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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:Introducing the world-changing Servant of the LORD
Text:Isaiah 49:1-13 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Our Salvation

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 27:1,2                                                                                       

Ps 43:3,5                                                                                                        

Reading – Isaiah 49:1-13

Ps 65:1,4

Sermon – Isaiah 49:1-13

Ps 67:1,2,3

Hy 46:1,2,3,4

* 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, time and again Isaiah brings Genesis to our minds—Genesis, that amazing book of beginnings. Like in Isaiah 44, where God calls himself, ‘The First and the Last,’ for God is the one who existed before all things and who called everything into being. Or chapter 40, where God recalls the story of how He measured the waters in his hand, stretched out the heavens like a tent, and weighed the hills in a balance. Isaiah loves to show the impressive glory of the Creator.

This focus on God as world-creator leads to a closely related theme: God as world-saviour. For the splendid works of God have been deeply scarred by sin. Everyone is now born in hostility against God, so everyone deserves his condemnation. As for creation itself, the physical world, it too is fractured and groaning—so far from the Paradise of God. So God is working on restoration, unfolding his plan to renew creation, top to bottom. And He’ll renew his people—more than just Israel, but sinners from all nations.

You can’t set back the clock. There will be no return to Genesis and to Paradise. But in God’s power and wisdom, there will be something even better. And God will do this through his chosen Servant, Jesus Christ, whom God sends as the force for world change.

It is the Servant of God who gets introduced in our chapter. We’ve met him before, in chapter 42. Now we learn more about him and about the broad scope of his work. He is not sent merely to get Judah out of exile. No, God is going to make a lasting salvation possible for all people, and take steps toward the re-creation of all things. He will do so through the world-changing Christ. I preach God’s Word to you from Isaiah 49:1-13,

Introducing the world-changing Servant of the LORD:

  1. where is He from?
  2. what does He do?
  3. where does He go?
  4. how is He welcomed?


1) where is He from? From the first words, it’s clear that God is working on something big. For in verse 1, God’s Servant announces, “Listen, O coastlands, to me, and take heed, you peoples from afar!” Notice that He’s putting out a broadcast far and wide, even to islands and distant nations. There’s a whole world out there, waiting to hear the truth about God—needing to hear his message about redemption.

How do you react when someone comes with big news, an unexpected announcement? If you know the person well, you probably accept their word. But if you don’t know them, you want to see some credentials. Who are they, and where did they pick up this information? God’s Servant knows this, so He tells us where He’s from. Verse 1: “The LORD has called me from the womb; from the womb of my mother He has made mention of my name.” He shares a bit of biography to help us accept him.

First, God “called” him. In the Bible, being “called” is being assigned by God to a certain position and task. And the Servant’s call came early, even before He was born. Already then, God set him apart. This is no last-minute plan, but God has been working on it for ages.

That reference to his mother’s womb, to the Servant’s parents, makes us think of at least two things. One is the previous prophecy in Isaiah 7:14, “The virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall his name Immanuel.” From the most unlikely place—an impossible place: the virgin’s womb—will come the world’s Saviour.

And that in turn brings to mind the very first prophecy of world restoration. Yes, in Genesis God gave his word that the seed of the woman would crush the head of the serpent (Gen 3:15). It was a woman who’d have a key role: God was going to use her to bring forth the Christ. Set apart already in the womb, this Servant will have a vital mission, a huge task.

Now, sometimes the work that God gives to us seems impossible. Just to be a faithful friend, just to be a godly husband or wife, a good neighbour—that’s hard. But there’s great encouragement in God’s promise that He’ll always supply what is needed for us to serve him. Whatever the task He lays on you, He will powerfully help you to do. But you need to trust in him for this. It’s been said, ‘God doesn’t call the equipped, He equips the called.’ God is always looking for those who will depend on him.

We see the same thing at work in God’s Servant. The LORD called him, gave him a massive assignment, but then made him ready too. This is what Christ says of God’s equipping, “He has made my mouth like a sharp sword; in the shadow of his hand He has hidden me, and made me a polished shaft; in his quiver He has hidden me” (v 2). God got him ready, gave him everything for the mission ahead.

