The Servant

Why do bad things happen to good people? I can remember a brain-damaged young man, who could only move and speak with difficulty, preaching once on that subject. It was very moving. It had a profound effect on the large congregation. The tapes and videos of the sermon were sold out. And people wanted him to preach again. Here was a person speaking from experience and answering a question that so many people have. Who's asking that question this morning? Perhaps you're going through a very difficult time, at home or at work, at this moment. And you think it is unfair. You may be helped by our passage this morning. We'll be seeing how Jesus responded to a situation where bad things were happening to him. Our passage is Matthew 12.15-21. And my headings are first, THE REALITY OF OPPOSITION; secondly, JESUS' RESPONSE; and thirdly, GOD'S PLAN First, THE REALITY OF OPPOSITION Let me recap on last Sunday when Ian Garrett was preaching about "The Sabbath" and vv 1-14 of chapter 12. Jesus, you may remember (if you were here), was attacked by the Pharisees for breaking the Sabbath - the rules for behaviour on the seventh day. What, of course, was really happening was that Jesus was breaking their Pharisaic traditions. The rabbis listed 39 classes of activity that were forbidden on the Sabbath. Jesus would not be party to this legalistic way of keeping the Sabbath. As a matter of fact he was keeping the Sabbath. Verse 9 of this chapter tells us he was going "into their synagogue". He was endorsing the principle of one day in seven for rest and worship. But he was totally opposed to Pharisaic legalism with all its do's and don'ts. This made the Sabbath not a day of rest and refreshment but a burden. And the Pharisees hated Jesus for what he did and what he said about the Sabbath. Look at verse 14:

the Pharisees went out and plotted how they might kill Jesus.

This is what Jesus was now aware of (v 15) - real opposition. Notice two things about this opposition. First, it is opposition from - whom?- not the Romans; not a criminal underclass; no! It is opposition from respectable religious people. The people who are initiating the campaign against Jesus - who are plotting how to kill him - are elite Jewish religious people, the Pharisees. They would have been members of the equivalent of the Rotary or school boards or hospital trusts - respectable, affable and socially acceptable people. It was these people who wanted to do away with Jesus. Sadly, that has been the same throughout history. Who opposed the early Christians in the Acts of the Apostles? It was the Jewish religious authorities - people like Paul (Saul as he was known) before his conversion; and people like the elders of the synagogues in the Roman Empire after his conversion. Who opposed the great Reformers of the 16th century that wanted the Church to get back to the bible and the teaching of the apostles? It was churchmen and religious people who burnt them at the stake. Who opposed Wesley and the leaders of the Evangelical revival in the 18th century? Again, it was predominantly churchmen. Who opposes churches and Christians today that are seeking to be faithful to the bible? Often it is other religious people who reject the bible or want to add to it. So don't be surprised if you are opposed for being a Christian and taking a stand as a Christian; and don't be surprised if yoiu are opposed not only by people outside the church, but also by religious people. Secondly, notice here in this opposition the sinister and subtle nature of human sin. Jesus had done nothing wrong. He was the most perfect man that had ever lived. Did that stop the Pharisees? No! His goodness was the problem. And the Pharisees for all their pleasant public personalities demonstrated the evil that was deep inside. How we all need to be aware of what the theologians call "original sin". This doesn't refer to the specific sins you and I commit. It refers to a fundamental perversion of our nature that we are all born with. This is not a popular doctrine today. For the last 200 years in the West there has been the myth that we are all born perfect. It is just external forces - our environment, our circumstances, our education - that are the problem. Nonsense! says Jesus, as we'll hear later in Matthew (15.19). We are the problem:

For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander.

It is the human heart that is spiritually diseased. So, first, Jesus was opposed; and secondly this opposition by religious people shows the sinister nature of human sin. Let's move on. Secondly, JESUS' RESPONSE How did Jesus respond to this threat on his life? There were two things here that you need to notice. First, Jesus kept his head down and he kept quiet. He acted strategically in this. He followed his own teaching that we had in Matthew 10.23:

When you are persecuted in one place, flee to another.

So we read in verse 15:

Aware of this [this plot against his life], Jesus withdrew from that place.

Jesus didn't confuse courage with recklessness. Sometimes it is right to have a direct confrontation with the opposition. Much later on in Matthew - in chapter 23 - we'll see how Jesus took on the Pharisees. He called them "sons of hell", "blind guides", a "brood of vipers" and the like. And remember how he overturned the tables of the money changers. But Jesus time hadn't come for all that. Now was the time to keep a low profile. Jesus at this point demonstrated the truth of the principle he'd already taught, Matthew 10.16:

I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.

Among these Pharisaic wolves, Jesus was being "as shrewd as a snake" while being "innocent as a dove." Shrewdness meant now that he must keep a low profile. Secondly, note that Jesus' response to this opposition was not to retreat and do nothing, but to retreat and to keep on with his ministry. Look at verse 15b:

Many followed him, and he healed all their sick.

As old Matthew Henry puts it:

Jesus is an example to do what you can when you cannot do what you would.

When you are frustrated in what you are doing for the Lord, do you give up? Or do you carry on as best you can? Perhaps you've invited someone along to one of the events this week or over this Christmas period, and people have said "No!" Do you then give up? Or do you say, "fair enough, I can do something else. I can help in the crèche or help with a meal or I can ask someone else." That brings us to our final heading for this morning. Finally, GOD'S PLAN Look at verse 16. Jesus was "warning them [the people who had been healed] not to tell who he was." That word "warning" is a very strong word. Jesus was not saying: "it's probably best that you don't say too much". He was saying: "it is absolutely vital that you are completely silent." Why was that? Look at verse 17:

this was to fulfil what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah:

{18} "Here is my servant whom I have chosen, the one I love, in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him, and he will proclaim justice to the nations. {19} He will not quarrel or cry out; no one will hear his voice in the streets."

