Matthew 12:15-21 – The Servant of the Lord

Jesus the Liberator
Jesus the Liberator by Argentine artist Adolfo Perez Esquivel

Aware of this, Jesus withdrew from that place. A large crowd followed him, and he healed all who were ill. He warned them not to tell others about him. This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah:

“Here is my servant whom I have chosen,
the one I love, in whom I delight;
I will put my Spirit on him,
and he will proclaim justice to the nations.
He will not quarrel or cry out;
no one will hear his voice in the streets.
A bruised reed he will not break,
and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out,
till he has brought justice through to victory.
    In his name the nations will put their hope.” (NIV)

It is important to say the words, “I love you.” It is also significant how we say it. If our tone of voice is monotone and our affect flat, then the incongruent words of love will go unrequited. If, however, our tone is soothing and excited and our face beaming as if starstruck, then the love expressed will likely be received and stick.

Christians have a message of love to the world; it is a message of Jesus Christ and his love for humanity. Both the content of our message and the way we communicate it are vitally significant. For if the words we speak are grotesquely mismatched with our tone of voice and affect, then love is not what we convey. Yet, if we have been profoundly and meaningfully touched by the love of God in Christ, then that love cannot be constrained and will find a way to express itself with appropriate mannerisms.

Both the message of Jesus, and the way he proclaimed it, testified that he was, indeed, the promised Savior and the rightful King for God’s world.

The message of Jesus was to proclaim justice to the nations. The disciple Matthew used a quote from the prophet Isaiah to explain the reason why Jesus withdrew, and told people not to make him known.  This was a curious act for a Messiah, to say the least.  After all, we might believe Jesus should loudly proclaim who he is and what he is doing. Human ingenuity might say he should be advancing, not retreating – getting his name out with some notoriety in a slick marketing message so people will come running into the kingdom of God!

Nope, Jesus goes a different direction. Matthew quoted the prophet Isaiah to make it clear who Jesus is and what he is all about. Jesus is God’s servant. Jesus is God’s beloved Son with whom he is well-pleased. The Holy Spirit came on him in his baptism. Jesus became a teacher of justice to the nations, that is, to all kinds of people – even the ones we do not like.

I personally find it strange that there are folks who seem to think justice is something which is not part of the Gospel, as if it were nice, but optional.  However much they believe it is important to engage in some sort of social justice toward the downtrodden, some believers want to put it on a secondary shelf that bends to the primary initiative of speaking, as if we could or should separate the message from the messenger. However, we can no more divide the good news of forgiveness in Christ from social justice any more than can neatly separate the cross and resurrection. It is all redeeming work, and it all goes together.

Matthew’s Gospel of Jesus Christ emphasizes the kingdom of God. The Sovereign of the universe desires all things and all people to be redeemed and come under the Lordship of Christ with the practice of justice as central to making redemption a reality for humanity.

“And what does the LORD require of you?  To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8, NIV)

Mercy and justice go together like corn on the cob and butter, and like pork ribs with barbeque sauce (okay, so I’m from Iowa).  Mercy is God’s unconditional grace and compassion.  Justice is treating all people with equality without favoritism. Biblical justice is not primarily punishment for wrongdoing; it is to give people their rights – and this concept is overwhelmingly taught in the Scriptures, over 200 times in the Old Testament alone. Christ’s back to the Bible movement rightly emphasized justice.

God loves and defends the weak, the poor, and the powerless:

He gives justice to the oppressed
and food to the hungry.
The Lord frees the prisoners.
The Lord opens the eyes of the blind.
The Lord lifts up those who are weighed down.
The Lord loves the godly.
The Lord protects the foreigners among us.
He cares for the orphans and widows,
but he frustrates the plans of the wicked. (Psalm 146:7-9, NLT)

We, as God’s people, are to share his passion for justice:

Speak out on behalf of the voiceless,
and for the rights of all who are vulnerable. (Proverbs 31:8, CEB)

“Cursed is anyone who obstructs the legal rights of immigrants, orphans, or widows.”  All the people will reply: “We agree!” (Deuteronomy 27:19, CEB)

Since believers are justified by faith in Christ, we must in both word and deed bring justice to our communities by advocating for the least, the lost, the last, and anyone else without social or economic power in this world.

If we have a voice, we must use it both for ourselves and for those who have no voice.  The voice of justice is the voice of action.  To be concerned for the justice of God is to actively work for the kingdom of God to enter every inch of this world, and every nook and cranny of our homes, neighborhoods, and schools.

The Christian life is much more than avoiding sin; it is about actively pursuing God’s will through words and acts of justice on behalf of the needy.  Jesus came to this earth to proclaim justice, and, as his followers, he expects us to do it, too. For this to happen we must overcome our own prejudices toward anybody unlike us so that we will stand with the weak, the poor, the oppressed, the lowly, and the hurting among us.

The probing question for all of us is: Am I able to see the image of God in someone different from me?

Jesus did. The quote referencing that Jesus “will not quarrel or cry out; no one will hear his voice” is referring to the way of Christ – gentle, humble, and meek.  Jesus did not look for dramatic confrontations with others but instead went quietly about his Father’s business.  Jesus was not bullhorn guy, who loudly proclaimed his message on the street corner.  He interacted with and ministered to the lowliest people of society who had no power and nothing to give in return. Jesus did everything to connect with them and not avoid them.

Along the Jordan River in Israel, reeds grew by the millions in Jesus’ day.  They were of little value because there were so many.  Reeds were used to make baskets, pens, flutes, and a variety of other things.  A perfect reed is fragile, and a bruised one is useless.  When the text says that God’s servant will not break a bruised reed, it means that he will treat the weak with sensitivity.  A smoldering wick is also not worth much; if it is damaged, we would just get another one.  A contemporary example might be a paper clip; it is not worth much to us, and a damaged one we would just discard and get another.  The point is that Jesus handles hurting people with care. Society’s poor, disadvantaged, and struggling will not be callously overlooked and tossed aside by Jesus.

Jesus Christ discovered his own island of misfit toys and demonstrated to the world that they were a needed part of society. Small wonder, then, that droves of the lowliest people throughout history have come to Jesus, placing their hope in him.

“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet was without sin.  Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” (Hebrews 4:15-16, NIV)

My hope is in the name of Lord who made heaven and earth. May you also find Christ as your anchor and hope in the world.

Holy Father, you have given all peoples one common origin. It is your will that they be gathered as one family in yourself. Fill the hearts of humanity with the fire of your love and the desire to ensure justice for all. Through sharing your goodness, may we secure equality for all our brothers and sisters throughout the world. May there be an end to division, hatred, and war. May there be a dawning of a truly human society built on love and peace. We ask this in the name of Jesus, our Lord. Amen.

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