1 “Here is my servant, whom I uphold,
my chosen one in whom I delight;
I will put my Spirit on him,
and he will bring justice to the nations.
2 He will not shout or cry out,
or raise his voice in the streets.
3 A bruised reed he will not break,
and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.
In faithfulness he will bring forth justice;
4 he will not falter or be discouraged
till he establishes justice on earth.
In his teaching the islands will put their hope.”
5 This is what God the Lord says—
the Creator of the heavens, who stretches them out,
who spreads out the earth with all that springs from it,
who gives breath to its people,
and life to those who walk on it:
6 “I, the Lord, have called you in righteousness;
I will take hold of your hand.
I will keep you and will make you
to be a covenant for the people
and a light for the Gentiles,
7 to open eyes that are blind,
to free captives from prison
and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness.Isaiah 42:1-7
“Will we go to war?” is a question our nation is struggling to answer. The tension between the United States and Iran has intensified in the last couple of weeks. Each nation feels wronged and each wants to make it right, and any action by either side will almost certainly bring deadly consequences. For the people of each nation, the rumors of war are causing fear and the cry for justice. In our reading from Isaiah 42, God promised that the Servant of the Lord will bring justice to the nations.
“Will we go to war?” was a question the people of Judah had to struggle with at the time of Isaiah the prophet. The kings of Judah at the time of Isaiah the prophet had done their best to keep Israel from war through treaties, alliances and building up their defenses. The efforts of the kings of Judah had been successful at keeping Israel victorious in battle and free from defeat. Judah was able to remain a sovereign nation a little longer than their brothers to the North, who were overtaken by the Assyrians. Northern Israel fell to the Assyrians as punishment from God for trusting in themselves, foreign powers and false gods in place of trusting in God. Judah was no different and through Isaiah, God told King Hezekiah Isaiah 39:6, “The time will surely come when everything in your palace, and all that your predecessors have stored up until this day, will be carried off to Babylon. Nothing will be left, says the Lord.” War and justice were coming for Judah, and they would not win.
Justice meant war for Judah. The threat of war was very real for them. It meant fear that sons and husbands would be lost, and perhaps even entire family lines would be wiped out. It meant daughters and widows would be taken as servants, made to be wives of the enemy or forced into much, much worse. When it came to war and justice, Judah only knew that the strong survive. If Judah was going to trust in God to be with them in battle, then they would have to trust God to fight with a stronger, larger army. For Judah to trust in God, he would have to promise them a great show of force, but instead, Isaiah shared these words from God about the Servant who would bring justice, 2 “He will not shout or cry out, or raise his voice in the streets.” This prophecy did not mean that God was going to be stealthy and attack unnoticed. It meant that he would not carry out justice like Judah expected. When you and I face troubles in our lives we want God to fight for us, but do you trust God to fight for you if his way of fighting is not what you expected?
The need for justice is a major theme in our reading from Isaiah 42. The word justice appears three times in verses one through seven. Justice is what is right. When it comes to wars between nations, what is just easily becomes biased by nationalism or corrupted by greed. So then, true justice only comes from God. He has the right to define and carry out true justice because he is the Creator as Isaiah wrote, 5 “This is what God the Lord says—the Creator of the heavens, who stretches them out, who spreads out the earth with all that springs from it, who gives breath to its people, and life to those who walk on it.” No one can argue with God and win. He made us, so makes the rules. For Judah, they faced justice from God through Babylon for turning away from faith in him. You and I face God’s justice when we do the same as Judah and turn away from him.
When God’s people turn away from him, only one thing will save them. Turning away from God is so easy for us that we often fail to realize it. Over the last couple of weeks, the threat of war has faced our country. How have you reacted? Have you remained glued to a screen to see what the plan of attack will be? Have you remained glued to a screen only to be overcome each day with worry and fear? Have you pridefully boasted to others in person or through posts how the enemy does not stand a chance without considering the cost in human lives on both sides? When you first heard the threat of war did you first react by gluing your hands to your Bible for comfort and strength, did you pray and did you assure friends, family and perfect strangers that God is the Creator and Ruler of all things, and you belong to his kingdom meaning even the worst horrors of this world cannot darken even the farthest corner of the glorious light of the kingdom of heaven? We may be facing war on a national scale, but you also face it in your relationships. When you feel wronged by your spouse, kids, parents, friends, boss, another driver out on I-30, etc. how have you reacted? Did you seek justice by arguing, giving the silent treatment or motioning at the other driver? Or, did you not turn away from God? Did you remain with God and let him bring justice to whatever situation you are in by using his Word? When you and I turn from God, only one thing will save us, his Servant who kept his covenant to free captives.
