The Glorious Servant
The Glorious Servant
Rodney Gehman – December 17, 2023 – Isaiah 42:1-9
[ 001 ] We are on week 3 out of 4 in our Advent series. Next Sunday, for Christmas Eve, we’ll finish up the Advent series from the book of Isaiah, and then on the 31st, Pastor Steve will pick up where we left off in our Acts series. The last thing we heard about the new Church is that a husband and wife got dropped stone-cold dead by God for lying to the Church about their finances, and we thought it’d be good to just let you sit on that one for the month of December. So it’ll be good to get back to that story and see where things went from there.
We’ve been reading from Isaiah about the kingdom of Judah, which is the kingdom around Jerusalem. [ 002 ] Ahaz was king, and he was about as crooked as they came. Didn’t seek the Lord, didn’t care for the poor, didn’t maintain proper worship in the Temple, in fact he boarded up the place.
And as a perfect Father who is not quick to get angry, but willingly disciplines his children, God gave Ahaz plenty of warning through the prophet Isaiah that he’d better repent or God would allow Assyria to attack as his way of disciplining the kingdom of Judah.
Ahaz did not repent, instead he tried to bribe the Assyrians by giving them all the gold and silver furnishings from the Temple. So God’s discipline would come.
[ 003 ] He told Judah they were going to be like a forest that got leveled. Every “tree”, every political or religious leader, and all the people would be cut down as God’s discipline for their sin.
But he also promised that the same thing would happen to Assyria when he was done with them. They would be leveled as punishment for leveling Judah. Are you tracking with me?
Judah had sinned. God lets Assyria attack. Then God levels Assyria because of their sin. But as we saw in both Isaiah 9 and last week in chapter 11, God promised Judah that this leveling would not be the end of them. [ 004 ] There would be a king that would ascend the throne. A wonderful counselor, mighty God, everlasting father, prince of peace, with his roots in Israel’s past and his branches giving life and fruit into the future.
But so far this has all been just a prophecy. None of it has actually happened yet. Isaiah speaks in past tense as if it did, but that’s just his confidence in the word of God speaking. It’s as good as done, although nothing has happened yet. That was last week.
[ 005 ] Fast forward now to Isaiah 37, and King Ahaz is dead. His son Hezekiah is now the king of Judah, and he is just what the doctor ordered. He worships Yahweh, opens up the temple again, gets everybody back to remembering the festivals God had ordained, and clears out all the stuff his dad had plugged up… finally gets the kingdom of Judah headed the right direction again, and all of a sudden, the Assyrian army is on the move. God’s discipline is coming to pass, the prophecy is happening. The army is invading. And in the most intelligent move of his entire life, instead of calling on his allies to save him like his dad did, Hezekiah goes to the temple and prays, asking God to save them so that all the kingdoms of the earth would know that Yahweh is God.
And just like he still does to this day, God responded to Hezekiah’s faith. God basically said, I’m going to spare you for a couple more years. Assyria isn’t going to even shoot an arrow at you. I will defend you and rescue Jerusalem right now, but that doesn’t change the prophecy. There is still darkness and exile coming in the future. But I’ll take care of Assyria now.
And then, this is awesome, it’s why you should read your Bibles – [ 006 ] Isaiah 37:36, Then the angel of the LORD went out and struck down 185,000 of Assyrian soldiers. When the people got up the next morning – there were all the dead bodies! So the king of Assyria broke camp, returned home, and one day while he was worshiping in the temple of his own personal god, two of his sons assassinated him and then ran away. Hit and run. And just like that, the entire picture we looked at last week of Assyria being chopped down like a forest came to pass.
[ blank ] And now before I lose you in the history lesson, let me tell you why this matters for today. We are about to look at Isaiah 42, but just one chapter earlier, God refers to everything he’s done with this whole Assyria deal, and says that’s how you know you can trust me. Who is powerful enough to stir up an army from the east, hand over kings and kingdoms to him, and tell you with detail how it’s all going to happen before it happens? Huh!? Who can do that?
Who can tell you that the people who are coming against you to attack are going to become absolutely nothing? You’ll look for them, but they won’t be anywhere to be found? Who is powerful enough to pulverize that same army without you lifting a finger? Who else could have told you from the very beginning that this is what would happen? Who is able to say, “see, I told you that would happen?” No one but Yahweh. I am the LORD, the first and with the last – I am he. So before we get lost in the context, these stories are here in God’s word to point us to and open our eyes to the character of God!
