“Behold God’s Servant, Our Savior”
(Isaiah 42:1-7 – Epiphany 1 / Baptism of Our Lord – January 10, 2021)
Isaiah 42:1-7 – 1“Behold! My Servant whom I uphold, My Elect One in whom My soul delights! I have put My Spirit upon Him; He will bring forth justice to the Gentiles. 2He will not cry out, nor raise His voice, nor cause His voice to be heard in the street. 3A bruised reed He will not break, and smoking flax He will not quench; He will bring forth justice for truth. 4He will not fail nor be discouraged, till He has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands shall wait for His law.” 5Thus says God the LORD, who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread forth the earth and that which comes from it, who gives breath to the people on it, and spirit to those who walk on it: 6“I, the LORD, have called You in righteousness, and will hold Your hand; I will keep You and give You as a covenant to the people, as a light to the Gentiles, 7to open blind eyes, to bring out prisoners from the prison, those who sit in darkness from the prison house.”
Dear Redeemed in Christ Jesus:
There are many places in Scripture where God called individuals His servants – those whom He had chosen to carry out His will. This includes such men as Abraham (Genesis 26:24), Moses (Numbers 12:7-8), David (2 Samuel 3:18), Isaiah (Isaiah 20:3), and the other prophets (2 Kings 17:13). God even called Israel His servant, as His chosen nation through which He was carrying out His plan of salvation (Isaiah 41:8).
But no one else could be introduced the way God introduces the Savior of the nations. In verse 1 He says: “Behold! My Servant whom I uphold, My Elect One in whom My soul delights! I have put My Spirit upon Him.” By that title, “My Servant,” God was speaking of the Messiah, His Elect One, who was coming as the Savior of the world. There is a hint of the Trinity here, as God the Father speaks of anointing His Servant with His Spirit.
We see this fulfilled in Jesus’ baptism, as He came forth at the beginning of His public ministry. As Jesus entered the waters of the Jordan River to be baptized, the Holy Spirit descended upon Him like a dove, anointing Him. Then the voice of God the Father came from heaven, declaring: “You are My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Mark 1:9-11). Thus God publicly announced the arrival of His Servant, the Anointed One, the Savior for all people.
So in Jesus, “Behold God’s Servant, Our Savior.” As our text describes Him, 1) He brings justice for us; 2) He comes for all people, and 3) He deals gently with the weak.
1) He brings justice for us
Many people have sought to bring justice to the world around them. Often, things are not the way they should be in this world; and people seek to make things right. Some seek justice through politics and lawmaking. Some seek justice by protesting and demonstrating, whether peacefully or violently. Some seek justice by revolution or fighting. All too often, in the process of trying to bring forth justice, not everyone has the same ideas about what is right, and some are unjustly overlooked, hurt, or even killed.
The problem is that the world is fallen in sin. Not only does it show in many moral and social evils; it shows in physical evils, such as disease and death. To put it plainly, this world is sin-sick, and no human can heal it. This world is imprisoned in sin, and no human can set it free.
There is only one who can reverse all of the wrong in this fallen world. As God says: “Behold! My Servant… He will bring forth justice” (vs. 1). Jesus comes to restore all things by God’s justice – He comes to make God’s right and good and holy will prevail.
But God’s Servant did not come the way people might expect. God says in verse 2: “He will not cry out, nor raise His voice, nor cause His voice to be heard in the street.” Jesus did not come loudly and aggressively like many a warrior, politician, leader of a popular cause, or demonstrator in the streets. As God in our flesh, He did not come to change the political or social structure by a show of worldly strength. On the Last Day, when He comes again in all His glory, it will be with a loud trumpet call and infinite power. He will come to judge and destroy all that is wicked and unjust. But when He came into the world the first time, it was to save sinners. So He came humbly. He came to bring justice by restoration, not by destruction; by healing, not by pain and punishment.
We can be thankful for this. For if the justice He brought to the nations had meant bringing God’s Law and judgment to bear, who of us could stand? As sinners, we all would be condemned and lost forever. Not one of us has been perfectly just, always doing what is right and good, according to God’s holy Law. We have not always faithfully loved and served the needs of people whom God has put around us; but often we have acted selfishly and hurtfully. We have thought and spoken of others in uncharitable and harmful ways. At times we cry out, “unfair!” when it comes to how we are treated; but we have not always treated others fairly. By our sin, we are part of the problem of injustice in this world. So we deserve that God should have sent His Servant to bring justice in the sense of Law and punishment.
But thankfully, as God speaks of His Servant bringing justice to the nations, we hear a Gospel emphasis. His bringing justice is associated with gentleness for our good. In bringing justice, God’s Servant comes as the Light of the world (John 8:12), to shine on those in spiritual darkness. He comes as the Deliverer, to set free those imprisoned by sin, Satan, and death. God’s Servant would bring God’s justice to sinners in a favorable way. He would do all that it took, so that the divine Judge could justify us – declaring us forgiven of all our sin, counting us righteous under His holy Law.
In Isaiah 52:13-53:11, God spells out what His Servant had to do in order to bring us sinners such underserved, favorable justice. He foretells how Jesus Himself would be taken away by judgment, as God laid on Him the iniquity of us all. All we like sheep have gone astray, but He would be led like a Lamb to the slaughter to die for our sins.
