Debtors to mercy - Isaiah 42:1-9
An audio recording of this sermon is available.
Serving – Christ Way Isaiah 42:1-9, Luke 10
April 18th 2010 am
Who will be the least popular figure in British politics after May 6th? Well it could be George Osbourne, Alistair Darling or with a great stretch of the imagination Vince Cable. Why? Well because we all know that there will be a period of austerity, tax hikes and public service cuts in order to address the huge financial mess we're in. At the moment it's a sort of phoney war with all the parties spinning desperately to make the facts appear as palatable as possible in order to win power. The one thing that the so called 'Big Debate' showed was that they are all very much of the same. Yet if we take a step backward and look at the actual state of our nation, the reality is that although by any measure we have been and are secure and prosperous, our influence has declined substantially over the last 100 years, and we have needed to build strategic alliances with other nations to survive – sometimes by compromising our integrity – just remember the bribes to gain Saudi defence contracts. At the same time our foundation on Christian values now looks decidedly shaky - in practice the church has been marginalised retaining the outward form and ritual without much evidence of the vitality of inner life.
Oh that we had a statesman like Isaiah! Rather than plastic TV politicians and spin doctors, a man with courage, experience and integrity, a man in touch with the living God. A man prepared to speak out. For around 700 BC the nation of Israel was in much the same state as we are here today. After a period of relative prosperity they were threatened by large and powerful neighbours, so they compromised with other nations, and hocked the family silver (in their case the temple treasures) in order to buy off the predators – much as Mrs Thatcher and successive governments have done here with our national assets. Isaiah is like a breath of fresh air, an adviser to kings he spoke out with courage on both national and international affairs. He foretold the consequences of their lack of trust in the one true God, he foretold exile and restoration, and perhaps most importantly in the 5 key sections we call the 'servant passages' he pointed to a messiah who would fulfil all God's promises and intentions for this world. How can we be sure that this prophecy refers to our Lord Jesus, written as it was many hundreds of years before He was born? Well Isaiah is widely quoted in the New Testament – and you will find this mornings passage applied directly to the Lord Jesus in Matthew 12: 18 - 21, so there is absolutely no ambiguity – and from it we will gain clear insight into both God's character and His master plan which was fully realised in Jesus. So without further ado let us look at Isaiah 42 which you will find on page xxx.
Firstly we need to be clear about the source of this message. Was Isaiah just giving his opinion – perhaps based on a lifetime of experience? Absolutely not, Isaiah is a prophet of God and v5, 6 & 8 make it plain that this is God Himself speaking and Isaiah simply the messenger, in fact v5 is more of a declaration 'Thus says the Lord' , and to avoid any possibility of confusion in a world riddled with shrines, statues, and idols of every description, he emphasises that this was the same Lord God who actually made everything, the source of life itself and who is absolutely unique, the God who from the beginning has refused to share His glory with any thing or any one else.
Friend if you're new to all this and immediately start thinking about fossils and evolution, don't – this is not about the minutiae of the 'how' creation happened, but about 'who' was behind it all.
Next just consider the relationship between Almighty God and this servant as spelled out in v1. God uses the personal pronoun 'my' several times to underscore the bond:
My servant, My chosen in whom My soul delights, I put My spirit upon Him
This must indeed be a very special servant because God promises to uphold Him, and to protect Him, more than that He actually expresses delight in their relationship, and promises to endow Him with the Holy Spirit in such measure that an abiding presence is indicated – Remember the time we read in Luke 3 when Jesus insisted that John baptise Him – the Holy Spirit descended in bodily form on Him and we overhear the voice from heaven of a proud father saying 'this is my beloved son in whom I am well pleased!' Perhaps something like dad standing on the touchline at a schoolboy football match when his lad scores the winning goal he turns to the bloke standing next to him and says 'that's my boy'
So here we see the father heart of God, the intimacy of the relationship He enjoys with His Son yet all tempered with the knowledge that this servant life will lead to a cruel cross. Clearly if God so delights in the role of His son as servant, that must affect the way we disciples will follow our Lord
What then was the problem? What is this servant actually to do, why was God sending Him, what was the need?
The answer is hinted at in v6 and v2: From the times of Abraham God had chosen these people for a task, not for their personal security, for peace and a quiet life with a few religious festivals thrown in to keep Him happy, they were chosen for a purpose and that purpose was to to make God known to the far corners of the earth to all peoples, by proclaiming His holiness, His Righteousness and Justice, by being a living example - a light to the nations. This meant the release of those under the captivity of sin and bringing sight to the spiritually blind.
So what had happened in practice? Spectacular failure had happened – with few exceptions Israel had been racked with greed, division, empty ritual, and a toleration of activities that God had specifically forbidden, why they even adopted the abominable practices of the pagan worship of surrounding nations. How was this dire situation going to be reversed? A political or military leader perhaps? A victorious campaign to crush the might of Assyria? No the Messiah who was to achieve this huge task was to do it by being a servant – no glory, just a simple servant.