And it sounds like Christ is being prepared for battle—sword, shaft, quiver. But not for any conventional battle, not against flesh and blood, but against the spiritual forces of evil that have for so long ruined this world.

Christ is being prepared for a war of the Word. “He has made my mouth like a sharp sword.” In more places in Scripture, God compares his Word to a sword. Think of the armour of God passage in Ephesians 6, about taking up “the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God.” Christ’s mouth will be a sharp sword, effective and exact. And as an arrow, He will be polished, rubbed smooth so that it can fly accurately. His words will always be on target.

We’re already getting into what the Servant does, but for now, notice how his work is prophetic. He will announce good news, saying that there is a Saviour for sinners, and the Lord is on his throne. By Christ’s preaching He will change the world, telling people about the way back to God. Christ’s words are sharp and polished, and do not return to him empty. But that means we’ve got to listen. Like a sword, his words are dangerous, cutting both ways: if you listen to Christ, you live; if you refuse his words, you will die.

A final thing about who this servant is and where He’s from. In verse 3 God says to him, “You are my servant, O Israel, in whom I will be glorified.” That’s confusing. All along we’ve been referring to the Servant as Christ, so how can God now refer to him as Israel? And the next verses say that the servant’s job will be to restore Israel—surely she cannot restore herself! This shows something vital about God’s Servant. He is called ‘Israel’ because He is going to live up to everything Israel failed to do.

For Israel was meant to be God’s Servant—just as we all were meant to be. That’s what God created us for in the beginning, to happily do his will and live for his glory. We didn’t live up to that calling, but we fell into sin. And though God chose Israel as his special people, they also didn’t live up to their calling. So what is God to do? Either give up on having anyone at all to serve and worship him, or make a new beginning.

And because God is gracious, He starts again. His Servant, Christ, will embody everything that Israel should have been. Christ came to do everything we neglected to do, or everything that we could not do. He will obey God. He will walk with God. He will glorify God. And by his work, He’ll restore God’s image bearers, and restore God’s good creation.


2) what does He do? In this time, Judah was in trouble at this time and looking for help. Who could protect them from the Assyrians? Not Egypt, nor any other ally. So the exile will happen and it will continue until a surprising helper arrives on the scene. Surprising, because it would be King Cyrus of Persia. You can read about him in Isaiah 45, this strong king who smashes thrones and who cuts bars of iron. It would be Cyrus who (one day) sets Judah free from her long captivity.

And Cyrus is just what an earthly saviour always looks like: powerful, aggressive, wealthy. But God is keeping another helper in reserve. He’ll restore Judah in the way that really matters, in their relationship with him. He will bring sinners back to God! If the exile ended seventy years down the track, but they were still living as the enemies of the LORD, what would be the gain? They’d still be utterly lost.

That’s something always true about our circumstances here on earth. We need to know that there is nothing more important than living at peace with God, being in a right relationship with him. It’s infinitely more critical than whatever troubles we have in our life. And yet we can become fixated on our present trials: difficulties with friends, work stress, money problems, even health concerns. These are very real and pressing, no question.

But even if you solved all these issues, finally found a place of peace—well, first of all, it wouldn’t last. Our earthly tranquility is always passing. And second, you’ve forgotten your greatest trouble: Do you have peace with God? The way you’re living today, are you right with your Maker? Trusting God and serving Christ? If you’re not, then you might have everything you want, but there is no gain. You’re still lost.

The good news is that God sent his Servant to find us, and to put right all the necessary things. He came to preach the saving Word of the Lord’s grace. That’s the good news. But the challenge is that God’s Servant is a servant. He’s not a Cyrus of Persia, strong and noble. He’s not someone you’d quickly call up for help with your biggest problem, because He’s meek and mild. Chapter 42 said that Christ doesn’t cry out, nor raise his voice, nor break the bruised reed.

