The commentary below is taken from:
Isaiah 49.1-7; Psalm 40.1-11; John 1.29-42
Old Testament Isaiah 49.1-7
The second of the ‘servant songs’ in Second Isaiah (see last week’s Bible notes) describes the mission of God’s true servant: to reveal God’s glory, to restore God’s people, and so to receive honour from God.
Isaiah portrays the servant as lamenting Israel’s repeated failure to be a blessing to ‘all the families of the earth’ (see Genesis 12.3; 28.14). This failure is contrasted with the servant’s promised completion of his mission, in which he will bring Israel back to God, and be ‘a light to the nations’ (v.6).
The precise wording of the dialogue between God and his servant is ambiguous, in that God first addresses the servant as ‘You are my servant, Israel’ (v.3), but then declares that the servant is the one who will bring Israel back to God (v.5). The servant, then, is not separate from Israel, but is the one in whom Israel will finally fulfil its divinely appointed purpose – he is both the nation and the one who represents the nation.
The words of lamentation (v.4) have led some commentators to suggest that the servant has witnessed Israel’s failure himself. If so, the servant shares something of God’s own view of history and has something of the divine about him. In the later apocalyptic books of the Old Testament, the ‘son of man’ – another figure with ambiguous characteristics – is undoubtedly a supernatural figure (cf. Daniel 7).
Gospel John 1.29-42
In a break from Matthew’s Gospel, the compilers of the lectionary today insert a reading from John’s Gospel that presents a carefully constructed summary of God’s revelation in Jesus. In keeping with the traditions of contemporary historians, John provides an interpretation of the events he describes through the words spoken by the persons of his narrative.
John’s Gospel does not provide a direct account of Jesus’ baptism, but the words of John the Baptist state that he himself did not know who Jesus truly was until he saw the Holy Spirit descend on him at his baptism. Now, however, he is able to proclaim five truths that have been revealed to him:
- Jesus existed before John; that is, he is eternal.
- Jesus is the one upon whom the Holy Spirit descends and remains.
- Jesus baptises with the Holy Spirit.
- Jesus is the Son of God.
- Jesus is the Lamb of God.
John the Baptist shares this revelation with his own disciples, who put their faith in his words and leave him to follow Jesus. Andrew and his unnamed companion do not simply want to meet Jesus; they want to know where he is staying so that they can spend time with him. Jesus’ words, ‘Come and see’, are no casual invitation but they offer the opportunity to understand and bear witness. This is exactly what Andrew does when he goes to find his brother Simon, and shares the astonishing news that they have found the Messiah. The same wording is used of Mary and the disciples when they ‘come’ to the tomb and ‘see’ that it is empty, and finally ‘believe’ (John 20.1-9).
More to follow