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Epiphany 2, Cycle A

God makes it happen! These texts focus our attention on the fact that all we do depends on God doing it first and for us (Justification and Sanctification by Grace).

Psalm 40:1-11
This is a composite Psalm, attributed to David, including a thanksgiving (which we consider in vv. 1-11) and a lament (vv. 12-17). Each may originally have been independent and then combined into a liturgy. Because the final editors of the book of Psalms seem to have used references to David as a way to represent the inner life of the Hebrews whom the great king had ruled, and so of all the faithful (see Brevard Childs, Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture, p. 521), it is appropriate to conclude that this Psalm is teaching us that the experiences embodied by these two hymnic strands, lament and thanksgiving, are characteristics of living faithfully. The psalmist begins by describing his experience of God drawing him up from desolation and hearing his cry (vv. 1-2). The psalmist claims to have been vindicated and so now many will put their trust in the Lord (v. 3). Those who trust in the Lord and not turn to the proud will be happy (v. 4).

Yahweh is said to have multiplied his wondrous deeds so that none can compare with him. These deeds are infinite in number (v. 5). He does not require sacrifices (v. 6). This critique of the sacrificial cult is evident in Amos (5:21-24.) The psalmist claims it is evident in the heavenly record of deeds (“the scroll of the book”) that he delights in doing God’s will, for his law is in his heart (vv. 7-8; cf. Jeremiah 31:33). He claims to have told the glad news of deliverance, not hiding God’s saving help (vv. 9-10). Pleas are offered in closing that Yahweh not withhold his mercy, but that his steadfast love keep the faithful safe forever (v. 11).

Application: The song affords an excellent opportunity to explore the depths of despair (Original Sin), God’s saving help (Justification by Grace), and the result that those receiving such help become grateful people, delighting to do God’s will, because by grace the law has been written in their hearts (Sanctification).

Isaiah 49:1-7
This text is the Second Servant Song, written by Deutero-Isaiah (the second oldest of the three distinct literary strands an editor has woven together in order to form the book). While the historical Isaiah lived in the eighth century BC, this strand was not composed until the sixth century BC, soon after the conquest of Jerusalem by the Babylonian empire. As with all the Servant Songs, there is a dispute among scholars whether the Servant referred to is an individual (the Messiah) or Israel.

The servant, speaking in the first person, claims to have been called by Yahweh while still in his mother’s womb (v. 1), and though hidden he has been made a sharp sword and arrow (v. 2). The servant is called Israel, in whom Yahweh will be glorified (v. 3). This reference suggests that the author himself deems the nation of Israel to be the servant.

The servant complains of having labored in vain, yet confident his cause is with the Lord (v. 4). Yahweh responds that the servant has been formed in the womb to be his Servant to bring Jacob and Israel back to him (v. 5). This comment entails that either the servant is an individual who redeems Israel or else the author is distinguishing Old and New Israel. In any case the Lord adds that it is not enough the servant should function to rise up the tribes of Jacob and restore the survivors of Israel, but the servant is to be a light to all nations so that salvation may reach the ends of the earth (v. 6). Yahweh is identified as the redeemer of Israel, addressing those deposed and abhorred by the nations (presumably the referent here is Israel, despised since its conquest). It is prophesied that kings and princes will prostrate themselves before Yahweh, who has chosen Israel (v. 7).

The ambiguity about the whether the servant is an individual or the corporate nation, reminds us of an insight noted in last week’s notes by Old Testament scholar Brevard Childs (Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture, pp. 336-337). He has suggested that ambiguity about who the Servant is could only be resolved in the minds of the writer and the initial audience in the future, when the question would be clarified in the new era by the Messiah’s coming. In this particular text, it really does not matter who the servant is, but that God will use the servant to restore Israel and reach all people.

Application: The text invites reflection on the present state of American society in light of the despair and sense of oppression experienced by the conquered people of Israel (Sin). Preachers might then interpret the Servant Christologically, proclaiming how Christ delivers us (Atonement and Justification) or noting the ambiguity of who the servant is, that it might be Israel who is used by God to deliver, note that the faithful are a new Israel (Church) (Psalm 40:7-8 [see above]; Hebrews 8:8ff) and so have been sent by God to do the servant’s work, by grace to restore Israel and all the nations to salvation (Sanctification and Evangelism). There is an eschatological dimension to this proclamation that these realities lie ahead of us and/or give us hints of the end times and God’s final aims.

