The Servant: A River of Righteousness, a Waterfall of Justice
March 19, 2017
Servant, Messiah, vulnerability, exodus, righteousness, justice
Songs of the Servant
delights (Mt 3:17); I have put my Spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the
nations. 2He will not cry aloud (drown out, shout down) or lift up his voice, or make it
heard in the street (in public); 3a bruised (deep internal injury not apparent externally,
often lethal) reed he will not break, and a faintly [flickering] burning wick he will not
quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice. 4He will not grow faint [flicker out] or be
discouraged [be bruised] till he has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands
[the islands] wait for his law.
5Thus says God, the LORD, who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread
out the earth and what comes from it, who gives breath to the people on it and spirit to
those who walk in it: 6″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 [Gentiles], 7to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the
dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness. 8I am the LORD; that is my name;
my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to carved idols.
9Behold, the former things have come to pass, and new things I now declare; before they
spring forth I tell you of them.” (Isa. 42:1-9)
For the next few weeks leading up to Easter, we’re going to be looking at 4 passages from
Isaiah, 4 sections of poetry known as the Servant Songs.
They are beautiful, mysterious, terrifying, and hopeful.
These 4 songs come from the pen of the prophet Isaiah as Yahweh speaks through him.
They point us to one known to Isaiah only as the Servant.
Isaiah lived and served in Judah, Southern Israel, from the late 7th century into the early 6th
century. When know when he lived because he tells us exactly in the memorable opening of
chapter 6: “In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord.” I’m pretty sure that if any of
us saw the Lord as Isaiah did, we’d remember the date too. Uzziah died in 740, and Isaiah
continued his prophetic work through the reigns of King Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah. Isaiah
died about 50 years before Habakkuk was born, and if you remember from the series we just
concluded, Habakkuk would live to see Jerusalem leveled by the Babylonians and God’s
people, the Southern Kingdom, carried off to exile. Isaiah, while living in Judah, witnessed
the first wave of destruction in the Northern Kingdom – Samaria fell to the Assyrians in 722,
and the Assyrian presence so close to Jerusalem made for a threatening uneasy political
climate. Ahaz the king of Judah showed no faith in God, and was quick to broker a defensive
peace with the Assyrians – do what you want in the north and we’ll look the other way if
you promise to leave us alone. Well, it was a treaty of which Neville Chamberlain would
have been proud: We’ve realized peace in our time. Break out the champagne. Break out
the wine from Mt Hermon.
So, Isaiah knows what’s coming politically. He knows that the Southern Kingdom is
crumbling because the kings will not lead the people in righteousness and justice. The kings
is not leading from faith in Yahweh – especially Ahaz is trusting his own power and wisdom…
but he is a weak fool.
Humanly speaking the Davidic line of kings will be extinguished. When the
Babylonians come, when Jerusalem is destroyed, no one from the line of David will ever sit
upon the throne in Jerusalem.
Now, it’s a realization that we face today… that many of God’s people throughout history
have faced. The people who lead us are not righteous or just. They are foolish and weak…
they abuse power and disdain knowledge. And their failure of leadership, practically and
spiritually, brings ruin upon the nation and oppression to those who want to live faithfully
as God’s people. There is nothing new about what we face in America, what citizens and
Christians face around the world while subject to weak and foolish, oppressive and
It’s a realization we face at the most personal level too. We cannot escape the weakness
and foolishness of executives and business leaders, teachers and politicians. We know this
in the family, too – the weakness, sinfulness, unfaithfulness of spouses, brothers and sisters,
children, parents. If we do not feel like we are pushing against the currents of culture… not
just in 2017, but at any time or any place we may be living… if we do not feel the friction
created by turning our lives into the winds of culture, we are almost certainly being
propelled and shaped and molded by culture, by the powers at work in the world.
But turning our faces into the wind is often like walking in deep snow without snow
shoes. Some of you may have tried to do that this past week. How long does it take before
you are exhausted from plowing your body through the piles of the beautiful white stuff?
