Monday of Epiphany 2: Mother Longs for the Renewal, and Jesus Gives a Taste

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On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Now both Jesus and His disciples were invited to the wedding.

If we were to work with the idea that Mary is a type or allegory of the earth, this would take nothing away from the reality or historicity of the event, nor would it necessitate declaring her the queen of heaven.

Some of this builds off last devotion, where we contemplated how the earth itself is God’s bride, and the creation account was like a marriage, where the Lord took off the dark, watery veil of His bride, to reveal His beloved, in whom is His delight, the creature made in His image, man and woman.

Is earth the Lord’s bride? We contemplated how as typified in Moses, God had to turn away His face from His adulterous wife. When God turns His face away from the earth, people return to dust. But the promise and hope of the Old Testament was that the Lord would turn once again toward His creation in the messiah, and be married to the earth once again. “For the LORD delights in you, And your land shall be married….And as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, So shall your God rejoice over you.”

Jesus is both a son of the creation, and a son of God. As a son of creation, He reestablishes the bride of the Lord. Mary typifies the creation itself. Here’s how Revelation puts it, “Now a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a garland of twelve stars. Then being with child, she cried out in labor and in pain to give birth. And another sign appeared in heaven: behold, a great, fiery red dragon having seven heads and ten horns, and seven diadems on his heads. His tail drew a third of the stars of heaven and threw them to the earth. And the dragon stood before the woman who was ready to give birth, to devour her Child as soon as it was born. She bore a male Child who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron. And her Child was caught up to God and His throne. Then the woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God, that they should feed her there one thousand two hundred and sixty days.”

In this passage, how is the “woman” not the earth? And how is the male child not a “son of the earth” so to speak?

The creation itself “labors” in pain, which brings together both the curse of Adam and Eve. As St. Paul says, “For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now.” Life will come forth in labor pains, for both the man and woman.

Mary, we could say, is the tip of the spear, the type of the earth, giving birth to its Savior. And in Christ, God and His creation are reunited in marital bliss.

So, we find ourselves at a wedding feast. Mary was there, representing earth. Jesus and the disciples were invited. Let’s go with the allegory and see where it takes us. The earth is there. The earth is there in all its fallenness. Its son is there as well, with those who would be on “His team,” His disciples, that is, the new creation.

There is a real marriage going on, but it’s way, way in the background. We hear of no characters from the actual event, save one character who will serve as an important witness to an important detail. That is, whatever wine christened the marriage, there was a new wine much greater christening a new marriage.

Wine is a symbol of new creation. Noah got drunk on wine after the restoration of creation.

Isaiah also closes the loop on the dragon mentioned above, and note the role of wine: “In that day the LORD with His severe sword, great and strong, Will punish Leviathan the fleeing serpent, Leviathan that twisted serpent; And He will slay the reptile that is in the sea. In that day sing to her, ‘A vineyard of red wine! I, the LORD, keep it, I water it every moment; Lest any hurt it, I keep it night and day.’ ”

Mountains dripping with new wine is a sign of the new age, as proclaimed by the prophets Joel and Amos. The Joel prophecy about new wine is from the same chapter Peter quotes on Pentecost , itself a day of wine-drinking, a harvest festival, which is why many thought Peter was drunk. But Peter was talking about a new harvest and a new wine, giving the appearance of a new drunkenness, not like Noah’s.

And yes, that day would be Pentecost, the day of the earth’s renewal, when “You send forth Your Spirit, they are created; And You renew the face of the earth.” That day was a day the Lord established, in His time, as a culmination of His ministry, His cross, His resurrection, and His ascension.

It was the day of the Lord, not on the day Mary asked Jesus to create new wine. His hour had not yet come. But that doesn’t mean Jesus can’t do a “sign,” or an action prophecy, or give a type. And so He does.

Mary, representing the earth, longs for her renewal. And Jesus gives a taste of what would be, a sign for His disciples, for us, of what shall be, and what is.



The Second Sunday after Epiphany: When the Lord Pulls Back the Watery Veil of His Bride

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This week’s set of readings is, well, epiphanic. The Old Testament reading is the account of Moses seeing God’s glory as He passed by, while he hid in the cleft of the rock. He could not see God’s face, because to see it would have meant his death. How does this relate to the historic Gospel of Jesus’ miracle at Cana, the turning water into wine? It’s a strange pairing of readings.

That is, until we survey what is meant by the face of God, and what it means when God is face to face with His creation, or His new creation.

For me, the verse that caused a flood of data to populate my understanding was this, from Song of Solomon: “O my dove, in the clefts of the rock, In the secret places of the cliff, Let me see your face, Let me hear your voice; For your voice is sweet, And your face is lovely.”

My goodness, where to begin? You have the dove, connecting us to last week’s dove in Christ’s baptism. You have the cleft of the rock, tying in the Moses episode with God’s presence. You have the face, also echoing the same theme. There’s the sweet voice of the Lord, again reminding us of the voice calling from an opened heaven, from the Father. And the context is a bride calling out to her love, connecting us to the marriage theme of this week!

When you survey the data from the beginning, you realize something huge going on: the entire biblical account from beginning to end may be an entire marriage saga, like a big, divine soap opera! This is Jesus’ first sign, after all. It’s also the final image from Revelation, that is, the great marriage feast of the Lamb. Does the Scripture begin with a marriage metaphor?

“The earth was without form, and void; and darkness was on the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.”

Darkness was on the face of the deep. Put another way, the Lord could not behold the face of His beloved creation, the creation in which He would delight. The darkness and waters were like a veil over the face of the Lord’s about-to-be creation. The creation account is then like the veil coming off. One by one the Lord revealed, from the watery darkness, the wonderful varied elements of creation, light and dark, seas and lands, the light-filled heavens, and the birds and animals.

And then, look at the words around the creation of Adam: “[A] mist went up from the earth and watered the whole face of the ground.” Again, the Lord brings the climax of His creation out of a watery veil covering the “face” of the earth.

It’s a marriage! A marriage of the Lord with His bride, His creation!

The Lord facing His creation, His bride, means life. The opposite means not life. When the Lord’s “wife” sinned against Him, by chasing other gods (Satan and Self), He turned His face. As the Psalm says, “You hide Your face, they are troubled; You take away their breath, they die and return to their dust. You send forth Your Spirit, they are created; And You renew the face of the earth.

The flood is like the Lord putting the veil back on His bride. Yet, the longing prayer of His creation – at least as reflected by the type of the anointed representative one on humanity’s behalf (the Psalmist) – is that it might behold the face of its Lord again.

As the Psalmist cries, “How long, O LORD? Will You forget me forever? How long will You hide Your face from me?” Many, many Psalms run this way.

