Pastor Chris Matthis
Epiphany Lutheran Church, Castle Rock, Colorado
Epiphany 2, Series A
Saturday, January 18, 2014
Sunday, January 19, 2014
Sermon: The Servant Speaks
Text: Isaiah 49:1-7
Focus: Jesus is God’s Servant who speaks his Word and perfectly carries out his will.
Function: That they would gladly hear Jesus’ Word and reflect his light to the people around them.
Locus: “We should fear and love God so that we do not despise preaching and His Word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it” (SC, 3rd Commandment).
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen. “Listen to me!” cries out the Lord’s Servant in today’s Old Testament lesson. “Listen to me, O coastlands, and give attention, you peoples from afar: the Lord called me from the womb, and from the body of my mother he named my name” (Isa. 49:1, ESV). Today’s reading from Isaiah 49 is the second of four Servant Songs, as Bible scholars call the four wonderful poems in Isaiah 40-55. The Servant of the Lord speaks for the LORD God and carries out his will. As we will soon discover, the Lord’s Servant is, in fact, the Lord Jesus himself.
But not from the start! At first God’s intent was for the entire nation of Israel to be his servant nation, reflecting his light to the pagan peoples around them and pointing them to faith in the One True God. When God called their ancestor Abraham, he blessed him to be a blessing to others. “I will bless those who bless you…, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Gen. 12:3). But things got off track, and Israel failed in its mission. Instead of pointing the nations to the Lord, they bowed down to worship their idols and false gods. Instead of loving their neighbors, they became full of conceit, considering their status as God’s chosen people to be the result of something intrinsically special about them. The Lord repeatedly sent judges and prophets to try to wake them up from their spiritual slumber. But they kept repeating their folly over and over again. Even 70 years of exile in Babylon were not enough to get them to repent and reignite the flame.
Israel failed in her mission to be “a light for the nations” (Isa. 42:6). How could they shine God’s light when they themselves were deaf and blind, as the Lord called them (42:18-19)? And so the Lord needed a new Servant: not the nation Israel (or even a new nation), but a perfect representative of the nation, Jesus the Messiah—“Israel reduced to one.”
Jesus is the Lord’s Servant. The Lord called him from his mother Mary’s womb to speak God’s Word and save his people from their sins (Isa. 49:1-2; cf. Matt. 1:20-23). The Lord made Jesus’ “mouth like a sharp sword” (Isa. 49:2; cp. Rev. 1:16; 2:12, 16). “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Heb. 4:12). And when Jesus speaks, a sword will pierce your heart too (Luke 2:35).
Throughout Isaiah 40-55, the Lord’s Servant, Jesus Christ, calls Israel—and us—to open our eyes and ears to God’s Word. “Listen to me!” the Servant says. “Hear this!”
During Jesus’ earthly ministry, he had the power to command great crowds through his preaching, teaching, and healing. But even so, the crowds often treated him more as a celebrity than the Lord’s Prophet and Servant. After Jesus’ famous feeding of the five thousand, the crowds tried to seize and make him king by force—a kind of “corn king” to keep their grumbling stomachs full (John 6:15). But when Jesus opened his mouth to speak the Word of God to them—his famous Bread of Life sermon—they turned deaf ears and melted away. “This is a hard saying,” they complained. “Who can listen to it?” (John 6:60). And so it goes with the fair-weather faithful!
Jesus’ preaching wasn’t always “successful” by earthly standards. (Aside: He would not be a good poster boy for the mega-church movement!). More often than not, people didn’t want to listen to Jesus’ teaching. They didn’t want to hear the Word of the Lord’s Servant. Instead, they wanted to gather for themselves false teachers who said what their itching ears wanted to hear—not unlike our world today (2 Tim. 4:3).
Like ancient Israel and the people of Jesus’ day, we live in a world that doesn’t want to hear what God has to say. For instance, the world does not want to hear John the Baptist’s declaration that Jesus is “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). How dare you accuse me of sin? How dare you suggest that I need a Lamb of God, a Savior, or the Lord’s Servant?
