Sunday, 4 June 2017

The Servant and the Spirit (Isa. 42:1-4)

Today is Pentecost Sunday in the church calendar, which is held fifty days after Easter. The Holy Spirit came on the church on the Day of Pentecost, which occurred fifty days after the death of Jesus. It obviously was a very important day in the overall experience of the church and a very full account of what happened is given in Acts 2. Its importance is also seen in the number of Old Testament prophecies that focus on this event. The best known one may be the prediction of the prophet Joel which Peter quoted in his sermon given on the Day of Pentecost. But there are other prophecies about the event and Isaiah refers to it in his prophecy in Isaiah 42:1-4.

We can see from the description given by Isaiah that here we have an Old Testament reference to the Trinity. God speaks about his Servant and his Spirit, which shows that here we have the perspective of the Father. So, we have an insight into the prominence that this event has – it is a Trinitarian one.

As we listen in to the Father’s description of the partnership, we hear him speaking about his power and his pleasure. Both are connected to the Servant and the Spirit. The power and the pleasure here occur after the Father has given the Spirit to the Servant. Since he was given the Spirit after he ascended, the power and the pleasure must have some connection to what takes place since then.

We need to remind ourselves about what it means for Jesus to be the Servant. Paul tells us in Philippians 2 that Jesus became obedient to the Father when he became a man and entered human life. So, his servanthood is connected to him being both God and man. As the Father’s Servant, he was given tasks to perform that would bring blessings to sinners and glory to God.

We can divide those tasks into three areas. First, there was the requirement that he live a life of obedience, which would be imputed to sinners who would trust in him (they did not have such a life by nature). Second, there was the requirement that he pay the penalty for their sins which he did when he suffered divine wrath on the cross against their sins. Third, there was the requirements that he now fulfils having risen from the dead and ascended to heaven. Although exalted, he still functions as the Father’s Servant, bring to pass what the Father desires.

What kind of power does Jesus now have that fits into being upheld by the Father? No doubt there are different ways of approaching this subject. Here are a couple of markers that should help us have insight into the type of power that Jesus, the Father’s servant, has, and which are connected to him having the Spirit given to him in a special way.

The writer to the Hebrews mentions that the Saviour possesses an indestructible life (7:16). There are two ways of looking at this. One is to say that this is a reference to his deity because as God he is Life; the other is to say that this also describes his humanity. The proof that he is indestructible is that he conquered death by his death and is now alive in the power of resurrection life. It was the Father who raised him from the dead and the life he now has does not include things like tiredness and weakness. Jesus is indestructible because of the Father’s upholding. So, he will live forever.

One of the best-known verses in the Bible is the Great Commission given at the end of Matthew. In that announcement, Jesus says that all power or authority has been given unto him in heaven and on earth. In other words, he rules everywhere and the only position that allows for that would be for him to sit on the throne of God. Language about a throne is metaphorical indicating that he is King. Jesus is called the King of kings and Lord of lords. So, he will rule forever in one way or another, and he administers his activities through the work of the Spirit, whether in what we call common grace and saving grace.

This leads us to consider what kind of rule he will have. The prophet points to it when he refers three times to Jesus bringing forth justice. We might think initially that what is in view here is a judge handing out sentences on criminals and we know from the Bible that there will yet be a Day of Judgement when Jesus will pass sentence on everyone. But that is not what the prophet has in mind here. Rather, by justice he focuses on a system of government. In a sense, the word justice describes a government’s overall policy. So here the prophet predicts that Jesus will set up a kingdom marked fairness, security and prosperity.

In addition to providing the power for his Servant to rule, the Father also expresses his pleasure as he describes the activities in which his Servant will engage. We are told that Jesus gave great pleasure to the Father during the so-called thirty silent years of his life. The Father’s verdict on them was announced dramatically when Jesus was baptised and the Father’s voice came from heaven indicating that he was well-pleased with his Son. Indeed, it looks as if there is a link between Isaiah 42:1 and the divine utterance when Jesus was baptised.

