God’s Song About Being a Servant: Reflections on Isaiah 42:1-9

Let Us Pray:

The voice of the Lord is over the waters.
The God of glory thunders.
The voice of the Lord is powerful.
The voice of the Lord is full of majesty. – from Psalm 29

The Affiliation of Today’s Scriptures

In all three of today’s suggested scriptural readings, Psalm 29, Matthew3: 3-17, and Isaiah 42:1-9, the voice of God sounds clearly and directly forth.  In these readings God has much to say about servants and what a good servant does in pleasing Him.

This is the Sunday of the year when the Church celebrates the baptism of Jesus and the usual reading is from Matthew 3. Most of us know that story all too well – Jesus goes out to the Jordan River seeking baptism by John; John humbly resists that request; Jesus insists; John relents, Jesus is baptized, and upon emerging from the water sees the spirit of God descending and hears God proclaim, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”

It (is) natural to wonder at this point what makes God so delighted with Jesus specifically in reference to Jesus’ baptism. Matthew doesn’t say and neither does Mark or Luke, who use the same narrative virtually verbatim. In each, Jesus’ next stop is the wilderness and a date with the devil.

In reality, by his baptism, Jesus has crossed a line. He has moved from a beloved child to delightful servant. To God somehow Baptism and service are interconnected.

What pleases God about Jesus is that Jesus has taken steps to be the kind of servant God enjoys the most. But what type is that? Sometimes the Bible uses phrases to reference and redirect us. Using another scripture, we understand this scripture better. There is a literal key, that phrase about God being pleased, which shows up in each of the three gospels and which echoes, directly, words from Isaiah and likely Micah. The answer is found in Isaiah 42 and that is why we are turning to his words today.

Isaiah and the Songs of the Servant

2nd Isaiah contains four servant songs: 49:1-13 tells of the servant learning of the enormity of his call; 50:1-11 has the servant communicating his trust to God; 52:13 -53:12 expresses the initial humiliation and subsequent exaltation of the servant; while 42:1-9, the first song, the one read today, speaks of what God appreciates most in a servant. God tells us there are three things that the best servants do that please him.

  • They do justice.
  • They love mercy.
  • They act humbly

Doing Justice

Three times (v.1, 3, and4) we are told the servant acts to set everything right. The servant brings forth justice among nations and on earth and will not cease, tire, or quit until that work is finished.

Justice to God is much more than a legal correction; that procedural process of applying proper and unbiased remedies to legal issues and factors, suits and trials. Justice to God involves distributive justice – that sharing of resources and responsibilities in a non-legal context.

This is a justice that facilitates the growth of a happy and fulfilled society with a better life and a better world for all. Injustice to God is more than just some political or social dysfunction. At heart, injustice is a spiritual evil that serves to deny God’s goodness. Injustice is families living under bridges, children encaged, poor with no health care, people with only filthy water to drink. And injustice is 100,000 animals burning to death daily in Australia, while leaders pretend the climate hasn’t changed. Injustice is harm to God’s creatures and His creation.

God’s good servant does justice. He or she acts and reacts with deeds. No sitting on one’s hands bemoaning the state of things. Jesus acts. He got up and went to the Jordan when he wanted baptism. If you want to please God, do justice.

Loving Mercy

He won’t brush aside the bruised and the hurt.
He won’t disregard the small and the insignificant.
A bruised reed he will not break (New International Version)
A dimly burning wick he will not quench. (New International Version)

Can you envision Jesus cupping his hands around a dimming flame to save it? Imagine that flame is your life. Being kind, being merciful is simply protecting what is weak until it is strong enough to stand. Loving mercy is taking responsibility for something and keeping it safe just as God does for us (v.6)

Yes, one can love mercy and not do justice. That is perfectly possible, but one cannot do real justice without loving mercy and kindness. Look at the kindness Jesus showed to John ‘just let it be so for now.’  If you want to please God, love mercy.

Being Humble

He won’t call attention to what he does.
He makes no loud speeches.
He won’t stage spectacular parades.
He won’t jump and shout and scream and yell.
He won’t promote himself.
He won’t take advantage of others.

The way of our world is so often to do just the opposite. But, that way is not the way of Jesus. Jesus’ way is to serve quietly with little fanfare and no hoopla. We are encouraged to go into a closet alone to pray. People are amazed that the prayers of this congregation are so often answered. This is a local example of humility. The prayer team members are largely unknown, even to each other. The person being prayed for has no idea who is praying for them. Persistent prayer goes only to and through God. This congregation is replete with servants doing the deepest mercies without notice or acclaim. Humility: Jesus insisting on baptism by a Godly person, but none-the-less, an inferior. If you want to please God, act humbly.

Those are some of the things symbolized by a dove – the enlightenment of justice, gentleness of mercy, and the welcome of humility; as well as being a harbinger of a new world order.

That’s what God needs delightful servants for – ones hungry for justice, ones guided by mercy and kindness, ones reverent in respect, and ones persistent in mission — servants hearing with their hearts and responding with their lives. And God’s delight has much to do with the real meaning of baptism. It is there when the commitment begins.

When we accept baptism, when we enter into that covenant, when we make those promises – just like Jesus, we cross a line.

On one side of that line, we can accept God or not, we are free to deal with him on our own terms. We can evade him, ignore him, or tell him to leave us alone. We can focus exclusively on our strengths and desires and needs. We can take pride in ourselves and claim survival without any help.

On the other side of that line, we promise to be like Jesus because God is like Jesus. We humble ourselves. We place all our hope in God. We check our own responsibility for injustice and hurt and strive to do justice and to heal. We grow to love kindness and welcome the sacrifices necessary to bring real meaning to the making of mercy.

This pleases God because He calls us to live right and well and this is how He wants us to do it. He is responsible and He will keep us safe. And He will love us until we “get it.”

We will become the lighthouse to the others he has always intended us to be –

Bringing others out of the darkness.

Opening blind eyes to God’s glory.

Releasing our desperate brothers and sisters from their own inflicted or self-created dungeons.

God is pleased, delighted, jubilant, joyous, elated, and happy, when we step over that line and follow Jesus forward, step by step, day by day, in this life and into the everlasting life He’s created for us. Amen