************ Sermon on Isaiah 42:1-9 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on March 1, 2015
"The Compassionate Servant"
In our Bible passage Isaiah is talking about hurting people. Like reeds, they are bruised. Like lamps, they are in danger of being snuffed out. Their hurt and pain comes from a variety of sources: other people, disease and sickness, natural calamity, war and strife, financial meltdown, or thoughtlessness and carelessness. However it comes, many people are bruised and hurting. They are all around us. They live next door to us. We run across them at the grocery store and mall and gas station. They work with us. They play with us. They are in worship with us this morning.
Do you know what hurting people need? They need compassion. Compassion is the emotion that one feels in response to the suffering of others. But it is more than emotion. Lots of people feel bad for those who suffer, they might even listen to them, but they don't do anything. Those with compassion actually do something.
In this season of Lent, on this Preparatory Sunday, Isaiah has good news for hurting people. He tells us about a Servant, the Servant of the Lord, Who shows compassion to hurting people.
I The Servant's Identity
A Let's begin by looking at the identity of the Servant. Who is the Servant of the Lord Isaiah is talking about?
This might surprise you, but God appointed Israel to be His servant.
(Isa 41:8-9) "But you, O Israel, my servant, Jacob, whom I have chosen, you descendants of Abraham my friend, (9) I took you from the ends of the earth, from its farthest corners I called you. I said, 'You are my servant'; I have chosen you and have not rejected you ..." (Cf Isa 49:3)Do you hear how God identifies Israel as His servant?
But Israel failed in her servant-task. She was not faithful. She was not righteous. She did not glorify the Lord and display God's splendor; instead, she brought shame and dishonor on His name. So, God declares His servant Israel to be blind and deaf:
(Isa 42:18-20) "Hear, you deaf; look, you blind, and see! (19) Who is blind but my servant, and deaf like the messenger I send? Who is blind like the one committed to me, blind like the servant of the LORD? (20) You have seen many things, but have paid no attention; your ears are open, but you hear nothing."
In this season of Lent, on this Preparatory Sunday, we realize that Israel is a picture of you and me. We, too, do not live up to our calling. We, too, have many times in which we do not glorify the Lord and display His splendor. We, too, bring shame and dishonor on His name. We, too, are blind and deaf to God and the things of God.
B But, in His love and mercy, God did not abandon Israel utterly. In our Bible reading He presents another Servant to do what Israel could not do:
(Isa 42:1) "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."
In our day and age and culture, the title "Servant" is not a badge of honor. To call someone a servant is to belittle them. But in our Bible reading it is a title of honor.
"Here is my servant." Other translations say, "Behold, My Servant." That is, look at Him. Notice Him. We are to see Him as a contrast to Israel. He is the ideal Israel, a righteous and holy and faithful Servant. He is God's chosen one. God takes great delight in Him. He has the Spirit of God (cf Is 11:2).
The Servant can only be the Lord Jesus Christ. It is Jesus Who is the true Israel. It is Jesus Who is God's righteous, holy, and faithful Servant. It is Jesus Who is God's chosen One. It is Jesus Whom God delights in; so we hear the language of Isaiah 42 at His baptism, "This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased" (Mt 3:17; cf 12:18-21). It is Jesus Who is filled with the Spirit: He is conceived by the Spirit (Mt 1:20), baptized by the Spirit (Mt 4:16), led by the Spirit (Mt 4:1), and drives out demons by the power of the Spirit (Mt 12:28).
In this season of Lent, on this Preparatory Sunday, we are being directed to Jesus, the Servant of the Lord.
II The Servant's Method
A You might realize that Isaiah speaks more than once of the Babylonian captivity. Isaiah wants us to see a contrast between the method of the Servant and the method of Babylon. Here is the method of Babylon:
(Isa 39:6-7) The time will surely come when everything in your palace, and all that your fathers have stored up until this day, will be carried off to Babylon. Nothing will be left, says the LORD. (7) And some of your descendants, your own flesh and blood who will be born to you, will be taken away, and they will become eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon.What is the method of Babylon? When Babylon comes, it crushes all those who stand in its way. It uses its power to squash and destroy.
