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Author:Dr. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary (CRTS)
 Hamilton, Ontario
Preached At:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
Title:The Mighty Saving Works of God's Gentle Servant
Text:Isaiah 42:1-12 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Our Salvation

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 98:1,2                                                                                            

Ps 147:6                                                                                                         

Reading – Isaiah 41:21-29

Ps 96:1,2,3,4

Sermon – Isaiah 42:1-12

Hy 24:1,2,3,4,5,6

Hy 26:1

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved in Christ our Lord, the book of Isaiah is sometimes called ‘the fifth gospel.’ In the New Testament we have four gospels, of course: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. These tell the story of the life and death and resurrection of Jesus. Well, you could say that Isaiah does the same thing, because his book is such a great testimony to the Saviour. Where would the Christ come from? What would He be like? What would He do? Isaiah gives an amazing account—all the more amazing, because the Spirit moves him to write these things long before Jesus was born. It’s not the fifth gospel then, but the first! 

Throughout Isaiah, there are many verses that point us directly to Jesus. Especially in the coming chapters, Isaiah will give a picture of someone who is going to be crucial to God’s plan, one who will take charge of the project of saving sinners. He is called the Suffering Servant. There are four passages about him, “Servant Songs,” where the prophet gives us a glimpse of the Christ. You can read them in chapters 42, 49, 50, and in chapters 52-53.

When we put these passages together, we get a portrait of the one who is going to rescue God’s people. The Suffering Servant will preach good news to the poor. He’ll heal the sick and mend the broken. More than that—and here’s the real mystery—this servant will himself be punished instead of God’s rebellious people. This servant will suffer in our place. He’ll redeem his people, but not from Babylon, and not from earthly discomfort. But from sin itself!

Our text is the first of these “Servant Songs,” and I summarize it for you on this theme,

God sends the chosen Servant to save His people:

  1. the Servant’s gentle character
  2. the Servant’s righteous calling
  3. His people’s happy chorus


1) His gentle character: Our text begins with a ‘Behold!’ (v 1). That’s a word which calls everyone to take notice. One commentator says it’s like a blast of trumpets or a drumroll. It means we’re reaching a high point in Isaiah. There’s been misery, and there’s been judgment—just in the previous chapter we heard about a king coming from the north, Cyrus of Persia, who will squash the nations like a person squeezing clay in his hands. ‘But don’t despair,’ God says, ‘Behold my servant, and see what He will do.’

In the Bible, “servant” is a special title for someone who is called to carry out God’s will in an important way. And now also this Servant will come to save his people. What makes him so special is God’s close involvement in his life. “Behold! My Servant whom I uphold” (v 1). That word means to clutch, to grasp tightly—God is determined to preserve his servant for himself. And He’ll make sure that his Servant is able to carry out his calling, for He says, “I have put my Spirit upon him” (v 1). Through the Spirit, God’s personal presence will always go with him, to give wisdom, and strength, and courage.

You can tell that God doesn’t want his Servant to fail, because so much is depending on the work that He does. In coming verses, we’ll see just how much the Servant is expected to do. It would be far beyond the ability of any man, yet God will uphold him, equip him, and empower him so that his Servant can be faithful.

And God is also confident that He’ll be able to do it. See how in verse 1 He describes his servant as “my Elect One in whom my soul delights!” God chose him—elected him—as the critical piece of his saving plan. He is God’s choice for the job, and even before He has done anything, the Lord says that He is happy with him: He is the one in whom God delights.

This is probably a good place to pause a moment, and to think about who this Servant is. He goes ‘incognito’ in these chapters—his true identity is concealed. To us, it can seem obvious that this ‘servant’ is the Lord Jesus. For instance, it’s impossible to read Isaiah 53 and not think about Christ hanging on the cross.

But it’s not always so straightforward. In some of these passages, the servant is spoken about as a collective, a group of people—specifically, He is identified as Israel. Take Isaiah 41:8 for example, where God says, “But you, Israel, are my servant, Jacob whom I have chosen.” And much of what God says about his Servant really should’ve been true of Israel as a nation. Israel should have been a light to the Gentiles. They should have established truth and justice. They should have walked in covenant with God. But we know how Israel failed to live out their calling. It’s the same calling in which we have often failed.