Remember Yahweh’s response to Habakkuk when he cried out to the Lord about the
oppression of living surrounded and overwhelmed by evil and injustice? Our God says the
same thing to us, a call that is repeated several times in both the Old and New Testaments:
Those whom God has made righteous live by faith.
Because God has made us righteous, we can and we want to life by faith.
Faith not in ourselves or in government or in knowledge… but faith in God himself:
Father, Son, and Spirit. We live lives that express and affirm our whole-hearted trust in him
– we live with a confidence in who he is (the greatness and stability of his virtues), a
confidence in what he has promised, and a confidence in what he has accomplished… a past,
present, and future confidence that embraces and sustains the whole of our lives.
As followers of Christ, as God’s people have always done throughout history, we live with an
uneasy tension. Are we pessimistic about the way things are going in our time? Do we have
reason to believe that the cause of Christ is advancing in Ithaca, in the US, in North America?
If you frame life in the world as a culture war, is there reason to counter the fear that we are
losing? Have not most of us felt the pressure, the fear of recrimination, criticism, or
rejection if we speak too openly about Jesus? Are we pessimistic, or are we hopeful at the
signs of God’s Spirit at work in communities in which the gospel is flourishing, in which
relationships open the doors to fruitful work in which the love of God is visible and
Are we pessimistic or hopeful? Well… yes. We must not be naive about either
reality. We are not at war with the culture, but we are in a great struggle that touches every
area of life. We are in the thick of the greatest of all battles since we are allied with Christ
against sin and Satan. We are often like Job, withering under the assault of evil, so often as
devastating as it is inexplicable.
But as followers of Christ, as people who believe the promises of God, we do see God
present and at work. He has not forsaken us or left us alone. He has not abandoned his
covenant, his mission to redeem the world and all who look to Christ for salvation.
The Church… Christians… too often have not resolved this uneasy tension any better than
our non-Christian friends and neighbors. We are torn between the exuberance of optimism
and the despair of pessimism. But it’s what we do with that tension that reveals what is
within us – what controls our hearts and minds.
It is right and good that we desire just laws that protect human dignity and property
and freedoms and that shape our public responsibilities. But we have, I think, taken that
subtle next step of putting our trust in the power of law to bring us peace.
It is wise for us to know how porous the law can be – evil seeps in at the cracks, there
are unintended consequences, those in power make exceptions for their cronies, and the
power of law seems inevitably to oppress many of those it has promised to protect.
Andy Crouch discusses this tension eloquently in his little book Strong and Weak.
Human flourishing (that is living in a way that reflects God’s purpose for us as
humans)… Human flourishing comes from being both strong and weak, he writes.
Andy describes the strong/weak tension in terms of authority and vulnerability. He writes:
True authority is always given. The capacity for meaningful action is not something
we possess on our own. It is something others confer on us.
The vulnerability that leads to flourishing requires risk, which is the possibility of
loss-the chance that when we act, we will lose something we value. Risk, like life, is always
about probabilities, never about certainties.
He then writes: I have come to believe that the image of God is not just evident in
our authority over creation-it is also evident in our vulnerability in the midst of creation.
The psalms speaks of authority and vulnerability in the same breath-because this is what it
means to bear the image of God.
We are called to be strong, to be God’s stewards and lords of creation, yet, we cannot step
into that role simply as an act of self-determination. We are called to work, to live into
every area of life, but we cannot stride into any station of life, any relationship and hope to
flourish or bring flourishing if we are overly confident in ourselves.
At the same take we are called to be weak, to be men and women boys and girls who
trust, who walk humbly, who are pierced by the evil and sorrow both of our own lives and
the lives of those around us.
One the one hand, we know we are to represent the God who makes all things right –
we are to use our gifts for the common good and to advance his mission and glory in the
At the same time, we know we are crying out from weakness and often pain and
sorrow for God to come and heal us, and make all things new
Knowing where to land – confidence or weakness – can make life confusing for us
So, we return again to Yahweh’s call to live by faith, and we ask again… how do we do that
in the midst of hard and wicked times.
Yahweh’s answer is poetry and music.
His answer in Isaiah is to sing to us.
