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“Servant; Here is My Servant”

Isaiah 42:1-4 and others
Bob DeGray
December 5, 2004

Key Sentence

Celebrate the birth of a servant savior by serving.


I. Servants
II. A Promised Servant Leader (Ezekiel 37:24-25, Zechariah 3:8, Jeremiah 33:14-16)
III. A Sent Servant Savior (Isaiah 42:1-4, Isaiah 53:3-6, Mark 10:42-45)


        The Christmas rush. Sometimes I feel like calling it the Christmas Crush. Last year at this time several of us in our family read John Grisham’s book Skipping Christmas, which this year has been made, poorly I understand, into the movie Christmas with the Kranks. The book itself was OK, and when you read it you were a bit intrigued by the concept of ‘what would happen if I just declared “No Christmas this year”?’ No presents, but also no expense associated with presents. No shopping, no mall crowds or Wal-marts, no half hour waits trying to get past the mall. No extra food to cook, and then to make you fat, no extra programs to attend, no time spent decorating, no tree to put up, no hours wasted searching for the broken light bulb, no gifts to wrap; we’ll just treat December as if it was January and skip Christmas.

        There is an appeal to that, a Scroogish desire to throw over the whole thing. But I, for one, am not going to skip Christmas. Oh, I can get into simplifying and downsizing the material aspects of it, but the parts of Christmas that involve the worship of God and love and care for others ought not be simplified out, because in these things we celebrate and imitate the Savior sent by God to be the Servant of his people. At Christmas we ought to celebrate the birth of a servant savior by serving. It may be that the choice to serve is the key you need to survive the Christmas crush this year.

I. Servants

        Our neon word for this week is servant. It translates the Hebrew root ‘ebed’ which, like most of our neon words, is used hundreds of times in the Old Testament. The thing I love about this word is not how many times it’s used, but who it is used of. Don’t miss this: if you choose to be a servant, you will be in very good company. Virtually all the key figures in Scripture are characterized by this word. The list starts with Abraham, whom God calls ‘my servant’ in Genesis 26:24. Isaac is called God’s servant. Jacob is called God’s servant a number of times, but second place on the overall list goes to Moses, who is called God’s servant 40 times. For example, in Numbers 12:6_8, God calls Aaron and Miriam to task for trying to take over leadership, and God says “When a prophet of the Lord is among you, I reveal myself to him in visions, I speak to him in dreams. But this is not true of my servant Moses; he is faithful in all my house. With him I speak face to face, clearly and not in riddles; he sees the form of the Lord. Why then were you not afraid to speak against my servant Moses?" And all the other Biblical writers, when they talk about Moses, talk about him as ‘the servant of the Lord.” That’s what he was.

        Caleb is called God’s servant, Joshua is called God’s servant, but not until the end of his life in Joshua 24:29. Then there is a gap. None of the Judges is called God’s servant, and King Saul is never called that, but David is. In fact, he holds the record: he’s called God’s servant 46 times.

        God says it of him first: 2 Samuel 3:18 “For the Lord promised David, 'By my servant David I will rescue my people Israel from the hand of the Philistines and from the hand of all their enemies.'" Many of these references indicate that one of David’s descendants will rule Israel forever. Psalm 89:3 “I have made a covenant with My chosen; I have sworn to David My servant, I will establish your seed forever, and build up your throne to all generations.” The list goes on. Job is called God’s servant, Isaiah and Nehemiah are, and all of Israel as a nation is even called God’s servant, especially in the second half of Isaiah. Isaiah 44:21 “Remember these things, O Jacob, for you are my servant, O Israel. I have made you, you are my servant; O Israel, I will not forget you.”

