Isaiah: Prince of Prophets—You are my Servant, Israel
Have you ever found yourself eavesdropping on a conversation? Perhaps you were in a restaurant and in the booth behind you a couple was speaking a little loud and they were difficult to ignore. Sometime, in such situations, you hear interesting stories.
In our text for this evening, we find ourselves eavesdropping on a conversation between God the Father and God the Son. In these verses, Isaiah—writing by inspiration—records a conversation between God the Father and God the Son.
Isaiah 49 is the second of three Servant Songs recorded by the Prophet. The songs are four poems written about a certain "servant of Yahweh". God calls the servant to lead the nations, but the servant is horribly abused. The servant sacrifices himself, accepting the punishment due others. In the end, he is rewarded. Over the centuries there have been a number of interpretations as to who this servant might be.
- Some have thought that Jeremiah, who lived 100 years after Isaiah, was this servant.
- Some have thought that King Cyrus of the Persians, who let the Israelites out of captivity, was this servant.
- Some have suggested that the “Servant” was a personification for the nation of Israel. In Jesus’ day, many of Israel’s great teachers believed the nation itself to be the suffering servant of Isaiah.
- But the real answer of the servant’s identity is really much easier. Jesus, God’s Son, is the Servant that this passage speaks of.
Jesus thought he was the servant of Isaiah’s Servant Songs either quoting from or alluding to Isaiah 53:1-12 six times. The Disciples thought he was the servant of Isaiah’s Servant Songs—Peter, Paul, John, Matthew and Mark all quote from the various Servant Song Passages. The Early Church Fathers extensively quoted form the 4th Servant Song which is Isaiah 53 making it the most important text of the Old Testament.
In this passage we’ll see three thee things about this servant:
- This Servant will speak with piercing words.
- This Servant who will appear to have a failed ministry.
- This Servant’s work will extend to Israel and to all the nations of the earth
I. IMMANUEL TO HIS PEOPLE
- "Listen to me, you islands; hear this, you distant nations: Before I was born the LORD called me; from my birth he has made mention of my name. He made my mouth like a sharpened sword, in the shadow of his hand he hid me; he made me into a polished arrow and concealed me in his quiver.” (Isaiah 49:1–2, NIV84)
- the passage begins with an imperative—Listen to me, you islands; hear this, you distant nations ...
- the Servant himself commands the attention of the whole world
- it’s not merely Israel that God cares about
- he commands the attention of islands as well as distant nations
- hear this means the world must attentively listen to what the servant is about to proclaim
A. IMMANUEL’S TASK
- with missionary-like zeal, the Servant would call upon the whole world to hear what he had to say about his work
- God’s message of redemption is also for people who live far away from Israel
- the word isles in this passage is better translated coastlands and indicate all the coasts of the Mediterranean Sea; and the distant nations of the Gentiles
- thus the address includes the entire heathen world
- these were people who were far off but Immanuel’s task is to bring them near
- only after the resurrection and the Lord’s command to go into all the world did the disciples begin to understand that the Gospel message was not merely for the lost sheep of Israel
- early on, the Apostle Paul, understood this
- during his first missionary journey, Paul and Barnabas find themselves in Pisidian Antioch
- they have preached the gospel in the local synagogue and piqued the interest of the city’s Jewish populace and they ask the missionaries to return the next Sabbath to tell them more about Jesus
- word spreads and the next week almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord (Acts 13:44)
- let’s pick up the story from Acts ...
- “When the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy and talked abusively against what Paul was saying. Then Paul and Barnabas answered them boldly: “We had to speak the word of God to you first. Since you reject it and do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles. For this is what the Lord has commanded us: “ ‘I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.’” [Paul is quoting Isa. 49:6]. When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and honored the word of the Lord; and all who were appointed for eternal life believed.” (Acts 13:45–48, NIV84)
- remember when the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary?
- when people these days have babies, they spend literally hours and days trying to come up with the perfect name for their new child
- Mary didn't have to worry about that—Gabriel told Mary what God was going to name her baby even before he was born—from my birth he has made mention of my name
- the child's name would be Jesus – Why?