Alas, the Lord will not hide His face from one, His anointed, as we hear in the crucifixion Psalm, “For He has not despised nor abhorred the affliction of the afflicted; Nor has He hidden His face from Him; But when He cried to Him, He heard.”

This is the Anointed One, the Christ, about whom we hear, “O God, behold our shield, And look upon the face of Your anointed.” And “For Your servant David’s sake, Do not turn away the face of Your Anointed.”

This messianic age will be a marriage, we learn from Isaiah, “For the LORD delights in you, And your land shall be married. …And as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, So shall your God rejoice over you.”

In the Jordan, as the Lord Jesus emerged from the watery veil, indeed, the Lord did not turn away His face. Rather, He proclaimed His delight in His creation – at least the “firstborn of all creation” – in His words, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”

And Jesus? On behalf of the Lord’s bride over all biblical history, what of this verse could not be applied to Him? “O my dove, in the clefts of the rock, In the secret places of the cliff, Let me see your face, Let me hear your voice; For your voice is sweet, And your face is lovely.”

Yes, old humanity – in that adulterous affair – could only remain in the clefts of rocks with Moses. The climax of this situation is given in Revelation: “And the kings of the earth, the great men, the rich men, the commanders, the mighty men, every slave and every free man, hid themselves in the caves and in the rocks of the mountains, and said to the mountains and rocks, ‘Fall on us and hide us from the face of Him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb!’ ”

But Jesus, humanity’s renewed and redeemed creature, while claiming the humanity of Moses’ generation even as He Himself is bonded to the Lord with an unbreakable bond, sees the dove of “her” Lord descending, as He emerges from behind the watery veil. The Lord pulls aside the watery veil and beholds His beloved bride, in Christ.

Christ, of course, is the marriage of heaven and earth, of humanity with her Lord. He is the one flesh union, the God-man. So, while we more often hear of Him as the groom, it’s not completely wrong to see Him, in His humanity, as the bride, the Church. The Church is His body, after all. The body is what emerged from the watery veil, what the Lord beheld and delighted in.

Once again we’re back to baptism. Baptism is where the Lord pulls back a new part of the veil of His new creation, His new bride. It’s where He beholds, in Christ, His beloved One in whom He delights, and they behold Him. “They shall see His face, and His name shall be on their foreheads.”

“And He will destroy on this mountain The surface of the covering cast over all people, And the veil that is spread over all nations. He will swallow up death forever…”

“Then, behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom; and the earth quaked, and the rocks were split, and the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised…”

“[T]he veil is taken away in Christ.”

And then there’s this from the last chapters of Revelation…

“The sea gave up the dead who were in it, and Death and Hades delivered up the dead who were in them. …Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also there was no more sea.”

What sea is that? Again from Revelation, “And I saw something like a sea of glass mingled with fire, and those who have the victory over the beast, over his image and over his mark and over the number of his name, standing on the sea of glass, having harps of God.”

The sea mingled with fire is baptism. It’s where the holy dead come out, as opposed to “Death and Hades.” And once this watery veil is taken away, in heaven, it is “no more.” The marriage is complete.

Like I say, epiphanic.



Saturday of the Baptism of Our Lord: The Father’s Pleasure

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And suddenly a voice came from heaven, saying, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”

As far as a foundation for what it means to be “well pleasing” to the Lord, you can’t do much better than Psalm 41: “Even my own familiar friend in whom I trusted, Who ate my bread, Has lifted up his heel against me. But You, O LORD, be merciful to me, and raise me up, That I may repay them. By this I know that You are well pleased with me, Because my enemy does not triumph over me. As for me, You uphold me in my integrity, And set me before Your face forever.”

Yes, because Jesus is well pleasing to the Father, even though He dies due to the work of Judas, who ate bread with Jesus, yet the Lord will raise Him up. And Jesus will ascend and set His face before the Lord forever, and eventually repay those that antagonized Him. As it is for Jesus, so it is for us.

Perhaps with the confidence of this Psalm, Jesus could be led by the Holy Spirit in the wilderness to face His enemy. He had just heard that the Father is well pleased with Him, therefore He needed to have no fear of the enemy.

As it is for Jesus, so it is for us. As we are thrust into the wilderness of this life, to face our enemies (sin, death, and the devil), we know our enemies will not triumph over us. For we share the declaration of the Father over the Son, that He is well pleased with us, because all who are in the waters of baptism share those words.

The Father has all sorts of reasons, of course, to not be pleased with any of us. He hasn’t been pleased with us since our father Adam sinned. Israel displeased Him time and time again. As Isaiah records the Lord saying, and as Jesus applies to Israel of His day, “Seeing many things, but you do not observe; Opening the ears, but he does not hear.”

Yet, in the next verse, we hear, “The LORD is well pleased for His righteousness’ sake.” There we are back to righteousness! And again, Jesus and John fulfill all righteousness, and on account of this righteousness the Lord is well pleased, just as He declares the moment Jesus and John fulfill all righteousness. If the Lord would be pleased with Israel, or any other for that matter, it will be for the sake of the one being baptized with John in the waters.

The Lord is pleased with one, His Son. “This is My beloved Son,” He says. But the waters bind others into His Son, so that these words can extend to others, that is, others who repent and get in those waters. That’s the power of baptism and why baptism forgives sins – that is, it makes us well-pleasing to the Father – and gives us the adoption as His children.

Jesus shares what He possesses – the status as God’s Son – with us. As Hebrews says, “But do not forget to do good and to share, for with such sacrifices God is well pleased.” Jesus did good and shared His good status with us. He did this at the cross when He first “gave up His Spirit” – with such a sacrifice God is well pleased – and the Spirit takes what belongs to Jesus and declares it to us.

That declaration happens in the forgiveness of sins, when Jesus breathed that same Spirit onto the disciples and authorized them to forgive the sins of others. Forgiveness begins, however, in baptism. As St. Peter preached in the first Christian sermon, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”

This is the “baptism of the Spirit” John promised Jesus would do. It’s John’s water baptism plus the forgiveness Jesus won and delivers by the Holy Spirit, who takes what belongs to Him and declares it to us in and through those waters of baptism.

The Father is well pleased with those in the waters of baptism, because Jesus is there, and Jesus has shared His status with others by the Holy Spirit, Whom He was given and Whom He has the authority to give out to others. At His death that Spirit had forgiveness to give out, because Jesus sacrificed Himself for our sins. The Father declared from the beginning that He was well pleased with this sacrifice, the sacrifice of one who gave Himself over to be “numbered with sinners.”

At the end of the Gospel of Matthew, however, we learn that baptism is not alone. With baptism is teaching. Baptism is the gift and declaration that we are well pleased to the Father in Christ by the Holy Spirit, into Whose name we are baptized.

