By Barbara Klugh
Isaiah 11:1-10; Psalm 72:1-7, 18-19; Romans 15:4-13; Matthew 3:1-12. Go to www.lectionarypage.net to read or print the weekly lectionary text. In this week’s readings, Isaiah proclaims that a new king descended from David will arise to lead God’s people, Paul urges his readers to live in harmony with one another, and John the Baptist warns us to “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”
Isaiah 11:1-10: Here is a passage from Isaiah that just takes your breath away. In the previous verses, Isaiah used tree imagery against Assyria, or some commentators say Babylon. “The tallest trees will be cut down, and the lofty will be brought low. He will hack down the thickets of the forest with an ax, and Lebanon with its majestic trees will fall.” Judah will be reduced to a stump. But now, in beautiful poetry, we have a glimpse of what is to come.
A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse,
And a branch shall grow out of his roots.
The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him,
the spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the spirit of counsel and might,
the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.
And that’s only the first two verses. Jesse was David’s father, so Isaiah’s vision anticipates a new king coming from his line, as Jesus did. Notice the gifts of the Spirit: wisdom, understanding, counsel, might, knowledge, and the fear (awe) of the Lord. This king will work for the poor and the meek and will usher in a new world order of peace—peace even among the animals because “the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord.” This will be like a restoration of the Garden of Eden. As Christians, we see Isaiah’s prophesy of the ideal king fulfilled in Jesus.
Psalm 72:1-7, 18-19: This royal psalm is attributed to King Solomon and may have been used as to celebrate a king’s coronation or anniversary. But it also looks to an endless reign of justice and righteousness over the entire world. Isaac Watts was inspired by Psalm 72 to write “Jesus shall reign where’er the sun,” hymn 544 in our hymnal.
Romans 15:4-13: In this week’s reading, Paul encourages Christians to “live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus, so that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Christ came that he “might confirm the promises giving to the patriarchs, and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy.” Paul wants the Jewish Christians and the Gentile Christians to understand that salvation is for all—Jews and Gentiles alike. He quotes from Psalms, Deuteronomy, and Isaiah to show that God’s plan included other people besides Jews.
Paul concludes with a blessing, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”
Matthew 3:1-12: Chapters 1 and 2 of Matthew’s gospel covered Jesus’ genealogy, birth, and early life. Our reading is the beginning of chapter 3, and takes place about 30 years later. This week’s reading is about John the Baptist, who has come to prepare the way for the coming of the Messiah. John is the last of the great prophets, and proclaimed, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” Commentators make it plain that “the kingdom of heaven” is not a place where we go when we die, but it is about God’s rule on earth. Matthew considers John to be fulfilling Isaiah’s words, “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.’”
People from all over went to be baptized by John in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. But John had harsh words for the Pharisees and Sadducees who came for baptism. He’s telling them that just because they are from the family of Abraham, that’s not enough. They need to “bear fruit worthy of repentance.” And, “Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”
John knows he is not the one. He baptizes with water for repentance, “but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”