        So it’s obvious that to be called God’s servant is a title of honor. And if you think about David and Moses, the two that title was most used for, you see that God’s precious servants are those who serve him in humility and wholeheartedness. This sets the standard or us: First, we should count it a privilege to serve; it’s a place of honor. Second, we should seek to serve without pride, in humility: Proud Saul didn’t get this title, but broken and contrite David, Psalm 51, did. Third, we should serve God with our whole hearts, heart and soul and mind and strength. God picked David to be his servant because he was a man after God’s own heart. Sometimes it takes all of our heart and soul and mind and strength to both celebrate God and to love and care for others at Christmas. I think it’s worth it, to imitate these servants.

        The pattern continues in the New Testament. It starts in the Christmas story, Luke 1:38 where the angel announces to Mary the birth of her son. In humility and whole-heartedness, Mary submits to God’s plan and says “I am your servant.”. In the same way Simeon, who waited so long for the Messiah to come, sees Jesus and says “Now your servant can depart in peace.” All the New Testament writers, Peter, John, James, Jude, characterize themselves as bond-servants of Christ, and Paul, of course, insists on it. Galatians 1:10 “Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a bond-servant of Christ.” Paul also calls several of his co-workers servants or slaves of Christ: Timothy, Tychicus, Epaphras, Phoebe, and others. Servant, faithful servant, bond-servant: these are titles of honor, worth striving for.

        As such, naturally enough, these are also titles for Jesus. Limiting ourselves for a moment to examples in the New Testament, Paul says that Jesus has become a bond-servant to Israel. And Peter, in his sermon at the temple, repeatedly refers to Jesus this way. Acts 3 "The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified his servant Jesus . . . God raised up his servant.” But probably the most compelling text is Philippians 2, where Paul says “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.” Jesus was at heart a servant, as humble and as whole-hearted as any servant God has ever had. That’s what he came to be. That’s what Christmas is all about: God sent a servant savior.

II. A Promised Servant Leader (Ezekiel 37:24-25, Zechariah 3:8, Jeremiah 33:14-16)

        The prophecies of the Old Testament confirm this: God promised to send a messiah who would serve God and lead the people of Israel. Let’s begin in Ezekiel, the great prophet of the exile, hundreds of years after David and hundreds before Jesus. He says, in Ezekiel 37:24-25 'My servant David will be king over them, and they will all have one shepherd. They will follow my laws and be careful to keep my decrees. 25They will live in the land I gave to my servant Jacob, the land where your fathers lived. They and their children and their children's children will live there forever, and David my servant will be their prince forever.’

        Who is this servant shepherd king? It can’t be David himself: he’s dead. It has to be the one who was promised, the one who would reign on David’s throne. Like David, he is God’s servant, and also like David, he is a shepherd. The lack of righteous shepherds to care for God’s people was one of the great complaints of the later prophets. But this shepherd will lead the people to follow God’s laws and be careful to keep his decrees. And he will reign forever - he is the eternal king.

        Who is this servant? It has to be Jesus. Ezekiel may have been thinking of the words of the earlier prophet, Isaiah, “”For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David's throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever.” In the Scripture we read earlier this morning, when the angel announced the birth of Jesus, he said “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end." The angel knew what the prophets had written, and promised that Jesus would be that servant, shepherd king. Yet, in his first coming, we know he didn’t reign. The fulfillment of these promises is yet to come at his second advent.

        But there were other servant promises that do point to his first advent. There is one thread of promise concerning the branch, or the shoot of Jesse and these prophecies reveal him to be a servant, humble and wholehearted. Here is Zechariah 3:8 ‘Listen, O high priest Joshua and your associates seated before you, who are men symbolic of things to come: I am going to bring my servant, the Branch.’
        Joshua was the high priest at the rebuilt temple in Jerusalem after the Babylonian exile. In Zechariah, God says several incredible things about this Joshua - who has the same name as Jesus. Here, he tells Joshua and the other priests and leaders of Israel that they are symbols, people who represent something God is going to do.

