Readers of the Gospels will recognize readily the impact the Servant Poems of Isaiah (42:1-4; 49:1-6; 50:4-11; 52:13–53:12) exert on Jesus’ understanding of himself and God’s expectations of him. Scholars hold differing views on the identity of the Servant. Some think the Servant is the nation; others, an individual. Yet it is clear that Jesus applies this identity to himself. God does not intend for him to be a Messiah like David who restores the kingdom of Israel but a Servant Messiah, one suffering with and for the people.
At Jesus’ baptism, the voice from heaven certifies him with the opening words of the poem: “My chosen, in whom my soul delights” becomes “my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased” (Matt. 3:17). God puts the Spirit upon the Servant with the promise that “he will bring forth justice to the nations”; in Jesus’ words, he will “fulfill all righteousness” (Matt. 3:15).
As the temptations in the desert will convince Jesus, his way will not be the way of power perfected by might but the way of power perfected through weakness and vulnerability. This idea in this poem and also in Jesus’ life is one we humans find difficult to grasp. The Servant will not break a bruised reed or quench a burning wick and yet “he will faithfully bring forth justice.” He will not give up, no matter how great the suffering, until he achieves God’s purpose—“justice in the earth.”
We do well to note that the Servant works for justice everywhere, not only among God’s chosen people. Through him we gain this remarkable insight about God: God is our Fellow Sufferer. God may not cure every ill, put an end to death, or turn all our nights into day; but God can and does suffer with us and for us.
Pour your Spirit into our hearts, O loving God, that we may accept your vulnerability along with our own. Amen.
Read Isaiah 42:1-9. What does it mean for Jesus to be a Servant Messiah? In what ways does God suffer with or for you?
Read Psalm 72:1-7, 10-14. As children of God, we are called to reflect God’s righteousness. How do you defend the poor and deliver the needy?
Read Acts 10:34-43. Consider the author’s proposal that those who fear God and do what is right may include people of other faiths. What would this mean for your faith and your relationships with those of other faiths?
Read Matthew 3:13-17. Remember your baptism. Did you make the decision to be baptized or did someone else make the decision for you? How does remembering your baptism guide you to do what God wants?
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