Servant Song

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February 10, 2019

Isaiah 49:1-13

Allen Burns

The Messiah of Israel is amazing. The descriptions of Him in Isaiah tell us that He is a great champion and ruler who reigns with perfection. The reason God reveals Him in the Scriptures is so that we get to know Him. And, in knowing Him, we welcome Him as King with worship and adoration.

There are four servant songs in Isaiah. A servant song is a portion of the Scripture in Isaiah that is specifically about the Messiah. They are poetic, which is why they are called songs. Each of them refers to the Messiah as a servant.

This Servant Song is autobiographical. The Messiah is given a voice. It is Jesus who speaks to us through the prophet Isaiah. Imagine speaking 700 years before you are born! As Jesus speaks, we will hear Him tell us of the conversation He has with God the Father. This is a remarkable passage in the Bible. Think about this. God the Son tells us what God the Father says to Him, and the conversation is relayed to us through God the Holy Spirit.

Messiah – Servant of Truth

The Messiah begins speaking by telling all people that they need to listen. He cries out, “Listen to Me, O islands, and pay attention, you peoples from afar.” He demands that all people listen to Him. Everyone all over the world needs to listen and pay attention to what He has to say.

If you are here today, and you have not paid attention to the words of the Messiah, Jesus Christ of Nazareth then you are encouraged to listen to Him. He brings words of life. He is the One who loves us with an everlasting love. Listen to Him.

The Messiah begins by saying that the Lord calls Him from the womb and that His name is given to Him by God. Jesus is called from the womb and named by God. Mary and Joseph do not give Jesus His name. God the Father names Jesus.

Joseph was engaged to Mary, and he discovers that Mary is pregnant. Joseph knows that he is not the father and he plans not to marry her.  The first chapter of the gospel of Matthew tells us that an angel of the Lord appears to Joseph in a dream. The angel tells Joseph not to be afraid to take Mary as his wife and that the Child is of the Holy Spirit. The angel tells Joseph, “She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins” (Matthew 1:20).

The Messiah continues to speak and says that God has made His mouth like a sharp sword and that He is a select arrow in God’s quiver. Swords are for battling enemies up close, and arrows are for battling enemies from a distance. We know from other passages in the Bible, such as Psalm 45 (Psalm 45:2-5), that the sword and arrows represent truth and righteousness. Many images of Christ show Him carrying the sword of God’s word, which is a sharp double-edged sword that discerns the thoughts and intents of the heart of men.

The Messiah tells us that we need to pay attention and what we need to pay attention to is who He is. God names the Messiah before He is born. God calls the Messiah to do battle against His enemies. God prepares the Messiah by making Him a sharp instrument of truth and righteousness. The Messiah is a mighty Man of battle who does the bidding of God.

Messiah – Servant of Glory

The Messiah tells us that the Lord God tells Him, “You are My Servant, Israel, in Whom I will show My glory” (Isaiah 49:3).

What is interesting is that Jesus tells us that God names Him, “Israel.” The nation of Israel is called by God to demonstrate His glory. But, Israel fails. After God raises them to be a great and powerful nation, the people of Israel become just as the surrounding nations. But God will glorify Himself.

The Messiah completes the mission that we fail. All people are born to bring glory to God, but all people fall short of God’s glory. The concern of people is to make much of themselves. They don’t live for God. They break the laws of God and fall short. But, Jesus takes our place. He accomplishes what we fail to do. When we put our faith in Jesus, we put our faith in the glory of God. We agree with God that His glory is good. Jesus completes what we fail to accomplish.

God’s glory is that He is abounding in truth. Jesus is a Servant of God’s glory when He speaks the truth. God’s glory is that He is full of lovingkindness and that He forgives iniquity, transgression, and sin. Jesus is a Servant of God’s glory when He sheds His blood for the forgiveness of sin. God’s glory is that He punishes the guilty. Jesus is a Servant of God’s glory by taking the punishment the guilty deserve when He dies on the cross. We see the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

Although Jesus obeys God in all that He does, He feels empty and ineffective (Isaiah 49:3). He says, “I have toiled in vain, I have spent My strength for nothing and vanity.” This statement is a very unusual and puzzling text. Jesus is saying that His ministry is in vain and amounts to nothing. After three years of ministering, all He accomplishes is getting crucified while His disciples are cowering in hiding. It appears on the surface that His ministry is a huge failure, from a human perspective. Remember, Jesus is human.

Here is the point we need to understand. Jesus does not put His faith in His work. Jesus puts His faith in God. Jesus trusts that God will accomplish the justice due to Him because He dedicates His life as God’s faithful Servant. Jesus faith is that His service, although it appears vain humanly speaking, will be rewarded by God the Father (Isaiah 49:4).

