Summary: The servant who labours under the burden placed upon him.
Being involved in gospel ministry is the GREATEST thing you can do with your life. There will be days when you say to yourself, ‘Praise the Lord! I love making an ETERNAL difference in the lives of people! I love TEACHING Bible lessons to the kids. I love SINGING in the choir. I love helping out in the church. I love WITNESSING to my neighbours and friends with the gospel of Jesus Christ! I love it, I love it, I love it’!
And then again, you’re going to have days when you say to yourself, ‘What the HECK am I doing? My FRIENDS give me a hard time. I don’t get any RESPECT. I get asked QUESTIONS I cannot answer. People won’t SPEAK to me because I am Christian. The LORD is asking for too much of me’.
Ministry can be tough and overwhelming. And this is true for the servant who we meet in Isaiah.
This morning we are CONTINUING our studies from the servant songs. We are looking at these songs because they HELP us to understand Jesus. Now it’s IMPORTANT that we not only explain the songs, but we extend our radar into the whole book. For the ministry of the servant fits into God’s plan to REDEEM and restore this sin-ridden world.
To this end, the Book of Isaiah falls neatly into TWO sections (slide). The FIRST section (chapters 1 to 39), addresses Israel’s continuing sin and rebellion. The HEARTS of the people are so hardened that nothing will turn them, and so the PROPHET brings a message of judgment and exile. The old, earthly Jerusalem is condemned—‘They have forsaken the Lord; they have spurned the Holy One of Israel and turned their backs on him’ (Isaiah 1:4b).
The SECOND part of the book (chapters 40 to 66) opens with words of consolation. ‘Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed, that her sin has been paid for’ (Isaiah 40:1–2). Isaiah CLOSES with the emergence of the New Jerusalem. A place of undefiled worship. A place where God is eternally glorified.
From the old Jerusalem to the new Jerusalem—from the old creation to the new creation—this is the concern of the Book of Isaiah.
I hope you are concerned about moving from the old creation to the new creation. In fact I hope you are feeling a little UNCOMFORTABLE because you will not understand the treasurers in this book unless you are living in some DISCOMFORT. You will NOT appreciate these servant songs unless you think of yourself as a REFUGEE in this world.
Every good thing we have is a GIFT from God. But those same gifts risk becoming our IDOLS. Israel succumbed to idol worship. They became self-centred and inward looking. They carried on as though GOD tolerated their forgetfulness. They FORGOT the covenant. They FORGOT to be disciple-making disciples. They FORGOT that heaven is their home. They FORGOT to be a people belonging to God. They FORGOT to declare the praises of him who called them out of darkness into his wonderful light.
But God does not forget his promises. So he forcefully PULLED away all that Israel treasured so dearly. He sent the nation into exile. In the 6th century B.C. the TEMPLE was destroyed and the land lay in ruins. God sent the Babylonians to overthrow Judah and Jerusalem because they had FORSAKEN the Lord.
It’s NOT surprising that when all is taken away our RELATIONSHIP with God comes clearly into focus. The UGANDAN church lives in a constant state of almost everything taken away. And their reliance upon God to provide their NEEDS is staggering. But some churches even tell us that POSSESSIONS are a sign that God is with us. But it was not until Israel was stripped of everything did they realise their UTTER dependence upon God—and that he is not to be mocked and disregarded.
So God’s punishment turns into an EXPRESSION of his mercy. The exile pushed Israel to see clearly again. Israel realised that WITHOUT relationship with God they are sadly impoverished. When we’ve got nothing, when we’re poor and desperate, the FUTURE matters. Can you hear the echoes of Jesus? ‘BLESSED are the poor in spirit; BLESSED are those who mourn; BLESSED are the meek and those who hunger and thirst for righteousness’.
I want you to be POOR in spirit. I want you to MOURN. I want you to HUNGER and thirst for righteousness because you do not belong to this world. The Apostle Peter describes all God’s elect as ‘strangers in this world’ (1 Pet 1:1, 2:11).
We need to hear these servant songs as STRANGERS in this world. And if you are so comfortable that you cannot do that, then PERHAPS you need to make yourself a little less comfortable. We are not home. The new creation is still to come, and the SERVANT will get us there. This servant is NOT Moses and he is NOT Cyrus. He is hand picked for the job. God reveals his hand in Isaiah 42. ‘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’ (Isaiah 42:1).