“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. He will not shout or cry out, or raise his voice in the streets. A bruised reed he will not break, and a smouldering wick he will not snuff out…” Isaiah 42:1-3
“Oh, he’s well past his use-by date”… “Sorry, she’s just no good any more…”
We’ve all heard remarks like that – perhaps even made them ourselves. They’re cruel words, words which write people off – and words sadly fitting in our harsh, throw-away society. If you no longer measure up, then you’re out: tough. And so we hear people describe themselves as “thrown on the scrap-heap”. Perhaps you even feel like that yourself as you read this.
If you do, these words from the prophet Isaiah are full of encouragement and hope.
Isaiah is describing God’s “servant”. And he highlights various things about this unnamed person: he is “upheld”, “chosen” and “delighted in” by God; he is indwelt by the Spirit of God; his ultimate role and destiny (just get this!) is to “bring justice to the nations”.
That’s quite something!
Yet, strangely, the manner of this remarkable person is quiet and undemonstrative: “he will not shout or cry out”… he isn’t one to “raise his voice in the streets”. His attitude is constructive rather than destructive: he won’t even “break a bruised reed” (presumably he prefers to mend it); he won’t even “snuff out a smouldering wick” (presumably he prefers to rekindle it).
Compare that with our brash, bullying, bombastic world! So coarse, so vulgar, so in-yer-face! Compare it with the mood of politics, of business, of sport, of show business – and of everyday life. What a contrast with this person the prophet is describing.
So… who is this unnamed “servant of the Lord”? Go back to Isaiah 41:8-9 for the answer: he is “Israel”, God’s chosen people, the “descendants of Abraham my friend”.
It seems that when God called Abraham to follow him in faith, when he melded a rag-tag bunch of people together under Moses in Egypt, when he led them out to the promised land, when he gave them his law and sent them his prophets, when he gave them the kings they pleaded for… when he did all these things, this is the kind of nation he intended them to be: humble, possessed by God’s Spirit, a bringer of justice.
Oh, but how things went wrong! We only have to read the history books of the Old Testament to see how Israel became just like any other nation: corrupt, compromised, and out of step with God.
So – does that mean that Isaiah’s prophesy is just a fantasy, a make-believe? No! Go forward now to Matthew 12:18-21, where the prophet’s words are quoted almost exactly – and applied to Jesus. Yes! He is the ultimate “servant of the Lord”! He is the one who embodies the true calling of Israel! He is the one in whom these wonderful words have already partly found – and will one day fully find – their fulfilment.
This is the good news of the gospel: a king who will make good all those promises that are up to now so sadly unfulfilled. He will be a humble, lowly, gentle king – and yet the king of kings and lord of lords.
As a little boy in Sunday School I remember singing about “gentle Jesus, meek and mild”. Just possibly those words, repeatedly sung, drip-fed into my child’s mind an image of a weak and feeble Jesus, and I had to learn that, while true, this wasn’t the whole picture. Jesus, I later discovered, could be angry – witness the incident when he threw the money-changers out of the temple (Matthew 21:12-13). And he could be ferocious in condemning hypocrisy – witness his blistering attack on the religious leaders in Jerusalem (Matthew 23:13-24).
But there could never be any doubting the essence of his character: love, compassion, forgiveness, gentleness.
Is this the Jesus you know? Is this the God you know (for, remember, Jesus himself said that to see him is to see the Father (John 14:9))? This is the true God, the God who looks on us with aching tenderness.
I don’t know if you feel today as useless as a broken stick? Well, if you do, please believe that Jesus longs to mend you, not to throw you aside. Or if, perhaps, you might see yourself as a sputtering candle about to go out? If you do, please believe that Jesus longs to rekindle you, not to stub his thumb on you. Our God is a God who loves to pluck people off the scrap-heap, not toss them onto it.
He can do it. He will do it. Just ask him – he is waiting.
Oh God, thank you for your perfect servant Jesus. Thank you for his gentleness and love, for his patience with the weak and struggling, and for the kingdom of justice he will one day establish. Help me to become more worthy to be a servant of the Servant. Amen.