Baptism is the beginning – all those in the Jordan certainly shared what Jesus was given. But it still remained for them to learn what this meant. It still remained for them to be taught. And indeed, Jesus taught them exactly what He was given in baptism, that they shared with Him the fatherhood of God and His status as God’s Son. He did this especially in the Sermon on the Mount, after which, the people concluded that Jesus was one with authority, who spoke and taught unlike any other.

But still, this blessing remained spotty, revealed to few – the Jews in the Jordan and at the Mount. Jesus remained hidden, as it were. He Himself told the crowds to keep Him secret. Yes, this prophecy remained in force: “Behold! My Servant whom I have chosen, My Beloved in whom My soul is well pleased! I will put My Spirit upon Him, And He will declare justice to the Gentiles. He will not quarrel nor cry out, Nor will anyone hear His voice in the streets. A bruised reed He will not break, And smoking flax He will not quench, Till He sends forth justice to victory; And in His name Gentiles will trust.”

Matthew applies this prophecy exactly to the situation described above.

It would remain for another, not Him, to make universally public His person and work. It would remain for the apostles to do that. And so people would know that they “did not follow cunningly devised fables,” the Lord gave them the Transfiguration, where again the Father declared, “This is My beloved Son,” but then added, “Listen to Him.”

Now, the apostles were equipped to have the certainty of the crowds at the mount, or the centurion, or the Canaanite woman, and move on from their “little faith” to a great faith, the sort that shares Jesus status as God’s Son with others, through proclamation and baptism. They were able to teach with certainty Jesus words.

In other words, with that little addition, the seal of the Father on Jesus’ words, the apostolic office became a new sort of prophetic office, authorized to author a new testament.

Or put in the final words of the Gospel of Matthew, which nicely sums this all up, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

With Christ’s authority, in other words, go do what Jesus and John had first done. Join all the nations with Jesus in the waters, where the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit were present, and then teach them what this means, to be the well pleasing child of God.

And this sign off from Hebrews nicely brings it all together: “Now may the God of peace who brought up our Lord Jesus from the dead, that great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make you complete in every good work to do His will, working in you what is well pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.”

May God make us complete in what He has declared us to be…well pleasing in His sight through Jesus Christ.


Friday of the Baptism of Our Lord: The Beginning of the New Creation

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When He had been baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened to Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting upon Him.

Christ’s baptism is arguably the beginning of the new creation. It’s when God submerged the old world in the waters, just as He did in the flood, and caused to emerge from one person a new people.

The dove isn’t a random illusion. The dove alighted first on the ark. Jesus in His baptism is the ark, which is also why in the apocalyptic literature a rainbow is over Christ’s throne. Arks are there to save people from watery death, that is, judgment. There will never be a flood again, but there will be judgment again, so a new ark saving from a new judgment will not be wooden, but fleshly, or bodily, and a new dove, the Holy Spirit coming down bodily, will alight on the new ark.

And the way we enter the ark won’t be through an open wooden door, but through…well, “the heavens were opened to him.”

But as we also see in the flood, heaven opened means rain. Still, as a Psalm says, “In the light of the king’s face is life, And his favor is like a cloud of the latter rain.” With the opening up of heaven we hear the Heavenly Father speak words – it’s easier to hear the words of someone in the other room when the door is opened. Those words raining down from heaven are the doorway into the ark that is Jesus. Within the declaration “this is My beloved Son with whom I am well pleased” is where we want to be – being pleased by the Father goes hand in hand with heaven opened. Those in the water with Jesus shared those words and that favor, and Jesus later in His ministry would teach the Fatherhood of God for His disciples – baptism is where that begins.

Not water alone, but water combined with God’s word.

At Jesus’ birth heaven was first opened up, but not publicly. Rather, it was a private viewing for the shepherds. But it was a foretaste of things to come. There we got a glimpse of heavenly worship, the door opened up, when the angels sing “Glory be to thee O Lord, and on earth, peace goodwill toward men.” We can add “men with whom he is well pleased” if we go with all the cool translations, that is, the non-KJV translations. If those translations are correct, that adds fun stuff. The Lord is pleased with “men,” not just Jesus. But His pleasure with men must be seen in view of the baptism of Christ (in which the cross and resurrection is sealed), where He declared His pleasure with His Son, and those communally wrapped up in Him in the waters of the Jordan.

Heaven being opened up has a history in the Bible. It begins, of course, with the flood, when the windows of heaven opened up and water poured down. Reviewing the Old Testament data on heaven being opened up, you discover the image is shorthand for Jesus. Well duh, every Old Testament image is shorthand for Jesus. Still, it’s cool to see this at work.

When heaven opens up, rain comes down, and rain is shorthand for grace, blessings, food…generally speaking, good stuff from God, like Jesus. It’s also shorthand for judgment, well, judgment for the wicked but blessing for those antagonized by the wicked. And that too is Jesus, who punishes those who antagonize those on the righteousness team. We learn this from the sheep and goats, a final judgment which has everything to do with how Jesus and His brethren are treated and received. So goats get washed away in the flood waters of Jesus’ judgment – thank God everything which causes sin is removed! For us sheep, the rain that is shorthand for Jesus is a great blessing.

In the beginning, the Holy Spirit hovered over the waters, because from the waters He would cause – separate – a creation. Waters are where creation happens. In the Bible, the removal of the Spirit often goes hand in hand with the drying of the creation. As the Psalm says, “You hide Your face, they are troubled; You take away their breath, they die and return to their dust.” Whatever mists rose up from the ground to help the Lord shape Adam in the shape of His image, Jesus, were removed as Adam returned to dust. Water, dust, and spirit are needed in the recipe of man, but the spirit binds it all together – remove the spirit, and the water and dust part ways as well.

It’s why John the Baptist was out in the desert. The desert is the nadir of God’s judgment of the earth. And it’s where the re-creation begins.

That’s because God promised a future rain, when the heavens would be opened up again. As Hosea prophesies, “He will come to us like the rain…” Or as Joel prophesies in the Pentecost prophecy (chapter 3), “And He will cause the rain to come down for you…I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh…”

The Lord’s nourishment of Israel in the Sinai desert is a type of this future rain. As the Psalm says, “Yet He had commanded the clouds above, And opened the doors of heaven, Had rained down manna on them to eat, And given them of the bread of heaven. Men ate angels’ food; He sent them food to the full.”

Jesus then, in John 6, teaches that He Himself, that is, His flesh, is this manna, this “bread of heaven,” this “angels food.” He is the one who poured down from heaven from God. He is the rain.