Jesus being quiet at this point was all part of God's total plan for what Jesus came to do - to save the world from the mess it's in. Let me explain. God was preparing for his work in Jesus centuries before Jesus came that First Advent. There was Abraham and the birth of the nation of Israel. God, you see, was using the people of Israel as a vehicle for his saving purposes. He taught them through his laws and his prophets. And he taught them through the political and spiritual ups and downs that the prophets explained were due so often to their disobedience to God's laws. But one of the prophets, Isaiah, spoke of a new dawn and a new day. This was going to focus on a figure called the Servant of the Lord. And here in our passage you have quoted Isaiah 42 vv 1-4. That was a key prophecy about the Servant. Another of those Servant prophecies was in Isaiah 53, where the Servant is said to be a suffering Servant. But this first prophecy (Is 42) shows clearly that God's Servant is not going to be a political figure who will take on all and sundry. Whatever else he is, he will not be that. He will not be an Ayatollah Khomeini. He will not even be a Martin Luther King - and that is not to deny all the good King did. Verse 19:

He will not quarrel or cry out; no one will hear his voice in the streets.

He will not be out there on the hustings. No! The Servant of the Lord is going to be, as we heard in chapter 11.29:

gentle and humble in heart.

And he is going to give "rest for your souls". Jesus was the one who came that First Advent, in his first coming, to fulfil these Servant prophecies that had been spoken centuries earlier. God's great plan was the salvation of souls from the judgment their sin deserved. The primary issue was not the increase of the GDP or a better health service (or its equivalent) or sorting out the economy - important as all those are. Jesus certainly was interested in health - he spent some of his time healing people - verse 15 says "he healed all their sick." But no! God's great plan was the cross. That is what Isaiah 53 - that other Servant prophecy - is all about. Listen to Isaiah 53.4-6:

Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. {5} But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. {6} We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.

That is quite amazing. It was written centuries before Jesus Christ died at Calvary. But Jesus fulfilled that prophecy as he fulfilled Isaiah 42, because he came to die for sins. And when they were dealt with, then, and only then, would there be, verse 18b "justice to the nations" and verse 20 the "victory" of "justice" and verse 21, "hope" for the nations of the world. Oh yes! The world needs justice and hope. At the moment there is a sense of hopeless in much of the world. There is the moral sickness in America and this country in the wake of President Clinton's misdemeanours and the immorality of members of our own cabinet and Royal Family. There is near chaos in parts of Russia; the possible serious problems with some Asian economies; the political instability of many Third World countries; the black market in nuclear and chemical weapons; and so on. But what is the answer to these definite needs? God's answer is his plan that led Christ, his Servant, to the cross of Calvary. Everything else is sticking plaster. Sticking plaster is necessary. Thank God for all the humanitarian work that is going on in Christ's name; for sane politicians around the world; and for realistic education and health services. But it won't get you very far if sin is not dealt with. We will be living on utopian illusions.

The utopian illusions and sentimental aberrations of modern liberal culture are really all derived from the basic error of negating the fact of original sin. This error ... continually betrays modern men to equate the goodness of men with the virtue of their schemes for social justice and international peace. When these schemes fail of realization or are realized only after tragic conflicts, modern men either turn from utopianism to disillusionment and despair, or they seek to place the onus of their failure upon some particular social group.

That's from a perceptive commentator on the 20th century. At the end of the day, everyone needs their sins and their sin dealt with. God sees that and Jesus knew that. It was essential, therefore, that he was not made into a political Messiah. That is what the Jews would have made him if he hadn't asked people to play down his miracles. That he why it was not right to have a confrontation at this stage but to withdraw. I must conclude. Look at verse 20:

A bruised reed he will not break, and a smouldering wick he will not snuff out, till he leads justice to victory.

The reality is that every body at the end of the day, is "a bruised reed and a smouldering wick" - from President Clinton and Prince Charles to you and me. But the gospel - the good news - is that Jesus cares for "bruised reeds" and "smouldering wicks". Do you think your faith is too small or your repentance too weak or your understanding too little? Jesus says that what matters is faith like a mustard seed. Jesus says: " a smouldering wick he will not snuff out." But notice, there is that little word "till" in verse 20 -

A bruised reed he will not break, and a smouldering wick he will not snuff out, till he leads justice to victory.

One day his mission will be complete. The Servant will be the King. That is when Christ will return for that Second Advent and for judgment. Today is the day of salvation - a time to repent and reassess and rethink. This age of grace will not last for ever. So during this Advent season we should remind ourselves of the four last things - Death, Judgement, Heaven and Hell. Have you come to terms with those four things - Death, Judgement, Heaven and Hell? You have nothing to fear if you have confidence and trust in Jesus Christ, the divine Son who was the Servant who died for sin and to bear your guilt. If you trust him, however bruised and smouldering - or inadequate or weak your faith, he will give you new hope as he forgives you and gives you his Holy Spirit. Who needs to trust him this morning - even for the first time? And who has already trusted him, but you still feel like a bruised reed or a smouldering wick. Well, remember:

A bruised reed he will not break, and a smouldering wick he will not snuff out.

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