A Humvee With Mittens
Preached by Pastor Benjamin Vrbicek
If you have been around the Bible for a while, you might know that some people consider the book of Romans in the New Testament to be, well, a Michelangelo of Theology – rich and beautiful and complex and dense and glorious and full of grace and truth and something that has stood the tests of time.
I’ve heard some pastors say regarding preaching through the book of Romans that a man should be over the age of 50 before he begins preaching through the book. Jason and I don’t think that is necessarily true, but it does affirm something helpful, namely, that in the book of Romans something special is taking place, the gospel is on display in a powerful way.
And if that’s true of Romans in the New Testament, then I would say that the book of Isaiah is the “Romans of the Old Testament” – rich and beautiful and complex and dense and glorious and full of grace and truth, a place where the gospel is on display in a powerful way.
I may not be a preacher over the age of 50, but that’s okay, because whatever Isaiah does say, we have to remember – just like Romans – that whatever Isaiah does say, it says it first and foremost not to the experts, the specialists, the scholars. No, whatever Isaiah says, he says it to the ordinary people of God. Whatever God has to say through Isaiah, he says it to you and I.
And so this morning we begin a 4-week journey back in time – perhaps to around 700 BC, that is 700 years before the birth of the Messiah. And it’s here that we’ll meet a man named Isaiah, and we’ll meet the people of Israel. But more than meeting him and them, we’ll meet a promise – a rich promise – from the LORD.
You see, in the latter portions of the book of Isaiah there are four passages referred to as “servant songs.” God gave his people these ‘songs about the savior’ so that as they studied them they might encourage themselves with the promise of who the Messiah would be and what he would do. This morning we are going to study just one of these passages – Isaiah 42:1-9.1
If you have a Bible, you can follow along with me as I read, or you’ll be able to see the verses on the screen. I’ll read and then pray, and then we’ll get to work.
Follow along with me as I read from Isaiah 42:1-9.
1 Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my Spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations. 2 He will not cry aloud or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street; 3 a bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice. 4 He will not grow faint or be discouraged till he has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands wait for his law. 5 Thus says God, the LORD, who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out the earth and what comes from it, who gives breath to the people on it and spirit to those who walk in it: 6 “I am the LORD; I have called you in righteousness; I will take you by the hand and keep you; I will give you as a covenant for the people, a light for the nations, 7 to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness. 8 I am the LORD; that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to carved idols. 9 Behold, the former things have come to pass, and new things I now declare; before they spring forth I tell you of them.”
Growing up, I had some friends that had a small lake near their backyard. And I remember playing with these, playing with reeds or cattails. I remember that when they were ripe – I don’t know if that’s the way to describe it or not – that you could take them, and break off the end of the fuzzy part and throw them in the air and the fuzz would fly everywhere like a dandelion, and they would hit the ground or the rocks by the lake and explode. Tim and Dan and I would play with these reeds as if they were exploding grenades. And sometimes we’d break the ends off and then use the reeds as swords.
I told my son that a few weeks ago when we were by a lake and he was pretty interested in all of this.
But you know what would happen to these reeds, these swords and grenades as we would play with them? They would break. They’re just not all that strong. They can become flimsy, especially when they get a little crack in them, you might say, especially if they get bruised. Once that happens, it’s easy to know what to do next: you throw it away and get a new one. You start over. You don’t worry about it. It’s just not strong enough, and it’s the reed’s own fault. It’s just not strong enough for the task at hand. So when it gets bruised, you get a new one. Don’t worry about it. Just start over. There are 10,000 more where this one came from.
We don’t know the exact circumstances around Isaiah’s prophesy in chapter 42. Isaiah was in ministry for so long and many passages are not dated, like ours, so it’s hard to say specifically what is going.
The first verse of the first chapter reads this way:
“The vision of Isaiah the son of Amoz, which he saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah.”
These kings tell a story, they give insights into the spiritual milieu in which they inhabited (like mentioning Kennedy, or Washington, or Lincoln, or Nixon, and so on).
So first: King Uzziah, then King Jotham, then Ahaz, and then Hezekiah. And if you read the book closely, you can see that his ministry even extended into the terrible reign of King Manasseh, Hezekiah’s son, which is to say, when you look at the corresponding dates, he had a ministry of 60 years or so, from 740 BC to at least 681 BC (“the year King Uzziah died” in 6:1 to the death of Sennacherib in mentioned in 37:38).
A lot happened during those years. There were some times of prosperity and peace, but on the whole, there was turmoil, especially amongst around the surrounding nations. Around 721 BC, so more or less in the middle of his ministry, the northern kingdom of Israel was conquered and taken into exile.
That would be like Isaiah was living in Pennsylvania and having the state of New York – just above him! – captured and taken into exile. It’s a bad deal.
