The Servant Solution - Isaiah 49:1-7
An audio recording of this sermon is available.
Where can we go to find a picture of God? Well, if God is Spirit then by definition he cant be seen, like the invisible movement of the wind only the effects of his activity can be traced. But what if God were to clothe himself , as it were, in a form that we could see and touch? What then? Well, then we would be able to point to such a figure and say: This is your God - maybe not everything of God there is, but all of God that you and I need to know. Well, this morning we come to one of the most remarkable parts of the entire Bible - Isaiah 49: 1 - 7. And what is so remarkable about it is that several hundred years before the baby was born in Bethlehem who was given the name Emmanuel/Jesus - God with us - a prophet caught a glimpse of him as under the inspiration of Gods Spirit, he peered down the long dark corridors of time. And what he saw was a figure who was simply called The Servant. And what this Servant was to do was to change the entire history of this planet for ever. As we shall see, this Servant was a man, but more than a man - he was no less than God himself. And I can tell you there is not one of us here who would ever expect to find that God is like this. And so I want us to look at this amazing passage under three headings: the calling of the servant, the crisis of the servant and the conquest of the servant.
First of all the calling of the servant - vv 1 - 3. When someone comes up to you and demands Listen to me you can bet they mean serious business and normally they have something important to say. Now nowhere does a prophet in the Bible ever say Listen to meit is usually listen to God. So we can be fairly certain that the person speaking here is none other than God himself. He is demanding universal attention - the islands, the distant nations , you and me, had better sit up and take notice. But then straightaway the speaker tells us about his birth, that even before he was born the Lord had called him - that is, set him apart for a special task. So, on the one hand, he speaks as if he is God and yet he is a human being, someone born. Now can you begin to see that already we are being given a hint of what took place some 2000 years ago, when God in the person of his Son entered into this world. This is the figure Isaiah is trying to make out - God with a human face, God with a a human voice. Here is God through his prophet promising several hundred years beforehand that he himself is going to become one of us and run the entire gamut of human emotions. As this Servant, he is going to be able to see things as we see them, feel things as we feel them, experience things as we experience them. This is no far away God, this is a God who gets his hands dirty.
And from the moment he is conceived this Servant is being prepared for a work of words - He made my mouth - like a sharpened sword, like a polished arrow. ie when this man speaks his words will be given the penetrating power of God, hitting the target, cutting through all our defences. Sure, v2 speaks of him being prepared by God, concealed by him, like a sword in a sheath or arrows in a quiver, but when the right moment comes he will be unleashed to put Gods mission into action and people will not know whats hit them. And that is exactly what happened of course . For nearly thirty years Jesus lived quietly in the backwaters of Nazareth and did the work of a carpenter. But at the right time he exploded onto the public scene only to engage in the most powerful preaching the world has ever known. When Jesus the Servant preached his sermons you did not dare go to sleep, you couldnt. He disturbed people, he shocked people, hedelighted people. They said he spoke as one with authority, as if it were the very voice of God they were listening to and of course it was. There was no Thus sayeth the Lord with him. It was I say to you - listen to me. and for those who did , lives were changed
And you know, he still does the same today - no other book on earth has the power to change as does this book which contains the words of the Servant. During the Second World War a native South Sea Islander proudly showed his Bible to an American GI. And looking down his nose, the soldier said, Weve grown out of that sort of thing buddy. . The islander simply smiled back and said, Its a good thing we havent. Beause if it werent for this book you would have been my lunch by now. Cannabals, atheists, good people, bad people, rich people, poor people - there is not a single people group on earth that has not heard the voice of this Servant Jesus and been changed.
But it is not just the words of this Servant which are impressive, but also his deeds - v3 You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will display my splendour. Now this is a phrase normally associated with fashion. Just as a model will display along the catwalk the latest designs from Paris, Gods Servant is going to show before the whole world what it really means to live a fulfilled , God - centred human life. Of course it was Israel, the Jewish people who were meant to be such a model, but they failed, that is why they are in captivity in Babylon as the prophet speaks. But where they failed this one individual will succeed. Just look at the life of Jesus - it was so simple. Uncluttered by possessions, unhindered by striving ambition. If ever a man could have claimed to be at peace with himself and totally content it was Jesus. And as you and I look at that life and compare it with our own dont you feel that we are the ones who are missing out? Here we see God in action too - healing the sick, comforting the beareaved, befriending the outcast - is that how you picture God, going out of his way for the undesirables? That is how see him in his Servant Jesus.
You know, often people tell me that the reason they will not even think about the Christan faith is because of the church. And that is sad. For like the Servant, the church too should be displaying Gods splendour . But whatever the imperfections in the church and there are many, it is not to the church you must look if you want to know God , it is to Christ. He is the only one who shows us perfectly the kindness and indescribable love of God. Those of you who have received a copy of the Gospel this morning, let me encourage to read it and find out for yourself what Jesus is like or if people want I have for loan a copy of the Jesus video which in film unfolds the wonderful story of this Servant - borrow it. But whatever you do dont let this great opportunity pass you by, it might not come again.