By God’s own logic here, every promise he makes in the rest of scripture is as good as done. And that’s what leads us into Isaiah 42, where he continues to build on a promise he’s been making all throughout Isaiah, that Judah and all of the people of God will one day be led by a new and better king - that wonderful counselor, mighty God, everlasting Father, prince of peace rooted in Israel’s past, but also bearing fruit into their future, and now today, that promised king picks up another title:
[ 007 ] Isaiah 42: "This is my servant; Once again, Jesus rightly sees himself as the person Isaiah is talking about. In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus said himself that he did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give up his life as a ransom for many. Your mind might immediately go to his last supper with the disciples, where he took off his outer clothes, dressed himself like a servant, and washed his disciples’ feet.
In a parable he told referring to himself in Luke 12, Jesus implied that not only was he here on earth to serve, he would continue to serve us when he comes again. He will come and serve us. And Hebrews 13 says, oh it’s not just that he served us in the past when he was here on earth, and he’ll serve us again when he’s back on the earth – he serves us now. “The Lord is my helper. I will not be afraid.” .
I strengthen him, this is my chosen one; I delight in him. Do you get the picture that God the Father is pretty excited about his Son? I’m giving him what he needs, I love him, I am pleased with him, I approve of him – I love how Michael Reeves puts this in his book “Delighting in the Trinity”, where he says that what makes the God of the Bible unique from all other religions people can make up, God is love. It’s not something he does. It’s what he is. For eternity, God the Father and God the Son have enjoyed being together, not being ‘IN’ love like we think of it, but being love.
The Father pours out his love on his Son for all eternity past, who willingly responds by loving the Father for all eternity past, and none of that is interrupted or broken by sending Jesus to earth to take on human skin and bones. The Father continued to pour out his love – Saying out loud for all to hear at Jesus’ baptism, “This is my Son! I love him! I am so pleased with him!” And again at his transfiguration, “This is my Son! I love him! Listen to what he says!” I have put my Spirit on him;
I love him. I delight in him. He is full of me! And he will bring justice to the nations.
What exactly is “justice”? What does this mean that he will bring justice to the nations.
[ 009 ] On its own this word means the quality of being free from favoritism, self-interest, bias, or deception; especially conforming to established standards or rules.
Can you imagine a world without any favoritism, self-interest, bias or deception?! I started this series by telling you that I am a sucker for watching the Presidential debates, but when you watch those, you just assume there’s going to be some deception, a TON of bias, and a pretty healthy dose of self-interest. Of course never by the candidate we are in favor of, but the other ones are full of that stuff.
Some of you might experience favoritism in your family, and Christmas is not a fun time for you. Can you imagine no favoritism or bias in school sports? Can you imagine going to a conference where no one is lying to you about the size of their company, trying to impress you with their accomplishments or bottom line? Can you imagine living with the kind of inner peace that says you don’t have to prove yourself to anyone? Can you imagine the kind of inner rest that says you can serve behind the scenes without recognition and still live a full and good life? Can you imagine a world where your last name doesn’t determine what people think about you?
But as awesome as that would be, in the book of Isaiah “justice” is an even bigger thing than just no more favoritism. [ 010 ] Isaiah refers to justice as maintaining or restoring the order God established in the world through creation. He refers to justice as maintaining Israel’s special relationship with God in the world and in other parts of Isaiah, it has to do with the false claims of the nations and their gods being silenced, and the truth about the Lord’s total sovereignty over history being established.
So if Jesus is the servant, and his mission on earth is to bring the full effect of justice to the world, that means his job is to put God’s plans for his people into full effect, to silence the enemy, and to make the truth about the Lord, Israel’s God, known everywhere, especially the fact that he alone is the sovereign creator and Lord of history.
 The Servant would not be harsh and loud nor attract attention to Himself as He went about His mission. Humility, not forcefulness, would identify Him.
[ 011 ]  He will not break a bruised reed, and he will not put out a smoldering wick; he will faithfully bring justice.
A reed is a hollow plant that grows in marshy areas, and it could be used for making a shepherd’s staff, musical instruments, and all kinds of other things. But you wanted that reed to not get a bend or a bruise on it, because then the structural integrity was gone and it was worthless. Maybe you relate more to a metal broom handle. Once it gets bent, it’s junk. That’s the idea of a bruised reed.
A smoldering wick is where a candle is rolling mostly smoke, but there’s a little orange ember at the end of the wick. The fire is out, it’s not putting off really any light, and it’s just the smell of smoke.
This entire section of verses is used in Matthew 12, sandwiched right between Jesus healing a crippled man and casting out a demon. In ancient Israel, physical or spiritual problems like that were considered a result of sin, those people were outcasts, and the religious leaders stayed away.
But this servant in Isaiah 42 is going to care for those who have been beaten up and bruised by life. He’s going to care for those who are more smoke than fire, and are maybe more difficult than others.