And during the reign of Hezekiah, who was a good king for the most part, one time the capital city was surrounded by a foreign army and nearly crushed. And also during Hezekiah’s reign something very scary was promised: an exile for the southern kingdom was coming as well. They didn’t know when, but it was coming (Chapter 39). In my analogy, it was meant an exile for Pennsylvania as well.
Why do I say all of this? I say all of this to point out that the people of God were fragile. Things were dark. Their light – which was supposed to be this burning and shining torch that the nations could see and the nations would walk in the light as it streamed from Israel – well, that light, it was almost extinguished. It barely flickered. There were just embers left. Inside the nation there was infighting and idolatry, and outside there was wars and rumors of wars and massive cultural shifts.
The people are weak. They were like a bruised reed and a faintly burning wick. The sin and fragility of God’s people was too great to accomplish the mission before them.
And you know, that’s always been the case.
What they needed, and what we still need, is a Savior that can handle weakness, a savior that is gentle. And yet also one that is strong and powerful and who will himself not be bruised.
And it’s into this context, a fragile context, that a promise is whispered to Isaiah, a promise that he is to shout to the people. A promise about a savior. And the people of God were to sing and celebrate this promise, a promise about who the messiah would be and what he would do.
And that’s what just what Isaiah 42 is, a promise of who the Messiah would be and what he would do. It’s hard to separate these things – being from action. They are messed together, which is why we’ll look at that way in this passage. Three things God tells his people in Isaiah 42 about the Messiah.
1. The Messiah: special relationship with the LORD
First, we’ll start with the special relationship that the Messiah has with the LORD.
This person, this Messiah, this Savior, this servant of the LORD is in a very, very special relationship with the LORD.
Let’s look again at vv. 1 and 6,
1 Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my Spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations.
6 “I am the LORD; I have called you in righteousness; I will take you by the hand and keep you; I will give you as a covenant for the people, a light for the nations…
Note the five statements in v. 1 about their relationship.
- The LORD considers the Messiah his servant
- The LORD upholds the Messiah
- The LORD chooses the Messiah
- The LORD delights in the Messiah
- The LORD has put his Spirit upon the Messiah
This Messiah is no ordinary person. And our passage finds an echo in the baptism of Jesus recorded in all of the Gospel accounts when the sky opens up and the Spirit descends upon Jesus and the booming voice of the Lord says, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:13). This is a special relationship.
And in v. 6, if you look in your Bible, you’ll probably see a little footnote. In the English Standard Version (or ESV), which we use here to preach from, the footnote reads: “The Hebrew for you is singular; four times in this verse.”
What does that mean, and why is it important?
Well, it’s not plural, meaning you-all, or y’all. In v. 6, God is not talking to his people. What is said has great, precious, gospel implications to the people of God, but he is not talking directly to them. God is not saying, “I have called [y’all] in righteousness; I will take [y’all] by the hand…”
He is not saying that. The LORD is speaking to a singular person. “I have called [you, Messiah] in righteousness; I will take [you, Messiah] by the hand and keep [you, Messiah]; I will give [you, Messiah] as a covenant for the people, a light for the nations…”
In summary, the person described in this passage is in a very special relationship with the LORD.
2. The Messiah: Gentle but powerful
Now, what is the second thing we see about the Messiah? We see that he is a gentle, but powerful Messiah.
Look at v. 2-4,
2 He [that is, the LORD’s servant] will not cry aloud or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street; a bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice. 4 He will not grow faint or be discouraged till he has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands wait for his law.
These verses say several things. First, that the Messiah will not break a bruised reed and he will not quench a faintly burning wick. In other words, he can come to a fragile people – a weak people, a people full of infighting and sin and confusion and doubt – and he can come to them and deal with them graciously. He’s not a cruel dictator that will crush his people with burdens that they can’t bear. He knows they can’t bear them, so he will help them. And if they are weak, he will strengthen them. If their light is almost extinguished and they have but embers left, well then, he will get on his hands and knees, put his nose in the kindling, and blow. Never mind the smoke searing in his eyes; he will keep the fire alive; he won’t let it be extinguished; in fact, he’ll toil to make the fire grow.
Anybody need a savior like this? Anybody here tired? Worn out? Beaten down by the weight of the mission and the serious obstacle to it.
Yes, we want to spread the light of the good news of Jesus Christ to the ends of the world, but we can’t even stop looking at pornography, or can’t even read our Bibles consistently, or can’t stop gossiping about our brothers and sisters, and we get so jealous that we don’t have the latest gadgets, and we can’t get off Facebook when we are at home so that we can pay attention to people that are not virtual friends, but real friends, and we can’t do THIS… and we can’t do THAT… and we can’t… and we can’t…
And not just our sin; we are finite; we get sick and we get lonely and we have to sleep and we are easily distracted… We are just so fragile and so weak. What’s God to do with us?
Shall he throw us away and start over with a new reed? There are 10,000 more down by the river. Just get a new one. And when it breaks, get another.
