Isaiah lived in difficult times. King Uzziah had reigned in Judah and there had been prosperity; the Assyrian Empire was relatively weak on the northern border, so the nations in the south had been left on their own. The land had flourished with trade. But a new king came to the throne, Tiglath-pileser III. He had defeated his enemies to the north and now his attention turned to the south. Israel and Syria had come together against the Assyrians. There was pressure on Judah to join them but they wouldn’t. Judah faces an existential crisis. Their very existence is in danger. Throughout this period Isaiah brings the word of the Lord to the people; Jerusalem will fall to the Babylonians and the people will be taken into captivity. Then he speaks of a future beyond the Babylonian exile.
Here, we are on the threshold of a new year. We have had celebrations. Some will say the world faces the greatest existential threat – global warming, political uncertainties. What is going to happen? Many young people are so overwhelmed with anxiety that their mental health is affected. What is going to happen? Well, let’s go back to Isaiah. Isaiah speaks about God maintaining a faithful remnant. He speaks of Cyrus, who will come to prominence 150 years in the future. He is actually named. Cyrus will be the great Persian Emperor who will descend on Babylon and bring destruction. God will raise up this heathen king, 150 years in the future, to restore Jerusalem.
But Isaiah speaks of another one who is known as the servant of the Lord, a perfect servant, who will get to the roots of the issues the people of Isaiah’s day faced. The roots don’t lie in economic or military weakness, the root is sin. This servant will come to deal with that issue. How? By suffering.
There are four songs in Isaiah, the songs of the suffering servant of the Lord. This perfect servant, who will redeem God’s people, bring forgiveness of sin through His suffering. Here is God’s answer to the problem of Isaiah’s day. Here is the answer to the problems of today. As we begin a New Year, begin it with Christ, the suffering servant. God has sent His Son into this world to save us from our sin and to bring hope to all those who trust in Him.
Today we will look at the first song in Isaiah. It is found in Isaiah 42:1-4. It begins with the word ‘Behold.’ We also see that word in Isaiah 41 where it is used to call the people to see the uselessness of idols. But now, here God says ‘Behold, my servant.’ See the one who can truly meet your needs.
He is God’s servant, chosen by God the Father for the task in hand. He has the Father’s seal of approval. He is identified with the Father in the strongest possible terms – the Father upholds Him. Here is the one who is so identified with the Father that He is seen in the Father’s embrace. The Father delights in His chosen one. Here is the servant of God, the one appointed, the one acknowledged, the one guaranteed to accomplish everything set before Him.
Here is the one who has the fullness of the Spirit which enables Him to do all that is asked of Him. His assignment is to bring justice to the nations, the peace and goodwill wherever God is acknowledged as Lord. The servant’s role is to bring God’s kingdom to men. The Kingdom of Heaven, John the Baptist declared, is at hand, as he refers to Jesus. He has come to accomplish the Father’s will, enabled by the Spirit, to men that they might be blessed beyond all measure. We should look upon Him in awe and wonder. He is God’s approved, empowered servant who brings to us the benefits of God’s Kingdom if we receive Him. Here is the answer to the world’s problems. God sends His only begotten Son with the power to deal with the root of the problem – sin.
God has not withdrawn from this rebellious world, He has come into it in the person of Jesus Christ. Through the forgiveness that He brings we know the richest blessings. He is to be loved, praised and adored. He is the most important person this world has ever known. He is to be the most important person in our lives today, every day. Fill our days with the knowledge of Him. He is the altogether glorious Lord.
The Servant’s character. Cyrus was a typical, aggressive, arrogant man. But this servant of the Lord is totally different. God’s answer to the oppression of this world is gentleness and humility. There is nothing strident about Him (v2). Here is no Trump or Boris. He will not dominate or shout others down, neither will He advertise Himself. We remember how He repeatedly shunned the glare of publicity (John 6:15).
We are told, in verse 3, He will not trample on the weak. On the contrary, He will greatly strengthen them. The servant’s character is marked by meekness and gentleness. These characteristics are not the usual characteristics of leaders, but God’s ways are not our ways. Praise God, the Lord Jesus Christ knows how to look after feeble creatures like you and me.
There are times when we are very conscious of how vulnerable we are but the Lord Jesus Christ sees our eternal well-being. We can confidently commit to His Lordship. He will enfold us in His loving arms, His tender hands. He will never disappoint us. As a church we are to follow the example of the Saviour by quietly preaching the gospel, having concern for others, being considerate not aggressive or arrogant. Yes, confront people’s sin but with all humility, because we are sinners too.
The servant’s success (verse 4). Although the servant is meek and mild, nevertheless He will succeed. This servant will not grow faint. He will not be discouraged (bruise easily). He will experience all of those things that crush and quench the life out of men but He will be strong in the face of adversity. Nothing will prevent Him from God’s rule on earth. He will bring the benefits and the blessings to the bruised of this world. Not only Israel, but all nations of the world will hear of Him.
The Lord Jesus Christ knew what is was to be rejected and scorned but He did not grow faint neither was He discouraged. His meek and mild character is matched by determination and strength that came from God, which ensure success of His mission. What has laid you low, knocked the stuffing out of you? What has overwhelmed you? Remember the cross. Look to the Lord. Find in Him the strength to carry on. The work of the Lord Jesus Christ always succeeds. If he is at work in our lives, even as He takes us through deep trials, share in His success and His victory. He is the hope of the whole world. My Hope, your hope. Trust in Him, look to Him. He is the suffering servant of God. He is God’s provision for the broken world. He is the Saviour. He is my Saviour, He is your Saviour. Trust in Him. He loves you, He cares for you. He will see you through. He is the most wonderful person, the most glorious in success. Praise God for His suffering servant. Amen.