"Behold, this is my servant!" - so begins this urgent, wondrous call of God Himself in the mouth of the prophet, the text for today's 1st Sunday after Epiphany.
The Servant of God - The Light of the World Isaiah 42:1-9.
1 “Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him, and he will bring justice to the nations.
2 He will not shout or cry out, or raise his voice in the streets.
3 A bruised reed he will not break, and a smouldering wick he will not snuff out. In faithfulness he will bring forth justice;
4 he will not falter or be discouraged till he establishes justice on earth. In his teaching the islands will put their hope.”
5 This is what God the Lord says - the Creator of the heavens, who stretches them out, who spreads out the earth with all that springs from it, who gives breath to its people, and life to those who walk on it:
6 “I, the Lord, have called you in righteousness; I will take hold of your hand. I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people and a light for the Gentiles,
7 to open eyes that are blind, to free captives from prison and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness.
8 “I am the Lord; that is my name! I will not yield my glory to another or my praise to idols.
9 See, the former things have taken place, and new things I declare; before they spring into being I announce them to you.”
This passage belongs to the book of Second Isaiah and is one of the so-called Servant of God songs.
The people had long suffered under the captivity and oppression of the Babylonians. For many decades, many Israelites had to live in foreign lands and poverty reigned in Israel. Many villages and cities, including Jerusalem with the temple, had been destroyed. The people lay on the ground. And most of those who lived now had nothing to do with the disaster that had befallen the people. It was decades ago and they were born later. They had to suffer: Poverty, injustice, no rights - and all through no fault of their own. Where was there peace and justice for them, a living space where they could develop in peace?
Much of this sounds familiar and still occurs today. The world news, which is communicated to us daily, especially through the media, sometimes brings us positive and beautiful news, but even more often heavy, sad and dark events from all over the world. In them we can perceive the longing of many people to be saved from various situations of oppression and violence. A look at the history of mankind shows that this longing for liberation belongs to all epochs of human history.
Now the Israelites receive this promise of God through the prophet. Here the servant of God is spoken of. Who is meant by the servant of God? Who is supposed to do this on behalf of God?
Many commentators have tried to identify the person of the servant with the prophet who served as God's mouthpiece here, or the whole people of God, or a future Messiah.
I think that this question is not so important, but what is decisive is who is acting here:
God himself is up to something. He has a plan. He wants to do something!
The servant of God is the one who makes himself available to implement God's plan of salvation with this world.
At that time, this was the people of Israel or individual people among the people. That was Jesus as the perfect servant of God and that can be us today, as Christians who make ourselves available to God. We can discover in the Bible God's plan of salvation for the people of Israel and for all mankind: God Himself does everything to restore salvation after people have turned away from God, gone their own ways and thus brought disaster into the world.
It is interesting how this servant of God, works as an instrument of God. It is said of him here:
"He will not cry out nor shout, and his voice will not be heard in the streets."
He is not a ruler who decrees righteous living by loud shouts; who loudly announces that righteousness will now be done and that he will enforce it; nor one who shouts out the complaint of injustice in the world, but he is the one who will simply live righteousness. He will do it. He will give love, help people, gives equal value to everyone.
He will not destroy the smouldering wick, he will not break the staff over people, not over us and not over others. Where there is still a little hope, he will preserve it, and where there is still a little longing, he will save it, even in the most evil person.
So people will experience that with all injustice in the world, with God there is justice and peace, rest for the bitterly disappointed soul.
This will be so until God will establish justice in a perfect way, until there is no more injustice on earth. God Himself will intervene and do that.
God knows the injustice suffered and God will act. God will make everything new. That is the message of Isaiah. This gave hope to the people of Israel in the midst of the destroyed land, in the midst of suffering the injustice of this world. Jesus says about himself: I did not come to judge, but to save. Wherever people come into contact with him, they will find justice and peace with him.
This can give hope to anyone who longs for justice and peace, even if this longing only glows a little and hopelessness and despair seem to win.
He never tires, never loses heart, until he has brought justice to the whole earth. Even the inhabitants of the islands and the distant coasts are waiting for his instruction.
This sermon text is about extensive promises to the nations even as far as the islands. This refers to the most distant places that the author could imagine. With the islands, so to speak, the ends of the earth are meant. The writer is not sitting in Palestine with a view of the Mediterranean Sea, which seems endless at that time. But he is sitting in Babylon, where a large part of the Judean population was taken after the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple in the 6th century before the Christian era.
The LORD God created the heavens and stretched them out like a canopy. He formed the earth in all its vastness, he made the plants sprout, and he gave life and breath to mankind. And now he says to his servant: "I, the LORD, have called you to carry out my righteous plans. I will take you by the hand and help you; I will protect you." People of God, you are chosen. With God you are baptized! God has preserved you; He holds you; and has promised to continue to hold you in His own hands, even when sin overwhelms and surrounds us.
It is the Lord who takes us by the hand and holds us and surrounds us with his love
The prophet Isaiah uses an image here that touches us very deeply in our hearts: God holds us by the hand, just as parents hold their child by the hand, accompany it through life and protect it as long as that is possible. Children hold each other by the hand, and lovers do the same. This archetype of trust strengthens us and gives us strength. We can trust in the love of God and his support every day anew, and so we can go through life with confidence.
Through you I make a covenant with people, yes, for all peoples I make you a light that shows them the way to me. We in this congregation are a part of the peoples to whom the light of the servant has come. The ear of the servant is awakened anew each morning so that we in turn may pass on to others the light we have received from our Creator. Opening the blind eyes - This is equivalent to saying that he would give instruction to those who were ignorant. He would introduce them to God and to the way of salvation. The state of the world is often portrayed as darkness and blindness.
To bring the prisoners out of prison. This obviously refers to spiritual deliverance, although the language is derived from deliverance from a prison. It means that he would save those who were trapped in spiritual darkness by sin; and that their deliverance from the bondage and darkness of sin would be as wonderful as if a prisoner were suddenly released from a dark cell.
In verse 8 God says, "I am the Lord"- .Here he addresses the people and assures them that he is the only true God, and that he will not suffer the praise due him to be given to another or to a carved image. It is a name given only to the true God and is used throughout the Bible to distinguish Him from all others. I will not allow another to take or receive the honour due to me.
In the midst of a broken and fear-filled world, God sends us as servants of promise, as light into a dark world, to save those trapped by the powers of sin and evil.
The prophet succeeds in emphasizing the close connection between God's omnipotence and grace, yet a new beginning is possible for the exiled and for us.
In our text, the prophet encourages people to finally embrace the new, to dare the new ways, trusting in the God who has saved before and will now give rise to brand new life again. Just as he helped in the past, he will help again now. The new is basically already there, it is just not yet visible. -
Let us trust what we feel when God shows us something new! Let us go on his ways!