“Behold My Servant” (Isaiah 42:1-9)
“Behold my servant,” the Lord says to us today. Who is this servant, you ask? It’s Jesus, of course. The Christ, the Anointed One, baptized as the Lord’s servant, to do the will of the one who sent him. Jesus, the Christ, anointed with the Holy Spirit at his baptism. And Isaiah is here to tell us about him. Through the prophet Isaiah now, the Lord invites us to look upon Christ, saying, “Behold My Servant.”
“Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my Spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations.” Thus begins Isaiah 42, and thus Isaiah introduces us to one called the servant of the Lord. This text is the first of four so-called “Servant Songs” in this section of Isaiah. We hear the first one, Isaiah 42, today. We’ll hear the second Servant Song next week, in Isaiah 49. The third Servant Song is in Isaiah 50, and we’ll hear that one on Palm Sunday, the Sunday of the Passion. And then the fourth and most famous of the Servant Songs, Isaiah 53, about the Suffering Servant–that will be the Old Testament reading on Good Friday. So it’s good for us today to begin to become acquainted with the Lord’s servant here in Isaiah.
“Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my Spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations.” The Lord here is speaking to us about his servant, through these words recorded in Isaiah. The prophet Isaiah lived 700 years before Christ, but the Lord knew ahead of time what he was going to do, and he tells Isaiah to write it down. “New things I now declare; before they spring forth I tell you of them.”
So here is a prophecy about the Lord’s servant. We’re not told exactly who this servant is, not by name, but we do get a pretty good description of what this servant will be like. If you see someone matching this description, it’s a pretty good bet he will be the servant of the Lord.
“Behold my servant.” And it is in the nature of a servant, it is the purpose of a servant, to do the will of his master, whomever that may be. Years ago Bob Dylan wrote a song called “Gotta Serve Somebody.” And it’s true. No matter who you are, you’re going to end up serving someone. It may be yourself, it may be someone else, but you are going to serve somebody. “You’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed. You’re gonna have to serve somebody. Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord. But you’re gonna have to serve somebody.”
So, who is it that you’re serving? Yourself? Making money for yourself? Seeking pleasure for yourself? Wanting to gratify your own desires? Join the club. Everybody in the world wants to do that. And in that respect, you and I are really serving the devil, for the devil’s aim is to get our eyes off God and to divert us from doing God’s will.
But that is not the case with this servant of the Lord spoken of in Isaiah 42. This servant is single-minded, focused, with a laser-like intensity on being the Lord’s servant. And how did Jesus make that his focus! “I have come to do the will of the one who sent me,” Jesus says over and over again in the gospels. “Nevertheless, not my will but thy will be done,” Christ prayed to his Father before proceeding to the cross. Truly Jesus is the servant of the Lord.
And the Lord upholds and affirms Jesus in this purpose: “Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights.” The Father and the Son are united in purpose. Jesus came to do the will of his Father, and the Father is proud as punch of his dear Son. He upholds Christ in his mission. He has chosen Jesus for this very purpose. The Father delights in what Jesus sets out to do. And so at his baptism, the Father’s voice comes from heaven, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”
And the Father empowers his servant to carry out his purpose. “I have put my Spirit upon him.” This is what it means when we say that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, the Anointed One. God has anointed him with the Holy Spirit. And so at Jesus’ baptism, the heavens were opened, “and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him.” The anointing with the Holy Spirit marks out Jesus as God’s choice. It shows that God’s favor, power, and blessing are resting upon just this one. “Hail to the Lord’s Anointed.”
But how will Jesus serve? In what way? Not in a high and haughty manner, throwing his weight around. But rather in humble servanthood, tenderly caring for those who are weak and hurting. “He will not cry aloud or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street; a bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench.”
How are you doing today? Are you feeling weak and weary, weighed down by the burdens of life? Jesus is here to take care of you. Do you feel bruised and battered? Jesus heals the brokenhearted. Do you feel ashamed, cast down with guilt over your sins? Jesus will not cast you aside. He is here to embrace you, to welcome you home into God’s good graces. Jesus is here to refresh your spirit and to give you a clean start. God is not casting you aside. Jesus is here to strengthen you in your faith journey today. “A bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench.” Oh, what good news this is! I need to hear this today! I think you do too.
After all, what is the mission that the Lord’s servant is on? Isaiah tells us: “He will bring forth justice to the nations.” “He will faithfully bring forth justice. He will not grow faint or be discouraged till he has established justice in the earth.” Justice. God’s justice. That’s what Jesus comes to establish and carry out. But here is the surprising thing: It is a justice that rules on our behalf. You would think that God’s justice would strike us down, not lift us up. For we are sinners under God’s law, and that law demands death for those who transgress. And when I look at God’s commandments, I see how many ways I have broken them.
So how is it that you and I will be declared not guilty? What kind of justice is that? It’s the Jesus kind of justice. For Jesus takes the judgment that you and I deserve. Jesus dies the death of sinners on our behalf. His is a sacrificial servanthood. “The Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.” This is how we are judged righteous in God’s courtroom. Christ’s righteousness is credited to our account. Our judgment he takes upon himself. Verdict: Not guilty. And it is a just judgment because of Jesus.
Jesus is anointed for this mission at his baptism. Jesus the sinless one is baptized with sinners, he stands with us, “to fulfill all righteousness.” Jesus is baptized as he is sent out to accomplish God’s righteous plan. The Messiah comes to do the will of the one who sent him. Jesus comes to do God’s will, and that will is to redeem sinful mankind. That will is to bring forgiveness where there was sin. That will is to bring blessing where there was curse. That will, the will of God, is to bring healing where there was hurting, to bring wholeness where there was strife and discord, disease and death. That is what Jesus the servant is setting out to do.
And does he do it! Jesus will fulfill the mission the Lord gives him to the utmost. God’s promise and his commission to his servant is this: “I am the LORD; I have called you in righteousness; I will take you by the hand and keep you; I will give you as a covenant for the people, a light for the nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness.”
“A covenant for the people.” Jesus fulfills the covenant the Lord made with his people Israel, to bless them and make them a blessing, to deliver his people from bondage, and to remember their sins no more. “A light for the nations.” Jesus Christ is the light of the world, not just of Israel. In Christ, all the families of the earth will be blessed. As the Wise Men from the east were led by the light of a star, so nations from all over the earth have come and are coming to the light of Christ. “I will give you as a covenant for the people, a light for the nations, to open the eyes that are blind.” Jesus literally did that in his ministry, didn’t he, open the eyes of the blind. Even more so, he opens our eyes from spiritual blindness, so that now we can see with the eyes of faith. “To bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness.” Brothers and sisters, you and I have been set free! We have been unshackled. The iron fetters yield. Now we are free, free to serve God and to serve our neighbor in love, because Christ has set us free.
“Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights” “He will not grow faint or be discouraged till he has established justice in the earth.” Indeed, Jesus did not grow faint or give up until he completed his way to the cross. There he cried out, “It is finished!” Therefore the consummation of all things is assured, when Jesus will come again to raise us up and restore creation and give us eternal life.
If Jesus is so determined, if he will not grow faint or be discouraged, then let us not grow faint or be discouraged. For our faith and our confidence and our courage are resting in Christ. He will strengthen us for the way. Look upon Jesus today to find your strength. The Lord says of him: “Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights.”