When we need rest and sleep, he sings us a lullaby.
When we need our imagination kindled, he sings a heroic ballad
When we need hope in failure and amid helplessness and weakness,
He sings us the Songs of the Servant.
There are 4 of them, and we’ll look at the 1st one this morning.
The songs are poetry, so I want to begin by sitting with some of the poetic images with you.
Then we’ll close by thinking about some ideas those images invite us to consider.
The first stanza is about justice and the Servant bringing justice to the world.
Now by justice, we usually think of someone with power exacting punishment… giving
guilty people what they have coming to them… locking away all the bad people so all the
good people can live the way they want to live.
But justice means something far deeper. It means making things right. Not just
defeating evil, but establishing people and the world as they should be. Justice is the
ultimate human flourishing – being made fully what God has created and redeemed us to
be. Our brokenness will be made whole, our crookedness will be made straight, our
waywardness will be made loyal, our hatred will be turned to love, our idolatry will be
turned to worship of the true and the living God. Justice means that in the new creation
everyone who has been given new life in Christ will be made whole, complete… not just
individually, but in right relationship to everything that exists – supremely with God. But no
less so with one another and with the creation.
And Yahweh begins with this excited invitation:
Behold – see.
Who is watching? Yahweh, who invites us to watch with him. And we are watching not just
a person… but we are watching a person in relationship to God, God’s people, and the
mission of God… we are watching him live… we are watching his life…. anticipating (as God
knows) the whole of his life. As Yahweh told Habakkuk: I’m writing down my promise that
in the midst of trouble you can read and remember. But here Yahweh sings, I’m giving you
a person that you may see him, that you may see his life, all he does and all he
accomplishes. So, look… look at him intently.
And as you watch him, know that you are observing my servant – he serves my
eternal purposes. He is my choice representative – I have hand selected him for this work,
and all he does is done because I am sustaining him and upholding him.
But more than that, he is my joy, the deep and abiding delight of my heart.
He is not only the object of my joy, but he is an expression of my joy, a joy that
begins in creation: It is good, it is good, it is very good.
We can hear the joy of Yahweh as he describes the creation of the world to Job:
Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have
understanding. 5Who determined its measurements– surely you know! Or who stretched
the line upon it? 6On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone, 7when the
morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy? 8″Or who shut in the
sea with doors when it burst out from the womb, 9when I made clouds its garment and thick
darkness its swaddling band, 10and prescribed limits for it and set bars and doors, 11and said,
‘Thus far shall you come, and no farther, and here shall your proud waves be stayed’? (Job
It is the joy that the Father expresses of the Son
This is my son, my beloved son – listen to him, pay attention to him, don’t take your
eyes off him.
And the Father bestows the blessing of the Spirit upon Jesus as he begins his journey
to the Cross.
And it is the joy that Jesus knows… a joy that sustains him even on the Cross, even as he
steps into the abyss of hell and death.
For the joy set before him, he endured the cross and despised the shame
Why? What is the joy set before him… what could possibly be added to the eternal
joy of the Son of God? It’s you and me… it is his brothers and sisters, all who entrust their
lives into his safe-keeping. We are his joy, his great inheritance, his gift for eternity, his
Yahweh is sending us joy… with great joy.
This is the Servant who will come.
But how will this Servant go about his work.
We’ve already learned earlier in Isaiah’s message that this servant is a king:
The servant is a king of the line of David:
There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots
shall bear fruit. 2 And the Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and
understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the
LORD. 3And his delight shall be in the fear of the LORD. He shall not judge by what his eyes
see, or decide disputes by what his ears hear, 4but with righteousness he shall judge the
poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; and he shall strike the earth with the
rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked. 5 Righteousness
shall be the belt of his waist, and faithfulness the belt of his loins. 6 The wolf shall dwell
with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, and the calf and the lion
and the fattened calf together; and a little child shall lead them. 7 The cow and the bear
shall graze; their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. 8
The nursing child shall play over the hole of the cobra, and the weaned child shall put his
hand on the adder’s den. 9 They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain; for the
earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea. (Isa. 11:1-9)
But how will this king rule? How will this king bring justice, exercise justice? How will this
king establish righteousness in the earth?