So verse 3 is super encouraging. That even when my faith is barely a flicker and mostly smoke…even when I feel like a reed that has been stepped on or trampled over by others, God doesn’t just grab the weed trimmer and finish me off. The same God who is powerful enough to raise up armies and kill 185,000 in one breath is also gentle enough to bring that flicker back to a flame, or stand up that reed and nurture it back to health. That’s one way to look at this verse biblically.
But at the same time, another place Isaiah refers to a bruised reed, he talks about it as a shepherd’s staff that has been broken in half, with a splintered spike at the top. In that place Isaiah warns Judah, if you rely on these other nations to help you in time of trouble instead of me, it’s like a shepherd who leans on a broken staff… you lean on a staff hoping to find rest and relief when you lean on it, but instead a spike goes through your hand. On top of that, fire represents God’s wrath almost everywhere else in scripture. And for King Hezekiah and Judah, they might be thinking aha, we prayed, God heard us and rescued us from Assyria. What was a flame of God’s anger is now just a smoldering spark – we can all relax…it’s all good.
So another way to look at verse 3 is that this servant loves to root out our favoritism, self-interest and deception and idol worship so much so that he will continue to allow pain for those who lean on false saviors. He loves justice so much, that for those who continue to reject him and reject his justice in the world, the fire of God’s wrath is still ready. Just a breath will ignite it again, and he will rid the world of evil.
So this is a picture of both grace and truth. [ 012 ] In either case, He will not grow weak or be discouraged until he has established justice on earth. The coasts and islands (in other words, every corner of the earth) will wait for his instruction."
So, in verses 1-4, God has been speaking to Judah about this servant, but now he changes up his audience and starts talking directly to the servant himself:
[ 013 ]  This is what God, the LORD, says- who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out the earth and what comes from it, who gives breath to the people on it and spirit to those who walk on it-  "I am the LORD. I have called you for a righteous purpose, and I will hold you by your hand. I will watch over you, and I will appoint you to be a covenant for the people and a light to the nations,  in order to open blind eyes, to bring out prisoners from the dungeon, and those sitting in darkness from the prison house.  I am the LORD. That is my name, and I will not give my glory to another or my praise to idols.
What is glory? What do we mean by that word? Because it’s a word we see a lot in scripture. In the New Testament, the Apostle Paul would say, “whatever you do, whether you eat or drink, do everything to the glory of God.” You say what is my purpose in life – it is to bring glory to God in everything you do, even the way you eat food and drink liquids. So it’s good for us to know what that means.
[ 014 ]The Hebrew word in use here is the word “Kabod”, which literally means “heavy” or “weighty.” And while it can be used literally, as in, that rock in the field is “kabod” and we’ll need a bigger loader to move it… most often it’s used as a metaphor. And in English we would use it to describe the feeling I got when I learned a good friend had been diagnosed with a deadly cancer. You feel it in your gut. And you say “man, that’s heavy.” It’s weighty. Or let’s say my friend didn’t take it too seriously, and said, eh, whatever, I feel okay. The doctor might say, “I Don’t think you understand the gravity of this situation.” You don’t understand the “kabod” of this situation. The glory of it. The heaviness of it. The significance of it. The “glory” of it.
Many years ago, I attended a rally of a sitting President running for re-election. And you know state senators got up and talked first, and other local politicians were there, and it was neat to see them in person – but when the President walked in, the whole mood of the room physically changed. The applause was louder, the amount of security was ramped up, the attention to the words that were being spoken – all of it changed because there was an increase in Kabod. An increase in honor, an increase in significance, the aura … all of that is glory.
[ 015 ] In Isaiah 6, the heavenly creatures around the throne of God are crying out “holy, holy, holy,” the whole earth is filled with his glory.” Meaning, there in heaven, God is praised for what he is – he is perfect in every single way, the only one in his category… and the whole earth is filled with the physical presence or reality of the significance, the reputation, the perfection, the holiness, the goodness, the grace of who he is.
So, creation shows some of that glory. Psalm 19 says the heavens declare the glory of God – they physically speak to the significance and perfection and honor and power of God; Psalms also says that humans are crowned with some glory, where we too have significance and honor, made in the image of God. No one is insignificant. Nothing you do or say, no work or task is insignificant. That significance is a crown, a marker of authority over creation. So humans have some glory.
But no one else, except God the Son and God the Spirit share in the Father’s glory. No one else is in the same ballpark as they are, and one of the ways they share his glory is that they are both servants. They are both our helper, our strength, our guide. Jesus lives to make intercession for us, still sending and baptizing, filling, equipping us with his Holy Spirit, who is also our helper. And as verse 9 would point out, a tangible expression of God’s perfection is that his predictions always happen exactly as he said they would.
