Monday, December 01, 2014

Longing a little more acutely

My church happens to be observing Advent for the first time this year. And so on Sunday mornings and Wednesday nights between now and Christmas our worship services will be themed around the events of the birth of Jesus. We really want to prepare ourselves to celebrate Christmas well. We want to look forward to the birth of Jesus at Christmas. We want to slow down and meditate on Jesus this season. Otherwise the month of November can be a roller coaster of shopping and traveling before Christmas and New Year’s. We want to slow down and study Jesus so that we can learn to long for him just like Simeon did in Luke 2.

Coinciding with that, I’ve had the privilege to teach a series in my small group. We have kind of the same goal—we want to prepare ourselves to look forward to the coming of Christ.

Today, I’d like to look very briefly at the Servant in Isaiah 42. I want to observe the character of his mission and see how that has been fulfilled and how it will yet be brought to completion when Jesus returns again.

Let’s read Isaiah 42.1-9.
[1] Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my Spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations. [2] He will not cry aloud or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street; [3] a bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice. [4] He will not grow faint or be discouraged till he has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands wait for his law.

[5] Thus 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, [7] to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness. [8] I am the LORD; that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to carved idols. [9] Behold, the former things have come to pass, and new things I now declare; before they spring forth I tell you of them.”
I want to make a few observations about what this text is teaching us about the ministry of Jesus Christ. I imagine all of you believe that the servant Isaiah is talking about referrers to Jesus. But just in case, We can build a case by looking at Isaiah 7, where Isaiah says “a virgin will conceive and bear a child, and call his name Immanuel.” Or we can look at Isaiah 9 where he announces “unto us a child is born, to us a son is given. His name shall be called wonderful counselor. Almighty God, Everlasting Father. Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end.”

If that’s not convincing, look ahead a few chapters to Isaiah 53:
Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53:4-6 ESV)
More could be said about this, but I don’t think it’s really controversial among us here that Jesus is the fulfillment of the servant Isaiah is writing about. So with that in mind. What does Isaiah say here in chapter 42 about the functions or the duties of the servant of the Lord?

First, in verse one, “He will bring forth justice to the nations.” Again in verse four, “He will not grow faint or be discouraged till he has established justice in the earth.”

Second, he will open blind eyes and set prisoners free. You can see that in verses 6-7.

Third, he will be gentle with his people, as you can see in verse 3. He won’t break the bruised reed. He won’t put out the faintly burning wick.

There may be more in this passage, but let’s limit ourselves to these for now. How has Jesus already fulfilled these promises? We know he finished his work once-and-for-all on the cross. He sat down at the right hand of the Father. It’s finished, he said.

How has he already brought justice? On the cross, Jesus punished all of the sins he had forgiven in the past or will forgive in the future. Romans 3 said that cross justifies God’s own patience and forbearance. God is a just God. But he passes over sins. How could God forgive the sins of Moses or Abraham? Because of the Cross. All sin is ultimately confronted in the cross, and for believers in Jesus their sin and guilt is imputed to Christ on the cross. So the cross is the ultimate justice-bringing event. God judges wickedness and evil right there. He pronounces the sentence and carries it out.

How has he already set prisoners free, and opened the eyes of the blind? Again, It’s not too difficult to make the connection. For those of us in Christ, we’ve been set free from bondage to sin. We don’t have to sin anymore. That’s what John is getting at in 1John 2 “My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin.” Or Paul in Romans 8 “Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2 For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death.”

But what about now? We can look around us and see a lot of injustice in the world. Consider recent events in Ferguson. While most police officers are regular people who are fighting for justice, no matter what you think about the particular situation in Furguson, it's true that police discrimination is a real phenomenon; that’s real injustice. And on the other side, looting and robbery are also breaches of justice. Changing the illustration a bit, just look at the family circumstances of so many of the children we serve right here at FBCH. We still see evidence of injustice in the world.

What about prisoners? We’ve prayed for Pastor Saeed Abedini and others like him. He's still in prison. What about people who are in prison justly? What about people who are in spiritually imprisoned and spiritually blind? So many people around us still experience this.

What about now? The truth is Christ has finished his work on the cross. He made propitiation for our sins and those of people who will trust him. That’s done. But Jesus promised us he will return. When he does, this is what we know: “In Christ all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.” (Colossians 1:19-20).

In the meantime, Isaiah tells us that Jesus will be gentle with his people. He will not break the bruised reed. He will not quench the smoldering wick. God is working out all things ultimately for the benefit of his people, often in ways we can’t see in the moment. But he shepherds us through it. He gives us his Word. He gives us one another. He won’t break his struggling children. He promises this.

As we leave this morning and go to our work, what can we do? First we can long and pray for Christ’s return. He’s going to come back. And all the brokenness in the world around us will be fixed. Can you believe that? Second, we can dedicate ourselves to our work here—proclaiming good news to the poor, in that sense. Pray. Seek out justice. Proclaim the good news. Thank God for what he’s already done in you. And in the spirit of Advent, maybe we can feel the longing for his return a little more acutely.

Date: 1 December 2014
Text: Isaiah 42.1-9
Location: FBCH
Event: Office Devotions

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