Lent 2 Midweek
The Saving Servant
March 4, 2015
In the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The second song of God’s Servant comes several chapters after the first. In the first, God’s Servant is appointed to speak a judicial sentence of righteousness. His judgment is a judgment of sin—not as arbitrary morality, but as an expression of idolatry; and God refuses to share His glory with idols. In the intervening chapters, God foretells of another servant—and earthly servant of a different kind; a pagan king by the name of Cyrus. God rebuked His people’s idolatry by sending a pagan to liberate them and set the stage for them to restore the temple in Jerusalem.
But Cyrus’s service to God was limited in time and scope. His service was of personal and political interest for himself as much as it was out of love for God. God conscripted this pagan king into His service much in the same way He used Balaam’s donkey to speak His Word. Cyrus was a servant to accomplish a political victory limited to the Israelite people. His service does not liberate them from slavery to idolatry. Another Servant would be necessary. A saving Servant.
In the second song, the Servant sings for the first time. Listen to Me, you lands by the sea; pay attention, you people far away. When I was still in the womb, the LORD called Me. Before My mother gave birth to Me, He pronounced My name. He made My mouth like a sharp sword and hid Me in the shadow of His hand. He made Me a polished arrow and hid Me in His quiver (vv 1-2).
Even though God foretold Cyrus’s service in a predictive prophecy, God’s call of this Servant is different. It’s more intimate. As a family. When the Servant was still in the womb, God called Him. This echoes God’s call of His servant Jeremiah, who was called and consecrated in his mother’s womb. He was set apart for a holy task. But this new Servant has something even more. God Himself gives Him His name before birth. God has a history of giving new names, but this Servant He names while He is still in His mother’s womb.
In three weeks we’ll observe the fulfillment of this prophecy when we celebrate the Feast of the Annunciation, when God sends His angel to announce the birth of the Son of God. While He is yet in the womb, the angel again appears to His adopted father Joseph and gives Him a name. [Mary] will give birth to a Son and you will call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins (Mt 1:21).
From the womb, the Servant bears the name of Jesus, literally, Yahweh saves. The name is an indication of His service to His people. But who are His people? Isaiah’s second Servant Song begins where the first left off. The coastlands. Those who are far away. God’s people are not simply political Israel, but all nations, who will become Israel by faith.
This Servant Jesus is given a specific tool to accomplish this salvation. His mouth is like a sharp sword. That is to say, He speaks a two-edged Word. It cuts the way judgment and the way of forgiveness. It cuts the way of condemnation and the way of reconciliation. It cuts the way of law and the way of promise. When He speaks, His Word separates. Like a polished arrow, it pierces to the heart.
God’s earthly servant Cyrus liberated the earthly Israel with a sword. He won God’s victory with a superior military—the entire ancient world recognized Cyrus’s superiority. But God’s chosen Servant does not have such a superior weapon. Not outwardly. Next to polished steel the Word of God seems to be a pretty weak tool. And the Servant sings of this weakness.
He said to Me: “You are My Servant to Israel; through You I will show My glory.” But I said: “I have worked in vain. I have spent My strength uselessly and for nothing. But surely the LORD is ready to do what is right for Me, and God is ready to reward Me” (vv 3-4). When you have the power to form galaxies at your disposal, relying on preaching seems a pretty foolish thing to do. Jesus preaches and preaches, He speaks His two-edged Word until He’s blue in the face, and still people turn away, they rebel, they put it off, they think it unimportant.
There’s got to be a better way. Preachers find the Word to be too weak and ineffective to change people, and so they seek other means. Manipulation, moralism, emotionalism. Mormonism and Jehovah’s Witnesses try to turn you to their idolatrous gods by showing you a superior morality. Islam converts by the sword. Many Christians turn to the power of the individual will, or the strength of church traditions or a charismatic leader. Only the church that relies on the Word and the Word alone is able to pray with Jesus, Nevertheless, not My will, but Yours be done (Lk 22:42).
Christ’s work appears to be in vain—it earned Him death by way of a cross—it is through this very act that God shows His glory. No idol, no other false god of human imagination has ever died for his people. But it is through the preaching of this death that God works His great reward.
God’s Servant rose from the dead, and thereby shows the kind of salvation that He serves. He is God’s chosen Servant to save His people from their sins, and so save them from death. He emerges from His tomb and He is vindicated; His work and His preaching are not in vain, but are the power of God.
And now says the LORD, Who formed Me in the womb to be His Servant, to bring Jacob back to Him and to gather Israel to Him — the LORD treated Me with honor, and My God has become My Strength — He says: “It is not enough that You’re My Servant to raise the tribes of Jacob and bring back those in Israel who have been preserved — I have also made You a Light for the nations that My salvation might reach to the most distant parts of the world” (vv 5-6).
It’s not enough to rescue an earthly people, that’s too little a thing. God can do that with any old pagan king with a sword. But the rescue of the nations, the salvation of the world, that takes a special kind of Servant. A saving Servant.
This Servant has become a light to lighten the Gentiles, as old man Simeon sang with the baby Jesus in His arms. He is the glory of His people Israel. He gathers to Himself a new Israel, not one by birth, or by law, but an Israel by faith.
This Servant Jesus, the One who saves His people from their sins, makes this salvation available to you. …that My salvation might reach to the most distant parts of the world. Did you realize that your Lord and your Servant Jesus sang about you and your salvation? Listen to His song. Listen to His Word of promise.
God’s Servant Sings of Salvation for the Nations
In + Jesus’ name. Amen.
Rev Jacob Ehrhard