Friends if our saviour was to be a servant to fulfil God's plan and purposes then how much more should we who claim to be His followers walk the same road? Like Israel this body of God's people, this church, our church does not exist for the mutual support and edification of its members (important though those are) it exists for the people out there, whether that be in Central Hull or Central Asia.
People who desperately need to hear the saving and healing news of the Lord Jesus, people who are lost and have been abandoned for whatever reason. People who are blindly enslaved by idolatry of one sort or another.
How do we go about this then? Well of course the very word 'servant' implies a humble approach, but what does the passage tell us?
We pick up two key aspects from the text and both are demonstrated in the ministry of the Lord Jesus
a) firstly in verse 2 we learn that the servant will not cry or lift up His voice or make it heard in the street – that means none of the pomp, ceremony and victory parades associated with conquering kings, and of course we read in the gospels that our Lord actually withdrew from the crowds, and suffered unjust accusation in silence. His victory parade (if you can call it that) was a ride on a donkey! - in fact He invested virtually all His earthly ministry in just a few very ordinary people and entrusted them to get on with it!.
So if He approached His ministry without a lot of hype or a big advertising campaign - No marketing plan, no big promotion, no TV advertising. Then perhaps we should think hard about the methods we use when doing the Lords work and avoid trying to do His business the worldly way!
b) secondly we see a heart of compassion, in v3 we read that the servant will not break the bruised reed or quench the smouldering wick, we see a servant who will come to heal broken lives, a servant who will minister to the vulnerable, a servant who cares. Does that not speak so clearly of the Lord Jesus who broke social norms to meet with the underclass, the thief, the extortioner, the prostitute and the desperate. The Jesus who ministered to the broken hearted?
That is why we can go with hope to those crippled by debt or any other addiction, we may well not have a quick fix but with compassion we can walk with them through and hopefully out of dark times knowing that the Lord Jesus wants to bring wholeness to bruised lives, to folk enslaved by the effects of sin, which may not even be of their own making. And that is what will please our Lord and master.
I just wonder sometimes if one the reasons why the UK church is in decline is that our mission focus is often more about reaching out to folk like ourselves, rather than being open to the needs of the people around us. That is why as a church at St John's we are intentionally responding to the challenge of community involvement, by seeking to reach out with compassion to those with financial or other problems. It won't be easy, we will need to support each other and above all reach out in the way our Lord so wonderfully modelled.
I want to illustrate these points by giving two telling examples of doing God's work
The first is probably the worst failure of the (so called) Christian church in the 2000 years since the time of Christ. It has caused untold bitterness, strife and war down the centuries – and is still a sensitive issue today. I refer to the Crusades which I vaguely remember from some schoolboy history lessons and stirring old films about 'Richard the Lion-heart' . To me it's just ancient History of some 800 years ago.
Yet for several hundred years popes and princes sought to make their fortunes and reputation by mobilising vast armies to defeat the Muslim hordes and impose European domination on the Holy Land all in the name of Christ. There was atrocity upon atrocity comitted by both sides, thousands died.
This picture is of the infamous siege of Acre when some three thousand Muslim prisoners were butchered by Richard because a ransom didn't arrive in time.
Is there any wonder why the image of a cross is still so offensive across the Muslim world – it doesn't speak to them of the suffering servant being sacrificed for the sins of the world, but of the battle standard of armies that came to pillage and destroy!
Perhaps the saddest story I came across was from the fifth crusade when the opposing armies were arrayed against each other in Egypt. A young Christian man, Francis by name, horrified by the violence and aggression of the Crusaders, took courage and went to speak with Sultan al-Malik al-Kamil at the Egyptian court, impressed by his almost foolhardy courage the sultan agreed to meet him and they talked for a week – and being a reasonable man agreed for a truce and further talks about peace. Young Francis impressed by the Sultans devotion went back and tried to persuade the crusade leader Cardinal Pelagius Galvani to form an alliance, Galvani refused to compromise and attacked. What an opportunity missed.
And what a lesson the crusades are in how not to do Christ's work. - And by the way the young man Francis is no other than the man we know of as St Francis of Assisi
My second example is much closer to home in both distance and time, I want to introduce you to Kerry, one of the UK underclass yet one who was rescued by servants who were prepared to follow in the steps of their master.
(Poignant testimony of an ex addict – rehabilitated through Betel ministries – illustrating that with care and compassion we can see recovery from addiction.
For more details of Betel see:
Friends it is so easy to be judgemental about people like Kerry – and forget that in Gods eyes we all were once equally lost. It's so easy to see the problem rather than the person – and it's hard demanding work to walk with them to recovery. May God give us the compassion of Jesus as we embark together on our Community ministry.
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