First Sunday After Epiphany: “Fulfillment is Profitable”
Isaiah 42: 1-9
Psalm 89: 29-29
Acts 10: 34-38
Matthew 3: 13-17
Our Theme for this Liturgical year is “Proclaiming what is Profitable.” One of the threads running through the Scriptures on this Feast of the Baptism of our Lord Jesus Christ is “Fulfillment.” Combine them and we get the theme for today, “Fulfillment is Profitable.”
The subject of fulfillment comes up as Jesus says to John in today’s Gospel Reading, “In this way it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” How is righteousness being fulfilled in this simple act of immersing one in water? For this we go back to Isaiah 42; there are a number of prophecies and promises from this chapter that are fulfilled by John and Jesus here.
To start with v. 1, “I will put My Spirit upon Him.” Obviously, our Gospel reading shows the fulfillment of this verse in verse 16. But the fulfillment does not stop there. In v. 6 of Isaiah 42, God tells His Anointed One that “I have called you in righteousness.” To be God’s Chosen, there must be righteousness. What is righteousness; what does it mean? Put simply, righteousness means “walking in right standing before God, and in unity and harmony with his plans and purposes for your life.” Did Jesus fulfill that? Peter thinks so. He said to Cornelius’ household that Jesus “went about doing good and healing all those who were oppressed by the devil.” Is that everything that makes up righteousness? No, but it’s a good start, and it began when He was anointed with the Holy Spirit. This infilling was the beginning of the fulfillment of righteousness.
Next is seen three times in Isaiah 42, in verses 1, 3, and 4, that this anointed, chosen one will “bring forth justice.” It is no mistake that righteous and justice go hand in hand, in Psalms 89: 14 and 97: 2 they are side by side. We’ve seen what righteousness is; what is justice?
Justice is not only decreeing what is right, but following through to ensure that the decree is carried out. For justice to be done a decree may go forth that someone is guilty of a crime and a sentence be imposed; but justice isn’t finished until that sentence is served. And for Isaiah to be fulfilled, this justice must be brought forth. Did Jesus do this? Peter thinks so. He began His first sermon to the Gentiles with the words, “God is not one to show partiality, but in every nation the man who fears Him and does what is right, is welcome to Him.” Was it just that some people could not come to God simply because they did not have roots in Judaism? No! But, again linked with righteousness (who does what is right), justice--in this case, the right to come before God--is now granted in Christ. Truly He brought justice! Fulfillment!
Further, in Isaiah 42: 8 God says, “I am the Lord, that is My Name; I will not give My glory to another, nor My praise to graven images.” Was it just that men were trying to steal God’s glory? No! But Jesus came to show us the way, the truth, and the life, that this injustice would be stopped, and this promise fulfilled. Fulfillment!
There was more fulfillment of Isaiah 42 that day at the Jordan. In the second part of verse 6 the Lord promised His anointed one, “I will also hold you by the hand and watch over You.” At the Jordan, God’s booming voice ringing from the heavens proved His presence, and St. Peter repeated the point when He closed today’s reading in Acts with the words, “For God was with Him.” Fulfillment!
And there’s more. The Father had said that His Son would not break a bruised reed or extinguish a dimly burning wick. In other words, He would be gentle with the hurting. This was fulfilled, in symbolism, by the form in which the Holy Spirit came to Jesus, that of a dove. A dove is a lover, not a fighter. It is a gentle bird. Perhaps, we would prefer a Peregrine Falcon or a Philippine Eagle, but that’s not God’s purpose here.
Does this mean that conflict is never appropriate in the Church, because the Anointed One is gentle? No, because not everyone is a bruised reed or a dimly burning wick. There are wolves in sheep’s clothing that need direct confrontation; there are those who are misdirecting God’s people. Was that not Jesus’ approach with the Pharisees? He knew when to be gentle and when to be confrontational—but to the hurting, it was always gentleness. Christ always fulfills the sign of the dove.
And there is yet another fulfillment in today’s scriptures, a very profitable fulfillment; this one in Psalm 89. There, God describes His servant David, whom He will anoint. This is, of course, a picture of Christ. In verse 27 He calls him His first-born, and in verse 29 God promises to “establish His descendants forever.” What is this saying? That the anointing does not stop with Christ. He is the “First fruit of many brethren;” not only in resurrection, but in the anointing received in baptism.
God baptized Jesus in the Holy Spirit that He might be anointed to go about doing good and healing all those who were oppressed by the devil; that He might fulfill righteousness and justice; that He would give glory and praise to God alone; that He would restore the hurting, and that His Father would be with Him always.
Why did God baptize you with the Spirit?
Jesus Christ is the first fruit, and He has completed and fulfilled His role, in Isaiah 42, Psalm 89, and every other promise of God that concerns Him. But now those who follow the first fruit have their own fulfillment to accomplish. His body, His bride, His Church has been anointed and empowered with the Holy Spirit; God is holding us by the hand to lead us. Will we continue the fulfillment? This is the ongoing nature of the Incarnation we saw at Christmas. As the song says,
Virgin Mary, God-bearer, bringing forth the Son;
Christ in you, God-sharer, the anointed one.
Truly the Anointed, Chosen Servant of God has gone forth in fulfillment. And now it’s our turn to do the same.