(A) The Context For New Song: in a fallen world, people look to idols (Is 40-41)
But before we look at the text in Isaiah 42, it is important for us to understand the background to this chapter. Isaiah 40 is helpful for us. At this point in Old Testament history, the people have been divided into 2 -- Israel in the North, Judah in the South. Isaiah 40 are words of comfort for Jerusalem. Isaiah 40:2 tells us why she needs comforting -- she is in a state of warfare, and she is suffering for her sins. There is a spiritual cause and context to her suffering. The people of God are under actual attack and also suffering for their sins. Isaiah was not written to people in cushy times, but people who were struggling in the world. This is not entirely foreign to us. We also live in a world of warfare. We know of the Church being persecuted in many places in the world, and even in our country, we are not also entirely exempt. God offers words of comfort to people that feel like they are under attack, and under people who feel the weight of their sins.
Isaiah 41 provides us more information about the context of the people’s spiritual state. God addresses 3 groups of people, and has a message for each group:
|People of the coastlands (Gentiles) (v.1, 5-7)||God is judging them for their idolatry. Note that gold was used to make idols, since precious metals are reserved for precious objects of worship. The craftsman works with the goldsmith to make the idol.|
|Idols (v.21-24)||God has harsh words for the idols. He mocks them for their impotence, and it is hard to miss the sarcasm in the text.|
|People of God/Israel |
(v. 8-20, esp. v11, 14 and 17)
|God promises not to abandon them but to help them, even they have enemies (v.11), they are worms (v.14), and they are poor and needy (v.17). He is addressing those we are afflicted, downtrodden and those who are cut off from comfort. It is in this context that God utters his reassurances.|
What can we learn from these verses? These verses serve as the backdrop to Christmas. Christmas exists because there is brokenness and idolatry and suffering in this world. This is the world we continue to live in. Idolatry is rampant. Mankind has turned away from the Creator and is worshipping created things. Do you think that we are much more enlightened? Rom 1 tells us that we continue to look for our joy, satisfaction and our god in the created things of the world. For us today, if we're just looking for the magic of Christmas, we'll never find it. We need to understand the story and context of Christmas. The starting point of the good news of Christmas, is to see the bad news and problems of the world. Has Christmas lost its magic for you? If you are tired of the Bible's message of good news, you've probably become immune to the brokenness of this world. And God has to sometimes say with sarcasm to our idols to shake us out of our stupor.
Now, let us turn to the text itself.
(B) New Song About The Servant: His character and nature (Is 42:1–4)
The chapter begins with "behold", drawing our attention to the servant of God who is going to enter the world described in Isaiah 40-41. Verse 1 provides us a description of the servant. God uses specific verbs to describe this Servant, and we can learn something about His relationship to God. The Servant is one whom God upholds, chooses, delights in and has poured out His Spirit upon. Remember that the original readers of the text did not have the idea of the Trinity as we do now. They would have read this and clung on to the words closely. This Servant is no ordinary actor of God. He is not David, nor is he Moses. He is specially chosen by God, delighted in and loved. Later on in the New Testament, in writing the account of Jesus' baptism, Matthew deliberately wrote it in a way to call to mind the prophecies in Isaiah (c.f. Matt 3:16-17). He wanted the Jews to see that Jesus is not just a servant, but a certain kind of servant, one that He loves.
The subsequent verses describe the character of the Servant in four ways (v.2-4). This is one who is quiet (v.2), gentle and soft spoken (v.3a), just, righteous, fair (v.3b) and committed and enduring in his pursuit of justice (v.4). Doesn't this aptly describe Jesus Christ? Jesus was quiet, keeping out of the spotlight for 30 years, living in anonymity. He worked quietly as a carpenter, and in Phil 2, we see the extent of the humility of our Savior.
Richard Sibbes, in his writing "The Bruised Reed", helps us understand a bit more about the gentle nature of Jesus:
“He "binds up the broken-hearted" (Isa. 61:1). As a mother is tenderest toward the most diseased and weakest child, so does Christ most mercifully incline to the weakest. Likewise he puts an instinct into the weakest things to rely upon something stronger than themselves for support. The vine steadies itself upon the elm, and the weakest creatures often have the strongest shelters. The consciousness of the church's weakness makes her willing to lean on her Beloved and to hide herself under his wing”
Jesus is gentle, kind and merciful. He knows how not to break those that are already broken and fragile. He knows how to take care of the small flame. He is phenomenally gentle, and we know this from His life. He extended kindness to the greatest and the least. Remember the woman who had problem with blood (c.f. Mark 5:21-43)? And the Samaritan woman he meets at the well (c.f. John 4)? Remember the man who was possessed by a legion of demons (c.f. Mark 5:1-20)? This is our Savior!
Yet, this gentle, quiet Servant is committed in His pursuit of justice. Our world cries out for justice doesn't it? Just read the newspapers. Do you not cry out for justice, and wish desperately for the kind of King who can bring justice to a world that is so broken and so needy? And in verse 4, we see our Savior who is so committed to the cause of justice! Unlike us, He will not be deterred by opposition and He will not rest till there is justice in all the earth.
Isn't this really good news when He is finally born? This is why we can sing "Joy to the World" at Christmas.
(C) New Song To The Servant: His work and purpose (Is 42:5-9)
God introduces Himself in verse 5 as the Creator. Remember that creating is to make something out of nothing. Thus, only God can create. He also made the people and gave life to them. In verse 8, He contrasts Himself with the idols (c.f. Isa 40-41). Why does He do this? He is going to speak to the Servant (v.6). God speaks within the Godhead to the Son. He says to the Son in verse 6, "I will take you by the hand and keep you" and "I will take you by the hand and keep you". In Jn 17:6-7, Jesus also responds in prayer to the earlier words of the Father in Isaiah. The Father was with the Son at every step of His 30 years of anonymity as promised and as Jesus prays, He calls to mind these verses in Isaiah.
What is the Servant to accomplish? In verse 9, God refers to "new things". The old prophecies have been fulfilled and there are new things coming, as described in verse 7. The Servant has been given to do specific things. The Servant will open the eyes that are blind, bring out the prisoners who sit in darkness from the dungeon. This is not just about physical healing. Jesus' ministry was about fulfilling prophecy. He was also bringing about a spiritual healing. Do you believe that God is bringing you out of darkness even now? What prison are you still living in? Which parts of your life have you not experienced the good news of Christ? Jesus did not come to live in the world you live in, but He has come to bring you into the world that He is. He came to bring us out of the prisons that we are in -- our fears, bitterness and areas of our lives that we feel trapped by. This is the message that He has laid out in the "new things".
This is why the angels proclaim His birth with great joy in Luke 2! We need to pull Isa 42 into the words of Luke 2:9-16 to understand the great joy surrounding the birth of our Savior. Today, we are not more enlightened or better people that are immuned to needing God's grace. We need it as desperately as the people of Israel needed then, because we are just as broken and idolatrous. Christmas, and Christ will mean so much more if we honestly see our own need and brokenness. Let us do so this Christmas.