And that brings us to Isaiah, “Rain down, you heavens, from above, And let the skies pour down righteousness; Let the earth open, let them bring forth salvation, And let righteousness spring up together. I, the LORD, have created it.”

Yes, and that not only brings us full circle back to Jesus and John fulfilling “all” righteousness, but it lays the groundwork for a host of teaching, especially in Matthew’s Gospel. Righteousness is like a seed planted in the dry earth that springs forth with righteousness, that is, righteous people – read the Sermon on the Mount in view of the Parable of the Sower.

And we can’t help but see, in the seed, the image of Christ the Seed dying and buried in the ground, so that righteous saints can “spring up together” in His resurrection, as Matthew also shows us. In fact that “death-burial-resurrection” cycle is exactly what happens with all Jesus’ words, in our hearts. And they most certainly produce fruit, some thirty, sixty, or a hundredfold.

And it all began with the opening up of heaven in Christ’s baptism. The latter rains began. Down came the Holy Spirit, in Christ, who then is revealed, with John, as the righteous one of Israel, the Savior. The Spirit comes down bodily, on a bodily Savior, whose body is the bread from heaven that we hunger for, as we hunger and thirst for righteousness and are filled. As the Canaanite woman shows us, this for which we hunger is mercy, deliverance from our enemies. And Jesus answers, because He always answers them that beg for mercy, because in Him our Lord is pleased with us. This already the shepherds saw and heard when heaven was first opened up, and they heard the angels sing, “Glory to God in the highest, and peace to His people on earth,” peace because He’s well pleased with them, if the cool, non-church-language translations are to be believed.

“My son with whom I am well pleased” covers those in the Jordan with Jesus – the waters bind them. They responded to John’s message to turn tail and get in the Jordan, if they would be saved. Now, in the voice from heaven raining down by the Spirit in Jesus, they see why they should be in the Jordan. There, with Christ, God is pleased with them.

And Jesus spends the next three years teaching them how they share in the Father’s declaration. He plants His seed in them. He plants Himself in them. And righteousness springs forth, as the seed cast does the work, because that’s what seeds do, because seeds are the work of the Holy Spirit, Who gives life.

And a new creation comes forth.



Thursday of the Baptism of Our Lord: What Righteousness Did the Lord and John Fulfill?

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But Jesus answered and said to him, “Permit it to be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he allowed Him.

Last devotion we focused on the word “all.” Jesus and John fulfilled “all” righteousness. We meditated on how baptism truly fulfills every salvific intent of our Lord. But what is this “righteousness” of which our Lord speaks?

After reviewing the issue, it’s hard not to issue the verdict, “Luther was right.” Luther emphasized how righteousness in the Bible is completely God’s work, and it’s given to us as a gift. Other Christian views of righteousness see it as something we work, either with God’s grace or by following Christ’s example.

But again, Jesus didn’t say He and John fulfilled the beginning of righteousness – something to be ended by us – but He and John fulfilled all righteousness. But again, what is this righteousness? What does this mean?

Matthew’s Gospel – the Gospel from which the Baptism of Our Lord comes from – nicely reveals what Jesus means by righteousness. What He doesn’t mean is what the Pharisees mean by righteousness. No, our righteousness must “exceed” that righteousness. Pharisee righteousness is not necessarily “good works” righteousness or “rules and regulations” righteousness. It’s actually pretty typical righteousness, the sort many people live by and thereby think of themselves as “good people.” It’s loving those who are good to you, not murdering others or committing adultery, and performing your religious duties.

Jesus’ righteousness is something more. It’s something we hunger and thirst for, seek, and are willing to suffer for. In other words, it’s wrapped up in Jesus, who…well, what’s our verse of meditation today? Jesus and John “fulfill all righteousness.” There’s no room in there for us to fulfill it. No, it’s something completed. It’s something to “hunger and thirst for.” It’s something to “seek.” It’s something to suffer for.

That is, it’s something external to us, something completed, something to be received as a gift, by faith, just as St. Paul taught. But again, what exactly is the righteousness?

Even earlier than Jesus’ use of the term, Joseph His earthly father was described as a “righteous” man. Why? Because he overlooked Mary’s “sin” and was going to divorce her quietly. Here, righteousness is mercy.

Now lets follow the “hunger and thirst for righteousness” thread, because those who do so are “filled,” and being filled happens with bread. Later in Matthew’s Gospel the Canaanite woman hungered and thirsted for mercy, and Jesus said such “bread” was not for anyone but Israel’s children. That’s when the woman begged for just a crumb, and the Lord commended her faith. She hungered and thirsted for righteousness, and she was filled.

The hunger of this gentile Canaanite for such “bread” is the lead-in to the gentile feeding of 4,000, which itself is a foretaste of Holy Communion. In both events Jesus “took” bread, “blessed” it, “broke” it, and then “gave” it to His disciples. Holy Communion is where we are filled with Jesus’ bread, which is His mercy, His righteousness.

Very arguably, every bit of righteousness Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount – all of which exceeded that of the Pharisees – was about mercy. Right after the beatitude about righteousness is the one about mercy. Who could be forgiven so much and then not have mercy on others, Mr. Unmerciful Servant? How do you prevent hatred at the altar of the Lord – which is murder, Jesus teaches – but by having mercy and forgiveness there? What is more lacking in mercy than to subject an ancient woman to having no support, due to you divorcing her? Why would we not have the mercy of Jesus at the cross for His enemies, when we see that such “know not what they do”?

Righteousness is mercy and forgiveness. And that’s what Jesus fulfills at His baptism. Again, He was numbered with sinners there. He was numbered with a fallen world which had inherited the sin of Adam. The only remedy for that situation is for Adam’s old world to die in the waters, and another new world in Christ to emerge from those same waters. That world would be a place not of sinners born unto Adam, but a world of forgiven saints born from above, from the declaration of a Lord who says, “This is my beloved Son.”

What formerly was not so much a beloved son, Adam, is now a beloved son in Christ. Why? Because that son is forgiven in Christ, because Christ fulfilled, by John’s hand, all – all! – righteousness.

Ours is to partake in that righteousness through baptism, to receive it as a gift.


Wednesday of the Baptism of Our Lord: Baptism Fulfills All Righteousness…All of it!

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But Jesus answered and said to him, “Permit it to be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he allowed Him.

John and Jesus fulfilled all righteousness when John baptized Him. That’s a bold statement. Not when a bunch of people started acting right, nor when there was a renewal of love for the Lord’s commandments, nor when justice and mercy flowed throughout the land, but when this man Jesus got into the Jordan to be baptized by John, that’s when all righteousness was fulfilled.

All righteousness. Not the beginning of all righteousness, not the first half of righteousness to be completed by our response, but all righteousness.