So we can say that God’s Suffering Servant will embody everything that Israel should have been, but was not. Put another way, God’s Servant will do everything that we neglected to do, or everything that we could not do. He will obey God. He will walk with God. And He will pay the penalty for our disobedience.

The Servant steps in for a nation of sinners, a world of rebels—and this is what Jesus has done. We can read verse 1 then as foreshadowing Jesus’s baptism. On that day, He went into the water, the Spirit came on him, and the Father declared, “This is my well-beloved son.” An echo of verse 1: “Behold! My servant whom I uphold, my Elect One in whom my soul delights!”

In the first part of our text, it’s striking how God focuses on the character of his Servant. That’s not where we’d focus, for we emphasize action and accomplishment. What does a person do? What is he or she capable of, with various skills and talents? And such things are needed, whether you’re a teacher, a businessman, or a tradesperson. But for God, character comes first. Before getting into what Christ will do, Isaiah tells us about what He is like.

Verses 2-3 present his character with a number of negative statements or contrasts: not this, not that, but like this. “He will not cry out, nor raise his voice, nor cause his voice to be heard in the street” (v 2). In short, God’s chosen Servant won’t be noisy! ‘He will not cry out,’ or literally, not shout to startle people. He also won’t ‘raise his voice,’ trying to dominate other people by yelling at them. And He won’t make ‘his voice heard,’ keen to make sure everyone knows how great He is. His is a quiet and gentle spirit.

This sort of character is the exact opposite of how lords and leaders behaved in Judah’s time. They’d throw a parade for themselves, erect a statue, expect standing ovations. It’s how people still behave—us too. We delight in recognition, we’re quick to promote ourselves, and we might even flatten those who get in our way.

But not Christ. His conduct is different because his character is different. God’s Servant is a man of peace. He is known for a spirit of non-aggression, one who will not threaten. Instead of shouting and hollering, He makes himself known by faithful teaching and gentle speaking.

Now, there were those times when Jesus was loud and angry. Everyone thinks of the scene in the temple, overturning the tables of the moneychangers, voicing his anger. That was a righteous response in the moment, and necessary. But more telling for us—and a truer example for us—is Jesus’s character on display, year after year: patient and gracious. Matthew 11:29 is one of the only times that Jesus speaks about his own disposition, and this is what He says, “Learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”

He is a gentle Saviour, and this character means He can so effectively minister to the weak. That’s verse 3, “A bruised reed He will not break, and smoking flax He will not quench.” Reeds grow in marshes and along riverbanks. You see them swaying in the wind, so they’re weak to begin with, but now picture one, trampled and bent. A bruised reed can’t be used for any good purpose. But to the gentle Christ, nothing is useless, not even a person who is like a bruised reed. And He won’t break him, but He will help and restore.

In the same way, “a smoking flax” looks pretty doubtful. Isaiah refers here to a wick that is almost extinguished—like a waxy candle burning low, one you can put out with just a breath. But to the gentle Christ, nothing is too far gone, not even a person who is like a smouldering wick. He will not quench him, but He will give new strength and life.

How well these two pictures describe God’s people! Whether it’s Judah, or it’s the church today, this is what we’re like. We are weak. We are easily damaged, soon overwhelmed. Maybe you’ve been ‘bruised’ in this life: hard things have happened to you in the past, and they’ve left their mark. It has added difficulty to the already hard road of walking with God. Or you feel like a flickering candle, like your faith is always sputtering, struggling to stay alight, or like your zeal is often far too low. What hope do you have? Will it ever get better? Why does God even bother with someone as weak as you?

But Christ will not break the bruised reed nor quench the smoking flax. None of his believers are disposable, none are useless to him. Be sure that when you go to Christ with your troubles, He will help. Be sure that when you repent and bring your sins to him, He is gentle. Jesus showed that in practical ways during his ministry, as people came to him with their burdens. His answer, time and again, was to show mercy, to relieve pain, to offer hope.

