Sermon Title: “Beloved”
Seminarian Henry Norkplim Anyomi
January 8, 2023
Scripture Readings: Isaiah 42:1-9; Matthew 3:13-17
Almighty God, we come to You just as we are – people from different homes and walks of life, but one in Christ. We invite You, Lord, to speak to our hearts and to help us on our journeys. Spirit Divine, help us this morning, to reset our gazes on Jesus, God’s Beloved, and through him help us know that we also are beloved of God.
Friends, our focus this morning will be on God’s Beloved. In our First Reading, Isaiah refers to this person as God’s Chosen Servant or God’s Elect in KJV’s/NKJV’s rendition. You may already know Isaiah to be a prophet, and in the First Reading (Isaiah 42:1-9), he is simply exercising his mandate – being God’s voice in ancient Israel, bringing news of judgment and hope to God’s people … So, there’s nothing tricky here, it’s just Isaiah doing “Isaiah things …” However, for us, maybe it's not that straightforward because we didn’t live in his days and may not know who’s been talked about in the chosen verses. But the text gives a clue: “my chosen, in whom my soul delights” (verse 1). Still, that’s not explicit enough. Is it? It’s little wonder why there are diversities of opinion as to whether Isaiah was talking about himself or another person, specifically, Jesus, the Messiah, who was to come centuries later on an atonement assignment. To Christians, however, the latter, Jesus, is whom Isaiah talks about in this chapter.
Good job! Puzzle solved – the Beloved is Jesus, our Christ. Now talking about beloved, we all may have at some point, used this word on someone to convey how priceless they were to us or vice-versa. For our beloveds, we would do almost about anything and everything! We would get them expensive presents, call or text them on end, look out for them, protect them, and list goes on … But is this quite how the story of Jesus, God’s Beloved, plays out? Jesus was not born into the best of circumstances – his earthly parents weren’t rich, he was manger-born with farm animals as first neighbours, he had to be sneaked out to Egypt as a newborn … As an adult, the story was no different – tempted almost tormentingly by the devil in the desert, faced rejection and threats from his own people, and was eventually condemned to death by crucifixion.
Sounds bizarre, doesn’t it? But what may seem like the paradox of a life was exactly how God intended it. God’s word tells us in John 15:13 (NLT) that “there is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” Jesus was living out Scripture! You see, God’s love for us doesn’t exempt us from trials; it makes us liable to them. The good news, however, is that in such struggles, God’s victory is made manifest. Jesus told his disciples, “in this world, you will have trouble.” He, however, concluded: “ … take heart, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). So, God’s love, which is not trial-free, ends in victory! But why doesn’t a good God keep us from trials? I may not know why, but my hunch is: Through them, ‘God is teaching us to fish’. James 1 tells us that through trials, we are made perfect, lacking nothing. So, God’s love teaches us to fish (i.e. be perfected through trials), rather than hand us fish.
By this, it almost sounds like God doesn’t execute God’s responsibilities (as Creator, Protector, Keeper, etc). Let’s head back to Isaiah together. In verses 1 and 6 of the Isaiah text, we see God’s promised commitment to God’s Beloved.
God puts God’s Spirit on the Promised Messiah, takes him by the hand, and keeps him. As a matter of fact, these verses look at these commitments of God in light of present perfect or past tenses which proves that God did them prior to the Messiah’s incarnation or earthly birth. Friends, here is the point I’m trying to make: Jesus had God’s 100% presence and direction even before any of Jesus’ earthly days came to be! Thus, Jesus’ assignment was enormously clear to him so much so that it was impossible to fail. Here’s what Acts 10:38 (excerpted from one of today’s supplementary readings) says:
“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” (emphasis mine).
In the same way, we believers are not without God’s presence and direction in our assignments. Like the proverbial parent teaching their child to fish, God is actively present, guiding us to make our “catch” (through being perfected).
Jesus, as per Isaiah, was invested with God’s Spirit and guidance to become a standard – unveil God’s justice to the nations. This was as significant at Isaiah’s time as it is now, because injustice was rife in both Israel and Judah as was rebellion against God and idolatry. Acts of injustice in our days seem to be mounting by the day: Russia’s arbitrary invasion of Ukraine has not only occasioned massive loss of life and property across Ukraine, but it has also displaced thousands of Ukrainians and caused a serious global economic crisis. In Iran and Peru, protesters have been met with heavy-handedness and brutality from security forces leading to loss of lives. As you may know, more than 22 civilians had been killed in line with Peru’s protests as of December ending whilst at least 326 civilian deaths had been recorded across Iran as of mid-November.
In parts of Sub-Saharan Africa, terrorism (mostly ethno-religious) claimed up more than 2,500 civilian lives in 2021 alone, with more than 5,000 lives lost continent-wide between January and July 2022.
The list of incidents of injustice is endless … No wonder the message of Jesus, God’s Beloved, is rightly called Good News! It is good news for the oppressed in Peru and Iran and life and peace to war-torn Ukraine and to civilians at-risk of terrorism in Africa. But Jesus’ justice mission, Isaiah revealed, would not be gavel-banging, but light-spreading and liberation-bringing. Through God’s Beloved, there will be light to the nations, sight to the blind and release to the imprisoned (Isaiah 42:6-7). This mandate, Jesus would reiterate in the Gospel of Luke when he visited a synagogue much to the surprise of his hearers (Luke 4:18-19).