Therefore, many will despise him. Christ came to his own, but his own did not receive him. This is what leads him to say in verse 4: “I have laboured in vain, I have spent my strength for nothing and in vain.” He sounds discouraged, though in the verse just previous, He was buoyed with confidence, speaking of how God had set him apart and equipped him. But now this: “I have laboured in vain.” The Servant spent all his strength for God but hasn’t seen any good results. Verse 7 continues in that theme: the Servant is the one “whom man despises…him whom the nation abhors.” It seems that it’s all been a waste.

He certainly isn’t the first servant of God to despair. Think of Moses, so hurt by the sin of the Israelites. Or Elijah, despairing that he was the only faithful one. But maybe we expect more from this special servant. What’s the reason for his frustration?

That story doesn’t get told in our passage. But we can think of chapters 52-53, which is all about this same Servant, described as a “man of sorrows,” one who suffers oppression and affliction for sin. To that climax the Servant’s life is building, how He will suffer and pour out his soul to death. On those final days of his life, there were moments when Christ’s work must have seemed in vain.

But God will uphold his servant. Christ here confesses in hope, “Yet surely my just reward is with the LORD, and my work with my God” (v 4). God will bring something good out of his Servant’s humiliation.

As God says in verse 8, “I will preserve you and give you as a covenant to the people, to restore the earth.” God says that Christ will be a covenant. For our covenant with God would be nothing at all without Christ. A sinner simply cannot be close to the holy God unless sin is paid for. So our only hope is in Christ. Through him we’re allowed to live in fellowship with God: to talk to God, to hear God’s voice in his Word, to be blessed by him and to serve him.

This is what Christ does. And in our passage, there’s so many other ways of describing the Servant’s work—too many to explore in detail. I’ll briefly mention some of them.

-Verse 5: Christ is God’s Servant “to bring Jacob back to him, so that Israel is gathered to him.” Those who wander afar—even Jacob and Israel, so stubborn in their unfaithfulness, and you and me, often so determined to forget God—Christ brings back, reconciling sinners to our Maker.

-Verse 8: Christ comes “to restore the earth.” The whole world is fractured and groaning, but God’s saving plan is grand and wide. Through his work on the cross, Christ restores the earth!

-Verse 9: Christ comes that He “may say to the prisoners, ‘Go forth,’ to those who are in darkness, ‘Show yourselves.” The pleasure of sin often promises an escape, but in reality, it puts us in shackles and darkens our life. But Christ shines light and sets us free.

-Verse 9: Through Christ’s ministry, the redeemed “shall feed along the roads, and their pastures shall be on all desolate heights.” He is our Good Shepherd, to feed his flock, to bring us to “springs of water” (v 10), to lead us in safety all our days.

God sends his Servant, and what does He do? In short, Christ rebuilds the covenant. He reconciles enemies. He restores the earth. He sets the prisoners free. He shepherds his flock in peace and goodness. And He does one more thing: He builds roads!

That’s the Servant’s task in verse 11: “I will make each of my mountains a road, and my highways shall be elevated.” In Isaiah, highways are concrete symbols of peace. They stand for the removal of distance, the blessed reunion of those who were in hostility. We used to be far from God—much farther from him than we ever realized. But you can journey back to him through Christ. A mountain which seemed impassable can now be approached with confidence, because Christ makes it into a road: ‘every valley lifted up, every hill brought low.’ He is the way to God, the only road back to our Creator.


3) where does He go? Missionaries always need a clear idea of where he’s being sent. What country and what region will he go to? What people will he work among? No one wants to start his work with only a vague idea of destination and audience.

So for Christ. Where will He go as God’s Servant, God’s preacher of the good news? He will go to the nations. The work starts with Israel, of course. God’s covenant people had fallen far and needed lifting up. Christ will work to restore Israel, but not them alone. Listen to what God says to Christ in verse 6, “It is too small a thing that you should be my Servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob.” There will be a greater task for God’s servant, a far larger work.