The covenant and justice God spoke of through Isaiah all pointed to Jesus. Jesus fulfilled these words from Isaiah 42, 1 “Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him, and he will bring justice to the nations.” Today is the first Sunday after Epiphany and the day we remember Jesus’ baptism. In our reading from Matthew 3, when Jesus came to John the Baptist to be baptized, he said, 15 … “it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” Jesus did not need baptism to save him from his sins like we do. Instead, he did it to do what was right and what was promised as we continue to read in Matthew 3, 16 As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. 17 And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” At Jesus’ baptism, what God had said to Isaiah about the Spirit coming on his Servant came true. From Jesus’ baptism on, he began his public ministry and work to keep the covenant or promise God made to the world to carry out justice. We focus on this reading during the Epiphany season because it is the season of Jesus appearing or revealing who he is. Here, at his baptism, Jesus appeared as the promised Savior, the Servant who will free all who were held captive by sin.
Sin made you a prisoner of war. Sin made you a prisoner of war because you were held captive by the enemy and unable to free yourself. The devil is our enemy and the enemy of God, but sin made us his prisoner. We needed to be free of sin in order to be free from the devil and back on God’s side. God was the one to do all of this because he was not a prisoner and not sinful. God was free to launch an attack on the devil and sin to save us, and he revealed who he was going to send to fight to free us through Isaiah, 6 “I, the Lord, have called you in righteousness; I will take hold of your hand. I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people and a light for the Gentiles, 7 to open eyes that are blind, to free captives from prison and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness.” These verses refer to Jesus. He was the one to fulfill the covenant or the promise for all nations. He is the one who released us from sin, death and darkness.
Jesus fought for us in a way we never expected. God did not crush the devil with a show of force, but through the ultimate sacrifice. Like a soldier who jumps on a grenade to save the lives of his fellow soldiers, Jesus gave his life for us. In 2 Corinthians 5, we hear, 21 “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” Justice for our sins was carried out against Jesus on the cross through his innocent death. He took the punishment for us, freeing us from punishment and making us good in God’s eyes so that we would be on his side. Our reading from Acts 10, reveals the healing Jesus brought to the war torn world, 37 “You know what has happened throughout the province of Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached— 38 how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him.” Jesus came to save us from the war we had no control over.
All our fighting to find justice leaves us tired. Whether we get caught up fighting on our own to be good or caught up in fear that God does not have the power or desire to save us, Jesus has freed us from fighting. God’s Word through Isaiah gives us the guarantee of Jesus’ victory, 3 … “In faithfulness he will bring forth justice; 4 he will not falter or be discouraged till he establishes justice on earth. In his teaching the islands will put their hope.” Hope in Jesus does not disappoint because he used his great strength against our enemies, his love, his perfect life and his power over death. Jesus used his great strength against your enemies, but with you he is gentle; 3 “A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.” When you are tired of fighting and the fear of war, be at peace because the Servant of the Lord brought you justice.
What does Jesus’ fight for justice mean when we face war? When Judah faced war, God allowed them to be defeated physically, but gave them the promise of eternal life and true justice through the Servant of the Lord. This world is broken, and war torn, both in terms of its nations and even more seriously in terms of spiritual warfare. You face the temptation to want God to fight on a national and personal scale your way, but he fights according to his justice. God has freed you from your sins and death. Eternal life is yours. The work and promises of Jesus are what we trust in when our lives are threatened in any way. We also use Jesus in our relationships to forgive and set free, to release from the captivity and darkness of sin with the forgiveness won by Jesus. What a joy to know that in all circumstances the Servant of the Lord will bring justice to the nations. Amen.