God’s Gentle Servant

Click here for more messages from the book of Matthew.
Click here for more messages from the Mission and Conflict series.
Click here to return to the Sermons page.

Matthew 12:15-21 (Fulfilling Isaiah)

INTRODUCTION: Our message series is called Mission and Conflict and we are seeing how these two themes play out together in Matthew 10-12. Last week we saw how Jesus’ mission brought him into direct conflict with the Pharisees. That conflict got so bad that by the end of it, the Pharisees went out and were plotting to kill Jesus. Now in today’s passage we see how Jesus responds to the Pharisees’ plotting and scheming. (Read Matthew 12:15-21 and pray.)

—————————–

Jesus healed a man on the Sabbath, and the Pharisees went out and plotted how they could kill him. So, if you’re Jesus, what do you do? Do you fight back? Do you gather the disciples and do some plotting and scheming of your own? Do you ramp up the conflict and expose the Pharisees for the murderous hypocrites that they are?

Or … do you respond with gentleness? That one probably wasn’t on your list of options, was it? I know it wasn’t on mine, and yet that’s exactly how Jesus chooses to respond. With gentleness. Yes, you will experience conflict when you are on mission for God, but that doesn’t mean you have to fight back.

And that’s what today’s passage in Matthew is all about. Jesus is God’s gentle servant. There are various aspects of Jesus’ servanthood that are displayed in this passage, but the main one that stands out is Jesus’ gentleness. Jesus is God’s gentle servant, and we should be gentle like Jesus.

The Bible tells us Jesus came not to be served but to serve. So, let’s look at these various aspects of Jesus’ servanthood that we find in this passage.

I. A humble servant (15-16)

First of all, Jesus is a humble servant. Remember, the Pharisees are plotting to kill Jesus. So how does Jesus respond? Look at verses 15-16: “Aware of this, Jesus withdrew from that place. Many followed him, and he healed all their sick, warning them not to tell who he was.” (Matthew 12:15-16)

   A. Jesus avoided unnecessary conflict with the Pharisees (15)

Jesus avoided unnecessary conflict with the Pharisees. When he became aware that the Pharisees were plotting to kill him, instead of fighting back, he withdrew from that place. Now Jesus was not afraid of conflict. When the time was right, Jesus would march right into Jerusalem knowing that it meant his suffering and death. But Jesus was on God’s timetable, and Jesus knew that his hour had not yet come. And so rather than make things worse with the Pharisees at this time, he humbly withdrew. It takes a lot of humility to back down from a conflict, and Jesus was a humble servant. Jesus avoided unnecessary conflict with the Pharisees.

   B. Jesus did not draw unnecessary attention to himself (16)

Jesus also did not draw unnecessary attention to himself. When Jesus withdrew from that place, many followed him, and Jesus continued his mission. He continued preaching and teaching and healing the people. Matthew tells us he healed all their sick. His mission was successful. There were no failures. Remember, Jesus was preaching the kingdom of God, and he demonstrated the reality of God’s kingdom by casting out demons and healing the sick.

But at the same time Jesus very humbly did not draw any unnecessary attention to himself. He was the exact opposite of the hypocrites he spoke of earlier who stood in the synagogues and street corners and did their good deeds to be seen by men. (Matthew 6:2,5) Their actions all said, “Look at me! Look at me!” Jesus healed the people, but rather than draw attention to himself, Jesus warned them not to tell who he was.

Jesus avoided unnecessary conflict with the Pharisees, and he did not draw unnecessary attention to himself. Jesus is first of all a humble servant.

II. A prophesied servant (17)

Secondly, Jesus is a prophesied servant. Look at verse 17 where Matthew says: “This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah.” (Matthew 12:17)

   A. Matthew quotes from the prophet Isaiah (around 700 B.C.)

Matthew loves quoting from the Old Testament, and he especially loves quoting from the prophet Isaiah. Isaiah was one of the greatest of the prophets, and the book of Isaiah contains many examples of detailed, predictive prophecy. Isaiah lived and prophesied 700 years before Christ, and yet he gives such specific prophecies and details of the Messiah who would come.

Predictive prophecy is one of the many evidences that God is God and that God’s word is trustworthy and true. In fact, this is one of the major themes of Isaiah. Only God knows the end from the beginning, and only God can tell what will happen before it happens.

Notice Matthew says these words were spoken through the prophet Isaiah. Isaiah wrote them down, but these were God’s words. God was speaking through his prophet.

   B. This is the first of the four Servant Songs in Isaiah

Matthew loves quoting from the Old Testament, and this is the longest of all his Old Testament quotations. This particular quotation is from the first of what we call the four Servant Songs in Isaiah. Each of these songs reveals a different aspect of God’s servant who would come to redeem his people. And each of these songs find their fulfillment in Jesus in the New Testament.

      1) the gentle servant (Isaiah 42:1-4)

In the first song Jesus is the gentle servant who brings justice to the nations. (Isaiah 42:1-4) This song focuses on Jesus’ ministry.

      2) the prepared servant (Isaiah 49:1-6)

In the second song Jesus is the prepared servant who brings God’s salvation to the ends of the earth. (Isaiah 49:1-6) This song focuses on Jesus’ incarnation.

