This sermon is offered by the CRCNA as part of our Reading Sermons series.
Scripture: Isaiah 42:1-25
Sermon prepared by Rev. David J. Weemhoff, Sarnia, ON
When we ask the world -- our society today -- whom they would describe as a real servant, probably the one person that would come to mind would be a person like Mother Teresa. She stands out as the epitome of one who is a servant as she worked diligently on the streets in India. She was an amazing woman in being a servant to those who were down and out, those who were outcasts within the community. In that very frail woman we see someone who displayed strength in gentleness -- a strength that spoke to leaders of nations and shared a message to those leaders.
In her caring and sensitivity, she showed that in her gentleness was strength. That’s what we want to hold up in our society as what a servant is to be. That’s what a servant should be. Even though our society turns to many different examples of what a servant should be, at least it does come back and say that she is the epitome of a servant. Certainly, she is one who fulfills what is described in verse 3 of our passage, where the author talks about a "bruised reed he will not break and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out." One who is there even at the weakest point will not be harmful. That’s the picture we see.
But in talking about the servant of the Lord, Isaiah is describing someone who is greater than even this image that our society has raised as the ideal of servanthood. And we might say very quickly this has to be a reference to Jesus Christ, because the only ideal servant that ever lived in this world, of course, was Jesus Christ. As we look at the words of Isaiah, we find that these words, although fulfilled in Jesus Christ, should not necessarily be immediately interpreted to refer to Christ. As we examine the words of Isaiah, we find that the words are spoken to those who are failed servants, who are his people. These failed servants, who are his people, he calls anew to be servants of the Lord. Isaiah continues to call them to renew their mission.Three times in just these first four verses he says that the servant will bring justice to the nations. He will bring forth justice, and he will establish justice on the earth. This is a mission that God’s people are called to, and that we are a part of and called to, as well. We are the servant of the Lord that is described here.
I. A People in a Far Country
But let us understand that this servant is one that comes to a people that are in a far country. These words come to a people that are now in exile. The people of Israel had been transported by King Nebuchadnezzar into a far country, where they, had for many, many years, been dislocated from their land. They were removed from their religious institutions and customs, and they were scorned by the other nations around them because they were a defeated people. They realized not only that their exile was the punishment of their sin but they also wondering whether the Lord was ever going to make things right again, whether God was going to do anything in their midst. They asked, "Is he going to provide for us in any way? Is he going to make things right?"
I describe them as a people in a far country because they have been dislocated by King Nebuchadnezzar, but they are also a people in a far country in the sense that they are far away from their God, in the midst of their sin, in the midst of their despair, in the midst of their hopelessness, in the midst of their brokenness, in the midst of their blindness and their deafness. That’s why I made sure we included in this reading verses 18 and following where Isaiah is speaking to Israel, "Hear you deaf, look you blind and see. Who is blind but my servant and deaf like the messenger I send?" This is Israel in a far country, and it is to this Israel the Lord speaks these words about a servant, the servant of the Lord, who is going to speak and to make things right, because that’s the message: to bring justice to all the earth.
When we think of justice, we think of what takes place in the court rooms across our land, where people are punished for what they have done wrong. We hope that a judge and a jury will find those who are guilty, guilty, and give them the punishment that they deserve for the crimes that they have done. When courts do this, we say justice is done. But the implication of the word ‘justice’ here is not simply that people will get their due in a court of law. No, what the people cry out for in this far country is that God will bring healing and wholeness amongst his people. In fact, this justice is something that will be shared by all people. It is a desire for things to be made righteous or more particularly to be made right in the relationship with their God -- that all these things will come together once again in light of their relationship to him. That’s their cry. Out of that restoration of the relationship with God, they will find healing and wholeness as his people once again. That’s their cry! And that’s what the servant of the Lord is bringing to them in this far country.
What does this mean for us today? In a way, we can’t identify with people who are dislocated from their land or removed from their land in a far country physically. But we know that there are those even within our own community that are in a far country in the sense that they are exiled because of their sin. They are experiencing the effects of living outside of a relationship with God. They are experiencing brokenness and pain and guilt, they are in need of restoration of relationships. They need hope in the midst of a very hopeless world. Our society is looking for that. We know that there are many that are seeking those servants that can bring this kind of hope in their cry for justice or wholeness. But they are looking to government officials; they are looking to legislation; they are looking for particular leaders. They’re even finding it in entertainment, trying to model their lives after entertainers so that they can bring some kind of joy or hope within their lives. They’re looking for those who will help them get out of their mundane existence, out of the struggles of their daily life.
Watching programs that describe the rich and famous, I can’t help but think that people are interested in finding out how the rich and famous are living so that somehow they can escape their own existence and kind of identify or escape. They think that maybe, maybe I can have a taste of that.
II. The Servant of the Lord
But who is the servant in that far country? As I said at the beginning, it’s not who we think it is. We say, is it Jesus? But interestingly enough, Isaiah doesn’t necessarily point us directly to Jesus at this point, even though we know Jesus fulfills these words. In Isaiah 41:8 we read who the servant is. "But you, O Israel, my servant Jacob whom I have chosen, you descendants of Abraham my friend." Also later on in Isaiah 49:3 we read the same thing: "He says to me, you are my servant Israel in whom I will display my splendor." So before we jump to the conclusion that the Messiah Jesus is the fulfillment here, let us look at Isaiah’s understanding of who the servant is.