How the Messiah would carry out his justice mandate has befuddled many through the ages. Here’s how I put it: Christ unfurls God’s justice as a lamb, though both a lion and a lamb. Isaiah 42:2-4 shows God’s Beloved as both tender (i.e. he will not cry, lift his voice …) and transformational (i.e. he will faithfully execute justice, doing no harm to the hurting, oppressed, and weak). Also, transformational because this Lamb of God, God’s Beloved, is interested in hearts – both individual and societal. Remember when some Pharisees confronted Jesus about his disciples’ non-compliance with the tradition of the elders (because they didn’t wash their hands before eating)? He emphasised: “it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth …” (Matthew 15:11). Perhaps God’s Beloved’s obsession with hearts was just in line with God’s promise to give the people of Israel a new heart, replacing hearts of stone with hearts of flesh?
Let’s move on now to the Second Reading, Matthew 3:13-17. Here, we see God’s Beloved in bodily form, no longer a prophesy or promise. His incarnation (revelation in human form) – birth and maturation – testify of God’s commitment to the covenant pledged to God’s people in Isaiah 42. We quickly see the “lamb disposition” of Jesus, God’s Beloved (described earlier). The Messiah doesn’t show up to make his voice heard in the streets, nor to show off his righteousness. Rather, he steps out to fulfil God’s word – indicative of his “faithfulness” alluded to in Isaiah: “it is proper for us in this way to fulfil all righteousness.” – Matt. 3:15 NRSV
Befittingly, Jesus is the Lamb of God. The “proper” thing he refers to here is accepting the baptism of John; this John who isn’t worthy to carry Jesus’ sandals! And how does this matter to us? The carrier of the justice (God’s Beloved) mandate doesn’t exempt himself from doing justice himself (doing no harm to the weak, etc). In other words, God’s Beloved doesn’t elevate himself above God’s law!
It's little wonder, therefore, that the Messiah’s humility caught God’s attention, attracting both the Spirit’s descent and God’s affirmation. I am particularly excited at the NRSV rendition. Come with me to verse 17b of Matthew 3: “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”
Here we see God’s first public affirmation of Jesus as God’s “Son” in the New Testament, a word similar to Isaiah’s “elect.” And in a markedly redundant way, God further indicates his contentment with him: the text may have simply said one of the three phrases, “my Son,” “the Beloved,” or “I am well pleased …” However, using all three expressions shows an indescribable level of satisfaction with Christ Jesus, much like, “He is enough!” or “He is all that matters.”
Consequently, we see the full expression of God – the manifestation of the Triune God – an endorsement of his future justice mission.
How significant is Christ’s sufficiency to God! God’s satisfaction with Him (which culminates in the Cross) gives rise to our acceptance before God. Our old nature of sin and unrighteousness has been relegated because of God’s 100% delight in Christ as well as Christ’s atonement for humanity. For us all who believe, therefore, Christ graces us with the prerogative of becoming God’s beloveds, too. We are kins with Christ and children of God. Indeed, we learn from Hebrews that Christ isn’t ashamed to call us siblings.
Belonging to the Family of Christ makes us like-minded with Jesus. We share in the joys and sorrows of God’s Beloved as God’s beloveds. This means Jesus’ mission of justice – light to the world, sight to the blind, and freedom to the captive – are ours too. So, Jesus is counting on us, God’s beloveds, to unconditionally love our families, feed our societies’ hungry and clothe their poor, visit the incarcerated, speak for the voiceless … God expects us as God’s beloveds to be God’s hands and feet wherever we are planted. Jesus was faithful even unto death … Could God trust us to do justice faithfully?
Hold on a moment … I’m not inviting us to earn God’s love. No! God couldn’t love us more! Love took Jesus to the Cross; love makes Christ intercede on end before God for us. Nothing we do or don’t do could make God love us more.
Say to yourself: “God couldn’t love me more. I’m already loved.”
This unmerited love is, however, our call to duty – borne not out of compulsion, but of gratitude. That is, because we love God, we respond with love towards others; love towards our world; love towards creation. Our work of justice is proof of our love for God – not because God requires it, but because we want to offer it.
As explained earlier, staying faithful in the quest of justice could be riddled with challenges and trials – pushbacks, personal attacks, assaults, and it may cost us our very lives at times. Worth it? Totally! God never forgets our labour of love as Scripture encourages. May Christ Jesus find us, God’s beloveds, faithful when He, God’s Beloved, appears. May it be it so!
In the song, “I Give Myself Away,” Contemporary Worship Singer and Pastor William McDowell, makes these declarations which I find useful for our purposes:
“ … I give myself away
So you can use me
I give myself away
I give myself away
So you can use me
Here I am
Here I stand
Lord, my life is in your hands
Lord, I'm longing to see
Your desires revealed in me
I give myself away … ”
I invite you to ask God to use you as God’s beloved to reveal God’s justice to the nations; ask God to make you God’s hands and feet to creation; ask God to bring forth many beloveds of God through you.
Shall we pray …
Lord God, Lover of our souls, You made us; You know us. Manifest Your work of justice, love, and redemption through us.
May Your strength and anointing fill us up to stay faithful to our calling to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with You. Though our personal needs may be many and varied, help us to think less of self and more of others. And while we do, please minister to our own needs and reassure us on a daily basis that we are beloved of God. It's in Jesus name we pray. Amen!