He will not lift his voice
He does not come to dominate over but to place himself under – he comes to serve
not to be served – he Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a
ransom for many. (Mk. 10:45)
A quietness, lack of ostentation, faithfulness, no self-promotion, not aggressive, not
If we did not know otherwise, we would look at him as just another mere mortal. If
you cut him he bleeds… if you steal his food, he will go hungry. He comes to the end of the
day weary and ready for rest… he knows his deep dependence upon prayer to sustain him…
he knows sorrow, dissappointment, laughter, and anger.
He will suffer, but he will not collapse under the weight of the task
And he will use his power to heal and restore… he will exercise an omnipotent tenderness.
A bruised reed he will not break… a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.
A bruised reed is so torn and damaged and fragile that we know that simply to touch
it will be to tear it apart. But not so with the servant. He can take it in his hand, and he will
not destroy it. But he will heal it.
A smolder wick has so nearly lost its flame, its heat, that we know that simply to walk
past it, to breath near it, will be to extinguish it. But not so with the servant. His breath will
fan it to flame to burn brightly. He will not snuff it out, but he will nurture it to life.
But this word, bruised, is not the superficial tenderness we sometimes experience in our
bodies when we been banged… or when we’ve over done it.
This word speaks of a deep internal bruising… a wounded soul. Internal organs that
are in pain… internal suffering that is not immediately visible from the outside. Deep
distress and anguish… a piercing, a crushing of the heart.
How is it that this Servant can handle such fragile things… like our broken spirits and
wounded hearts… like our weakness and failure… like our sin that has eaten away the
strength of our bones… How is it that this Servant can bring life out of such death?
Because he has known that same fragility… a life on the edge of extinction. No, a life
that really was snuffed out… a life that really was torn apart and thrown into the furnace to
be burned. It will cost him everything to bring justice to the world. It will cost him
everything to make things right… to make you and I what we should be.
Yet, even this suffering to the uttermost will not ultimately extinguish or destroy him.
He will not fail. He will live. The servant will be a great saviour and redeemer.
The Servant will be the kind of king that the whole earth longs for. Even the coastlands…
the farthest extremeties of the continents… even the islands (as some translations render
it), the farthest reaches of the world… wherever there is land to inhabit, there people long
for a king to come and make things right.
That is why we continually look to human leaders and kings. Is it possible that you
can do what has never been done before? Is it possible that you can bring peace and
No. they cannot. Even thought they promise otherwise. They cannot… and we are foolish
to put our trust in them and not put our trust in the Servant.
My servant will not fail
I have not only created the world, but I have spread out all creation and history like a
giant map on the table. I am the one who gives life in creation and pours out my spirit in
redemption. I am the omnipotent God who watches over the world I have made to bring it
to completion, to bring it to the end for which I made it.
To his servant he says, I have called in righteousness. I have called you for this
purpose. I have called you to be righteous… to be righteous as a part of my creation, as one
of those to whom I give breath.
I will be a father to you. I will take you by the hand. You will speak my words for me
and you will go and do what I direct you to do. I will show you the way, and you will
faithfully walk in it as no other human being has ever done.
I will make you to be the covenant for the my people – you, in your life, in your
body, you will be the seal of my promises. You will be the confirmation in flesh and blood
that I cannot lie and that all the terms of the covenant between me and my people will be
Abraham spoke better than he knew when he replied to Isaac on the mountain of sacrifice:
God will provide himself the lamb… God himself will provide the lamb. The provider will
himself be the provision, will be the atonement for sin and the one who makes us right with
I will make you to be a beacon of light so bright that all the nations of the world will
see you and know you. You will be my voice to the world, and my offer and promise of hope
to all who will see and believe.
You will be the one greater than Moses.
In the OT before Christ, the great deliverer and champion of God’s people – the great
servant that parents told their children about when they recounted the might exploits and
triumphs of Yahweh in the world. These are the former things
Moses with a mighty hand led us out of darkness and slavery – he set us free. Justice
prevailed and evil was defeated, and he led us through the wilderness of this world to our
And through Isaiah, Yahweh utters the same words he spoke to Moses in preparing
him to be the servant, the deliverer, the king of righteousness.