(Isa 41:25) He treads on rulers as if they were mortar, as if he were a potter treading the clay.
B The Servant is God's answer to Babylon. You will notice that God's answer to the oppression of the world is not more oppression. His answer to arrogance is not more arrogance. His answer to violence is not more violence. Rather, God's answer is the gentle, meek, quiet, humble, and compassionate Servant.
"He will not shout or cry out, or raise his voice in the streets" (Isa 42:2). Unlike the Babylonians, Persians, or any other foreign conquerors, the Servant won't come shouting orders. He won't make inflammatory speeches. He is not a messenger announcing the king's orders to a captive populace.
"A bruised reed he will not break ..." (Isa 42:3). Anyone who lives around water or marsh is familiar with reeds. You find reeds at the Sea of Galilee, the Jordan River, and Lake Kaweah. Reeds have hollow stems. They are quite fragile so reeds are easily knocked over by wind, rough water, animals, people, and boats. Once a reed is broken, it can't be fixed. Other plants can repair themselves or they can be pruned. But not reeds. Because they are weak and useless, all you can do is break them off when they are bruised and bent. That's what Babylon did: they inflicted further harm on those they conquered.
"A smoldering wick he will not snuff out" (Isa 42:3). One of our wedding presents when Ruth and I got married was an oil lamp. When the power went out we would light the lamp and play cards or read a book. However, when the lamp ran low on oil, the light began to flicker, it started to smoulder, it gave off smoke, it began to smell. Before the smoke and smell got bad we would put out the lamp. Babylon snuffed out those who were weak and helpless.
Isaiah isn't talking about reeds and lamps, of course. He is talking about people. He is talking about people who are bruised, hurt, knocked over, smoldering, and flickering. He is talking about hurting people.
In this season of Lent, on this Preparatory Sunday, the message of our text is that the Servant of the Lord does not yell at the people or break a bruised reed or snuff out a smouldering wick. He does not damage the hurting or abandon the flickering. He is not like Babylon. Isaiah says the Servant was sent "to open eyes that are blind, to free captives from prison and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness" (Isa 42:7).
C We see the Servant's compassion when we look at the life and ministry of Jesus. Jesus did not come to knock down a person who was already bent low with life's problems and difficulties. Jesus did not come to inflict injury or harm. He is the compassionate Servant.
The leper of Matthew 8 was a bruised reed. He was diseased, cast off by society, shunned by everyone, part of a leper colony, destined to a slow and terrible death as the disease ate away his flesh. But Jesus came and showed him compassion when He healed him (Mt 8:1-3).
The demon-possessed man was a smoldering wick. He was living among tomb-stones, tormented, avoided by society, often chained hand and foot, cutting himself with stones, crying out. But Jesus showed him compassion when He cast out the evil spirits into a herd of pigs (Mk 5:1-20).
The woman caught in adultery was a bruised reed. She was about to be stoned for her sin; according to the laws of the day they would have been justified in their stoning. But Jesus stopped everything when He showed her compassion and told her to go and sin no more (Jn 8:1-11).
A synagogue ruler by the name of Jairus was a smoldering wick. His little daughter was dying. He asked Jesus to put His hands on her but she died before Jesus arrived. While Jesus was on the way a woman with a flow of blood for twelve years touched Him. Jesus showed compassion: He stopped the flow of blood and He brought the little girl back to life (Mk 5:21-42).
There comes a time when all of us become bruised reeds and smoldering wicks. We need surgery. We are diagnosed with cancer. We become disabled. We, or a loved one, face calamity. Someone close to us dies. We are hurt and depressed, maybe even angry and bitter. But then we experience the compassion of Jesus.