God has ambitious plans for his Servant. His saving work will reach even to the Gentile nations. God says to him, “I will also give you as a light to the Gentiles, that you should be my salvation to the ends of the earth” (v 6).

In the Scriptures, light is a rich metaphor, used in many ways. Light signifies hope, true relief, a lifting of our state of gloom. God says that his light shines when people come to know the saving ways of the Lord. “God is my light and my salvation,” David sings in Psalm 27:1. And so it will be that the Gentiles too, see the light of Christ. As Isaiah announces to the nations in 60:1, “Arise, shine; for your light has come. And the glory of the LORD is risen upon you.” Finally, the world’s darkness will pass away with the coming of Christ.

If you think about it, this was another of the ways in which Israel had failed: they didn’t let their light shine. No, they didn’t send missionaries or distribute translated Scriptures to their neighbours. They weren’t meant to. But the whole reason for Israel’s existence was to put God’s glory on display. Consider where God placed his people: right at the cross-roads of the Middle East, nations to the south, to the north, and across the seas and deserts around them. How different they were supposed to be, and as a holy people what interest they should’ve drawn! Israel should’ve been a light to the nations but failed. They hid their light, they dulled it to barely a glimmer. They gave the nations opportunity to scorn God instead of to praise him.

So in this regard too, Christ came as the true Israel, the true light. He came to do what they did not, shine as a light of God’s grace to all the world. Because this is the LORD’s intent, and it always has been. God is not willing for any to perish, but for all to come to repentance and a knowledge of the truth. He wants to put right the whole world living in rebellion against him, reconciling sinners to himself. Not all will come, but all may come, because Christ’s blood is enough. To save only Israel is too small a project—his cross brings salvation to the very ends of the earth!

And when Christ saves sinners, his redeemed people become what we were meant to be: ‘a light to the nations.’ We come to share in the mission of Christ: He is a prophet, and we are prophets. He is the light of the world, and we are the light of the world—a lampstand not to be hidden but to give light to all.

We have something to share with the people who live on our street. We have a light to shine for our colleagues at work. There’s a world-changing truth that we can broadcast through our deeds, and witness to by our words. Maybe we’re a lot like Israel, and content to dim the light. Keep it low lest we attract attention. But because Christ is the light, then we are the light—and that is how ought to live.

Couldn’t we put it this way? It is ‘too small a thing’ that Christ should be preached only in established congregations, like ours. The amazing work that He did is too great to be talked about only among us, behind our walls and doors. He gives such riches, reconciling sinners to God, setting captives free, shepherding his flock, paving a road to glory. Not for Jews only, but for Gentiles too. Not for us only, but for the people of this world. Not all will come, but they may come, because Christ’s blood is enough. May God give you and me more courage to shine our light.


4) how is He welcomed? Such a great Saviour is worthy of great praise. It is only right that He is worshiped for all his marvelous works. This is what is happening in verse 7: “Kings shall see and arise, princes also shall worship.” The presidents who mocked God’s Servant, the prime ministers who despised him—these will change their tune and give him praise. One day, all will recognize the true glory of Christ. He is the Saviour! He comforts his people and has mercy on the afflicted.

And one day, the praise will be universal. Listen to verse 13: “Sing, O heavens! Be joyful, O earth! And break out in singing, O mountains!” This is a great cheer for a mission accomplished, for Christ’s work completed. And it’s clearly more than just Israel lifting up their voice, but all of God’s creation and so many peoples, “from afar…from north and west.” The heavens will sing, the earth, the mountains, for God is going to recreate it all (Isa 65:17).

This is how God’s world-changing Servant is welcomed: with honour and adoration, with humble praise and reverent worship. This is how Christ will be received on the last day, for God has said so. But this makes us think about how we welcome the Christ. How do you respond to the world-changing, heart-renewing, creation-restoring Servant of God? What is the only right way to receive Christ the Saviour?

If you have seen his great love, then love him. If you have experienced his steadfast mercy, then trust him. If you have heard his voice, then obey him. If you have received his light, then shine his light. If you have been changed by his Spirit, then praise and worship him, today and every day!  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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