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This sermon was preached on Sunday 02/09/01 Am, by Kevin Matthews.
Read Isaiah 49:1-6
This morning we turn to the second of the four ĎServant Songsí of Isaiah, as recorded in Isaiah 49:1-6. Previously we have considered the first in Isaiah 42:1-7, that of the chosen Servant of God, elected and set apart for His role from before the foundation of the world. Who else could bring sinners into a right relationship with God, in which they would be free of condemnation and able to stand fast in a position of acceptance with God, in full accordance with all the just demands of God, apart from this Chosen One? This was a deliverance that would stretch around the world, setting free those captives who had long sat imprisoned in the chains of darkness and spiritual death, that they might enjoy the blessings of salvation to which they were predestined in the eternal purpose of God. Who is this Deliverer you ask? We identified Him as Jesus, in accordance with the Scriptures own witness in Matthew 12:15-21.
This particular passage we are considering today in Isaiah 49, is set after a series of chapters dealing with the deliverance of Judah from the Babylonian exile. This deliverance would be accomplished through another servant of Jehovah, but there is an important contrast to be seen here, for this physical deliverer would not see himself as the servant of the Almighty God. Rather he would be seeking to establish his own kingdom, that of the Persian Empire, yet he would be through the eternal, immutable, sovereign decree and providence of God, Godís servant in bringing Judah back to Palestine. This Cyrus, the king of the Medes and Persians, would be Godís instrumental means for bringing the people back to their land, thus being the unwitting servant of God.
But now we come to a passage that tells of another Servant, One who would indeed know that He was the Servant of God, and that He was the Deliverer of His people, and that from eternity. One who would willingly embark on a mission of saving a people who were given Him by the Father. This Servant would be a far greater Deliverer than Cyrus, for He deliverers from a far greater enemy, that great enemy of the soul, even sin.
'Listen, O isles, unto me; and hearken, ye people, from far (Isaiah 49:1a)'
Listen to Me! This Servant speaks with absolute authority. The people of the coastlands or the Mediterranean coastal areas, and the people from all the distant places of the world, are commanded by the Servant of God to listen to what He has to say. He has a message for the nations of the world, and to this they are to listen to it.
But they are to do more than just listen, for they are also to heed the message of the Servant. The people of the world are to be attentive to the Servant of God, to take heed to what He has to say, and to act upon it.
I want to tell you this morning, all you who are gathered here and all that are listening to the tape; the Servant of God is speaking to you, so listen up! The Chosen One is speaking to you this morning. He leaves this message not just with the religious people of Judah and Australia, but with all people of the whole world, including you this morning. It matters not whether you are religious or not, for He speaks to each one of you. You are to hear this message, for it comes to you from the sovereign Lord with whom you have to do. He is speaking to you, so you would do well to listen and to hear.
But donít just listen as a curious bystander, for you also need to take heed to this message. The Servant calls upon you this morning to be attentive to the Word, to listen to the Word, and to act upon the Word, so be careful how you hear this morning, for it is to you personally that I speak. Indeed it is not just I who speak to you this morning, for it is God that is speaking to you my friend - do you hear His voice through the Word this morning? Ready yourself for His message, and prepare yourself to act, for this is the response that He requires of you!
'The LORD hath called me from the womb; from the bowels of my mother hath he made mention of my name (Is 49:1b).'
The work of the Servant of God would be the purpose of His whole life here on earth, for from His motherís womb He had been set apart for this great work of salvation. Clearly the Servant of God is one individual and not the physical nation of Israel, as some may think from a superficial reading of verse 3, where the Servant says, 'And said unto me, Thou art my servant, O Israel, in whom I will be glorified (Is 49:3).' This Servant comes from the one mother, being called from the very womb of His mother to Divine Servanthood. The office of Godís Servant had been His from eternity in the purpose of God, His Name being set down as the Servant of God from before His birth. Listen to the witness of God from before His birth, setting Him apart from the womb for His role, declaring to the world the purpose of Jesus' coming to the place of men.
' Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise: When as his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost. Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing to make her a publick example, was minded to put her away privily. But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost. And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins. Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us (Mt 1:18-23).'
This was to be His role upon the earth, a role for which God commissioned Him. He is the Lordís Chosen One, His Elect One, in whom God delights. He hasnít come under His own agenda but Godís! It is His job to save the elect, ĎHis people from their sin,í in order to fulfil Godís decree of salvation. Notice how the Servant of God is prepared and made ready for His mission.
'And he hath made my mouth like a sharp sword; in the shadow of his hand hath he hid me, and made me a polished shaft; in his quiver hath he hid me (Is 49:2).'