And what of the cross? Surely the cross is the fulfillment of all righteousness, no? “It is finished,” right? It would be hard to cancel out the cross’ role in our righteousness, but evidently, because Jesus says so, His baptism fulfilled all righteousness, and the cross supports that truth. Not vice versa.

And isn’t this how it’s true for us? Every time I’ve seen someone saved, I’ve never seen blood dripping from a man on a cross onto a sinner. But I have seen water pour on someone’s head. Baptism is primary; the cross supports it. That’s because Jesus and John fulfill all righteousness – all of it! – by the latter baptizing the former.

Baptism is the waters in which sinners and Savior were joined together, over which the Lord declared His love for His Son, a status extended to everyone in the waters. The Lord had a “communal son” in Israel before, and will do so again with a New Israel. And throughout the Gospel, we see Jesus sharing this status – this status of sonship – with others. Twelve times in the Sermon on the Mount He referred to God as “Your heavenly Father.” Or, to Mary Jesus said, “I am ascending to My Father and your Father, and to My God and your God.’ ”

He’s sharing what He possesses with others. He promised the Holy Spirit would continue this activity, for “He will take what is mine [His status as God’s Son] and declare it to you.” This is the “baptism in the Spirit,” the same Spirit by which we cry out “Abba Father.”

Baptism is where the Triune God is revealed. The Father speaks; the Holy Spirit delivers; the Son brings everything and everyone together, for all the creation was created in Him. If Christianity has anything to do with the Triune God – and in fact it has everything to do with the Triune God – then where the Triune God is first revealed as something to be witnessed is a moment that can never be stressed enough as important, that is, a place where “all righteousness” would in fact happen.

Baptism is of water, and water is what the Lord creates out of. When first the Triune God appeared in Scripture – although not as fully revealed in the incarnate man, Christ, yet – it was around the “face of the waters.” Here are the exact words: “the Spirit of God [Holy Spirit] was hovering over the face of the waters. Then God [Father] said, ‘Let there be…’ [the Word, the Son]. ”

The Lord created out of the misty, watery mud – how else do you form mud to look like Jesus, the image of God? The Lord created a new people from Noah out of the flood waters. The Lord created an entire people, His “son,” out of the Red Sea, the moment when His people were “birthed” out of Egypt. The Jordan became the “resurrection” side of that birthing, even as baptism is fulfilled in our death, when we enter the Promised Land. Or, even as Jesus Himself referred to the baptism He still had to complete: “Are you able to…be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?”

The cross was the completion of baptism. When we think of baptism, we shouldn’t think of it as an event that “symbolizes” or even “delivers” the cross of Christ, as if the cross of Christ is the signature event and baptism supports it. Rather, it’s the other way around. The cross of Christ supports Christ’s fulfillment of all righteousness in baptism. If you push the point, that is, if we’re forced to use the language of “symbol,” the cross of Christ is more a symbol of baptism than vice versa. I don’t die on crosses, but the symbol of the cross hangs on my wall. But I was baptized, in real water.

Baptism works because of the cross of Christ, for the cross of Christ put forgiveness into baptism. And the cross of Christ explains and fills an important aspect of Baptism, that is, it’s watery chaos, as in the Psalm, “Save me, O God! For the waters have come up to my neck.” That’s why when we’re baptized we’re baptized into the cross of Christ. But as far as our righteousness goes, Christ’s fate – His fate as the final death of the old world, its sinful status and its sinful inhabitants – was sealed when He went into the Jordan. The cross completed His baptism.

In fact, it would be perfectly acceptable to translate St. Paul’s “as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death” as “baptized [in view of] His death.” Christ’s baptism was the beginning of His death, which is why immediately after it He was thrust into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan. Baptism is primary; the cross supports it.

Which is why Jesus said He and John fulfilled “All righteousness.”

And what of this righteousness? We’ll leave this for next devotion.


Tuesday of the Baptism of Our Lord: Where Did Baptism Come From?

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Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan to be baptized by him. And John tried to prevent Him, saying, “I need to be baptized by You, and are You coming to me?”

When Jesus first began His ministry, which was to save sinners, He sought baptism. Both the Savior and those who want salvation seek the same thing, baptism. Why? Because at baptism the Father declares His love for His beloved children. He does so in view of where Christ’s ministry would go and end up, at the cross and open tomb.

But there’s something untoward about a Savior being baptized, at least in John’s mind. Baptism may be where the Lord declares His love for His beloved children, but on the front end it’s where sinners get washed off. Let’s unpack that.

First off, we look at John’s reaction to Jesus’ approach. “I need to be baptized by You.” John recognized baptism as something for sinners, something done by a holier one for one who is less holy. John had no problem, evidently, baptizing others. If someone came up to him and said, “I need to be baptized by you,” he’d say, “You’re right!” Because, as is implicit in John’s words, baptism is done by one who is holy to one who is less than holy.

Baptism is for sinners, and John placed himself among them. John! This is the one about whom Jesus said, none born of women is greater. None! Yet, this one recognized his need for baptism. What does this teach us about sin? It’s not really about deep moral iniquity, about sin per se, but about our status in this fallen world. It’s about sinners. Everyone needs baptism, from the least to the greatest.

Second, what was it about Jesus that John recognized Him as the one who would properly baptize? Where did this come from? Recall, the Pharisees had asked John around this same time, “Why then do you baptize if you are not the Christ…?” That is, it was assumed by the religious leaders of the day that one of the things the Christ would do is baptize. Where did this come from? Where is the messianic promise that the Christ would baptize?

Well, the full verse above is “Why then do you baptize if you are not the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?” So it was not only the Christ, but Elijah and the Prophet who were expected to baptize as well.

The rise of the “Prophet” was a promise of Moses, who said, “The LORD your God will raise up for you a Prophet like me from your midst.” If the “Prophet” would be “like Moses,” then it follows he would lead a newly created people through the waters, as Moses did. St. Paul speaks this way of Moses when he writes, “all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea.”

The “Elijah” figure was fulfilled in John the Baptist. Of this figure, Jesus Himself said, “Behold, I send My messenger,…But who can endure the day of His coming? And who can stand when He appears? For He is like a refiner’s fire And like launderers’ soap. He will sit as a refiner and a purifier of silver; He will purify the sons of Levi…”

How were the Levites purified? The book of Numbers answers this, when the Lord talks about the Levites. “ ‘I have given the Levites as a gift to Aaron and his sons from among the children of Israel, to do the work for the children of Israel in the tabernacle of meeting, and to make atonement for the children of Israel,…’ Thus Moses and Aaron and all the congregation of the children of Israel did to the Levites; according to all that the LORD commanded Moses concerning the Levites, so the children of Israel did to them. And the Levites purified themselves and washed their clothes…”

This was what the big Bronze Sea was all about, a place for the Levitical priesthood to clean themselves for service in the tabernacle. Well, the second “Elijah” would “purify the sons of Levi,” that is, the corrupted priests, through similar washing, as the prophet Malachi promises. By the time of John the Baptist, evidently, many understood this to mean the sanctification of a new priesthood, from among all the people.