- because the name Jesus means Savior, and that was God's way of letting the world know that this child was his choice to save the world from sin
B. IMMANUEL’S TESTIMONY
- the primary instrument for accomplishing the work of the Servant is the spoken word
- his mouth would be like a sharp sword (cf. Matt 10:34)
- his ministry would be a polished arrow—his word will “wound men for their own good”
- as Jesus grew up, he proved with his words that he was the Son of God
- and Jesus had some powerful words to speak—He made my mouth like a sharpened sword
- in the Book of Revelation, the Apostle John has a vision of the risen Christ and in that vision he sees the Christ and out of his mouth went a sharp twoedged sword
- these visions remind us that the word of the Lord, whether spoken by his lips or recorded by the authors of the Scriptures, is powerful
- “For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.” (Hebrews 4:12–13, NIV84)
- ILLUS. Think of the paralytic, whose friends lowered him down through the roof in front of Jesus, so that Jesus could say, “Cheer up! Your sins are forgiven. Oh, and by the way, just to prove that I do have the authority to forgive your sins, why don’t you get off your mat and walk?” and the paralyzed man was healed just like that! Think of the criminal dying on the cross next to Jesus, hearing from Christ, “Today, you will be with my in paradise.” Jesus was telling that dying man that his previous life of sin didn’t matter. Jesus was on that cross to do away with sin.
II. IMMANUEL TO HIMSELF (49:4)
- "But I said, “I have labored to no purpose; I have spent my strength in vain and for nothing. Yet what is due me is in the Lord’s hand, and my reward is with my God.””/ (Isaiah 49:4, NIV84)
- as the servant surveys his work, he expresses disappointment
- the words used and the structure of the verse imply that the servant, as it were, has poured out his strength to accomplish the work God had given him, but the result is to no purpose—his work is desolation and a vapor
- as Jesus Christ ministered on earth, especially to His own people Israel, there were times when His work seemed in vain
- the religious leaders opposed Him
- the disciples did not always understand Him
- and those He helped did not always thank Him
- 34 “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!” (Luke 13:34, NIV84)
- although He is God’s eternal Son and one with the Father, yet for our redemption He humbled Himself, “being born as a man, made under the law, undergoing the miseries of this life, becoming a servant to all, experiencing the wrath of God, and the cursed death of the cross”
- the idea that Christ "emptied himself" (as Paul writes in Philippians 2) has always been difficult to grasp and may even be called one of the great mysteries of the faith
- in Gethsemane He suffered the deep anguish of grief, trembling, and fear
- He sought the companionship of His disciples; He prayed; He sweat great drops of blood
- in the days of His flesh He offered up prayers and supplications to Him who was able to save Him from death
- in verse 3, God the Father is saying to his Son, “your work is going to be magnificent. You are going to impress people with the work you are going to do”
- but then God the Son looks back on his work and says, “but I have labored to no purpose; I have spent my strength in vain and for nothing”
- in this verse, you get a sense of how low Jesus felt on Maunday Thursday
- after 3 years of preaching and doing dazzling miracles, his last 11 followers had abandoned him
- a 12th had betrayed him
- and Jesus has pleaded with his Father, “If it’s possible, please take this cup from me. But, Heavenly Father, if this is what you need me to do, then I will do it.”
- in the end, The Servant has utter confidence in God—Yet what is due me is in the Lord’s hand, and my reward is with my God
- then the first day of the week rolled around and that changed everything
III. THE FATHER TO IMMANUEL (49:3; 5–13)
- “He said to me, “You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will display my splendor.”” (Isaiah 49:3, NIV84)
- 5 And now the Lord says— he who formed me in the womb to be his servant to bring Jacob back to him and gather Israel to himself, for I am honored in the eyes of the Lord and my God has been my strength— 6 he says: “It is too small a thing for you to be my servant to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel I have kept. I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth.” 7 This is what the Lord says— the Redeemer and Holy One of Israel— to him who was despised and abhorred by the nation, to the servant of rulers: “Kings will see you and rise up, princes will see and bow down, because of the Lord, who is faithful, the Holy One of Israel, who has chosen you.” 8 This is what the Lord says: “In the time of my favor I will answer you, and in the day of salvation I will help you; I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people, to restore the land and to reassign its desolate inheritances, 9 to say to the captives, ‘Come out,’ and to those in darkness, ‘Be free!’ “They will feed beside the roads and find pasture on every barren hill. 10 They will neither hunger nor thirst, nor will the desert heat or the sun beat upon them. He who has compassion on them will guide them and lead them beside springs of water. 11 I will turn all my mountains into roads, and my highways will be raised up. 12 See, they will come from afar— some from the north, some from the west, some from the region of Aswan.” 13 Shout for joy, O heavens; rejoice, O earth; burst into song, O mountains! For the Lord comforts his people and will have compassion on his afflicted ones." Isaiah 49:5–13 (NIV84)
A. GOD WILL DISPLAY HIS GLORY THROUGH THE SERVANT
- “I will display my glory through you” (49:3)
B. GOD WILL COMMISSION HIS SERVANT TO BRING ISRAEL BACK TO HIM
- “You will redeem and restore Israel” (49:5)
- God commissions the Son to bring Israel back to him
C. GOD WILL BRING SALVATION TO THE ENDS OF THE EARTH BY HIS SERVANT
- “You will be a light to the Gentiles” (49:6)
- the Son will bring salvation to the ends of the earth
- Verse 6 has sometimes been called the Great Commission of the Old Testament
- I love this verse!