And since that time, Jesus hasn’t changed. For verse 4 says, “He will not fail nor be discouraged.” It’s a subtle reminder that God’s chosen Servant is still a man like us, subject to same pressures we are: daily temptation, weakness, frustration. But He will not fail. He won’t burn out because of overwork, nor get discouraged. Despite the immensity of his work—dying for sinners, crushing Satan, ruling the universe—Christ will go from strength to strength. And if you trust in him, He will not let you down. For God has given him a righteous calling.


2) His righteous calling: Reading through this first of the “Servant Songs,” what would you say is his main task, Job #1? In passages to come, the focus is on suffering. But here the focus is on justice. Verse 1: “He will bring forth justice to the Gentiles.” Or verse 4: “He will not fail nor be discouraged till He has established justice in the earth.”

Justice is a very important theme in Isaiah. And that word has a range of meaning. In his earlier chapters, justice is all about treating people fairly and helping the oppressed. Here the accent is on how justice relates to truth. God’s justice means that truth is not only revealed, but truth is upheld. And that is what God’s Servant will do: He is going to bring a true message to the world about God, and who God is.

Just in the previous chapter, we got to listen to a court case. God was saying, “Present your case…Bring forth your strong reasons…that we may consider them” (41:21-22). And what was the point of this hearing? God wanted to see whether the many gods of the nations—and the gods in which Judah was trusting—whether these were gods at all. ‘Prove yourselves,’ God says, ‘Show the truth of your existence.’ And of course the gods were silent, for there is only one God.

This is what God declares in verse 8, “I am the LORD, that is my name; and my glory I will not give to another.” The truth is, other gods might imitate God, or try to resemble him in some small way, but they are fundamentally different. They are “carved images,” while God alone is living, breathing, and moving—creating, judging, and saving.

God wants the truth about himself to be known, so He sends his Servant. His Servant will make it plain, that only God is God. This is the astonishing thing about the LORD, that He is pleased to reveal himself to sinners. God’s truth isn’t something that people can search for, because we’d never find it—we’d never even look for it, but we’d be content to stay in the darkness. But God graciously chooses to unveil his truth.  

God reveals himself in many ways: through creation, in the voice of the prophets, by his law. And his greatest revelation comes through Christ, the ‘Word made flesh.’ He came to show us the Father, to tell sinners about their Creator and Judge, and about the one who would be their Saviour, if only they would believe in him. It is God’s truth which transforms the world.

Like he has already numerous times, Isaiah tells us that this gift is going to be freely available and widely accessible—to Jews and to Gentiles alike. Verse 4 says that Christ will establish justice “in the earth, and the coastlands shall wait for his law.” For the longest time, only Israel knew God’s truth. But now it will be shared to the widest extent. From Judah’s vantage point, “the coastlands” were the lands on the far side of the great sea, the remotest boundaries of earth. But to these strange and unknown peoples, Christ will bring God’s truth. Picture the gospel of salvation spreading outwards from Jerusalem into all the earth—even to us!

After all, all of creation belongs to God. Verse 5 reminds of this truth, that God “created the heavens and stretched them out…spread forth the earth and that which comes from it…gives breath to the people on it, and spirit to those who walk on it.” Everything in all creation, and everyone in creation, is the handiwork of the LORD.

And here is the implication of verse 5: since God formed all people, and gave them life and breath, his plan must include more than just Israel. Is this saving knowledge of God’s truth to be reserved for a select few, or is it for many? In his grace, and through his Son, God’s truth is for many.

This is what the LORD says to his Servant, “I will keep you and give you as a covenant to the people, as a light to the Gentiles” (v 6). It’s a fascinating way to describe Christ, that He will be a covenant. Long ago, God had made a covenant—an enduring relationship of love—with Abraham and his descendants. We are grateful that God includes us in his covenant too, and gives us the sign of covenant in baptism. But we should always acknowledge that the entire relationship would collapse without Christ. A sinner simply cannot be in a relationship with the holy God unless sin is paid for and removed.

So our only hope is in Christ. Throughout his life, Jesus showed what it really means to live in covenant with God. He loved God, obeyed God, and He loved his neighbour. Now through Christ we’re allowed to live in fellowship with God: to pray to him, to hear him, to be blessed by him and to serve him. To receive Christ is to receive all the blessings of the covenant. So cherish this gift—the gift of Christ—and make him your own!

