Sermon / Pastor Terry / January 12th, 2014 / Isaiah 42 / God's Gift: Our Servant
1 “Here is my servant, whom I uphold,
my chosen one in whom I delight;
I will put my Spirit on him,
and he will bring justice to the nations.
2 He will not shout or cry out,
or raise his voice in the streets.
3 A bruised reed he will not break,
and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.
(New International Version)
We've come to new season in the church year. It follows Christmas, and it's called "Epiphany." Epiphany is a word we rarely hear outside these walls. It simply means "appearing." And it refers to the "appearing" of our Savior, Jesus Christ. Our Savior has now arrived. In Epiphany, we have a good look at this new arrival. I pray that God would richly bless our consideration of His Holy Word this day!
We all know what it's like to wait for someone special to arrive – someone we've never met before. We usually have a mental image of what they're going to look like and what kind of personality they might have. Our expectations rarely line up with reality. When our special guest arrives, we discover that they are a unique individual – with qualities we didn’t expect. The people of Israel were expecting the Messiah God had promised. They thought they knew what he would be like. But when He actually arrived, they had to readjust their expectations. And some, especially the religious leaders of the Jews, refused to do that.
Our sermon text this morning, as you have already heard, is taken from the 42nd chapter of Isaiah. Here, the people of Israel are being told what the Messiah would be like. Bible scholars tell us that Isaiah chapter 42 contains a "Servant Song,” one of four in the book of Isaiah. Christ is God’s servant, continually serving His people, offering us His blessings and grace. There’s no doubt about it – Jesus of Nazareth is God's ultimate "Christmas Gift" to the world. Under the inspiration of God’s Holy Spirit, the prophet Isaiah described the Messiah in detail many years before His birth.
Isaiah's words are quoted often in the New Testament. Jesus fulfilled Isaiah's predictions to the letter. So, it is THIS JESUS that’s arrived in our midst. It is THIS JESUS Whom we worship and adore. The servant referred to in Isaiah 42 is God’s special servant. Isaiah chapter 42 tells us about God, the One who sent this special Servant. It also tells us about the Servant, about his relationship with his Father, what he would be like, and what he would do.
It’s interesting that we, too, are to be God's servants, now that we trust his Son as our Lord and Savior. In a very real sense, you and I are servants of the Servant. In our text this morning, it’s as if Isaiah is saying, "I want you to remember that THIS GOD is sending his Servant to you." In Isaiah 42, verse 5, we’re told that God "created the heavens and stretched them out." He "spread out the earth, and all that comes out of it." He "gives breath to its people, and life to those who walk on (the earth)."
So I ask you – WHICH GOD was it Who sent the Servant? It was the God who created the universe. WHICH GOD did that? Well, it was the God who created the earth. It was the God who gives life to all living things. The universe we inhabit is so vast that it overwhelms the mind. For me, the study of the universe and of God’s amazing creation puts everything into perspective. When I look up at the stars on a clear night, as Kathleen and I did recently at the 6000 foot level of Mauna Kea in Hawaii, I'm reminded how small we really are. And that amazing vista of bright stars reminds me how powerful God really is. Isaiah says that THIS GOD -- THE ONE WHO CREATED THE UNIVERSE sent his Son, His Servant, to us.
There's more. The God who created this vast universe of innumerable stars also created this amazing blue planet we call earth. Suspended in the blackness of space, and among innumerable giant burning stars and dead spheres of rock and gas, either too hot or too cold to support life – is this earth of ours– a tiny blue speck of life, an oasis of abundant life in the vastness of space. Everything we need for life is has been provided for us here on this beautiful planet – God's gift of grace to us, and to all living things. So, I repeat – it is this God – this God who created the universe – and this amazing planet – that sent his Servant our way.
God’s word says that the God who created the vast universe, and this earth so hospitable for life, also created us. He "gives us breath." He gives life. He nurtures and sustains it. Physical life. And spiritual life, too. Isaiah is saying that it isn’t some dumb idol who sent his Servant to us. It isn’t some unknown deity or minor god somewhere. It is GOD ALMIGHTY – THE CREATOR OF HEAVEN AND EARTH, THE GIVER OF LIFE – who sent His Servant.
God sent his Servant to minister to us. And that Servant has now appeared, born into the care of Mary and Joseph. Isaiah also tells us that God the Father "upholds" His Servant. God gives His servant strength. During his ministry, Jesus often spent time – alone with his Father – in prayer. During His ministry, Jesus found encouragement and strength in times of quiet fellowship with his father. When the burdens of ministry weighed Him down, Jesus went to His Father for strength and encouragement. God chose his Servant – his Son, Jesus – to minister to us. And Jesus agreed to His Father's request. He agreed to leave his home in heaven and come to this earth. He agreed to live among us, to be one of us, and to serve us. Jesus came to serve. He came to deal with our sin problem – once and for all. Jesus came to this earth, He took on Himself human flesh, motivated by love – sacrificial love – and that sacrificial love eventually took him to a cross to die for our sins. But God raised Him from the dead, indicating that our salvation was now a reality.
There’s more. Isaiah tells us that God delights in his Servant. He is well-pleased with him. When Jesus was baptized by John, God's voice was heard from heaven. And the voice said,
"This is my son, whom I love. With him, I am well pleased."
Isaiah tells us that God's Spirit would rest on his Servant. When Jesus was baptized, God's Holy Spirit descended on Him, in the form of a dove. It's important to notice that when Jesus was baptized, we see the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, all in one place, at one time. When Jesus was baptized, we see the Trinity. The Father speaks. The Holy Spirit descends in the form of a dove. And Jesus, the Son of God, is present as well.