8I am the LORD; that is my name – I give my glory to no one else. The idols have no
glory – they are destroyers, they are death, they have no life or hope
And as in Egypt, all the idols of the world, all the false gods will fall… they will be
exposed as empty, lifeless, powerless, weak… so too the Servant will reveal all the false
gods of the world to be vain and useless.
And the servant will lead a new exodus
Jesus, in conversation with Moses during his transfiguration, discusses the new
and greater and permanent exodus.
Jesus took with him Peter and John and James and went up on the mountain to pray.
29And as he was praying, the appearance of his face was altered, and his clothing became
dazzling white. 30And behold, two men were talking with him, Moses and Elijah, 31who
appeared in glory and spoke of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at
Jerusalem. (Lk. 9:28-31)
When Jesus talks about his departure, the word he uses is exodus. He’s going to the
Cross to be the One true Passover Lamb – he will die and set his people free. He will give his
truly righteous life to bring justice to the world, to set things right and make all things news.
He enters death to conquer death and step from his tomb, grave clothes neatly folded, to
declare the death of death… to declare the dawn of the new creation. In his body, he is the
covenant, the seal, the divine guarantee that all will be well… all will be new… all will be
right. Justice will reign.
Then Yahweh closes the song with the refrain: See… look… behold with your eyes. The
former things have come to pass. Moses delivered God’s people from sin and slavery. But
this promise I sing to you now, is the promise of One greater than Moses… One greater than
Abrham… One greater than David… One greater than Solomon in all his glory. You have my
covenant, my promise now, rooted in the long history of my faithfulness… that you may live
toward what will happen when my Servant comes. Look back and remember… Hear my
covenant today… and know that my Servant will bring justice…he will make all things new,
and he will make things right with the world.
Of course, the Servant is none other than Jesus, and the Father sets him before us again
saying, “Hear him.. listen to him. Today we look back and see Jesus, the Cross, and the
Resurrection. We see his oath, his covenant.
But in Christ we learn something about how we can live with strength and vulnerability in
times of great turmoil and trouble. We too are servants, and we walk in the footprints of
the One True Servant. But the Father calls us to look at him, to consider him, so that his life
will inform our lives and we will know how to live by faith.
Hear the words of Lord about us, his people, his sons and daughters:
9I took you from the ends of the earth. I called you from its farthest corners, saying to
you, “You are my servant, I have chosen you and not cast you off”;
10do not be afraid, for I am with you;
do not be dismayed, for I am your God;
I will strengthen you,
I will help you,
I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. (Isa. 41:8-10) – cf 42:1
Because of Christ’s faithfulness, we are the Lord’s… we are his
He upholds us
He has chosen us and laid hold of us and commissioned us
He delights in us
Our lives are not measured by our strength, but more by our desperate need for his
But we live in his hand – how is it that the resutls of sin… even our own sin… have
not destroyed us… have not broken us or snuffed us out? He hold us and sustains us and
breathes his life into us.
And now… we who have been bruised and healed may deal tenderly with those who
desperately need the grace of our faithful God.
We are the bearers of good news… a good word of hope that all creation longs to
We can speak the good news with the authority of the Servant
We can speak the good news with the vulnerability of people who know that we are
bruised reeds and smoldering wicks. We have no hope apart from his omnipotent grace.
We grieve with those who grieve and we tell the great story of history – the story of the
Servant who brings justice, who will make things right and true.
He has created us for righteousness
He will takes us by the hand and lead us to the end for which he created us
Everything that Israel was meant to be (but wasn’t) will be realized in him [the Servant] (323)
Now we may live in that tension of strength and weakness, of authority and vulnerability,
because Jesus the true servant is our life, and he is the One who will bring justice to the
earth – he is making all things news.
All glory and honor and praise belong to him alone.
New Life Presbyterian Church (c) 2017 – Ithaca, NY SSI01 –