On the Verge (Bible Study for the week of September 25)

Week 3           September 25, 2016

READ: Isaiah 42:1-9

Why Church?

The church is a collection of hypocrites who say one thing and do another.  The fact is that no person is perfect except for God’s son, Jesus.  One knock on the church from the outside is that we are all a bunch of hypocrites.  I am putting it out there that yes, we are all sinners who have varying degrees of self-centeredness that cause us to be rude, deceptive, arrogant, fearful, and one who tells lies or cheats.  Many of us try our best as Christians to live the way of Christ but we do all fall short.  So why should I be a part of a church?

The media is filled with stories of trained church leaders who preach and teach the way of Jesus and yet they abuse their power and authority to molest children, have affairs with members of their church and try and cover it all up.  When these stories are in the news, why would I ever want to be part of a faith community with leaders like that?

The suspicion of institutions like banks, churches and political parties has increased since 2008.  Because of greed, power, and selfishness, the integrity of all structures in our society are under fire.  There is good reason for skepticism.  Why would we encourage our children to be part of the church?

The church and world is made up of people, good and bad, and all imperfect.  Structures or institutions exist to provide necessary services for good order in our society.  Without any structures there would be mass chaos.  The church exists as an organization of Jesus Christ committed to his way of life and his mission to form followers of others. In its best form, we acknowledge that we have been blessed by God so we give thanks to God and seek to bless others in our community.  The church is organized for good in our world and for God.

The church is people.  In the early church when the Christian faith was illegal in the Roman Empire, the church met in homes.  Today, Christianity is legal in much of the world and has become known as a building for worship.  That is not what church really means, rather it is the people who believe and practice the faith.

The church is a community of faith practicing people.  Jesus called people to follow who left their vocations to learn and do what he taught them. He knit them together into a community of faith.  The Christian faith is a communal faith which we each individually practice as well.  We are strengthened in our faith by one another and we accomplish far more together in this world than we can alone.  Jesus tells us that when two or three come together he is in our midst.  We are Christ to one another and to the world.  Loved and forgiven, we work to share his love for others.  This is why church.

Consider this about why church?

  • Because the church is made up of people, just like a family, not everyone is as welcoming to a newcomer as we may expect.  People get hurt by people in the church just as we may in families.  With that said, the church is a collection of wonderful and unique individuals who love the Lord.
  • New people bring new ideas and gifts. Speak up. What do you hope we can do for good and for God in this community and world?
  • The church has been around for a while and has developed some interesting traditions that may be unclear to you.  Speak up and ask what is this or why do we do that?  Do not be shy.  Those who have been around a while may not know why we do what we do!
  • The church is people – a faith community.  We are eager to get to know you and you to get to know us.


My good friend Doug is a high school teacher and a summer time kid’s league baseball team coach.  He has three boys of his own that play and while he likes to win, Doug also sees this as a ministry by reaching out and including kids other coaches would pass over in recruiting their teams.  Sean is one of those kids who needs special love and attention and Doug is there for him well beyond the baseball field throughout the year.  In many respects, Doug has shown me how to be a witness for Jesus.  On many a Sunday, Doug has brought Sean, his sister and Mom to church, whoever wants to come.

Sean, his little sister and his mom live in a little rental on the edge of the city.  Sean’s mom Char has no car, no license and can afford neither.  If you know who she is, you may see her in late afternoon pushing a shopping cart with a few groceries as she walks from the store to her apartment.  Char’s health is poor, teeth twisted with one or two missing because they have been pulled rather than fixed, and her eye sight is extremely weak.  A quick glance and you might think she is twenty years older than reality.

You may never guess it but Sean is very smart.  Char insists that her kids bring home books from the library and read.  Sean is very large for his age, introverted and has been picked on relentlessly by kids in his neighborhood and at school.  Sean mostly wears the sneakers, gym shorts, Carmelo Anthony’s Knick’s basketball jersey and warm-ups that Doug bought for him last Christmas.  Sean and his family love Doug and hang on his love and attention.  Doug has made a difference in this family because he cares.