Until the right time was reached the Servant of God was held back, as an arrow in a quiver ready for use, and as a sword in the hand made ready for battle. He was as a polished shaft, made ready with the greatest of care for His mission. This Servant would come forth in the fullness of time, fully equipped for His role in the salvation of God. He would be shot forth through the bow of the providence of God with the greatest of accuracy, as a carefully prepared arrow destined for the day of battle is finally fired and finds its mark. He comes forth from God and finds the very bullseye at which He was aimed.
The words of the Servant were fully prepared beforehand, as ready as a sharpened sword, indeed 'For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart (Heb 4:12).' When the Servant speaks, the sword of His Word cuts to the heart and into the very consciences of those to whom He speaks. They are words that find their mark every time, that expose the truth of every matter, and that leave the one struck, open and bare before God.
It was so of all who heard Him, even of those who rose up to cut Him down in their vain attempt to silence their accusing consciences, and also in those who acknowledged their sin and need of Christ. Each one knew that what the Servant spoke was true and an accurate assessment of their state.
And so it is for you all here this morning, who have heard the Words of the Servant of God cutting in to your very own hearts and consciences. Your rebellion is exposed before Him, and He speaks with the greatest accuracy of your sin and state, of your fearful and trembling minds before the truth, of your inner motives and thoughts that are laid bare before Him who sees it all, and of your vain attempts to hide and not be noticed among the religious of the world by hiding your hypocrisy among an appearance with the godly congregation.
You cannot and will not escape the sword of Godís Servant, even His very Words, for they will pursue you across the plains, down into the deepest valleys and over the highest mountains of your life continually, and in the end they will cut you down forever when you appear before Him to hear His final Words concerning your case. They are as a sharp sword, a language that you have never known or met with before and never will again, except at the sound of His voice. They come and you melt before them, and you know your time is short and your end sure.
Yet for those who have acknowledged His Words as true, and who have not sought a way of escape from His presence, His Words have become unto you the savour of life, and that everlasting. To you the devastating effects of His Words that have cut to the innermost recesses of your being, you have welcomed with open arms, and they have left you clinging to His Person and work for mercy, and you have found Him to be willing and able to save you to the uttermost. To you, the Words that cut deeper than any metal sword were the best Words you have ever heard, and have caused you to rejoice forevermore. What a joy it has been to hear the Words of the Servant of God, for they sent you on your way to claiming the salvation of God through He who wielded the sword of His Word.
'And said unto me, Thou art my servant, O Israel, in whom I will be glorified (is 49:3).'
As I have previously said, this verse is obviously not referring to the physical nation of Israel, for the passage is speaking quite clearly of one individual, who is identified from Isaiah 42 and Matthew 12 as Jesus. Why is He here identified as Israel then? If it be Jesus that is spoken of, why is He called Israel?
Remember that He is called forth by God to do His bidding, as the nation of Israel was called to do, yet there is far more than this in the thought here, far more indeed. The Father speaks of Him in the sense of the true Israel of God, and not that of the physical Israel at all, that is of the spiritual Israel. The New Testament constantly refers to the true Israel of God as those who are truly justified by faith in Christ, a people now identified as the church, as the spiritual Body of Christ, and having Christ as its Head. In this sense then, the Servant of God is the Head of the spiritual Israel of God, a spiritual nation in whom God will be forever glorified. So in this passage, the Servant of God is identified as the Representative of this spiritual nation, as the Head of this people, and as the central figure of this people.
Jesus is the One who brings the salvation of God to the elect, and through whom the spiritual Israel is brought into being. This spiritual nation is in Him; He is that nation, for it is all centralised in Him. The Servant of God then, is Israel in that sense. Therefore through Him, the church brings glory to God.
You who are the true Israel of God, chosen in Christ Jesus your Head, are those that bring glory to God. You are among those to whom the Servant of God was sent, in order to bring you into the Body of Christ, that you would take your place as a member of spiritual Israel and under the Headship of Christ. Do you see your privileged position this morning, that through the mission of the Servant of God you are now a member of the spiritual Israel of God, over whom is the Christ as Head?
Yet this was not always the case, at least not in the external appearance, for when the Servant laboured here upon the earth, there was little reward for His labour. It appeared as though His mission was of little value, as though He had failed in His quest to establish His Kingdom in the hearts of men. Listen to His Words as He makes mention of His earthly mission.
'Then I said, I have laboured in vain, I have spent my strength for nought, and in vain (Is 49:4a)'
Here you hear the Servant speaking to the Father. At the end of His earthly labour He was rejected of men and lightly esteemed. He had worked hard, growing weary in all that He had worked at. But what was it for? Surely He had laboured in vain? Surely His work was for nothing? What did He have to show for His labour? Surely it was a time of fruitless toil?
Is this what you see when you look upon the work of Jesus Christ? Well, the answer is both yes and no. It did appear that His earthly ministry was for nothing, for at the end He had a handful of doubting and weak disciples, who would rather flee than stand with Him. Then you also see Him dying the death of a Roman criminal, strung up on a cross for the world to mock His claims of divinity and His ability to render salvation to men. You see a nation rejecting Him, to whom the promises of His coming were given.
