Isaiah 51:1-6 • Exodus 1:8-2:10 • Psalm 138:1-8 • Matthew 16:13-20
This can be a very difficult passage to understand, especially when we come to it in this fashion – not really doing a deep study of it but just reading select passages. We have covered the basics however, so, we can always have a foundational understanding.
- Isaiah is the major prophet (means a lifelong career as a prophet, sacrificing all else to proclaim God’s good, but mostly bad news).
- Isaiah’s main job was to warn the people that they needed to return to God. However, the ‘end’ that he was proclaiming was not going to be within the lifetime of the majority of his readers, so warning them against something they cannot see is a tough sell.
- Although they cannot see what is happening that will lead to their eventual dismiss, the signs of their turning from God are there, however, they have occurred gradually so it is easy to not see them.
- There are some (who he is addressing in today’s passage) that are listening, and are paying attention, and are seeing what is going on, and may even be catching on to what is coming
- Jeremiah, who is given the same mission as Isaiah, follows Isaiah and actually is alive as the prophesies come true.
Sspecific context for this passage – Isaiah is speaking to those who do believe and are listening. He is assuring them that God will take the coming devastation and waste and make it good again (even better). Probably giving them a hope for their descendants if nothing else – and a reason to not give up. God, through Isaiah, is basically telling them that he (God) is going to fundamentally alter their negative reality, he is going to turn it all upside down.
Let me begin by saying ‘WOW, what a story!’ The more I read, and study, this passage, the more I am in awe of all the real life choices, trust, and faith, that went in to the events of this introduction of the story of Moses and the eventual deliverance of the Israelites. Honestly, even as I am typing this primer, I am having to hold back from all that is in the treasure chest that is just this passage!
So, Basic Context – It is around 500 years after the story of Joseph. That means that it is 500 years after the people have been saved from starvation by Joseph, 500 years after Jacob and his family have been moved to Egypt, 500 years in which God’s promise to Abraham and Sarah of descendants who will be a ‘people’ will be numerous. The main elements of the promise yet to be fulfilled are freedom and land…that is going to happen.
It is also 500 years, during which the people have failed to teach and remind each other, and their descendants, of the ancestors’ deliverer – Joesph.
Now they have a new King, who does ‘know’ Joseph.
HOW DO YOU FORGET JOSEPH?!
How is it possible that a ruler of a country does not know the significant moments of the history of that country?
Enough of my rant.
As you read through this section of this story, look at the different significant players in these early days of the life of Moses. Ask yourself, who were the first players in this story of deliverance who ‘fired the first shot?’ Who were the first sacrificially acting individuals who dared to deny to follow his brutal demands? Hint, look for five women, one of whom was not a Israelite.
Also, consider how desperate Moses’ mother must have been to think that the best chance for her son to survive this horrible political violent situation was to put him into a basket and down a river. Maybe consider this along side the parents, in Central America, a short time ago, who felt the best way to save their own children from the violence and unrest in their country was to put them onto a loaded train and send them north.
One of the most difficult aspect of being and doing ‘church’ in the midst of this time of pandemic is the aspect of music and singing. While we can do most everything with technology that we do in persons as we traditionally gather for worship – our traditional use of music, particularly congregational singing. One of the things I love to do on Sunday mornings as we are transmitting the worship time on zoom, is to take a sneak peak at one of the screens in order to see many lips moving as several of you are singing. Singing is a very traditional, and eternal way of offering praise – being able to do it physically together is difficult to duplicate through a screen. God is teaching us though, we will get there.
This is a Psalm of praise, particularly, a Psalm of Thanksgiving. Its song sings for us to remember how God is with us in the midst of adversity, and how he will ‘take care’ of those who inflict pain and oppression.
Up to this point, in the book of Matthew, Jesus journey has been primarily experiential. He has seen the brutality of their oppression, he has sat beside them in their grief, he has healed their sickness, he has cured their disease, he has addressed their hunger, he has taught, he has confronted, he has loved, he has embraced, he has rejoiced, he has suffered – he has completed his understanding of the human experience and of the reality of pain and suffering of the human condition. Think back to all of the experiences you have seen Jesus have, consider his responses, and contemplate the truths that he has taught through them.
The passage this week is a turning point in Jesus’ public ministry. He now heads in a different direction. While he is blatantly headed to Jerusalem, he is also beginning to point his followers in the same direction. In this passage, he is bringing the truth of ‘who is Jesus?’ to a very personal place, ‘Who do YOU think I am?’ This is essential as his followers will need to ‘firm up’ their belief to be able to stand in the days ahead.
Who do you say Jesus is?
This is a huge passage. It is one that we have heard, studied, and even dissected before, but it is also one that will forever hold new instructions for our ever changing realities. Take a moment to think of all that we have seen Paul teach up to this passage. We have seen him, not only talk about sin, but he has redefined our understanding of sin, taking us much deeper than it just being about wrong action. We also, as we approach this passage, must not forget about his dilemma in understanding God’s promises and actions to, and towards, his own people, the Jews, now that they have largely rejected Jesus. Finally, we must remember that he has declared that his struggle with understanding God’s promises in regard to his own people is a ‘mystery’ that may not ever be understood here on earth, but that we know that God will not, and cannot, reject his own people.
Now, in this passage, Paul is talking about the Church, our Christian faith community. He is speaking to our own actions (remember our look at Matthew from 08.16.20 as Jesus talked about what is inside eventually comes out for the world to see). But he also talks about the necessity of our community of faith, our church, in order to grow and mature. Plus, he addresses the need for all of us to take responsibility for ‘our’ community.
There are some interesting phrases in this passage – ‘Living Sacrifice’, ‘Transformation’, ‘Renewing of mind’, ‘Grace given’, plus many more….don’t just read through these and think of the meaning you have always been given – think about them anew. Struggle with them.