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Summary: The Baptism of our Lord January 13, 2002 Title: “Corporate Personality.” Isaiah 42: 1-9

The Baptism of our Lord January 13, 2002

Title: “Corporate Personality.” Isaiah 42: 1-9

The Servant, a Light to the Nations

42 Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights;

I have put my spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations.

2 He will not cry or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street;

3 a bruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice.

4 He will not grow faint or be crushed until he has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands wait for his teaching.

5 Thus says God, the LORD, who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out the earth and what comes from it, who gives breath to the people upon it and spirit to those who walk in it:

6 I am the LORD, I have called you in righteousness,

I have taken you by the hand and kept you;

I have given you as a covenant to the people,

a light to the nations,

7 to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness.

8 I am the LORD, that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to idols.

9 See, the former things have come to pass, and new things I now declare; before they spring forth, I tell you of them.

To the Western way of thinking the whole is simply the sum total of its parts, example, 2 + 3 = 5. A car, the whole, is the sum total of the parts which make it up. This point of view works fairly well until we come to people. Is a human body merely the sum total of its parts? Is the human hand, eye, foot more than what the scientist can analyze? Is not it also alive and also not quite a hand or foot unless it is related to the whole? Is not the human body more like what the poet Samuel Coleridge described a poem to be: more than the sum total of its parts?

This is even truer of the human being than of the human body.

The ancient Near Eastern way of thinking is that the whole is present in the part and the part in the whole. There was little distinction between the individual and the societies to which the individual belonged. Like our understanding of “person,” they saw the human being in terms of relationship. The whole history of the human race and one’s particular family was present in some real way in each person. So, whatever one member of the family or group did affected all the others for good or ill. One person, like the founder or father of the race, example, Adam or Abraham or Jesus, contained the “whole,” in essence and each descendent contained something of the life of the Founder or Father. What happened to them happened to the individual because the individual “belonged” in them and to them. Every person represented and re-presented the whole group, but there was always one individual person who “personified,” the rest. Everyone else was related through him and one’s identity with him. This was such a basic notion, so taken-for-granted, that it is never spelled out in the terms just described. Yet, without this notion, which scholars call “corporate personality,” it is not possible to understand much of the Old Testament and New Testament. It is this reality, hidden from our physical sight, which undergirds our union with the Lord.

Suffering Servant

From the notion of “corporate personality,” arose the idea that every human person, though not guilty of all, or even any, of the wrongs of the human condition, is nonetheless responsible for those wrongs and for doing something about them, simply because each is “part of the whole”. Every baby born into the world is sinless, without guilt, yet born into a sinful condition and, so, affected by that condition in a profound way – especially in being prone to sin, as well as, an innocent victim of its consequences. What can be done about it? Nothing on our own power. But the hope arose that what was said and expected of the long-awaited, Savior- Messiah, would in some way solve this problem. Hence, the notion of the “Suffering Servant”. Though not guilty of any sin, he would suffer the consequences of sin in such a way as to be the first one to be victorious over sin and, thereby, found a new race, a new condition, a “new creation,” if you will. The only way to conquer sin and its consequent suffering is to go though it, not around it or avoid it. This servant of the Lord would conquer by leading-by-example, an example others could follow and be victorious as well. His innocent suffering would break evil’s power over humanity and all its evil consequences. Others who “identify,” with him will receive his same power to do likewise. He will do this once and for all. But “all,” will not benefit automatically, unless they are “part,” of him. Christian Baptism creates the necessary relationship, which makes this happen.

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