Do you hear what I am saying? Jesus is the answer for the bruised reeds and smoldering wicks of this world. He is the answer for those who are bruised, hurt, knocked over, smoldering, and flickering. He is the answer for hurting people.
And, we are called to be like Him. "Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus," says Paul to the Philippians (Phil 2:5). "Clothe yourselves with compassion," writes Paul to the Colossians (Col 3:12). Like Jesus, we are to have compassion and show compassion to hurting people.
III The Servant's Purpose
A This brings us to the Servant's purpose. Notice what Isaiah says:
(Isa 42:1,4) "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 ... (4) he will not falter or be discouraged till he establishes justice on earth. In his law the islands will put their hope."The Servant's task is to bring justice. But He does so with compassion.
The Servant will not fail in this task. That is the point of verse 4. He will not falter, He will not give up; He will succeed in bringing justice to a world that so desperately needs it.
Why will He succeed when Israel failed? Because He does so in the strength and Spirit of the Lord. God Himself reminds us of His mighty strength. He identifies Himself as
(Is 42:5) He who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out the earth and all that comes out of it, who gives breath to its people, and life to those who walk on it.This great, big, mighty God is with the Servant. This God calls the Servant. This God empowers the Servant. This God takes hold of the Servant's hand. So justice is what He came to do and justice is what He will accomplish.
B What is justice? It is far broader and far different than what we think it is. By and large, we are self-centered in our concept of justice. Let me explain this.
Four children are hungry for a snack. Three get a bag of gummy bears and eagerly devour them. But the gummy bears run out so the fourth child gets nothing. He yells in protest.
Mom finds a chocolate bar to give the fourth child. Now the other three look at their gummy bears and holler in protest.
So the mom, frustrated with the whining, sends the four outside to play, and now all four are protesting because they don't get to watch their favorite TV show.
We hear a cry for justice the first time because one child is not getting what the others got. The second cry for justice happens when one child gets something better than the others. The third cry happens when all four are forced to do something they don't want to do.
Do you see what is happening? All four children are working with a sense of justice that centers around themselves, and in doing so cannot see what justice really is. And guess what? It isn't any better with grown-ups; they also have a self-centered sense of justice. On the news this past week a mother talked about justice when the person who killed her child was found guilty. We all want justice, but we all start with what we perceive justice to be for ourselves.
C So, I ask again, what is justice?
First, justice is getting what you deserve. When a child molester gets thrown into prison, that is justice. When a drug lord is arrested, that is justice. When a drunk driver gets pulled over, that is justice. When sinners stand condemned before God, that is justice.
Second, justice is equal treatment for all. According to Isaiah, the Servant brings justice "to the nations" (Is 42:1) and is a light "for the Gentiles" (Is 42:6). The Servant's justice involves the nations. It involves the natural world order. It involves Jew and Gentile. It is universal in scope. God has a mission to every tribe and language and people and nation. The Servant might be of Israel and from Israel but His work is not limited to Israel.
Third, justice is righteousness. "I, the Lord, have called you in righteousness" (Is 42:6). Righteousness means doing that which is right. Righteousness means following the law (Is 42:4).
D In this season of Lent, on this Preparatory Sunday, look at what Jesus as Servant does: upon the cross He took upon Himself the justice we deserve; He experienced the justice of God in our place; He experienced the justice of God that He didn't deserve.
Jesus also ministered to rich and poor, Jew and Gentile, sick and well, parents and children, Pharisees and tax-collectors. He played no favorites. It was equal treatment for all sinners.
Jesus is also the Righteous One. Holy. Perfect. From conception already. He was tempted in every way, just as we are – yet was without sin (Heb 4:15).
And, He did all of this as the compassionate Servant.
Congregation, in this season of Lent, on this Preparatory Sunday, look to Jesus. Recognize Him as the compassionate Servant of the Lord Who brings justice.
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