And since the past things happened like he said they would, he declares a new event before it happens, and it’s this: You, my servant, whom I dearly love – here is your mission. This is your purpose on earth: You are going to be a tangible picture of my commitment to the welfare of my people, and you will undo all the horrendous and degrading effects that sin has had on the human race. You are going to restore people to their true freedom and dignity as sons and daughters of God, as a light shining into the darkness, and you will do this as a servant, both now and forever.
[ blank ] John Piper asks a great question when he writes, Does this belittle the risen Christ — to say that he was and is and will [always] be the servant of his people? It would, if “servant” meant “one who takes orders,” or if we thought we were his masters. Yes, that would dishonor him. But it does not dishonor him to say that we are weak and need his help. It does not dishonor him to say that he is the only one who can [provide] us with what we need most. It does not dishonor him to say that he is an inexhaustible spring of love, and that the more he helps us and the more we depend on his service, the more amazing his resources appear.
A servant with glory. A king who won’t rule with dominance, forcefulness, and bravado like Ahaz, Assyria, or most political leaders today… but a king who humbled himself to become the lowest of the low. Isaiah will go on to say in ch 53 that Jesus didn’t have an impressive body, or anything that would have attracted us to him physically. He was the kind of person most of us would have ignored or turned away from. Jesus left his throne in heaven to become the lowest of the low here on earth…humbling himself to the place of a servant.
Jesus served us in that he lived the life you and I were designed to live, perfectly obedient to God and his ways, then he became the bruised reed for us and died the death that you and I deserved – not that we all deserved to be crucified, but he experienced the full on blaze of God’s wrath for sin, dying the death that is eternal separation from God because of our sin. Jesus’ body was broken and his life was snuffed out.
Then God raised him from the dead on the third day to prove that everything the cross stood for was done. Forgiveness of sin. Grace toward people. No condemnation for those who are in Christ – his resurrection sealed the deal. Every promise he makes in the rest of scripture is as good as done. And that’s what leads us into Isaiah 42, where he continues to build on a promise he’s been making all throughout Isaiah, that Judah and all of the people of God will one day be led by a new and better king - that wonderful counselor, mighty God, everlasting Father, prince of peace rooted in Israel’s past, but also bearing fruit into their future, and now today
As we head into communion today, maybe you feel like a bruised reed, like life has trampled you. You’re hurting. You’re feeling hopeless or worthless. Feeling like you want to quit. Feeling like you’re hanging on to a shred of what you once were, and aren’t sure how much longer you can stick it out. And I want you to see today that in Jesus, you have a tireless servant who never gets discouraged with you or tired of hearing you pray. He is your freedom. You don’t have to pull yourself up by your own bootstraps. Just rest in him today knowing that you are deeply and dearly loved, and that he won’t toss you out on the curb. The bread and the cup point us to just how far God has gone so that you can know his nearness.
Others of you may need a warning today to wake up. You’ve been trusting in something that can’t save you, or giving significance and worth and honor to someone else or some other pursuit. Or, maybe it’s that you are giving yourself more honor and significance than you should, pretty impressed with yourself and your wisdom and your opinions. And Isaiah would warn you that you’re hijacking glory from the one who alone deserves it. The bread and the cup remind you that your sin is costly, but that Jesus willingly paid the price so that his Father would be glorified and you would be forgiven.
Or maybe you’re just once again so overwhelmed with gratitude for the gift of grace that you’ve been given. You’re one of those people who have had blind eyes opened, you’ve been a prisoner in the dungeon of sin or addiction and you’ve been brought out of the darkness at the prison house, and released to walk in the newness of life in Christ, and today you can just thank him again for doing what he promised he would do.
Whichever one of those you are today, as you hold the bread and cup today, take a moment to pray…
- [ 017-1 ] Thank you for being my helper. You don’t give up, you don’t get weak or discouraged or tired of helping me, serving me by giving me each day what I need. Thank you for your patient determination, and I ask that by your grace you would continue to make me more like Jesus this week.
- [ 017-2 ] Lord forgive me for giving too much honor and significance to myself. Forgive me of my pride; or just forgive me for pursuing a lot of other things in this life saying I’m too busy for you.
- [ 017-3 ]Lord Jesus, would you light the fire in me again. Would you breathe the breath of your Holy Spirit on that flame and reignite a passion for you, reignite worship of you in my heart, reignite in me a desire to be a godly man who fights for his family, reignite in me a desire to be a godly woman who loves deeply and cares for the people around me, reignite a desire in me to be a godly student who honors you and loves you no matter what my friends are up to.