Moreover, the Father was very pleased with everything Jesus did during his three years of public ministry. There was constant fellowship between them wherever he was. We can try and imagine the delight that the Father experienced as he watched his Servant interacting with all kinds of people in a wide variety of situations. And while the cross was not enjoyable for the Father, he was pleased with the response of his Son while he was suffering there and offered a perfect sacrifice. The proof that he was pleased with the work of Jesus on the cross is seen in the fact that he raised Jesus from the dead and exalted him to the highest place. The invitation given by the Father for Jesus to sit and his right hand was given with great delight.

Today the Father is pleased with how the Son of his love is managing the affairs of his kingdom, and in this prophecy he tells us why. Three reasons are given for this pleasure.

First, there is the method that the Servant employs as he interacts with sinners through his Spirit (v. 2). The prophet says that he will act quietly, secretly and personally. This is in stark contrast to the ways adopted by earthly rulers who like to tell everyone what they are doing, although usually everyone knows that they are not doing half the things they say. The Saviour gave examples of his style when he was here on earth. Think of how he dealt with the woman of Samaria. He spoke to her about her sin, but did so after the disciples had gone away into the village for food. Nor did he tell them when they returned what her sins were. If Jesus the King is dealing with someone in the next street, where and when is he going to announce that it is taking place? He won’t. Instead he will deal with that person quietly, secretly and personally. This gives great pleasure to the Father.

Second, there is the manner in which the Servant deals with sinners and the main characteristic mentioned is his gentleness (v. 3). Two illustrations are used, that of a broken reed and faint candle. A bruised reed is fragile and pointless. Who can heal a bruised reed and who would bother? It is beyond either the time or talent of humans to do so. How does someone become like a bruised reed in a spiritual sense in which he or she feels fragile and pointless and with none able to help? It is by the work of the Spirit that Jesus does this. It is important to observe that Jesus will not break the bruised reed. Instead, he will work in his government to bring that person to spiritual wholeness. To the person convicted of their sins by the Spirit, Jesus applies his promises of grace by the same Spirit. And this action gives great pleasure to the Father.

Something similar is illustrated in the wick that is about to go out. In daily life, a person would be tempted to throw such a wick away and replace it. Jesus by the Spirit brings us to the place where we feel we are finished. Our resources have gone. Yet through his gentle care, we start to burn with new life and soon we become lights for others. Jesus works faithfully by his Spirit to bring this revival of light and warmth in our souls. And in doing so, he gives great pleasure to the Father.

No doubt, we are meant to imagine the number of people who have been blessed in this manner by Jesus. he has treated all his people with gentleness. Indeed, as we know, he mentions his gentleness as one of the reasons why we should draw near to him. Maybe he had this set of verses in mind when he said that he was gentle and lowly because that combination is seen here in the lowly one who works quietly and the gentle one who works kindly.

Third, there is the mission in which the Servant is engaged as he oversees the development of his kingdom. The prophecy mentions the persistence that the Servant shows as he works for the growth of his kingdom. Through all the ups and downs of the last two thousand years he has been at work resolutely. We should observe that he does not run out of power (grow faint), nor does he start thinking that things are not going well (discouraged). Instead he knows where he is going. His aim is to have a worldwide kingdom in which former bruised reeds and smoking flaxes will have their place and experience the benefits of his grace. And we know that he is doing it.

As we close, here are three applications. First, we should follow the instruction of the Father when he commands us to behold his Servant. Normally, we behold someone or something that is striking and important. Only Jesus fulfils that description ultimately. Second, we should thank the Father for the nature of the kingdom his Servant and his Spirit are engaged in developing. We have an election this week, but the aims of earthly kingdoms are small in comparison to the eternal kingdom. Third, on the first Pentecost Sunday, three thousand were converted when the Servant sent the Spirit. I wonder how many will be converted on this Pentecost Sunday as the Servant by the Spirit works across the world.   

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