No, our Messiah is gentle.
But not only is he gentle, he himself is strong. The passage says that what he will not do to others (crush and extinguish), he also will not let be done to himself. He will accomplish his mission of extending the rule and reign of God to the coastlands, to the most remote parts of the world.
We might say it like this: in a world full of tiny, tiny Smart Cars, our Messiah is like an armored Humvee. He is like a Humvee with a V8 turbo diesel 6.5 L engine, fitted out with a kevlar wrapped gun turret that hold a M119 howitzer, which is canon of a gun, and if that’s not enough, it’s got missiles too… at least that’s what Wikipedia tells me.
And yes, this Humvee can only go a top speed of 70 miles an hour, but in a world of tiny obstacles you better not be in its way.
Our Messiah won’t be bruised or extinguished until he accomplishes his mission. Our Messiah is strong… And he is gentle. We might say, like a Humvee with mittens.
This passage says one more thing about the Messiah.
3. The Messiah: Justice and light to the nations
Finally, the Messiah will bring justice and light to the nations.
Look at these verses again,
1 Behold my servant…2 he will bring forth justice to the nations… 4 he will faithfully bring forth justice. 4 He will not grow faint or be discouraged till he has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands wait for his law…6 …I will give you as a covenant for the people, a light for the nations, 7 to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness. 8 I am the LORD; that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to carved idols. 9 Behold, the former things have come to pass, and new things I now declare; before they spring forth I tell you of them.”
There is just so much here. The LORD says at the end, you know all those things that have already happened and I told you about them beforehand. Well, now I’m telling you something again. And it’s going to happen too. Those idols you worship, they don’t do that; they don’t tell the future because they can’t (cf. chapter 41:22-29!). But I can because I’m the LORD.
And justice is coming. And the idea of justice here is not simply in the courts of law, but the idea of justice and peace and righteousness and charity and kindness and a place where widows and orphans are cared for and brotherly love abounds in the hearts of people (cf. Deuteronomy 10:18; Isaiah 1:17; 16:5; 32:1–2; 61:8; Zechariah 7:9). The justice here is a wonderful thing. It’s the type of community you want to live in. The type of community God designed you for.
And the passage speaks of light to the nations, light to those in a dungeon. Just think about how dark prison in the Ancient Near-East would have been! It’s hard for me – with all of our electricity and modern lighting – to picture how dark a prison would be without, or at least limited, natural light. This Messiah will take light to the nations who are in spiritual darkness.
In Jason’s passage next week, the second “song of the savior” which expands on the themes in this one, it says that it’s too small for just Israel to be saved. It has to be bigger than that.
As we close, I want to go back to the title of this series, “Song of the Savior.” As I’ve been saying, the title is based on four passages in Isaiah called “servant songs,” which tell us who the Messiah would be and what he would do.
In the course of my study, I found this interesting quote about the name “servant songs,” stress on the word songs.
Geoffrey Grogan in the Expositor’s Bible Commentary series (which is one of my favorites), writes this:
“The term [songs], although conventional, is not really apt, for there is no evidence they were ever sung” (Grogan, Isaiah, Expositor’s Bible Commentary, 456).
Let me read that again,
“The term [songs], although conventional, is not really apt, for there is no evidence they were ever sung.”
I don’t think you realize how initially discouraging that statement was to me. These were never sung? Then why do they call them servant songs? Come on people? We’ve already titled the sermon series “Songs of the Savior;” we’re not going to change that now.
Man, I was bummed.
But then I noticed something. Yes, maybe these were not “songs” – at least for 700 years the people of God did not take the exact words of Isaiah and put them into a song and sing these verses per se.
But oh, the people of God were supposed to sing.
Do you know what God says in vv. 10-13? I have not read them yet. But after celebrating the strength and power and the mission of the Messiah; after describing a promise that was rich and beautiful and complex and dense and glorious and full of grace and truth; a promise where the gospel is on display in such a powerful way, do you know what God tells Isaiah to tell the people? He tells them to sing!
10 Sing to the LORD a new song, his praise from the end of the earth, you who go down to the sea, and all that fills it, the coastlands and their inhabitants. 11 Let the desert and its cities lift up their voice, the villages that Kedar inhabits; let the habitants of Sela sing for joy, let them shout from the top of the mountains. 12 Let them give glory to the LORD, and declare his praise in the coastlands. 13 The LORD goes out like a mighty man, like a man of war he stirs up his zeal; he cries out, he shouts aloud, he shows himself mighty against his foes.
Okay, okay, maybe these four songs were not sung per se, but the truth of these songs was supposed to do something to God’s people. It was supposed to make them lift up their voice and shout something from the mountains, and sing for joy.
Because the Messiah is coming! Or, as we would say, the Messiah has come. And what he began, he will see to completion when he comes again (Philippians 1:6).
Until that final day, we’ll keep singing songs. And we’ll do that right now one more time.