This brings us to the Messiah, the Christ. What passages suggested that the Christ would be a baptizer?

Isaiah’s prophecy early on has these words, “Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean; Put away the evil of your doings from before My eyes.” Doing so, the prophecy continues, will result in the following: “Though your sins are like scarlet, They shall be as white as snow.”

As we follow the prophecy, we learn the Messiah, the Suffering Servant, would take upon Himself these sins. This is how those sins would become as white as snow. “Wash yourselves” therefore is wrapped up with the work of the Messiah.

Israel also likely knew their Psalm 2, which linked the Lord with the Messiah in a bond no one could break. As it is written, woe betide the ones who rage “Against the LORD and against His Anointed, saying, ‘Let us break Their bonds in pieces And cast away Their cords from us.’ ” Such cannot be done. Rather, the Messiah was the Lord’s literal “right hand man.”

So, when they heard such prayers as, “Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, And cleanse me from my sin,” they knew the Messiah could have this task of washing.

They’d think the same when they heard this prophecy from Ezekiel, “Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them.”

There was no “I will do” from the Lord in the abstract or in a generic way. “I will do” needs a messenger, someone to do the actual sprinkling and washing. Israel would know this person would be the Lord’s right hand man.

Israel knew a washing – a sprinkling of water – was going to be part of the messianic age. When John began baptizing, those who heard of him knew he could have been (a) the Prophet like Moses come to create a new people from the waters (Joshua sort of fulfilled this also when he led Israel over the Jordan into the Promised Land), (b) the second Elijah who would purify the sons of Levi, or (c) the Messiah acting on the Lord’s behalf to wash Israel from all her sins.

Whatever the case, baptism and the Messiah go hand in hand. Which is, again, why Jesus’ first act upon beginning His ministry was to go where the sinners were, and to be joined with them in the waters where the Lord was declaring His love for His beloved Son.

This was the new people He was creating through the “Prophet like Moses” through a new “Red Sea,” a moment about which the Lord had said, “Israel is My son, My firstborn. So I say to you, let My son go that he may serve Me.”

This was the purification of a new priesthood, who were “not a people but are now the people of God.” Such would proclaim the Lord’s praises, an offering done in righteousness.

This was the sprinkling of water, the washing of Israel, the cleansing of their idolatrous sinfulness. This was the sprinkling which put the Lord’s Spirit within them and inaugurated the New Testament.

Jesus came to baptize, everyone knew.  And eventually He did baptize, through the apostles.  But here, at first, He assumes the role not of baptizer but baptized, baptized by the Lord through John (Elijah).  Jesus thus numbers Himself with sinners.  He not only takes on all their sins, impurities, and uncleanness, but He assumes the role of the one who washes them from their sins.  Of course, this is because Jesus is both God and man.


Monday of the Baptism of our Lord: Why did the Lord begin His ministry at thirty?

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Then Jesus came…

“When all was silent, and it was still midnight, your almighty Word, O Lord, descended from His royal throne.” Such is the antiphon for the second Sunday after Christmas. I love thinking about God’s divine movement. Why did He begin the creation when He did? Why did His incarnation happen when it did? And why at a moment sometime around the age of thirty, did He come out of darkness and enter history’s stage?

His movement makes the time, not vice versa. God is not reactive, but acting. This is His show. If I were God, I’d pick a time like now. How wonderful to be able to use the tools of modern media to spread my message like wildfire. The Gospel could go viral! Yet, God chose what St. Paul calls the “fullness of the time,” which means who-knows-what, other than that, it’s when God chose. And that matters supremely: when Jesus comes is the fullness of time.

His divine entrance into the world happened “when all was silent, and it was still midnight.” And in a sense, He remained in that silence until His baptism. He lived in Egypt, settled in Nazareth, grew up obedient to His parents, made some minor waves with His insightful questions in the temple once when He was twelve. Only questionable legend remains from this period.

And then, all of a sudden, He pops on the scene. There He is, amongst the sinners in the waters! He’s thirty. Actually, we only know this from Luke, who writes, “Now Jesus Himself began His ministry at about thirty years of age…”

Why thirty?

Rarely do things happen by coincidence with Jesus, or for that matter, with anything in the Scriptures. There’s a background to the thirty years of age. In the Old Testament there are three entities who did not serve their ministries until thirty. First, the servers in the tabernacle could not serve until thirty. Second, Joseph assumed his rule under the Pharaoh at thirty years of age. Finally, King David began his reign at thirty.

All three of these parallels can inform what Jesus was doing, when He set His mind to jump in the Jordan and be numbered with sinners, sharing the Father’s declaration with them, at the age of thirty. Interestingly – well, more by way of a nice literary construct – the three parallels correspond to themes found in Matthew, Luke, and John.

As we meditated on last week, Matthew’s Gospel, chapter 2, works on the theme that God calls His children “out of Egypt.” To talk Egypt is to talk Joseph, the reason why Israel first ended up in Egypt. Jesus’ life parallels greatly with Joseph’s. Both had a “descent/ascent” narrative arc, that is, there is a descent into bondage, false accusations, and humiliation, and then an ascent to the right hand of a ruler, a rule that results in blessing and forgiveness for his brethren.

Joseph was sold into slavery, falsely accused of rape, and then humiliated in prison. He was then lifted up to rule as the Pharaoh’s right hand man. Joseph used this position to provide bread for His brethren, and he forgave his brothers for the sin of selling him into slavery.

Jesus “took the form of a bondservant,” was falsely accused by false witnesses, and was humiliated on the cross. He was then lifted to the Father’s right hand. He uses this position to provide the living bread, His flesh, for His brothers, and He forgives His brethren as well.

Now, Jesus began His rule when He was baptized, that is, when He was anointed, but His rule initially was a “lowly” one, at least for three years until His resurrection. So, the parallel isn’t perfect with Joseph, whose humiliation ended when he was exalted to the throne at thirty. Still, in both cases the reign begins at thirty, and in broad terms Jesus’ life parallels with Joseph’s in some striking specifics.