The one who is described in verse 42, "My servant whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight," is the people of Israel. They are understood as the servant, first of all. The servant Israel is the one who is the deaf one, the blind one, the servant who is unable to fulfill the role of being servant. That’s why they are in exile. They have not brought justice to themselves. They have not brought righteousness to themselves by their own faithlessness, by their own disobedience. They certainly have not been a blessing in the sense that the covenant talks about in regards to Abraham’s seed, which would be a blessing to the nations. They had utterly failed in fulfilling the mandate and mission that God had given to them to the people around them in a far country. In fact, they, were brought to a far country because of their sin and disobedience. But Isaiah’s words here do not necessarily speak of that failure as they do of hope by calling them and declaring to them that he is going to restore them to be that servant once again. They are still God’s chosen. He will uphold them. He says, "I will put my spirit on him (his servant) and I will bring justice to the nations." He is calling those who will be returning as God’s people, calling them and equipping them so that they may fulfill their calling to be a servant, so that they may fulfill the mission that they had failed at. Even though we know that they failed, the exciting thing is we know that this is still what they were called and going to be renewed to be. We know this because the Messiah ultimately was the true Israel. That’s where the fulfillment comes. That’s where we know that beyond the shadow of a doubt Christ becomes the ideal servant. He takes this failed role of the Israelites of bringing justice to the nations, making things right: upon himself. He picks up the mantle of responsibility as God’s chosen servant, one empowered by the Spirit. He does bring justice and establishes it as a part of his new kingdom. We find the confirmation of this in the words of Matthew. In Matthew 12 verses 18-21, Matthew confirms the fulfillment of these words in Christ and by the work he was doing.
The message of his salvation in these words is the fact that he brings us who were afar from him and he draws us close through his forgiveness and his salvation.
But that doesn’t leave us off the hook. As those who are to be Christ-like, we are addressed by that call to be the servant of the Lord. As it was for God’s people then, so it is for you and I now. We are to be God’s servant in our far county, or for those in a far county who are around us. When we take up this task, we know that God has chosen us for it and he has given his Spirit to empower us. That’s not to say we do it in violence or revolt as the words say here. We’re not to shout or to cry out or raise our voices in the streets. This is the way the world seeks to bring conquest or change, or tries to bring about revolutions -- by a lot of clamor, by a lot of rancor and a lot of violence in the street. No, we know that Christ brings his justice through the way of a servant. And so we are called to do so in gentleness toward those who are wounded. We do not shoot people to bring healing. Those whose lives seem to be almost at the end of their rope, we seek not to snuff it out but to restore. We know that’s what Christ has done.
III. Fulfillment of the Mission of the Servant
Who are the people in our far country? Pastor Jim Cymbala of the Brooklyn Tabernacle in one of his recent books shares his ministry among individuals involved in things that are foreign to most of us. He talks about a woman who was abused by her father as she was growing up. She gets caught in a marriage as soon as she was able, marrying just to escape. And that marriage breaks up. She gets involved in work that is unwholesome simply because she has to make money. She gets into drugs and so on and so forth. To me, that’s a far country, totally unfamiliar from what I’m used to.
We know people who are struggling with broken marriages, people who are struggling with dysfunctional homes, people who are struggling with sin in their lives. These people are the people still in a far country, and whether they’re crying out or not, they’re calling to make things right. They’re calling for righteousness. It is to this far country that Isaiah calls the servant of the Lord. He’s calling God’s people. He’s calling us: "You are my chosen ones." Yes, indeed, he says I have fulfilled and accomplished the great restoration in Jesus Christ, yet you are called to carry that message. And because Christ fulfilled it, won the victory, you are enabled to carry the message of hope and restoration that my salvation brings to those who are still in a far country, those who are still dislocated because of sin in their lives and disobedience. It is to those people we proclaim justice and seek to establish the justice, the making-things-right, the healing and the wholeness, the restoration that Christ has brought.
We may admire the example of great individuals like Mother Teresa and hold them as high ideals. We see in the message of Christ that he indeed has taken up that task. But we are that servant of the Lord called to be Christ-like, to be part of living in relationship to Christ. We have a mission to accomplish. We know that because we are chosen and empowered, will be accomplished. That’s the reason why Isaiah launches into a song of praise in verse 10. He’s celebrating as if that restoration has already been accomplished. That’s also why we now take these words and say them as well, because we know they have been accomplished, and they continue to be accomplished in our midst. "Sing to the Lord a new song, his praise to the ends of the earth, you who go down to the sea... let them give glory to the Lord, proclaim his praise in the islands. The Lord will march out like a mighty man, like a warrior he will stir up his zeal. With a shout he will raise the battle cry and will triumph over his enemies." That’s what he enables and empowers us to do to enable us to win his victory.
*Call to Worship: Psalm #95:1-7
We Lift Up Our Praise to God
*Opening Hymn: PH #242
*Passing the Peace of Christ:
*Hymn of Praise: PH #569
We Receive God’s Grace in Jesus Christ Call to Confession: We Respond with our Prayer of Confession: Words of Assurance: We respond with Rededication: PH #473
We Hear God Speak to Us In His Word
*Hymn of Preparation: PH #600 Scripture Reading: Isaiah 42:1-25 Sermon: "The Servant of the Lord" Prayer of Application
We Respond to Our God With Thanksgiving
*Hymn of Response: PH #601 Prayer Offerings:
God’s Will for our Lives:
*Closing Song of Praise: PH #632 THE SERVANT OF THE LORD