      3) the obedient servant (Isaiah 50:4-9)

In the third song Jesus is the obedient servant who trusts God to help him face his accusers. (Isaiah 50:4-9) This song focuses on Jesus’ obedience in the face of opposition.

      4) the suffering servant (Isaiah 52:13-53:12)

And then finally in the fourth song, Jesus is the suffering servant who dies for our sins and rises again triumphant over sin and death. (Isaiah 52:13-:53:12) The fourth song is the most well-known of all the Servant Songs, and this song focuses on Jesus’ suffering and death at the cross.

Jesus is the fulfillment of all four Servant Songs in Isaiah. Jesus himself said he did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. (Matthew 20:28)

When Jesus learned that the Pharisees were plotting to kill him, he withdrew from that place and warned the people not to tell who he is. Matthew tells us this was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah. Jesus is not only a humble servant. He is a prophesied servant.

III. An anointed servant (18)

Thirdly, Jesus is an anointed servant. Look at verse 18 where Matthew now begins to quote from the first Servant Song found in Isaiah 42: “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.” (Matthew 12:18)

   A. Jesus was chosen, loved and affirmed by God (18a)
      – Matthew 3:16-17 (baptism); Matthew 17:5 (transfiguration)

God is speaking in this verse, and notice he calls Jesus “my servant.” Yes, Jesus came to serve us and to give his life as a ransom for many, but Jesus was primarily God’s servant. He came in obedience to God the Father. He said what the Father told him to say. He did what the Father told him to do. He perfectly fulfilled his Father’s will.

Matthew quoting Isaiah tells us that Jesus was chosen, loved and affirmed by God. Jesus was the object of divine choice, divine love and divine pleasure. He is God’s Son who was specifically chosen for the task of redeeming God’s people.

We find these same words of God’s love and affirmation of Christ at Jesus’ baptism and then again at Jesus’ transfiguration. We read in Matthew 3:16-17: “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 lighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.’” (Matthew 3:16-17) Fast forward now to the transfiguration where God speaks about Jesus again from heaven. We read in Matthew 17:5: “A voice from the cloud said, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!’” (Matthew 17:5)

   B. Jesus was anointed with the Holy Spirit for his task (18b)
      – Acts 10:37-38

Jesus was chosen, loved and affirmed by God. And Jesus was anointed with the Holy Spirit for his task as God’s servant. As God said through Isaiah: “I will put my Spirit on him, and he will proclaim justice to the nations.”

We see this at Jesus’ baptism when the Spirit of God descends like a dove and rests on him. And we read about it in Acts 10 where the apostle Peter is speaking to a group of people and tells them: “You know what happened … after the baptism that John preached – 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.” (Acts 10:37-38)

Jesus is an anointed servant. He was chosen, loved and affirmed by God. He was anointed with the Holy Spirit and power to fulfill his task as God’s chosen servant.

IV. A gentle servant (19-20)

1) Jesus is a humble servant. 2) Jesus is a prophesied servant. 3) Jesus is an anointed servant. 4) And then fourthly, Jesus is a gentle servant. This is really the heart of the first Servant Song, and it’s the heart of our message today. Back to Matthew 12, look at verses 19-20 where Matthew quotes Isaiah: “He will not quarrel or cry out; no one will hear his voice in the streets. A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.” (Matthew 12:19-20)

   A. Jesus did not quarrel or cry out (19)
      – Proverbs 15:1; 2 Timothy 2:24-25

This portion of the servant song shows us Jesus’ gentleness in two ways. First of all, Jesus did not quarrel or cry out. Remember, Matthew is quoting this particular Servant Song from Isaiah to show how Jesus fulfilled this song in his response to the Pharisees who were plotting to kill him. To cry out as in to argue or quarrel would have drawn further attention to himself, something which we have already seen Jesus did not do.

This verse does not mean Jesus kept complete silence. Jesus preached and he taught. He spoke up and he spoke out against evil. But he avoided conflict for as long as possible. And he did this with all the gentleness and humility of one who serves God and others rather than himself.

Jesus’ response to conflict is an example for us in this regard. How should we respond to conflict? Like Jesus with gentleness and humility. Proverbs 15:1 tells us: “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” (Proverbs 15:1)

The apostle Paul writes in 2 Timothy 2: “And the Lord’s servant must not quarrel; instead, he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth.” (2 Timothy 2:24-25)

Only Jesus fulfilled the Servant Songs of Isaiah, but we also are called to be the Lord’s servants. And here Paul says we need to follow the example of Jesus, the gentle servant. The Lord’s servant must not quarrel. Instead we must be kind to everyone, and we must gently instruct those who oppose us.

   B. Jesus cares for the helpless and hopeless (20a)
      – Matthew 11:28-29; Ephesians 4:32

Jesus is the gentle servant who did not quarrel or cry out. And Jesus is the gentle servant who cares for the helpless and hopeless. Look at Matthew 12:20 again: “A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.” (Matthew 12:20) I like the way the Good News Bible translates this: “He will be gentle to those who are weak, and kind to those who are helpless.”