Jesus makes a very important statement. He places His trust in God to reward Him for His labor. Sometimes, we feel as though we are ineffective. Sometimes we feel like our labor is in vain. Jesus feels that even though He laid down His life for His Father, that His work is meaningless. We need to know that whenever we are faithful to minister for the glory of God, God will be faithful to make our labor meaningful. We may not see our success, but God will bring about His justice. We may know, as Jesus knows, that God is our reward!

Messiah – Servant to the Nations

The Messiah continues by telling us what we need to hear. Listen, and pay attention.

The Messiah says that God forms Him from the womb to be His Servant. As a Servant, He is given a job description. His job description is two-fold.

First, the Messiah is to bring back the nation of Israel and gather God’s people to God (Isaiah 49:5).

Then, the Messiah says that God said, “It is too small a thing to raise the tribes of Jacob.” In other words, doing that is not enough honor for My Servant. You deserve more, and so I am calling you to another assignment in addition to the first. God says, “I will also make you a light to the nations.” The Messiah is to bring God’s salvation to the ends of the earth (Isaiah 49:6).

Jesus receives honor and strength in the sight of the Lord. God gives the Messiah strength. God exalts Jesus and raises Him as a beacon of light. Jesus is the glory of God for all to see. Jesus is lifted on a cross as Savior. The cross is the light of the nations that reveals God’s glorious compassion and grace. Jesus shines a bright light of forgiveness of sin. Jesus, God’s Servant, does all that the Father asks.

As we read this job description, we may understand why Paul often says that God’s salvation is to the Jew first, and then the Gentile (e.g., Romans 1:16). The custom of the Apostle Paul was to enter a city and first visit the synagogue. When Paul and Barnabas are ministering in the city of Antioch, they went to the synagogue and preached the Gospel. Many of the Jews believed, but so did many Gentiles. They stayed an additional week, by invitation, and Luke tells us that nearly the whole city assembled to hear the word of the Lord. The Jews saw the crowds and were filled with jealousy and began contradicting them (Acts 13:13-45). Paul and Barnabas said,

“It was necessary that the word of God be spoken to you first; since you repudiate it and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we are turning to the Gentiles. (Acts 13:46)”

Then, they quote Isaiah 49:6, and say,

“For so the Lord has commanded us, 'I HAVE PLACED YOU AS A LIGHT FOR THE GENTILES, THAT YOU MAY BRING SALVATION TO THE END OF THE EARTH.'” When the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord; and as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed. (Act 13:47-48)

The apostles look at these verses and understand them to be the Great Commission! They use these verses as the biblical justification to tell Jews that God’s Messiah is not just for the Jews, but He is also for the Gentiles. Remember this passage whenever you have an opportunity to share the Gospel with a Jew.

Messiah – Servant of Rulers

 The Messiah tells us more about what the Lord God tells Him. What’s interesting is how the Messiah reveals what God the Father says to Him. Jesus says, “Thus says the Lord, the Redeemer of Israel and its Holy One,” and here is what is interesting, “To the despised One, to the One abhorred by the nation, to the Servant of rulers.” (Isaiah 49:7)

In other words, Jesus is calling Himself the despised, abhorred, Servant of Rulers. First, Jesus thinks of His ministry as vain and having accomplished nothing, and He sees Himself as despised and abhorred. If we didn’t know any better, we would say that Jesus is suffering from a terrible inferiority complex. He calls Himself a nobody whose work amounts to nothing.

Jews who studied the Messiah passages in the book of Isaiah, of which this is one, must have read this and scratched their heads. They likely spent hours talking to one another debating whether or not this could be the Messiah.

It’s true that humanly speaking, we could look at Jesus’ ministry and ask, “What did that rabble-rouser accomplish?” All He did was stir up trouble in the political world. His people turn against Him crying out for His execution. The Jewish and Roman leaders treated Him like a piece of trash.

But, we know better. We stand on the other side of history. We have one piece of information that helps us to know that Jesus’ ministry is not a failure, but a beautiful success. We know of the resurrection. We can read the words of the Apostle Paul which says,

Jesus, “although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus EVERY KNEE WILL BOW, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:6-11)

Because we know the words of Paul, we read the rest of Isaiah 49:7, which says:

“Kings will see and arise, princes will also bow down, because of the Lord who is faithful, the Holy One of Israel who has chosen You.”

And we may see, and enjoy, the fulfillment of this prophecy.

What a tremendous joy we have knowing that our Savior, the One who gathers the Jews and is a light to the Gentiles, has all the authority and power over every king and prince of this world and in the heavenly places. We serve a risen King, who is all-powerful. He gathers us into His bosom, and nobody has the power or authority to take us away. Those who try, will not overcome His sword or arrows. He is a mighty Conqueror and King.