        Joshua is a symbol of the Messiah to come: “I am going to send my servant, the branch.’ He acts as a servant, but he’s called ‘the branch.’ The most famous use of this title, the Christmas use if you will, is found in Isaiah 11:1 “A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.” A shoot from the stump of Jesse is a poetic way of saying ‘a descendant of David’. Jesus was David’s father. So this shoot will come up, that’s Jesus at this birth, and a branch will bear fruit - that’s Jesus in his ministry.

        Jeremiah predicts the ministry of this servant Branch. Jeremiah 33:14-16 'The days are coming,' declares the Lord, 'when I will fulfill the gracious promise I made to the house of Israel and to the house of Judah. 15In those days and at that time I will make a righteous Branch sprout from David's line; he will do what is just and right in the land. 16In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. This is the name by which it will be called: The Lord Our Righteousness.'

        Here God promises to fulfill his gracious promises in the days that are coming, the days of the Messiah. I love the word gracious in that sentence. God has made promises which rely not on our performance, not on Israel’s performance, but entirely on his own grace. They are promises to rescue and save and sustain and build up his people. And in this case, as in so many, the promises are fulfilled when a righteous branch sprouts from David’s line, one who will do what is right and just. We know by reading the Gospels that Jesus was righteous, in his compassionate works, the concerns of his heart, and his sinless life, If he had sinned himself, he would have had to pay for his own sins. But Jeremiah says he is, the Lord our Righteousness, the one who has an infinite supply of righteousness and imputes it to us.

III. A Sent Servant Savior (Isaiah 42:1-4, Isaiah 53:3-6, Mark 10:42-45)

        This is the mission of God’s promised servant, the descendant of his servant David. The people of Israel missed this idea that he would first be a suffering servant. Let’s close our Scripture study this morning by looking at some Scriptures that emphasize that the Servant was to be a Sacrifice, and thus become a Savior. We’ll start with a transitional one, which is actually our theme verse for this morning, Isaiah 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. 2He will not shout or cry out, or raise his voice in the streets. 3A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out. In faithfulness he will bring forth justice; 4he will not falter or be discouraged till he establishes justice on earth. In his law the islands will put their hope.”

        These verses sound a lot like the Davidic king verses we’ve already looked at, except for two things. First, the person in view here is simply called ‘the servant’ or ‘my servant’. In these chapters of Isaiah both the nation of Israel and the Messiah are called ‘my servant’. We know that not all of them refer to Israel, because in many of them the servant ministers to Israel or to the nations.

        So God is sending a unique servant, and he says ‘this is the one I delight in’, the same thing he said about Jesus at his baptism. Jesus is the one chosen to be this Messiah, to serve us with justice and compassion. “He will not shout or cry out or raise his voice in the streets.” Unlike almost any other leader, God’s servant is humble and self effacing. The image really is in contrast to Cyrus in the previous chapter. Cyrus was a conqueror who brought justice with a shout. But the servant brings justice without even raising his voice. He is humble, wholehearted, entirely without self_centeredness. He models the contentment that comes when your mind is totally off yourself and totally concerned for others - the contentment of a willing servant.

        We see this in verse 3: “A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.” Isn't it remarkable to see Jesus here in the Old Testament with such clarity? When Jesus comes upon a life that is bruised, he does not break it. When Jesus comes upon a life that is smoldering, he does not snuff it. In the gospels we see Jesus meeting people where they are, ministering to them, caring for them. He was moved with compassion when he saw the hunger of the multitude, or the despair of blindness or illness or loss. When Lazarus died, Jesus wept. But he also did something about it: he healed, he fed, he raised. In our lives, Jesus is gentle toward us; he understands our needs, but is also the one who can meet those needs.

        Notice verse 4: “He will not falter or be discouraged till he establishes justice on earth.” I want you to see something here you won't pick up in your English Bible. Look at the phrase in verse 3: ‘a smoldering wick he will not snuff out’ The verb ‘snuff out is the same verb that is translated falter in verse 4. Again, in the words translated a bruised reed he will not break, break is the same verb as be discouraged in verse 4. The same words Isaiah uses to describe his gentleness he uses to describe his strength. He will help those who are near breaking, because he himself will not be broken. He will help those about to be snuffed out, because he himself will not be snuffed out. This is the servant’s compassionate strength, another characteristic that we are able to imitate, at least partially.