But then in v4 the mood changes, its as if the Servant takes a step back from his task and reviews what he has done and surprising though it may be, it appears to be a failure - hence the servants crisis (read) And of course that is exactly what it looked like on Good Friday, there was hardly anything that appeared good at all. The crowd that hailed him on Palm Sunday nailed him less than a week later. One of his best friends betrayed him and the rest simply ran away. And where were the 5, 000 which had been fed - nowhere to be seen. Whichever way you look at it, it seems that it has all been for nothing. .
You see, here , through prophetic insight , we are given a glimpse into the mind of Jesus. Yes , he was divine, but he was human too. He knew what it was like to suffer setbacks, disappointments, especially from the people you would have hoped for the most. And we who follow in the footsteps of the servant must not be surprised if we also feel discouraged by apparent lack of success. Believe me, word ministry is hard work. You put all that time into a youth group, hours of preparation, devotion and prayer and then some abandon the faith, walk out and it simply breaks your heart. And so we can all be tempted to wonder whether it is worth it - I certainly feel that at times. But look at how the verse goes on, Yet, what is due to me is in the Lords hand, and my reward is with my God.
Do you see how Jesus the Servant handled such feelings of failure? He was content to place the results of his work into his heavenly Fathers hands. What from our perspective may seem a failure, may in Gods hands operating on his time table be the most significant thing we could ever have done, though we may not live to see it. Let me give you an example: You are a Christian parent - nothing special you may think. But there you are trying to be faithful to your Lord and you set an example to your children what a faithful Christian marriage looks like - just how Dad treats his Mum and vice versa. That impresses them, believe it or not. They in turn get married, have children and pass on the faith which you taught them in your own quiet, unspectacular way and so it goes on until - three or four generations later , from one of your own descendants God raises the next - JohnWesley or Billy Graham. You cant see that, but it can all be traced back to those little acts of faithfulness in your own little home here in Hull. Do you see how God works and why we shouldnt get discouraged but plough on, as did this Servant?
But this song, for that is what it is, ends with the Servants conquest - vv 5 - 7. He is to be honoured in Gods sight, that is emphatic - Kings and rulers will one day bow before this special Servant of God. How is he to be honoured? It is through achieving his mission - for not only will he bring back to God Israel, but he will also be a light to the Gentiles, that is non - Jews too. The heart of what he is about is summed up at the end of v6 he will bring salvation to the ends of the earthNow the word salvation simply means rescue. Now I would imagine there is not one of us sitting here this morning who has not been shocked and appalled by what happened in Paddington last week. To see those families looking on anxiously, tears streaming down their faces as they wait to hear the news whether one of their loved ones has died or is alive, your heart just goes out to them doesn't it? And as we saw those rescue workers entering that scene of carnage and horror, some working frantically with their own bare hands just in case they can find one person who is still left alive, commands our deepest respect and admiration. Well, Gods Servant, Jesus was sent into our world to mount a rescue operation like that. To pull us out of the twisted wreckage of a life without God and the certainty of an eternity without him. How he does that we shall see next week as we look at the suffering servant in chapter 53, but that is exactly what he came to do is spelt out for us right here - rescue.
You see, we have all decided to run away from God, like these Jews to whom the prophet is speaking. Sure, it may not always show itself actively, we are not all murders or Adolf Hitler, but we all know what it is like to be greedy, jealous, deceitful, cold - hearted and treat God as if he were an irrelevance. How would you feel if someone in your family treated you that way? Yet we do it with God. And the further we move away from God and his standards as a society the further we slide into moral chaos. I tell you plainly we need a very big rescue and so only someone as big enough as God can do it - that is why he came to us as the Servant.
Let me tell you something: a few years ago an Australian minister was invited to preach in a Russian womens prison. As he was waiting in the wardens office to meet his bilingual translator in walked a woman in her forties, nicely dressed - a regular middle - class type. The minister asked if she worked there, No she replied. I am one of the inmates. 'Oh' said the minister Do you mind if I ask what you are in for? Not at all she said. I am serving a sentence for murder. Well, he began to get a little nervous at this point, his eyes darting towards the door just in case he needed to make a quick exit. Oh really he mumbled. Yes, she said. I came home late one night and found my husband in bed with his lover, and in a rage I killed them both. But it was what she said next which really stunned him: Before I came into prison, I was not religious. But I began attending a Bible study and came to understand the Gospel and accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Svaiour. I now know I am pardoned by God, inspite of my crime, through Jesus death on the cross, and it is a great pleasure and privilege to act as intepreter for your meeting today.
And that got the minister thinking. When you speak to a group of convicted criminals, you dont have to work that hard to convince them they are sinners. Many of those womens eyes lit up when he explained they could be forgiven and have fresh start because of what Jesus the servant had done - salvation to the ends of the earth you see. But, the point is this: if God can forgive criminals who turn to Christ, then he can also forgive mild - mannered people like you and me who do the same.
There is not a single person here in this building in whom this Servant is not passionately interested . Jesus came not only to show us what God is like, but to make us more god - like as we come to know the freedom, the love and forgiveness he freely offers. All we have to do is to acknowledge it, admit it, and come to him one to one and then join his family the church. Now, this is an offer you really cant refuse.
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