Reeds were used for a variety of purposes in Biblical times. They were cheap and plentiful, and so if you had a bad one or a bruised one, no worry, you just threw it out. You could always get another one.

But Jesus doesn’t do that with us. Jesus cares for the helpless. Jesus cares for those the world can’t be bothered with or troubled over, those the world doesn’t pay any attention to. Jesus cares about all the hurting, all the failures, all the rejects, all the drop-outs, all the little people, all the weak links in the chain that everyone else sets side.

The Servant Song also says, “And a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.” The smoldering wick represents those whose hope is flickering, those who know they don’t have much to offer, those who don’t know if they can keep going, those who don’t know if they will make it another day.

Jesus comes to all those who are bruised and battered by life. He comes to the spiritually broken. He comes to those so bruised by sin and all its effects that they are unable to stand up under it. He comes to all those whose flame is flickering, and he gives them hope.

Richard Sibbes was a Puritan pastor who wrote a whole book called The Bruised Reed. The book is based on Isaiah 42:3, the Servant Song that Matthew quotes here about Jesus. In the book he talks about Jesus’ compassion and care for the hurting. He writes: “Are you bruised? Be of good comfort, he calls you. Conceal not your wounds, open all before him and … go to Christ…. There is more mercy in him than sin in you.”

A few weeks ago we looked at Jesus’ words in Matthew 11 where Jesus said: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matthew 11:28-29)

Jesus is gentle and humble in heart. He is the gentle servant, and he calls us to be gentle servants, too, gentle and humble with each other. Ephesians 4:32 tells us as Christians: “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:32)

We are all bruised reeds and smoldering wicks. We have all been beaten and bruised and pushed back in so many ways in this life. We all know the heartsick of hope deferred and the heartbreak of hopes crushed. But Jesus cares for the helpless and hopeless. A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out. He is a gentle servant.

V. A victorious servant (20-21)

1) Jesus is a humble servant. 2) Jesus is a prophesied servant. 3) Jesus is an anointed servant. 4) Jesus is a gentle servant. 5) And then fifthly, Jesus is a victorious servant. Back to Matthew 12, look at the end of verse 20 and then into verse 21 where Matthew writes: “… till he leads justice to victory. In his name the nations will put their hope.” (Matthew 12:20-21)

   A. Jesus will bring justice to the nations (20b)
      – Isaiah 9:7

Back in verse 18 we were told that Jesus would proclaim justice to the nations. Now here in verse 20 we are told that he will lead justice to victory. Jesus came to bring justice to the nations, and Jesus will succeed in his mission.

Isaiah had spoken earlier about a child who would become a king who would also bring justice. We read in Isaiah 9:7: “He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever.” (Isaiah 9:7)

Jesus is God’s chosen and anointed servant, and he will be victorious. He cannot and will not fail in his task to bring justice to the nations.

   B. The nations will put their hope in his name (21)
      – Revelation 7:9-10

And then Matthew 12:21 tells us that the nations will put their hope in his name. Once again, Jesus came to bring help for the helpless and hope for the hopeless. Matthew quoting Isaiah tells us that the nations will put their hope in his name.

Back in verse 16 Jesus told the people not to tell who he was. It was part of his humility as God’s servant. But that was then. This is now. Now we’re supposed to tell everyone who Jesus is! We need to bring Jesus’ name to the nations. Because if we don’t bring Jesus’ name to the nations, then how will the nations put their hope in his name?

Jesus is a victorious servant, and the book of Revelation gives us an advance preview of his victory. We read these beautiful words in Revelation 7:9-10: “I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb…. And they cried out in a loud voice: ‘Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.’” (Revelation 7:9-10)

This first Servant Song tells us that Jesus is the gentle servant who will succeed in his task. Now, it doesn’t tell us how he will succeed. You need the rest of the Servant Songs for that. The first song simply tells us his manner as he went about his task, that he is a gentle servant. The other songs tell us of his divine preparation for the task, his unflinching obedience to the task, and then finally how he accomplished the task through his death, burial and resurrection.

Jesus is a victorious servant. He will bring justice to the nations, and the nations will put their hope in his name.

CONCLUSION: As a Christian you are going to face conflict. Conflict is inevitable when you are on mission for God, but today’s passage tells us how we should respond to conflict.

Jesus was gentle with others, and we should be gentle too. We should pursue peace with those around us and avoid unnecessary conflicts. We should not quarrel or cry out. We should care for the helpless and hopeless around us. Only Jesus will bring true justice to this world, and so we should encourage people to put their hope and trust in Jesus’ name.

Jesus is God’s gentle servant, and we should be gentle too. Let us go forth to treat others with the same tenderness and care as our gentle Savior.

© Ray Fowler

You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this message provided that you do not alter the wording in any way and that you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction. For any web postings, please link to the sermon directly at this website.

Please include the following statement on any distributed copies:
By Ray Fowler. © Ray Fowler. Website: http://www.rayfowler.org

Click here for more messages from the book of Matthew.
Click here for more messages from the Mission and Conflict series.
Click here to return to the Sermons page.