I’m sure the Detroit Lions are looking forward to Draft Day. NFL fans know that the Lions set a record this year. They went 0-16 becoming the first NFL team to lose that many games in a single season. The good news is that, as the worst team in the league, the Lions get the first draft pick. They can choose any draft-eligible college superstar they want to be a part of their team next year. Of course this won’t guarantee a winning record. Heisman-winning quarterbacks or running backs can’t turn a team around single handily. Even if they could, they often fall well short of playing up to their hype.
When Jesus was baptized in the Jordan River, the heavens opened, the Holy Spirit descended in the form of a dove, and God the Father said: “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17). Jesus’ baptism was heaven’s Draft Day. On that day God the Father made it known (again) to the world that Jesus was his pick to save us sinners and to speak to us. Did Jesus live up to his Draft Day hype? Let’s find out.
According to one website, the Detroit Lions are unsure who their first round draft pick will be. You’d think that wouldn’t be such a difficult choice: pick the best player! The problem is the best college players don’t always make the best NFL players. God the Father, on the other hand, never hesitated in his choice of Messiah. Speaking prophetically through Isaiah, God’s Son said: “Before I was born the LORD called me; from my birth he has made mention of my name” (Isaiah 49:1b). Can you imagine the General Manager of the Detroit Lions saying: “We will use our first round draft pick to choose Sarah Habben’s (yet unborn) baby. And we’re going to call him…her: ‘Highpower.’” Yeah, I thought a few of you would chuckle at the thought. But doesn’t that put into perspective the ridicule Mary must have gone through when she told others that God had chosen her to give birth to his Son? I don’t think Joseph would have believed her had an angel not appeared to him to verify Mary’s claims and to tell him that he was to name the child “Jesus” (Matthew 1:21). Why “Jesus”? Because that name means “savior” and that’s what Jesus would do: save us from our sins.
But apparently Jesus didn’t look very much like a savior-figure, even after he was all grown up. Do you remember what happened when Jesus announced to the hometown crowd that he was the Messiah? They responded: “Isn’t this the carpenter’s son? Who does he think he is?” In the same way not many thought the diminutive Doug Flutie would make his mark in professional football but he went on to become the fifth most prolific passer of all time. Skeptics who watched Flutie play quickly became convinced that he was all-star material. Not so with Jesus. You would think that after all the miracles he did everyone would put their faith in him but they didn’t. That teaches us two things. First, even if Jesus were to make an appearance at the home of your atheist friend and did anything asked of him, it won’t make a difference. If we don’t believe what the Bible has to say about Jesus, we won’t believe even if Jesus himself appears to do miracles (Luke 16). The second thing we learn is just how stubborn and irrational unbelief is.
This lack of faith disappointed Jesus. He even speaks about in our text. “I have labored to no purpose; I have spent my strength in vain and for nothing. Yet what is due me is in the LORD’s hand, and my reward is with my God” (Isaiah 49:4b). Perhaps you have experienced that kind of disappointment too. You’ve faithfully witnessed to that co-worker or relative but no matter what you say it doesn’t seem to make any difference. When we become frustrated at other people’s lack of enthusiasm for God’s Word it’s good to remember that Jesus too experienced the same frustration. Even though as the Son of God Jesus could not have spoken any more eloquently, people still rejected his words. Therefore when people reject our faithful witness to them of God’s Word, we should not feel as if we have failed. Take comfort, as Jesus did, in the knowledge that in the end you will be vindicated, or proved right. For Jesus his resurrection was vindication that what he had said about dying and coming back to life wasn’t just a dream. On the last day we will be vindicated when Jesus returns forcing every knee to bow and every tongue confess that he is Lord, just as we have been confessing.
One way in which Jesus is not like your average first-round NFL draft pick is his humility. When a star athlete signs up to play professional sports it really isn’t to bring joy to millions, but rather to bring in millions to enjoy…and flaunt. Jesus didn’t earn anything for himself by becoming our savior. Sure, he earned our honor and praise but he already deserved to receive that as God’s Son and our creator. Nor was this easy work that Jesus had signed up to do. He would be spat upon. Mocked. Struck in the face and head. And finally crucified. Although he knew all that awaited him, Jesus said in our text that he was honored to save us (Isaiah 49:5, 6). The writer to the Hebrews comments on that attitude when he wrote, “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross” (Hebrews 12:2a).
Jesus was God’s pick because he was a true servant. He didn’t shrink from unpleasant tasks even though they didn’t directly benefit him. Friends, I don’t need to remind you how the Bible says that we now are God’s servants. Therefore we too are to take on the most unpleasant task with joy whether that’s cleaning the toilets, taking out the garbage, or caring for a sick child or an aging parent. If you see those tasks as a burden, they will feel like one. But don’t you think that when Jesus looked at the cross he didn’t see two rough pieces of wood fastened together but a stage on which he could show the world just how much he loved us? And so husbands when you take time to clean up after dinner, wives when you do a load of laundry, kids when you clean up your room and do it with joy, you proclaim to your family in words louder than a shout: “I love you!”
While actions do speak louder than words, Jesus’ words were never pointless drivel. Jesus said in our text: “He made my mouth like a sharpened sword, in the shadow of his hand he hid me; he made me into a polished arrow and concealed me in his quiver” (Isaiah 49:2). In his visions of Jesus the Apostle John literally saw a sword protrude from the mouth of our Savior (Revelation 1). That’s God’s way of illustrating how powerful Jesus’ words are. Powerful enough to calm storms, heal the sick, and bring the dead back to life. But also sharp and to the point when they nail us to the wall by condemning our sins, but then protecting us from being crucified by Satan by assuring us of forgiveness.
Every Sunday we have the privilege of hearing Jesus speak to us through the Bible. I wonder, though, if we see this as a privilege? I know, it’s easy to become distracted by the funny looking presenter God has called to be your pastor. I stutter. I let spit bubbles fly when I talk. My polished forehead makes me glow like a light bulb under these spotlights. But when I preach from the Bible, Jesus speaks. He wields a mighty sword. He shoots arrows from the pulpit to pierce our proud hearts so that we acknowledge again the need for Jesus our Savior. This is true no matter who steps in this pulpit as long as he is speaking God’s Word. So prepare carefully when you come to worship. Come rested and ready to learn. Rein in your wandering mind by taking notes during the sermon and readings if that helps you concentrate better. Sermon notes are even provided in the bulletin to guide you. Or pick up a copy of the sermon and read along if you concentrate better that way. Remember, Jesus’ job isn’t just to save us but to keep speaking to us so we stay in tune with the Father’s will.
It’s possible that the Detroit Lions will select University of Oklahoma’s quarterback, Sam Bradford, as their first pick on Draft Day. If they do, they’ll instantly gain thousands of fans. You see Bradford is part Cherokee. When he won the Heisman trophy this year as college’s best football player he became a hero to Native Americans. They feel that Bradford’s success is their success because he’s “one of them.” In the same way God the Father’s pick of Jesus deserves to be celebrated by us all because Jesus is one of us. He too spent nine months in a womb. He too got blisters when he was breaking in new sandals. He too had to eat his veggies to grow big and strong. So when God the Father honored him at his baptism and then again at his resurrection and ascension, he promised to honor all those who take refuge in Jesus, for he is our brother and our Savior. He is God’s pick. That’s a reason to celebrate. Amen.