Ground Work

42:1-4: is the first of what some writers refer to as a Servant Song.  Israel is the servant who is upheld and chosen by God who brings delight to God (40:1).  There are four servant songs in Second Isaiah: the second song is 49:1-7; the third song is 50:4-11; and the fourth song is 52:13-53:12.  Israel as the servant of God is reminded of the promise that she is chosen by God.  Despite her current displaced situation in Babylon, the promise is so warm and encouraging: “But you, Israel, my servant, Jacob, whom I have chosen, the offspring of Abraham, my friend; you whom I took from the ends of the earth, and called from its farthest corners, saying to you, ‘You are my servant, I have chosen you and not cast you off’, do not fear, for I am with you, do not be afraid, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my victorious right hand,” (Isaiah 41:8-10), (read also 44:1-2, 21).

The chosen Israel, like the kings of Israel of old (Isaiah 11:1-5), has received the Spirit of God and is tasked with establishing justice among the nations (Isaiah 42:1).  What follows are four statements made in the negative cryptically describing what the chosen one is NOT to do. These servant songs are all written in a mysterious language and this is part of the genius of the songs as well as the real impossibility to know exactly what they mean.

  1. He will speak and not be heard (42:2)?
  2. He will establish justice with a tender heart toward all in pain (43:3a)?
  3. He will bring forth justice while preserving the life of the weak and frail (43:3b)?
  4. He will suffer, but not be destroyed as his suffering will empower the emergence of justice (43:4; see also 53:11)?      

Note the reoccurring theme of bringing forth justice on the earth (42:1d; 43:3c; 43:4).  This is God’s mission given to Israel while in exile to accomplish.  Through the suffering of God’s people, an impact of liberation and righteousness will occur.

42:5-9: this section has some challenges in translation and unclear intentions.  With that said, verse 5 reiterates a basic affirmation of faith that begins in Genesis 1:1 and is repeated often in the Hebrew Scriptures.  Heaven and earth appear together frequently in Second Isaiah as well: 44:23; 45:8, 12, 18; 48:13; 49:13; and 51:6).  The vastness of the heavens and the uniqueness and diversity of everything that is implied by earth all are gift of the creative Lord God who alone deserves our worship and praise.  It is God who gives life and breath to all living creatures.  It is this same God who gives the Spirit of God to all who walk in the ways of God.

42:6 reminds the Jews that they have been called by the righteous God who has led and preserves them to be God’s light to the nations.  They are a people of God’s covenant.  As they live in the promise of the covenant, they are a witness to God to all people of the way of God.  This way of life is a life of justice for all people.

In 42:7, the subject is not obvious but like 51:16, it must be the Lord God.  Like Isaiah 61:1-3 which Jesus read and announced its fulfillment in their hearing in the synagogue in Nazareth (Luke 4:16-21), it must be God, or later the Son of God, Jesus, who opens the eyes of the blind and sets prisoners free, not Israel.  While the prisoner waits in darkness to be freed, the Jews in exile are to reflect the light to the blind nations of the world of the God who is the Creator of light.

God gives glory only to those who live and walk in God’s way 42:8.  Even as the Jews wait for the day that God will hear and remember them in exile, God promises that new things, a new day is coming.  God indeed makes all things new. So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new (2 Corinthians 5:17)! And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new,” (Revelation 21:5).

Concluding Thought

While the exact meaning of Isaiah 42:1-4 is unclear, it is quoted as a messianic prophesy fulfilled by Jesus (Matthew 12:18-20).  While he caused a stir among religious leaders in his day, Jesus ministered to the weak and the marginalized with great compassion.  He noticed and was noticed by many whom the religious community had ignored.  It is noteworthy that Jesus would have taught and encountered many more people over a three year period of time than is captured in the gospels.  Yet it is many stories of people suffering with leprosy and physical disabilities, women, especially those with a questionable past with or without their choosing, and stories of demoniacs that take center stage in the gospels.  You could say that Jesus had friends in culturally low places!  In large part this is because in Jesus’ eyes, people are people no matter where they live or how they have lived.

Discussion Questions

  1. Because our hero Jesus intentionally ate and drank with sinners, what does it mean for you to follow him?
  2. Sean and his family are easy to miss unless you are looking for them.  There is nothing outstanding about their appearance or their lack of trendy dress.  They appear the way they are: another poor family.  Doug has shown me the love of Jesus by his love and compassion for this family.  Who comes to your mind when you think about showing another person the love of Jesus?
  3. We pray the prayer of Isaiah 11:2 over the newly baptized.  Read it.  What does this mean to you?
  4. Israel was to be a light to the nations (42:6; 49:6).  At baptism we hand a candle to the family and repeat Jesus words: Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven, (Matthew 5:16).  How are you being Jesus light to others?  What do you take away from today’s lesson?