GETTING THE MESSAGE/The struggle with joy
The Servant of God spoken of in this passage is one in whom God delights (verse 1). He has come to do the will of God, and God is well pleased with him. The Servant that Isaiah writes about is Christ the Lord. The word “Lord” holds forth his divinity; the word “Servant” holds forth his manhood. This is the perfection of our Mediator, God with us. He is not ashamed to call us brethren.
God commands us to “Behold” Christ, that is, to gain a sound look at him. And in order to do this we must see our need of him and how he meets that need. If you judge yourself an undone man before God, then Christ coming out of love and sorrow to help you is a welcome sight.
The prophet speaks of the great things Christ would do. A central theme is that he will bring forth justice to the nations (verses 1, 3, 4). God’s judicial righteousness is demonstrated in the gospel. There is not so much justice seen in anything as in God not sparing his own Son, but giving him for sinners. In the Scripture justification is the opposite of condemnation, and we are only justified in Christ.
Paul says, “There is now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus”, and “Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies; who is to condemn?” These passages and others like them show beyond a doubt that no other penal retribution exists or is required for the guilt of the believer’s sins than that of Christ’s sacrifice. This is good news for sinners.
God will never lie about a man. His report, his judgment is always right. So when he says there is no condemnation and that his righteous justice is satisfied, that means the one who has embraced Christ truly by faith is not guilty in his sight. The other side as well; those who are not Christ’s will give their own account to God for their sins and face judgment according to the perfect justice of God. The Scripture warns that there are none righteous in his sight.
Therefore, labor for a sight of Christ that sees his worth, his dying love, his majesty, his excellence, his humility, his glory. When we are charged to keep our eyes upon Jesus, it means an exalting, sound view, full of faith and love.
In verse 3 we read, “A bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench.” In Matthew 12 this passage is quoted to show the compassion Jesus has for sinners. The Pharisees in Matthew 12 are examples of what a bruised reed is not; one with a form of godliness outwardly, but whose hearts are far from God inwardly.
The bruised and faintly burning souls are those who mourn over their sins. Anyone might mourn when affliction is on them in this troubled world, but the Spirit causes men sorrow for sin because of the systemic corruption of it. One rejoices over being cleansed of sin, the leprosy of the soul.
To mourn for sin is a grace promised by God in the new covenant. We require God’s Spirit to mourn for sin in a way that makes us come to Christ and be thankful. When I behold Christ rightly, I see he gave himself for me when I in no way deserved it. It was purely his grace and love.
Christians sometimes can be bruised and feel like a faintly burning wick in their faith and devotion to Christ. Samuel Rutherford wrote some helpful words for you: “You may yourself ebb and flow, rise and fall, wax and wane; but your Lord is this day as he was yesterday; and it is your comfort that your salvation is not rolled upon the wheels of your own making, neither have you to do with a Christ of your own making.”
Rutherford was reminding us of the Lord’s steadfast love to his people. We are apt to endeavor to serve Christ to earn his favor, and little wonder he sends loving chastisements that disturb our peace to keep us from such vanity. Rather, we follow him as his sheep; as our Good Shepherd, the Servant of God, who laid down his life for us; and that way we are moved by love, not merit.
If you struggle with joy in the Christian life, seek to behold Christ anew every day. Meditate on his glory in your justification and salvation. Stir up high thoughts of Christ, and the greatness of his intercession for you. Behold the Servant of God.
The Rev. Chris Shelton is pastor of Union’s First Presbyterian Church.