God gives Christ as the mediator of the covenant and He sends him as “a light to the Gentiles.” Here’s a reminder that God’s grace is wider than anyone in Judah would’ve thought. The Gentiles, the pagan nations—those worshipers of idols—had long been in the dark. They did not know the truth about God and would never know it. As we said, unless God reveals himself, we’ll forever grope in the darkness: lost and confused. But God shines his light through his Servant. Think about how Jesus came and declared about himself, “I am the light of the world. He who follows me shall not walk in the darkness but have the light of life” (John 8:12).

Light is transformative—it changes and renews. When God’s Servant comes, Isaiah sees that He will undo all the suffering that sin has caused, and all its degrading effects. To live in unrepentant sin is to be blind, where you’re blind to your own misery and deserved destruction. To knowingly live in sin is to be a prisoner, where you are captive to wicked desires and in bondage to fear. To keep living in sin is to walk in the darkness.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. Christ came to bring God’s truth, to bring into your life and mine, so that light is transformed. Christ comes, verse 7 says, “to open blind eyes, to bring out prisoners from the prison, those who sit in darkness from the prison house.” So come to the light! Do not walk in the darkness. Through faith in Christ, we begin to experience healing, and freedom, and the joy of God’s light.


3) His people’s happy chorus: Isaiah has told us that God is doing something incredible for his people. He’s going to start a new age of salvation, something that far surpasses anything that had ever been seen previously. Like He says in verse 9, “New things I declare; before they spring forth I tell you of them.” Through his chosen Servant, his beloved Son, God will save a people for himself from every nation, so that they can live in relationship with him.

And what is their response? What is our response? It should be a happy chorus, a joyful hymn to God. Listen as Isaiah calls for worship. “Sing to the LORD a new song, and his praise from the ends of the earth” (v 10). In the hearts of all who know God, there should be great joy over what He has done, joy over what He will do.

“Sing a new song,” Isaiah says. In the Scriptures, a new song isn’t simply a freshly written song, something that was composed from scratch. But a new song celebrates one of God’s new works. In the Bible, a new song is always a response to a fresh display of God’s goodness, like when Moses sang a “new song” at the Red Sea, after God destroyed the Egyptians. There are “new songs” in the book of Revelation too, like when the Lamb is found worthy to open the scroll. And that is the point: God’s great saving works require his people to give him enthusiastic praise. We should be moved by his glory—moved to worship him, moved to sing to him.

This should be the daily business of our lives: praising the great name of God, and praising his Son, our Saviour. If you know Christ, you will rejoice. For He has redeemed you from sin, He has revealed to you the path of life, and He has brought you into his marvelous light! Rejoice in worship. Rejoice in prayer. Rejoice in service. Even if you have still have tears, you can rejoice. Even if much remains difficult and discouraging, you can sing a new song. For Christ fails not, and his promise is true.

And rejoicing in Christ doesn’t only happen when we gather for public worship, or when we sing at home, or sing along with a good Christian song. Rejoicing in Christ is a whole style of life, when He shapes everything we do.

For instance, our joy in Christ is seen when his character shapes our character. It is when we learn from the gentle and lowly Christ, and we ourselves become gentle and lowly—not breaking the bruised reeds among us, nor quenching the smouldering wicks. It is right that the people of Christ become like Christ. This honours him and brings his praise.

Rejoicing in Christ is seen too, when we are serious about living in covenant with God. Remember, this is what Jesus came to do: to restore us to a proper relationship with the Lord. By his righteous life and atoning death, He made it possible for us to live close to God, the incredible privilege of walking with God. So we honour Christ by embracing life in covenant with the LORD: when we speak with God, and listen to God, when we are blessed by him and when we gladly serve him.

In the last verses of our text, Isaiah calls on all creation to lift their voice and sing to God. The LORD’s renewing work has a wide reach, even transforming creation itself into a place where God can dwell again with his people. “Let them give glory to the LORD and declare his praise in the coastlands” (v 12). It is all through Christ, God’s chosen Servant and our gracious Saviour. So may we ever trust in him, rejoice in him, and seek him with our whole heart!  Amen.

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2022, Dr. Reuben Bredenhof

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