Perhaps this is all you see in His work this morning? Perhaps this is your axe to grind against the Christians here in this place? But what does the Servant say in conclusion, as to the success of His earthly mission?
'yet surely my judgment is with the LORD, and my work with my God (Is 49:4b).'
Though there is every appearance of vanity and fruitlessness about His work, He is yet supremely confident in the Father. He knows that His work has not been in vain, for God will yet show forth to all the fruit and success of His earthly mission. ĎWhat I have sought to achieve is in Godís hands, He will be the judge of it, and He will use it to accomplish His eternal electing purpose. It may, and indeed does appear as nothing, yet He will use it to accomplish the salvation of God.í
Is His work nothing people? Was it all in vain? Think about this, for you have the benefit of hindsight here. Look back on the history of this planet over the course of the last 2000 years and answer me - was it all in vain? Did He fail?
What does God think about all of this? Is He happy with the success of His Servantís mission? What does He say about it? Well the Servant will soon tell us what He says.
'And now, saith the LORD that formed me from the womb to be his servant, to bring Jacob again to him, Though Israel be not gathered, yet shall I be glorious in the eyes of the LORD, and my God shall be my strength (Is 49:5).'
We are waiting to hear what the Father thinks of His Servantís work upon the earth, but before we do, we get this parenthetical introduction to the Words of the Father by the Servant of God. ĎRemember everyone Who it is we are waiting to hear from, for it is He who formed Me in order to do this work of salvation, it is He who commissioned Me to bring back the perishing ones of Israel, it is He in whose eyes I am destined to be glorious, and it is He who has in fact given Me the ability to perform His work of salvation. What will this One think of My work? Have I been successful, given all this?í
Can there be any doubt of the success of the Servantís work? You doubters and you mockers, what think you now? God has called Him and God has enabled Him, so is His work vanity? Does it look insignificant and pointless now? Does it seem foolishness and ridiculous to you in the light of that knowledge?
Can it not be an accomplished work when God is at its helm? Surely, even to ask the question is to answer it! This is the salvation of God people; He is the One who is putting its pieces together. It has not been left to man, or to the seeming dictates of human history, but to God. It will be, and is being accomplished for the elect. Hear what God says to His Servant.
'And he said, It is a light thing that thou shouldest be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved of Israel: I will also give thee for a light to the Gentiles, that thou mayest be my salvation unto the end of the earth (Is 49:6).'
Not only is His work a success in bringing back those of physical Israel who are also part of spiritual Israel, but it is such a successful work that the Father throws open the floodgates of His mission in order to include the Gentiles also. The great work of saving the elect Jews is as nothing for the Servant of God. As great a work as it indeed is, it is as nothing for Jesus.
Is it a great work to raise up the spiritually dead of Israel? Not for Jesus, for He is the Source of all Life. His commission is extended to not only bring the elect Jews into the possession of spiritual life, but also the elect Gentiles. Yes you mockers of God and you slanderers of Christianity, Ďthis pathetic Jesus who died on the Roman cross,í has indeed brought the salvation of God to bear on this world of lost sinners. People are now being saved the world over because of this foolishness at the cross.
There are Jews in Israel who are responding to the truth of the Gospel, for a great Light has dawned on them, their darkness being taken away by the Spirit of Christ that they might perceive the truth and seek after Christ by faith. There are also Gentiles throughout the whole world, who though steeped in the darkest of heathen and pagan thought, have seen a great light, and who are now turning to Christ by faith. Their darkened understandings has been removed, and what was once foolishness and a stumbling block to these people, is now the power of God to salvation for those who believe.
Jesus is the salvation of God to the ends of the earth, and people the world over are flowing into the church of God because of Jesus and His seemingly fruitless and pointless earthly mission. What seemed a fiasco is clearly demonstrated the world over as the greatest accomplishment in the history of the universe. The salvation of God has been accomplished by His Servant, and now it is being applied to elect sinners the world over.
Will you continue to ridicule the Lordís Christ and Servant? Or will you too heed the message of the suffering Servant of God, and find in Him a way of escape from the domination, guilt and judgment upon sin? The Servant is Godís salvation to the ends of the world, and it is offered freely to you this morning. All you need do is enter in upon the way of salvation by faith in the Servant of God.
We have not yet explained the entire nature of this salvation as wrought by the Servant of God, but the Servant songs are reaching their crescendo as we move toward the final song of Isaiah 53. Soon all will be revealed, yet the way is already open. It is the way of faith in the finished work of Christ, as has been explained many times from this pulpit and in Bible studies at NRBC.
Will you come by this way, to a kingdom prepared for you, or will you continue to mock and despise the salvation of God offered so freely to you? Soon will be the time of His final Words to you, what will they be?
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