On this Life Sunday, we especially remember what God’s Word teaches about creation—that all of human life is sacred, from womb to tomb. Every person is “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Ps. 139:14). God loves everyone, including the unborn, elderly, disabled, immigrant, orphan, and widow (Deut. 10:18-19; 24:19-21; 26:12-13; Jas. 1:27). But we live in a world where might makes right, and the supposed good of the many trumps and tramples the poor, weak, and needy. In Isaiah 49, the Lord’s Servant declares: “The Lord called me from the womb, from the body of my other he named my name” (Isa. 49:1), thereby proving that God has a plan and purpose even for the unborn. Yet we in America have brutally murdered more than 55 million babies through legalized abortion since 1973. Some states (such as Oregon) have legalized euthanasia, or physician-assisted suicide, so-called “mercy killing.” What does that tell you about our own nation’s willingness to hear and obey the Word of God?
But unbelievers in the world are not the only ones who ignore and reject God’s Word. Even believers—including Christians who go to church!—despise God’s Word when we do not “hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it” as we taught in Martin Luther’s Small Catechism (SC, 3rd Commandment). We despise God’s Word when we fail to put a priority on weekly worship with our family, choosing to sleep in or go to sporting events instead. We despise God’s Word when we skip our daily devotions and do not teach Bible stories to our children. We despise God’s Word when the pastor’s sermon hits a nerve and convicts us of our sins; yet instead of repenting of our sinful attitudes and behaviors, we instead get angry and bent out of shape, turning against the preacher. We despise God’s Word whenever we do something we know we shouldn’t do, but we do it anyway because it looks fun or easy. Yes, even Christians can turn a deaf ear to God’s Word. Like ancient Israel, we too are treacherous rebels (Isa. 48:8), deaf and blind spiritually (42:18). We “swear by the name of the LORD and confess the God of Israel, but not in truth or right” (48:1).
But still the Servant of the Lord, our Lord Jesus Christ, cries out: “Listen to me, O coastlands, and give attention, you peoples from afar…” (Isa. 49:1a). Even if we don’t want to hear what Jesus has to say, he keeps on speaking. You cannot silence the Lord’s Servant! “Hear me!” he shouts. “Listen to me!” he invites. Who else would you go to? Christ alone has “the words of eternal life” (John 6:68).
The Jewish religious leaders and the Roman government tried to keep Jesus quiet. They mocked him and beat him, put him on trial in a kangaroo court, and condemned him to death as a common criminal. They nailed him to a cross, bleeding and gasping for breath. And then he died. By all accounts, Jesus’ ministry was a failure. That is why the Servant bemoans, “I have labored in vain; I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity” (Isa. 49:4). Or, as the Suffering Servant asks in Isaiah 53, “Who has believed our message…?” (Isa. 53:1). Implied answer: No one—or least very few.
But Jesus’ labor was not in vain. And his death on the cross was not a failure. For three days later God raised him from the dead and vindicated his Servant—exactly as Jesus believed he would. As the Servant confidently states in our Old Testament lesson: “Surely my right is with the LORD, and my recompense with my God” (Isa. 49:4b). Not even the grave could silence the Lord’s Servant, Jesus Christ the Son of God. Not even his death was wasted. For “he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed” (Isa. 53:5). “He poured out his soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for [us]” (Isa. 53:12). The blood Jesus bled on the cross was the price he paid for our salvation. He died and rose again to save us from our sins. Truly, he is “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).
Still he calls, still he speaks, and still he invites you to hear his Word:
“Come, everyone who thirsts,
come to the waters;
and he who has no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without price.
Why do you spend your money for that
which is not bread,
and your labor for that
which does not satisfy?
Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good,
and delight yourselves in rich food.
Incline your ear, and come to me;
hear, that your soul may live…” (Isa. 55:1-3a).
Jesus Christ is the Lord’s Servant. His words are life. They have transforming power.
God’s Word can change you and turn you into the person you were always meant to be—the person he called and formed even in your mother’s womb. By God’s grace and Spirit, we become “the servants of the Lord” (Isa. 54:17). We become a light to the nations—“the light of the world” (Matt. 5:14). So “let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven” (Matt. 5:16, NIV).
Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, the Light of the World, and the Lord’s Servant, is crying out. “Listen to me!” he says (Isa. 49:1). Will you listen? Will you hear? In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.