- God tells The Servant, “Ya know, as important as it is to redeem my people Israel and restore the tribes of Jacob, and to bring back the remnant of Israel, that is not a sufficiently great enough task for you. I want you to be a light unto the Gentile nations as well!”
- except for a few notable examples, our Lord could not minister to the Gentiles until first He ministered to the Jews
- these twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. 6 Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel.” (Matthew 10:5–6, NIV84)
- when our Lord returned to heaven, He left behind a believing remnant of Jews and gave them a commission, that they were to carry His work into all the world
- through the missionary work of Jesus’ earliest followers, The Servant of Isaiah became a light unto the Gentiles
- it was God's plan all along that both Jews and non-Jews would share in the salvation that Jesus would win
- no wonder aged Simeon as he held baby Jesus in his arms sang that Jesus would be "a Light to lighten the Gentiles, and the Glory of his people, Israel"
D. GOD WILL GLORIFY HIS SERVANT AND GIVE HIM A KIGDOM
- “Kings will see you and rise up, princes will see and bow down, because of the Lord, who is faithful, the Holy One of Israel, who has chosen you.” (49:7-13)
- in verses 7-13 we witness the triumph of the servant
- the Servant would be despised of men, abhorred by the nation
- rulers would look upon him with disdain as one far inferior to themselves
- yet the time would come when kings and princes would render homage to him
- this radical change of fortune would be brought about because the Holy One would be faithful to his Servant (49:7)
IV. Lessons from Isaiah 49
- Application #1—The Words of Christ are razor-sharp. They are like an arrow that cuts right through the heart
- and Christ’s words of comfort are still doing their work
- in a very real sense, we’re all hear this evening because the words of Jesus have pierced our hearts and minds and souls
- Application #2—Sometimes we all feel like failures when we struggle against a sin and think we have it beaten, only to find ourselves slipping right back into it a little while later
- sometimes we feel like a failure when we think back to a chance that we had to open up your mouth and make a difference in someone’s spiritual life, but we failed…the words you could have said came to your mind long after the conversation was over
- but you know what? You have a Savior who can identify with you
- Jesus went through the same temptations that plague you, except Jesus was without sin
- but because he experienced those temptations, he become our High Priest who can empathize with our infirmities
- Jesus reminds us to, “take heart, I have overcome the world.”
- the Servant, by his own estimation, feels like he is a failure—but he wasn’t
- and sometimes our efforts are going to seem to fail
- but you can’t be a failure if you are in Christ
- Application #3—This Servant was thinking of you as he went to the cross
- this servant was thinking of you when he gave the command, “go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation”
- this Servant Jesus is thinking of you right now, as he is in heaven directing the world for you, and as he is here with us in this place, abiding with us through his Holy Spirit in us
- it was God’s plan all along that Jesus would be your Savior too
Conclusion: I wonder what God the Father and God the Son talk together about these days. I know one thing that brings them great joy is looking back on the completed work that Jesus, the Servant has done. And the day is coming when you and I will talk to God face to face, and know for sure how happy God is to have you in his kingdom. Tonight, and for the rest of your days, you can thank God for sending this Servant Jesus to be your servant, the one who will bring you to heaven.