Isaiah uses four words to describe the Servant. The four words are
Let’s take a moment to consider each one. God's Servant would, first of all, be faithful to the Father’s will. He would bring salvation to the world – the forgiveness of sins and the promise of ETERNAL LIFE. Secondly, God's Servant would go about his task quietly. He wouldn't be boisterous, or pushy, or rude. He would be a man of peace. Jesus dealt with people – sometimes in crowds, sometimes one on one. He explained God’s will, calmly and quietly. He called people to faith. He told people what they needed to know – about themselves, about others, and about God.
Thirdly, according to Isaiah’s prediction, God's Servant would be gentle. He wouldn't be aggressive or arrogant. Isaiah tells us that God’s gentle Servant wouldn't “break a bruised reed." And he wouldn't “snuff out a smoldering wick." The bruised reed and the smoldering wick are illustrations of human weakness. Jesus' ministry – the Servant's ministry – would bring wholeness and healing to human beings. It would bring strength to the weak, and healing to the sick. A bruised reed in a marsh could easily be broken off by someone passing by. But Jesus would be gentle with those who are bruised by sin, and work to restore them. A smoldering wick is easily extinguished. But Jesus would work to bring that spark back to full flame.
This Jesus who has now appeared has come to bring health and wholeness to people like you and me – people whose lives have been adversely impacted by the effects of sin. That's what Jesus’ ministry is all about. "Bruised reeds" like the woman caught in adultery, restored by Jesus' love and grace. "Smoldering wicks" like the Pharisee Nicodemus had their faith brought to full flame through Jesus' words. Jesus' goal was to spark and then encourage faith, never to discourage it or snuff it our.
Jesus would be "gentle." On Palm Sunday, as he rode into Jerusalem for the last time, his death less than a week away, the words of the Old Testament prophet Zechariah (9:9) were fulfilled:
Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout, daughter of Jerusalem! See, YOUR KING comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey...
So Jesus, God servant, the Messiah, would be FAITHFUL, and QUIET, and GENTLE. And finally, according to Isaiah, he would also be DETERMINED. God's Servant would have a goal – the forgiveness of this world's sins – and he would resolutely set out to achieve it and would not give up until he had achieved it. Nothing would deter him. Not a cross or a crown of thorns. Persecution wouldn't do it. Neither would betrayal or misunderstanding, or spitting, or mockery, or shame. Jesus was determined to bring God’s salvation to the world. We are eternally thankful to God that he reached his goal.
As we have seen, Isaiah describes the Servant with four words. And he describes the results of the Servant's work with three more words. Those words are
The Servant's ministry would bring JUSTICE to this world where injustice had been the rule. He would bring LIGHT into the darkness of sin. And He would bring FREEDOM to those in bondage. To bring JUSTICE is to set things right between a holy God and sinful humanity. To bring JUSTICE is to bring about JUSTIFICATION – a new relationship with God made possible by the forgiveness of sins. To bring LIGHT is to bring illumination to those who live in darkness. To bring LIGHT is to enable people to see realities they just couldn't see before. It's to illuminate the truth and point out falsehood. And to bring FREEDOM is to open the prison door and set the prisoners free. To bring FREEDOM is to provide just the right conditions so that people can come to their true potential.
So far this morning, I've talked about what God has done for us, through this Special Servant, the one who has now appeared in our midst. God has done much for us. And he continues to do much for us. Now this might seem like a logical place to end my sermon this morning. But I can't do that – at least not quite yet. There's one more thing I want to talk about. And that is OUR RESPONSE TO GOD'S SERVANT. We’ve spoken about what God has done for us. But we're not finished, until we talk about our response to God’s grace. God's Servant has come to save us. He has chosen us to be his children, through Baptism and the preaching of His Word. He has granted us his Holy Spirit, so that we can live as his people, and understand his Word. He upholds us, as we travel life's way. God delights in us, just as he delights in his Son.
Now, as Christian people, we realize that we have been SAVED, TO SERVE – to serve God and our neighbor. Empowered by our Savior, we serve God faithfully, quietly, gently, and with determination. When I was a pastor in the Vancouver area, in the late 80’s and early 90’s, as every parish pastor does, I visited a number of shut-ins, at home and in institutions. One of the people I visited had Alzheimer's disease. She wasn't able to respond to me, but I got to know her husband very well. Before her illness, this lady and her husband had been in the bakery business. They were German people who had emigrated from Germany to England. They had lived in England for many years before coming on to Canada. After their retirement, they travelled to many different countries, helping people in poverty to learn about baking.
When I first met this lady and her husband, she had been struggling with Alzheimer's disease for 12 years. As the disease progressed, she was placed into the Extended Care Unit of the University of B.C. Hospital. She got to the point where she couldn't speak or respond. It was this lady's husband who showed me what "faithful" means. For many years, he had gone to the UBC hospital every day, in the late afternoon, to feed his wife supper and to be with her for a few hours. The staff of the hospital couldn't believe how faithful this man was to his wife. Even though his wife couldn't respond to him, or even speak with him, there he was, day in and day out, serving her. When I saw that, I couldn’t help but think of the words
“… to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do us part.”
Our goal is to be faithful to God. And, by God’s enabling, we seek to be gentle with others. We want to do things motivated by love. The apostle Paul says to Christian people, in Philippians chapter 4, verse 5: "Let your GENTLENESS be evident to all." In the name of Jesus, we seek to bring his justice, His light, and His freedom to this world. In this season of Epiphany, we pause on the pilgrimage to consider the "appearing" of our Savior and all that He has done – all that He continues to do – and all that he will do for us in the future. Amen.
Let's Pray: DEAR HEAVENLY FATHER – You are the God who created the universe, including this earth. You are the one who gave us life. Remind us that you sent your son to be our Servant – to bring us justice, and light, and freedom. Help us to serve him, according to Your will. Amen.