Luke’s Gospel works with “Son of David” themes, particularly in its presentation of the Person of Jesus Christ. As the angel says to Mary, “He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.” And as the angel said to the shepherds, “For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”

This is the strongest parallel. Clearly Jesus’ baptism was His anointing. It’s where He became “Christ,” which means “anointed.” It was the first major public sign that His life was paralleling King David’s. To King David the Lord promised, “Your throne shall be established forever,” and this was the exact promise necessitating the rise of an anointed king – a messiah (Hebrew), a christ (Greek) – who would sit on David’s throne forever.

Also, in a Psalm speaking of the messianic type, King David, says, “I will declare the decree: The LORD has said to Me, ‘You are My Son, Today I have begotten You.’ ”

So when the Lord declares over Jesus, just after His anointing, “This is my beloved Son,” the fulfillment of messianic expectations couldn’t be clearer. Jesus beginning this reign at thirty only further substantiates this fulfillment.

John’s Gospel has the clear statement on the Person of Christ: “The Word was God…and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” The word “dwelt” actually, in Greek, is “tabernacled.” And John’s Gospel more than any other emphasizes how Jesus fulfills the role of the tabernacle and temple in the Old Testament.

What does the temple and tabernacle mean for Israel? It’s where their Lord was present among them. In Christ, this work continues, in His flesh. Jesus, in a sense, “works” or “ministers” the Lord’s presence among His people through His flesh. Well, that work, at least in the Old Testament, could not begin until thirty.

As we see repeated numerous times in Numbers chapter 4, “From thirty years old and above, even to fifty years old, you shall number them, all who enter to perform the service, to do the work in the tabernacle of meeting.”

Jesus is now doing that work. It’s fitting He’d begin at thirty.

All Christ’s work – as the antitype of Joseph, the tabernacle servers, and King David – are salvific and grace-oriented. Joseph saved his brothers from famine and forgave them. The tabernacle servers administered the Lord’s presence for Israel’s blessing and forgiveness. King David defeated Israel’s enemies and was a blessing for them as well.

What is it about thirty? Who knows. Moderns perennially obsessed about psychological factors point out that thirty is about the time you are truly wise to the way so of the world. Yet Jesus displayed preternatural wisdom at twelve. Ancients perennially obsessed with numerology symbolism might see a “3×10,” or “Trinity times fulfillment” thing going on. Whatever – to each era its own.

In the end, “When all was silent, and it was still midnight, your almighty Word, O Lord, descended from His royal throne.” Or put another way, “Then Jesus came…” And it began.


The Baptism of Our Lord: The Five Ws of Jesus’ Mission

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Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan to be baptized by him.

Talk about the 5 Ws, who, what, where, when, and why. Who? Jesus/John. What? Baptism. Where? From Galilee to the Jordan. When? Then. Why? To be baptized.

It’s locateness. It’s specificity. Nothing is “in the clouds.” Nothing is abstract. Nothing is generic.

Nothing is Gnostic.

Gnosticism abhors the 5 Ws, because 5 Ws happen where there is space and time, and space and time happen where there is a material realm, and Gnosticism believes the material realm is a farce, or a mistake. God submitted Himself to the material realm when He took on human flesh. He submitted Himself to the 5 Ws. Why? Because the creation He came to save is part of that material realm. If He would save bodies, He would become a body.

God placed Himself at a specific place at a specific time because He’s a specific Person who came to save specific people. We know about Him – He’s the Son of God come to save sinners. Who are the specific people?

It’s the people Jesus met at the Jordan. There are 5 Ws going on there too. Who? Repentant sinners/John. What? Baptism. Where? In the Jordan. When? When John was baptizing. Why? To be saved.

It’s hugely notable and important that, when Jesus first began His mission, He first went to exactly where He went. Because at that place were the people He came to save. At that place were sinners.

But not just any kind of sinner. The world is full of sinners, but Jesus didn’t manifest Himself to all of them at once, like from a big screen in the sky or something. He rather manifest Himself to the sinners who were doing a specific thing, that is, repenting. Jesus went to repentant sinners.

But not just any kind of repentant sinner. The world is full of repentant sinners, that is, sinners who recognize there’s something wrong in the world and in themselves, so they recognize the need for a change of course. So they set about improving themselves. The ancient world was full of self-improvement programs, yet Jesus didn’t manifest himself to those who were gathering around these programs. So what sort of repentant sinner did Jesus go to, when He first began His ministry? To repentant sinners who heeded the voice of John, and prepared for the one to whom he was pointing, the Savior.

But not just any kind of repentant sinner heeding the voice of John and preparing for the one to whom he was pointing, the Savior. Lots of people heard John’s message, and lot’s of people were probably excited about the promise of a messiah come to save his people. Lots of people today recognize they’re sinners and need to repent, and they’ve heard of a Jesus who saves them.

But if you end the story there, all we’re left with is an image of the mind, the report of a someone. That in turn can leave only the mirage of someone left behind, a phantasm, or an imaginary friend. We love phantasms and imaginary friends because then we can control them, manage them the way we want them to be. A Christ who is only a rumor of a Savior come to save sinners can become that, something we upon whom we project our own personal solution to sin.

What, then, is still needed? What’s needed is the full completion of the 5 Ws. Jesus came to the spot where repentant sinners were preparing for Him by being baptized. Yes, by being baptized.

For that was exactly the message of John the Baptist. Repent and be baptized, and prepare the way for the Lord. By being in the Jordan, being baptized, they would prepare the way of the Lord. And when that Lord comes in flesh and blood, that “way” becomes quite literal, or material. He comes for sinners, and sinners are in the water, so He joins them in the water, making His way.

He fulfills the prophecy, that He was “numbered with the transgressors.” It makes sense that His first move as our Savior would be to hunt down those transgressors and be where they were. But the sort of transgressors He was numbered with matters. He’s numbered with repentant transgressors in the waters.

Why? Because He knew what would happen at that watery place where sinner and Savior came together. A great voice would declare over the one in the waters, “This is my beloved Son.” As we see, this declaration extends to the others in the waters as well! We may not have realized it at that moment, but as we see Jesus work out His ministry – for instance embracing the hearers in His sonship at the Sermon on the Mount – we see that initial declaration actually does extend to the others. As St. Paul says, “you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, “Abba, Father.”

That moment was bathed in the Triune name, not only for Jesus, but for all who were with Him in the waters. His baptism sanctifies all the waters of baptism.

It’s like a piece of bread that wants to be sanctified as the body of Christ. What must it do? It must be on the paten at the point of consecration! If John the Baptist were preaching to the bread, he would say, “Turn from where you are at [repent] and be at that specific place at that specific time [on the paten at the point of consecration], and you will become the body of Christ.”

The first thing Jesus did when He began His ministry was number Himself among the sinners. But here we see that something more is going on. He was embracing them into His physical presence in the waters, almost as if the waters joined them all together. It was no symbol. It was no abstraction. It was almost mechanically real.

