Tuesday, December 12, 2016 Tuesday after the Third Sunday of Advent
2 Peter 1.12–21
The text of the readings follows after the comments.
The passage for today from Isaiah is well known. The first couple of verses were quoted in Matthew 4.15-16, with reference to Jesus. Verses 6-7, the last verses in the reading (“For a child has been born for us”) was read by ancient and medieval exegetes as also referring to Jesus, and Charles Jennings read it as such when he set it as part of the libretto in part One of Handel’s Messiah.
The passage is undoubtedly messianic. The only thing, it was probably about a 7th century BC messiah, and not the 1st century AD one named Jesus. Surprise!
Messiah simply means “the anointed one” and priests and kings in ancient Israel and Judah were both anointed. Indeed, in the Coronation Rite to this day the monarchs of the United Kingdom are anointed just prior to being vested and crowned. In all probability this is a prophecy made about Josiah, who was king from 641 BC to 610 BC. He came to the throne of Judah at the age of eight after his father was assassinated. If the passage is inedeed about him, then great things were expected and great things did happen. When Josiah became an adult he began a renovation and renewal of the Temple in Jerusalem. While this was going on priests discovered a book of the Torah, which most scholars believe must have been an earlier version of what eventually became known as Deuteronomy. He began a reform of the Temple cult. First, he removed any objects that were associated with other gods, such as Baal, the sun, the moon, and so forth; these he destroyed. He suppressed all non-Yahwist worship in the city and countryside of Judah, in particular worship of Asherah, the supposed consort of YHWH. He also held the first Passover since the time of the judges, some 500 years before.
2 Kings 22.2 says, “He did what was right in the sight of the Lord, and walked in all the way of his father David; he did not turn aside to the right or to the left.” This is high praise, indeed, arguably better than even David and Solomon, who both had their flaws. It appears that a history was commissioned to describe the story of the Israelites from the time of Moses down to the reign of Josiah, and it started with the proto-Deuteronomy and included what eventually became Joshua, Judges, 1 & 2 Samuel, and 1 & 2 Kings.
The problem is that Josiah then met a sudden death when he battled the Pharaoh Neco II in 610. Judah then declined. Neco made Judah a vassal of Egypt and dismissed and appointed its kings. Then Babylon made the Kingdom of Judah a vassal, and when Judah revolted the Babylonians put down the revolt in 598, changed the king again, and took the elite into exile in Babylonia. In 586 the king tried to make an alliance with Egypt and rebel against the Babylonians, but the Babylonians came again, destroyed Jerusalem and the Temple, and took all the leaders who had not been taken before, leaving the poor laborers of the land behind.
Josiah was described this way in 2 Kings 23.25: “Before him there was no king like him, who turned to the Lord with all his heart, with all his soul, and with all his might, according to all the law of Moses; nor did any like him arise after him.” That sounds like the happy ending, and scholars posit that the original version of the history did stop there. But then Josiah died, and everything went wrong.
But the passage from Isaiah continued to be read messianically. Judah, which became Judea after Cyrus the Great told the exiled Judeans (or Jews as they had now become ) to go home, still looked to a time of having a king.
In the sense that this passage was not completely fulfilled by Josiah, room was created for the hope of a new messiah, one who might be like Josiah, only more fortunate. Ironically, the messiah that was recognised in Jesus was nothing like Josiah. He was a messiah that exploded the definition of messiah – he never ruled a proper kingdom, he was impoverished, and was executed by the Romans. Even if he is the Son of Man coming in glory to reign over all things, this apocalyptic version of the messiah is a long ways from what Isaiah may have had in mind.
And yet Jesus is like sticky tape – all kinds of descriptions and appellations seem to be attracted to his person. He is the Messiah, but not the messiah we were expecting. He is the Son of Man, but he comes twice, and the first coming in the flesh as the son of Mary is as anything other than judge and king. He is rabbi, but not of any particular school. It is as if any box we wish to put him in is immediately broken out of, or redefined and transformed. As it was with Jesus, may it be so with us who seek to follow him.
But there will be no gloom for those who were in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he will make glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations.
The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who lived in a land of deep darkness—
on them light has shined.
You have multiplied the nation,
you have increased its joy;
they rejoice before you
as with joy at the harvest,
as people exult when dividing plunder.
For the yoke of their burden,
and the bar across their shoulders,
the rod of their oppressor,
you have broken as on the day of Midian.
For all the boots of the tramping warriors
and all the garments rolled in blood
shall be burned as fuel for the fire.
For a child has been born for us,
a son given to us;
authority rests upon his shoulders;
and he is named
Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
His authority shall grow continually,
and there shall be endless peace
for the throne of David and his kingdom.
He will establish and uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
from this time onwards and for evermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.
2 Peter 1.12–21
Therefore I intend to keep on reminding you of these things, though you know them already and are established in the truth that has come to you. I think it right, as long as I am in this body, to refresh your memory, since I know that my death will come soon, as indeed our Lord Jesus Christ has made clear to me. And I will make every effort so that after my departure you may be able at any time to recall these things.
For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we had been eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received honour and glory from God the Father when that voice was conveyed to him by the Majestic Glory, saying, ‘This is my Son, my Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.’ We ourselves heard this voice come from heaven, while we were with him on the holy mountain.
So we have the prophetic message more fully confirmed. You will do well to be attentive to this as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. First of all you must understand this, that no prophecy of scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, because no prophecy ever came by human will, but men and women moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.
Then they seized him and led him away, bringing him into the high priest’s house. But Peter was following at a distance. When they had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and sat down together, Peter sat among them. Then a servant-girl, seeing him in the firelight, stared at him and said, ‘This man also was with him.’ But he denied it, saying, ‘Woman, I do not know him.’ A little later someone else, on seeing him, said, ‘You also are one of them.’ But Peter said, ‘Man, I am not!’ Then about an hour later yet another kept insisting, ‘Surely this man also was with him; for he is a Galilean.’ But Peter said, ‘Man, I do not know what you are talking about!’ At that moment, while he was still speaking, the cock crowed. The Lord turned and looked at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said to him, ‘Before the cock crows today, you will deny me three times.’ And he went out and wept bitterly.
Now the men who were holding Jesus began to mock him and beat him; they also blindfolded him and kept asking him, ‘Prophesy! Who is it that struck you?’ They kept heaping many other insults on him.
When day came, the assembly of the elders of the people, both chief priests and scribes, gathered together, and they brought him to their council. They said, ‘If you are the Messiah, tell us.’ He replied, ‘If I tell you, you will not believe; and if I question you, you will not answer. But from now on the Son of Man will be seated at the right hand of the power of God.’