        His compassion comes to the forefront in his greatest act of service, famously pictured by Isaiah. We know chapter 53 is about the Servant because 52:13 sets the context: “My servant will act wisely; he will be raised and lifted up and highly exalted.” Then Isaiah shows us his sacrificial ministry Isaiah 53:3-6 He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. 5But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. 6We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.

        The key concept here is that the servant offers himself as a substitute. He sacrificed himself that we might live. Notice his sorrows: he was despised and rejected by men. No one stood with him in his trials: they all fled, they all denied, they all betrayed. He was ‘a man of sorrows and familiar with suffering’. The first word literally means pain - he was a man of pain. The second literally means sickness - he knew sickness. Both words are often used of mental and emotional anguish. He was a man of suffering and sorrowing from heartsickness over sin and it’s effects.

        But despite the unimaginable agony of it, verse 4 says “Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows.” You can't see it in the English Bible, but these are the same words that were used in verse 3. He was a man of sorrows _ he carried our sorrows. He was familiar with suffering - he took up our suffering. And yet most considered him stricken by God, smitten by him and afflicted. It's a scary thought that you and I might’ve been those who despised and rejected him, who considered ourselves righteous, and him unrighteous _ a madman or a sinner. People just like you and me, the conservatives with strong religious values were those who did despise and reject him, and felt they honored God in doing so.

        But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities. These words remind me so much of the words of communion. In being pierced his blood was shed - for our rebellion. In being crushed, his body was broken - for our sins. This is not just some emotional suffering - that he sympathized with us. His actual suffering literally removed from us the suffering that we would have suffered for our rebellion, transgression, iniquity, sin.

        And his punishment brings us peace. What a marvelous truth: by his suffering he gives us that inner freedom and fullness we call peace. This is shalom - a neon word with many facets. We're going to look at it in detail in two weeks, but for now it's enough to know that the general meaning is of completion and fulfillment, of entering into a state of wholeness and unity, of a restored relationship. And in nearly two thirds of its uses, the relationship restored is our relationship with God. So he took the punishment that brought us completion and fulfillment, wholeness, unity and a restored relationship with God. What a glorious thing. It's summarized beautifully in verse 6: We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” He was born in humility for us. He grew up and lived wholeheartedly for God. He denied himself and took up the cross and sacrificed himself, in obedience to the Father. He suffered under our sins and died to pay their penalty. He was the ultimate servant.

        Now before we read our last verse, which is our transition toward communion, we need to step back where we started and apply these truths to ourselves in this Christmas season. Are you tempted to skip Christmas? Are you a victim of Christmas crush? If so, it may be these truths are here to work a slight adjustment on your attitude.

        What have we learned about this neon word ‘servant’? First, that it’s a position of honor - many of the greatest Biblical heroes are servants. Second that it is characterized by humility and wholeheartedness and compassion. We see it in Jesus, his selflessness and self sacrifice. So - does some of your ‘skipping Christmas’ mentality, like mine, grow out of a selfish desire not to make the effort to worship God and love others. Maybe the commercialism of the season year after year has been wearing you down in the wrong places. It’s not supposed to make you reluctant to worship or reluctant to serve: that would be the concession to the world’s standards. Maybe what we need is a dose of servant imitation, so that we can walk through these next few weeks humbly, wholeheartedly, compassionately, and with self sacrifice.

        Who are we imitating? Jesus. Our final passage, and the only one from the New Testament this morning is the one where he teaches us that he is the standard: Mark 10:42-45 Jesus called them together and said, "You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 43Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 44and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all.

        That’s our application for this morning. But verse 45 points to how Jesus lived it out: 45For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many."