The Servant, The Spirit, The Mission: Missions Sunday
Topic: Sermon Passage: Isaiah 42:1–42:9, Luke 4:16–4:21, Acts 1:8
The Servant, The Spirit, The Mission
The first passage I want us to look at is one of the great Servant Songs of Isaiah. Isaiah was writing around 700BC - thousands of years ago. But no one could accuse Isaiah of being stuck in the past. Instead, he had this incredible vision for the future - and it’s a vision of how God is going to turn around the mess of the world.
So we’re going to look at the first Servant Song.
Reading: Isaiah 42:1-9.
This week I was chatting to a young Syrian Kurd. And aged 17, he left his family and fled Syria to avoid conscription in the army, and went for safety to Iraq, and then Turkey, and now, 7 years later, and having not seen his family for years, he’s studying here in Europe. And I asked him ‘where feels like home for you?’ And his reply was, ‘I’m a human being, the world is my home.’
Now, for very different reasons, just like him you might think of yourself as a global citizen. And yet, however much you’ve travelled, however many countries you’ve made a home in, none of us have the view of the world that God describes here. Look at v5: ‘Thus says 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.’
So whilst you and I are citizens of the world - he’s the creator. You breath in the world’s air, but he makes the air, and gives you breath. And not just you, everyone on the face of the planet. You can stand on some mountain peak somewhere and the view takes your breath away - but he made the peak you’re standing on. The world and all that’s in it is his. And maybe, with all the issues of climate change, you see humanity, maybe even yourself, as a custodian of earth - but he’s the owner.
But then look at v8. “I am the Lord; that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to carved idols.” Now, if you were given an essay question and asked, ‘what’s wrong with the world?’ you’d eventually have to answer by saying - our pursuit of power, and dominating others, or our desire for more wealth, and getting at the expense of others, or our pursuit of personal freedom, and trampling on others. In other words, what’s wrong with the world is what we most value, to use Isaiah’s words - what we glory in, what we worship. And when that’s screwy, the world is screwy. And so the answer to our problems is not more power or money or freedom, it’s getting what we worship right.
And it’s in that context of a world that’s God’s, but that has run after idols, and is broken as a result, that God speaks of his Servant as the answer.
And look what he says of him. Verse 1, “I have put my Spirit upon him.” So he’s going to be filled with the Spirit, and, as a result, “he will bring forth justice to the nations.” And that word justice keeps getting repeated. Verse 3, “he will faithfully bring forth justice.” Verse 4, “He will not grow faint or be discouraged till he has established justice in the earth.” So, if God promised that through Abraham’s seed, all nations on earth would be blessed, here he promises that through his Servant all nations on earth - a world that desperately needs justice - will experience God’s justice - his rule and reign, his kingdom - breaking in.
And v2, “He will not cry aloud or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street.” We live in an age where we’re told to assert ourselves, but the Servant of the Lord is not going to be self assertive or shout others down. He’s not going to establish God’s kingdom by railroading people. In fact, v3, “A bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench.” The abused, the hurting and the marginalised will be hurt no more - in fact, under his rule, in his kingdom, they’ll thrive.
And v4 again, “he won’t grow faint or be discouraged.” Maybe you look at the world or our political leaders and it’s deeply discouraging. Maybe our mission partners see the size of the task ahead of them and the financial, or legal, or international problems they face, and there are times when they feel discouraged. But this Servant of the Lord won’t faint, he’ll never quit, until the good and just rule and reign of God is established. And so v4 says that ‘the coastlands’ - far flung foreign lands - ‘wait for his law.’
And then in v6-7, God speaks about the kind of impact this Servant is going to have: v6, “I will give you as a covenant for the people.” Now, notice what he doesn’t say. He doesn’t say, ‘I will get you to bring the people into covenant with me’. He says, ‘I will give you as a covenant for the people.’ That the Servant himself will be the covenant, the intimate relationship of faithful love between God and his people.
And, God will give him as “a light to the nations, to open eyes that are blind.” And, v7, he’s going to “bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness.” Now imagine someone chained in a dark dungeon. And who has been there so long his eyes have long gone blind. He couldn’t see anything if he wanted to. And that is how God sees us, how he sees the nations, the world. How he sees a humanity running after and glorying in idols. And his Servant he says is going to come and break their chains and lead them out and heal their blindness and be their light.
So who is the Servant?
Well, that’s the second passage I want us to look at. You see, Jesus comes back from being tempted in the wilderness, a picture if ever there was one of the mess we have made of the world, and Luke tells us that he returned ‘in the power of the Spirit’ to his home area. And we pick the story up in Luke 4:16.
Reading: Luke 4:16-21
And so Jesus claims Isaiah 61, which he reads here, as speaking of him, and Isaiah 42, which it draws from, as speaking of him. In other words, Jesus is saying, I’m the Servant of the Lord. And the Spirit of the Lord is upon me. And it’s through me that God’s justice, his kingdom comes. It’s through me that captives are set free and the blind see.
And so how does God rescue a world that’s imprisoned by its idols? By sending his Son into the world as his Servant. And the Creator came as one like us, limited in time and space, rooted to a place, Nazareth. And at the cross, he became the bruised reed that was broken. And the light of his candle was snuffed out, as he bore the punishment for our sins, for all our running after idols. But it was there, in his cross and then his resurrection, that he takes a pair of giant bolt cutters and breaks the chains that bind us. And those shackles that keep us bound to wanting more power, or wealth, or freedom, for ourselves, thinking that’s what life is, he snaps. And in the light of his life and death and resurrection - in the light of Christ, their hold is gone.
And all that might be good enough. But that’s not the end of the work of the Spirit, or the Servant, or the kingdom and justice of God.
Look at our third Scripture: Acts 1:6-8. It’s in the days after Jesus’ resurrection, and the disciples come to Jesus and ask him, ‘“Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel? He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”’
And so the Father sent the Son as the Servant, full of his Spirit, to set captives free. And now the Father and the Son send the Spirit to empower his people, you and me. And the Spirit sends us out into the world, to bear witness to all that God has done and is doing in Christ. To see more captives set free.
You see, in a revolution, when the people rise up against their oppressive masters, what’s one of the first things they do? They storm the prisons to set free all the political prisoners, all those their oppressors have held captive. And that’s what Christ has done. He has set us free so that we can give ourselves to his work of setting others free - to see their lives transformed by the breaking in of God’s kingdom - his justice.
The one question is, how could you be involved? Maybe walk around the tables and ask the Lord to lay on your heart one organisation you could adopt and commit to pray for? - like Open Doors and the persecuted and the spread of the gospel in Iran. You may not be able to go there, but you can pray for those who do. Or consider reviewing your finances and either start to, or increase your giving to Christ’s mission. That might mean starting to give to Westlake, or taking on your own Bible Translation project through the Seed Company. And think about how you can be physically involved. Maybe that means chatting to Vanessa about working with Porte d’éspoire and reaching out to the women on the street in Lausanne, or working among the migrants with CABES, or those of you on campus, think - how can you work creatively with GBEU to reach more students with the gospel. Or maybe in your work place it means beginning each day consciously asking the Lord for opportunities to befriend someone.
However you do it - in your praying and giving and going we can - in fact, we’ve got to be part of Christ’s work to see his kingdom come and his will be done. That’s God’s plan for the world, let’s make it ours for our lives.