Why water? Why is water so important? Could it be because that’s where the Lord has created out of in the past? How many times has He created a person or a people out of the waters? So, it makes sense. If the goal of the Lord is to take a raw material (sinners) and make of them a new people, it begins in the waters. John assembled the raw material; Jesus bathes that raw material with God’s redemptive blessing, in His own Person.


Saturday of Christmas1/Epiphany: Where is the Prophecy about Jesus Being Called a “Nazarene”?


“He shall be called a Nazarene.”

Nowhere is there a prophecy that goes, “He shall be called a Nazarene.” In fact, there’s nothing close to that. How Matthew gets to the point of writing, “that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, ‘He shall be called a Nazarene.’” when in fact no prophet spoke such things is instructive about how God’s Word works.

In short, Matthew wasn’t a proof-texter. He didn’t muster a quote-a-thon of passages to prove whatever point he wanted to make. This fact need not suggest he was careless or inventive with God’s Word. It in fact supports how we view God’s Word today and will call a well written sermon “the preaching of the Word.”

Let’s parse what’s going on with Matthew’s words.

First off, let’s look at the “He shall be called” part and trace its roots. The book of Isaiah is loaded with the “X shall be called” formula. Jerusalem will be called the city of righteousness. Seven women shall grab one man and desire to be called by his name. The remnant will be called holy. The virgin’s son shall be called Immanuel. The prophetess’ son was called Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz. The Child shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, etc. One of the cities of Egypt will be called the city of destruction. Egypt is called “Rahab-Hem-Shebeth.” The foolish person will be called generous, and the miser bountiful.

The highway to Jerusalem will be called the highway of holiness. The Lord calls all the stars by name. The Lord calls Israel by its name, “You are mine.” Those created for the Lord’s glory are “called by My name.” The virgin daughter of Babylon will no longer be called “tender” and “delicate,” or “the Lady of Kingdoms.” The Lord is called the God of the whole earth. The temple is called a house of prayer for all nations.

The remnant shall be called the Repairer of the Breach, The Restorer of Streets to Dwell In. Israel shall be called the City of the Lord. Jerusalem’s walls shall be called Salvation and its gates Praise. Mourners shall be called Trees of Righteousness. Israel shall be called priests and servants of God. Israel shall be called Hephzibah, the Holy People, the Redeemed of the Lord, Sought Out, and its land/city called Beulah, a City not Forsaken.

But lets close the loop on “He shall be called a Nazarene.” No, nowhere in the Old Testament is there a specific prophecy saying, “He shall be called Nazarene.” But any Jew hearing the frequently read prophecy of Isaiah would – as seen in the long paragraph above – be inundated with that “X shall be called” formula. Indeed, anyone versed in Old Testament theology would understand how the entire foundation of the cosmos is that “X is called.”

To be called is to be glorified, sanctified, ordained by God for something. His calling something went hand in hand with His bringing something in existence, and His calling something introduced language into the creation, which introduced communication, which introduced a divine gift to a mankind made in His image. Such is the work of the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of life.

The Fall led to God’s Spirit departing from the creation, and everything returning to “chaos and void.” Which means God must re-create His world, which means He must re-call, or re-name the new elements in His creation. Jews would recognize Isaiah as a re-creation prophecy, particularly with such verses as “For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth; And the former shall not be remembered or come to mind.”

Which means, hearing Isaiah is shorthand for “Oh, this is where the Lord calls all sorts of new stuff in His effort to create a new world.”

Which means when Isaiah speaks of a “Branch” who would arise from the stump of Jesse, it’s not as if Matthew was inventing new words of Scripture, or adding to God’s Word, or lying. The Jewish mind would be thinking, “The Messiah will be called lots of things, Immanuel, Wonderful, Counselor, Repairer, Redeemer, etc. Sure, add ‘Branch’ to the mix.” No one would object to that.

Matthew is likely referencing Isaiah’s prophecy that “There shall come forth a Rod from the stem of Jesse, And a Branch shall grow out of his roots.” This fits nicely the idea that Herod tried to hew down the dynastic tree of Israel, but the Lord would cause Jesus, the Branch, to grow from this stem, or stump. Most importantly, the Hebrew word for “Branch” here is Netser, which is the etymological root of Nazareth.

Here’s the interesting thing. Only Isaiah used the word netser in a messianic context. When the “Branch” typology is used elsewhere by other prophets, a different Hebrew word is used. Yet, Matthew says, “that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets [plural], ‘He shall be called a Nazarene.’ ”

Other prophets like Jeremiah and Zechariah use the “Branch” typology, but use a different Hebrew word. Here are those passages:

From Jeremiah:

Behold, the days are coming,” says the LORD, “That I will raise to David a Branch of righteousness; A King shall reign and prosper, And execute judgment and righteousness in the earth.”

From Zechariah:

Hear, O Joshua, the high priest, You and your companions who sit before you, For they are a wondrous sign; For behold, I am bringing forth My Servant the BRANCH.

Behold, the Man whose name is the BRANCH! From His place He shall branch out, And He shall build the temple of the LORD.

Only in this last passage do we get a clear statement that Jesus will be “called” or “named” Branch, which allows Matthew to fit this in with the “He shall be called” formula.

It’s a lose assemblage of passages and images that Matthew pieces together with the information that Jesus and the holy family settled in Nazareth. Did these passages prophecy that the Messiah “would be called a Nazarene”?

No. But was there a “Branch” typology among “the prophets”? Yes. Was this “Branch” to be the Messiah who would arise in Israel? Yes. Did the Lord “call” different events and characters new names as part of His work of bringing about a new creation? Yes. Was Nazareth etymologically rooted in the Hebrew word for “Branch”? Yes. Had Herod just fulfilled the typology of political forces trying to hew down the messianic family tree? Yes.

Only moderns would create a problem of Matthew’s interpretive style where none existed prior, which forces us to rethink how we moderns do interpretation, at least in that “proof texting” way that so often becomes shorthand for real Biblical meditation and investigation.

Now, this process of thinking can be so abused, particularly by those with ideological agendas, so that they read out of the Scriptures clear passages because, “You can’t just proof text based on Scripture and take things out of context; you have to look at the bigger themes going on.”

True, but the problem is the ideological agenda which guides how they massage passages, which is usually Marxist, feminist, or now LGBTQ-friendly.

Matthew certainly had an ideological agenda by which he massaged the Branch prophecies. It was Jesus Christ, His life and work. Jesus Christ makes all Old Testament passages – no matter how obscure and odd – bend toward Him. And when that is the principle of interpretation, no matter how much of a stretch an interpretation is, you can’t go wrong.