importance the author of Luke/Acts gave to the Holy Spirit.
Gospel: Luke 3:15-17, 21-22
15 As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, 16 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. 17 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.”
21 Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, 22 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.”
The Gospel According to Luke is generally regarded as having been written around 85 CE. Its author also wrote the Acts of the Apostles. Both books were written in elegant and deliberatively crafted Greek and presented Jesus of Nazareth as the universal savior of humanity. Both emphasized the Holy Spirit as the “driving force” for events.
The Gospel followed the same general chronology of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection as the Gospel of Mark, and more than 50% of Luke’s Gospel was based on Mark. The other portions of Luke include (a) sayings shared with the Gospel According to Matthew but not found in Mark and (b) stories that are unique to Luke such as the Annunciation, the Visitation, the Presentation in the Temple, the Prodigal Son, and the Good Samaritan.
All the Gospels contain a description of Jesus’ Baptism by John and statements by John that he was not the Messiah and that one to come after him was more powerful (vv. 16-17).
In the First Century, there was a tradition that Jesus had been a disciple of John before he (Jesus) began his public ministry. In addition, a baptizer was generally seen as superior to the person being baptized. For these reasons, all the Gospels emphasized that John was not the Messiah and that Jesus was more powerful than John and was “superior” to him.
The “baptism by the Holy Spirit” (v.16) that John said Jesus would bring was accomplished at Pentecost in tongues of fire (Acts 2:3).
The omitted verses (18-20) recounted that Herod Antipas imprisoned John because John criticized Herod for divorcing his wife and marrying his neice, Herodias (who had been married to Herod Antipas’ brother, Herod Phillip). Reflecting the fact that the Gospels were pieced together, John’s imprisonment is presented before Jesus’ Baptism.
Although each of the Synoptic Gospels included the Spirit descending “like a dove” at Jesus’ Baptism, only Luke added that the Spirit descended upon him “in bodily form” (v.22)
like a dove.”
In Mark and Luke, the voice from heaven spoke to Jesus (“You are my Son”) but in Matthew, the voice was addressed to those present (“This is my Son.) The concept of God’s decreeing that someone is God’s Son was derived from Psalm 2:7, a psalm that was likely a coronation song for David.
The dove was a symbol of new creation in the Flood story (Gen.8:8).