God’s Servant: killing sin softly with his song

God will conquer the world and drive sin out of it, but as the four Servant Songs in Isaiah make clear, he will not act like an ordinary human conqueror. He has appointed a gentle servant to accomplish the task. The first (Isaiah 42:1-4), while not a typical Advent scripture, is very appropriate for this time of year.

Isaiah has already identified Israel as his servant (Isaiah 41:8-10), but, as it turns out, a thoroughly incompetent one (Isaiah 42:18-22). In the Servant Songs, God reveals another Servant, none other than the chosen Messiah, Jesus. God has put his Spirit on this Servant to bring justice to the Gentiles.

He will not cry out or raise his voice in the street. Unlike a conquering army, he will not make a loud noise to frighten people as he sweeps through the streets. Unlike a participant in street debates, he will not try to shout down opposing views. He will not even call attention to himself at all.

The Servant will not break a bruised reed. By implication, he will bring healing instead. He will not extinguish a smoldering wick.  He will instead supply oil so it can burn brightly. Woeful, plundered Israel from Old Testament times to the present, the blind and deaf servant, is that bruised reed and that smoldering wick. And so are all the rest of his servants, including the church throughout its history. We are blind and deaf servants, whether suffering actively or not, whenever we attempt to work out of our own strength. The devil easily bruises us and puts our fire out.

On the other hand, the Servant will not falter. He is stronger than all opposition or temptation to take shortcuts. Whatever forces come against him to bruise him or put his fire out cannot succeed. He comes not to conquer us but to redeem us, not to take away our fun but to bring us joy. And explicitly stated three times in these four verses, he aims to establish justice in all the earth.

Today, thousands of years after Isaiah’s book was written, Jesus has been born on the earth. The word of God became flesh and dwelt among us. In our sin, we killed him, but he could not stay dead. Jesus sent that same Holy Spirit that rested on the Servant in Isaiah 42:1 to live within his church and its individual members. Without the Spirit of God, the church is just like the Israel that Isaiah described: blind, deaf, and plundered. Empowered by the Spirit of God, the church has the same mission as the Servant: to proclaim God’s living word without faltering until God’s perfect justice is accomplished on earth.

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