Surely, the work of God’s Servant in saving us was not easy. Jesus was hounded by Satan’s temptations. He was despised and rejected among men. He endured much unjust accusation and pain for our sake. Yet, as God says of His Servant here: “He will not fail nor be discouraged, till He has established justice in the earth” (vs. 4). Without fail, Jesus fulfilled His Father’s will for us. When He cried out on the cross, “It is finished” (John 19:30), God’s gracious work of saving us sinners was completed. God declares justice for the nations in the name of His crucified and risen Servant. As Romans 4:25 says, Jesus “was delivered up because of our offenses, and was raised because of our justification.” Jesus’ resurrection proves that we are justified by God. To be justified by God in Christ means that He declares us forgiven; for by the death of His Son on the cross, He has paid for all our sins. To be justified by God means that He declares us righteous; for God looks at us through the perfect life of His Son, and calls us holy.
So in Isaiah 53:11, God says of His Servant: “By His knowledge My righteous Servant shall justify many, for He shall bear their iniquities.” By His knowledge – that is, by faith in Jesus – God has justified us.
In this way, God’s Servant has begun to restore all things to us according to God’s favorable justice – according to His right and good and holy will for us. For where there is forgiveness and reconciliation with God, the old order of the fall is reversed; the new order of redemption has come. God is making all things new for us in Christ. In heaven there will be no more sin, evil, and injustice; there will be no more disease, suffering, and death. He will make all things perfect for us. At last, we ourselves will be perfect! Now we know in part by faith; but then, we will see and experience it fully.
2) He comes for all people
Here, in view of all that His Son would accomplish as our Savior, God says: “Behold! My Servant whom I uphold, My Elect One in whom My soul delights!” At Jesus’ baptism, God expressed His delight as He beheld His own Son in our flesh, who came as the perfect Servant to win our salvation. And now, “Behold God’s Servant – He comes for all people.”
In verse 6 we hear God speaking to His Elect One, who came as the Savior for all: “I, the LORD, have called You in righteousness, and will hold Your hand; I will keep You and give You as a covenant to the people, as a light to the Gentiles” The Servant is the embodiment of God’s New Covenant of grace with sinners. God’s Covenant in Christ is not for a single nation, like Israel; it is His plan of salvation for all people – Jews and Gentiles (Isaiah 49:6).
As such, in verse 7 God says He sent His Servant “to open blind eyes, to bring out prisoners from the prison, those who sit in darkness from the prison house.” That was us. Once we were spiritually blind and lost. But Jesus opened our eyes by sending the Holy Spirit into our hearts; so that now we see His truth, believe, and are saved. Once we sat in the dark dungeon as prisoners to sin, Satan, and death. But Jesus paid the ransom of His precious blood, to bring us out in the freedom of God’s children for eternal life.
How did God bring His covenant of grace in Christ to you and me personally? He did so through His gift of baptism and faith. Jesus says: “He who believes and is baptized will be saved” (Mark 16:16). In baptism, God pours out His New Covenant of grace on us; He unites us with Christ in all His spiritual and eternal blessings. In Baptism, God washes away our sins by the power of Jesus’ blood, and He clothes us in His Son’s righteousness. As Jesus was anointed by the Holy Spirit in His baptism, so in our baptism God has anointed us with the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit. As the Father looked on His Son in His baptism and delighted in Him, so in our baptism God calls us His beloved children with whom He is well pleased (Acts 2:38; 22:16; Romans 6:3-5; Galatians 3:26; Titus 3:5).
3) He deals gently with the weak
As such, our text gives us one more bit of good news. It tells us that God’s Servant, who has saved us for eternal life, will continue to be with us daily gently to care for and to strengthen us. In verse 3 God says: “A bruised reed He will not break, and smoking flax He will not quench.” Therefore, “Behold God’s Servant… He deals gently with the weak.”
As our once crucified, and now risen and glorified Savior, Jesus is always with us (Matthew 28:20). He sees when we feel like “a bruised reed” – crushed, hurt, and discouraged by life’s trials and injustice. Our faith may feel weak and ready to break. But take heart! He who suffered trial and injustice for us understands. He who did “not fail nor be discouraged” (vs. 4) until He won our salvation, is still strong for us. Without fail, He is here to tend to us as a gentle Shepherd, to carry us in His arms (Isaiah 40:11). He is here to feed and strengthen our faith by His Word and Sacraments. He is here to assure us of His faithful and loving care.
At times He may see our faith grow faint and dim, like a “smoking flax,” like a candle wick about to burn out. Maybe we are overcome with guilt and despair, feeling too sinful to be saved. But take heart! He who sought and found us when we were lost is still here, full of grace, to forgive and strengthen us. The broken and contrite heart will always find a forgiving and healing Savior (Psalm 51:17). In His Absolution He speaks tenderly to us: “Comfort, comfort My people… Your iniquity is pardoned” (Isaiah 40:1-2). In Baptism, He assures us that all our sins are washed away. At His Table, He gives us His body and blood with His forgiveness and life. So by His Gospel, He fans our flickering faith into a bright and burning flame once again.
You see, what God says of His Servant is coming true each day in our lives: “He will bring forth justice for truth” (vs. 3). He who began His good work in us is truthfully and faithfully bringing it to completion (Philippians 1:6). In His tender care, with justice and love, He is doing what is good and right for us; and He will continue to do so until He brings us home to heaven.
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now, and shall be forevermore. Amen.