Messiah – Servant of Salvation

Jesus changes the subject again. Now, He tells us of what God the Father told Him about our salvation.

The Lord said that the Messiah that He would answer and help Him in a favorable time. God’s timing is always perfect. Romans 5:6 says, “… at the right time, Christ died for the ungodly.” 

God looks at human history, and He chose the exact moment when the Messiah will be born and when He will die. He chose the exact moment that Christ will rise from the dead and ascend into heaven. And, God has chosen the perfect and right moment when the Messiah will come again. Every moment is of God’s choosing, and God’s timing is favorable.

The Lord told the Messiah that He will be a Covenant of the people (repeating Isaiah 42:6). A covenant is an agreement between two parties. In this case, Jesus is the Covenant between man and God. There is only one way to agree with God, and that is to agree with His Covenant, Jesus Christ, the Messiah of Israel.

Part of the Covenant is that the Messiah will restore the land. We’ve read many times in Isaiah how the Messiah will make deserts into lush green land. Uninhabitable desolate places will become thriving with vegetation. The Messiah will restore creation so there will no longer be thorns and thistles, but instead, there will be Cyprus and Myrtle trees (Isaiah 55:13).

The Messiah’s covenant is a covenant of guidance. Jesus is the way. He is the good Shepherd who frees His sheep from captivity and darkness. He is a guide who leads people from the dungeons of darkness and free them from the bondage of sin and death (Isaiah 49:9).

His Covenant is one of provision. He is the Good Shepherd who leads His sheep to still waters and green pastures. They will not go hungry or thirsty. All of their needs are taken care of as He guides His people to the springs of water. As Jesus says to the woman at the well, “whoever drinks of the water that He gives shall never thirst; and the water He gives is a well of water springing up to eternal life.”

The Messiah’s covenant is also one of protection. He is the Good Shepherd who makes sure His sheep are not struck down from the scorching heat or hot sun. He watches over His sheep and protects them from all threats.

Lastly, the Messiah tells us of how the Lord will make it easy for His salvation. There is no work. If there is a mountain in the way, the Lord will move the mountain and make it a roadway. Where there is challenging terrain, the Lord will raise a highway. There will be no obstacle which God will not remove. The Messiah’s way of salvation is easy and light. All that is needed is for people to put their faith and trust in the Lord’s Servant of salvation. We believe, and Jesus gets the glory.

God is building His highway to holiness all across the earth. There are no people restricted. People will come from afar so that the Messiah will have people of every tribe and tongue worshipping before Him and praising His name.

Respond with Worship and Joy!

MAIN IDEA: Rejoice, for the Lord’s Servant, is compassionate and comforting toward us.

Our Savior, God’s Servant, is amazing. The reason we read and study the Scriptures is so that we get to know Him. And, in knowing Him, we come to worship and adore Him. Does knowing these truths about the Servant of the Lord increase your love for Him?

Do you love the Servant who is a Servant of truth? In this world of lies and deceptions, who can we not love Him who only speaks words of righteousness and truth? He is a cool and refreshing drink in a desert of deception and lies.

Do you love Him who is a Servant of God’s glory? The Lord’s Servant shows us the greatness of God’s compassion and grace. He demonstrates the love of God by laying down His life so we may have forgiveness for our sins. Do you love the one who understands what it is like to feel like He fails? He feels like us in our frailty. He feels like working for God’s glory does not always seem to be successful, but is vanity and nothing. He is tempted like we are tempted.

Do you love Him who is a Servant to the Nations? He shows no prejudice or favor. He loves all people of every tribe and every nation. His love shows no boundaries. He loves both Jew and Gentile. The sign over His door reads, “all are welcome to receive forgiveness.”

Do you love Him who is abhorred and despised? Do you love Him who knows our pain and suffering? He understands what it is like to be rejected by the popular crowd. He knows what it is like to have shame, to be called names, and to be pronounced guilty of something He did not do. Do you love the man of sorrows who left the praise, glory, and adoration of sitting on a throne in heaven just so He could be abhorred, despised, rejected, suffer, and die in our place? He is the Servant willing to get to the place where He cries out to the Father, “why have you forsaken Me?”

Do you love Him who is the Good Shepherd? Who lays down His life for His sheep? Of course, you do! How can we not love such a Messiah!

We are people who are afflicted in this world. We are afflicted with sin, suffering, shame, guilt, pain, sickness, and death. We need a great and mighty champion. We need someone who loves our soul and saves us from our afflictions.

Shout for joy, O heavens! And rejoice, O earth!
Break forth into joyful shouting, O mountains!
For the Lord has comforted His people
And will have compassion on His afflicted. (Isaiah 49:13)