1 Corinthians 1:1-9
This is a salutation and thanksgiving at the outset of a letter written by Paul from Ephesus to a Greek church he had established (Acts 18:1-11). Relations had become strained with the church. The letter aims to address doctrinal and ethical problems disturbing the Corinthian church.

As a starting point, Paul introduces himself as one called to be an apostle [apostolos, literally meaning "one sent" and so commissioned by God] and sends greetings to the saints in Corinth who have been sanctified. Reference is made to the church universal planted in Corinth (vv. 1-2). Paul wishes recipients of the letter grace and peace — a standard Christian greeting of the era (v. 3). He thanks God for the grace given to the Corinthians, noting that they have been enriched in every way — in speech and knowledge as the testimony of Christ has been strengthened with them (vv. 4-5). These are gifts to which Paul frequently alludes in the letter and seems to attribute to the Corinthians. They now are said to lack no spiritual gift (presumably including ecstatic Pentecostal-like experiences [14:1ff]) as they wait for Christ to reveal himself, and he will strengthen them until then (vv. 7-8). Paul expresses confidence in the Corinthians being strengthened to the end of the day of Jesus Christ (reference to the Eschaton). Trust in God’s faithfulness is expressed (v. 9).

Application: Paul’s comments authorize sermons reminding us that all we have is a gift of God (Justification and Sanctification by Grace) and living out and reveling in these gifts both prepare us for the end time and also give us hints of the end times and God’s final aims (Eschatology).

John 1:29-42
This text emerges in the last of the four gospels to be written (probably not composed until late in the first or early in the second century). In accord with this gospel’s emphasis on the deity of Jesus Christ, this lesson is an account of John the Baptist’s testimony to Jesus and the call of Jesus’ first disciples (including Jesus). The account begins with John the Baptist seeing Jesus coming and declaring him Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, the one who ranks ahead of him (vv. 29-30). (For references to the use of lambs in sacrifice and their importance in saving the Hebrews at the first Passover, see Exodus 12; Leviticus 4:32, 14:10ff; Numbers 15:5, 28:3ff.) John proceeds to proclaim that he did not know who Jesus was, but his ministry of baptism was for the purpose that he might be revealed. He claims to have seen the Spirit descend on Jesus in the form of a dove and remain on him, leading to a revelation that Jesus then was the one who baptizes with the Spirit. John reiterates that he has seen this and has testified that Jesus is Son of God (vv. 31-34). (Only in John’s gospel is the actual baptism of Jesus not reported but just this allusion to it.)

The account continues with another report that John sees Jesus and exclaims him to be Lamb of God. Two of John’s disciples hear this and begin to follow Jesus (vv. 35-37). (Only in this gospel is it claimed that the disciples were originally followers of John the Baptist.) He asks them what they seek. They refer to him as rabbi (teacher), asking him where he is staying (v. 38). He invites them to come and see and they did, staying with him that day (v. 39). One of these disciples of John was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He tells Simon that he has found the Messiah (the anointed one). He brings Jesus to Simon, whom Jesus calls Cephas (translated Peter) (vv. 40-42).

Application: The account reminds us that like John the Baptist we are in need of Christ (Sin). Christ’s atoning work, becoming our sacrificial lamb might be considered. But another focus might be how we have been called like the disciples and apart from our encounter with Jesus like they had, living lives of discipleship are not possible (Sanctification). The urgency of Christ’s call and the disciples’ immediate response sets the stage for the theme of Realized Eschatology (the urgency of responding to God in Christ in the present moment).

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Authors of
Lectionary Scripture Notes
Norman A. Beck is the Poehlmann Professor of Theology and Classical Languages and the Chairman of the Department of Theology, Philosophy, and Classical Languages at Texas Lutheran University
Dr. Norman A. Beck
Mark Ellingsen is professor at the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta, Georgia
Dr. Mark Ellingsen