Sermon on Isaiah 49:1-6
Text: Listen to me, you islands; hear this, you distant nations: Before I was born the LORD called me; from my mother’s womb he has spoken my name. 2 He made my mouth like a sharpened sword, in the shadow of his hand he hid me; he made me into a polished arrow and concealed me in his quiver. 3 He said to me, “You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will display my splendor.” 4 But I said, “I have labored in vain; I have spent my strength for nothing at all. Yet what is due me is in the LORD’s hand, and my reward is with my God.”
5 And now the LORD says — he who formed me in the womb to be his servant to bring Jacob back to him and gather Israel to himself, for I am honored in the eyes of the LORD and my God has been my strength — 6 he says: “It is too small a thing for you to be my servant to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel I have kept. I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.”
When you look at a person’s tool box, you can tell something about the tools. There are those that are bright and shiny. These are probably brand new. Someone might have given them as a gift or they were recently purchased for a task. These have not been used much. Then, there are the tools that are rusty or are in the bottom of the tool box. These are tools that might have had a use at one time, but now they are hardly ever used. Then, you see the tools that you can tell are used all the time. They are a bit worn. There is no rust on them. These are the well-used tools. In our text for this morning, we have one of the sections that deal with the Servant of the Lord. In particular, the Lord speaks of him as a well-used tool. It is. We see THE WELL-USED SERVANT OF THE LORD. He is 1. Used To Speak God’s Word. He is 2. Used To Display God’s Splendor. He is 3. Used To Bring Back All God’s People.
First of all, we want to look at the description of the Servant of the Lord in verse 2, “He made my mouth like a sharpened sword, in the shadow of his hand he hid me; he made me into a polished arrow and concealed me in his quiver.” What is being described here? First of all, we see a similar picture in the book of Revelation. In Revelation 1:16, we find this description of Jesus, “In his right hand he held seven stars, and coming out of his mouth was a sharp, double-edged sword.” Obviously, then, this section of Isaiah is pointing ahead to the work that Jesus would do. The fact that the sword is coming out of his mouth would refer to the words that came out of Jesus’ mouth. This makes sense, especially when you look at verse 1, “Listen to me, you islands; hear this, you distant nations.” People far and near are called upon to hear what is being said.
We also note Hebrews 4:12, “The word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” This is also a fitting description of the words that Jesus spoke. They were often like a sword cutting away pretense and unbelief. They exposed sin. For example, we think of the way that he addressed those who opposed him. At one time, Jesus told the chief priests and teachers of the law, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you.” Jesus didn’t speak this way because he was trying to insult them. He spoke this way, because he wanted them to wake up and see that the self-righteous life that they were living could not save them. It was a call to repentance.
We also need to heed Jesus’ words, as well. It is easy for us to be satisfied with the way that we are living our lives, especially when we compare them to the lives of others. However, Jesus uses words that condemn us, too. For example, Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment.” (Matthew 5:21&22) We, also, are in need of the cutting words of Jesus, so that we see our complete inability to save ourselves. However, once the cutting has done its job, then Jesus applies the balm of the gospel to our wounds. He tells us that he has paid for all of our sins. He did everything necessary to make us right with God. Jesus speaks to us, as he did to so many people he came into contact with, “Take heart . . . your sins are forgiven.” (Matthew 9:2) The Father used his Son, the Servant of the Lord, to speak his Word to us.
Going on, we see one of the purposes for which God was sending his Servant to the people. He said in verse 3, “He said to me, ‘You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will display my splendor.’” When we hear the word “splendor,” we think of a spectacular and triumphant campaign that would be carried out by the Messiah. Everyone would listen to him and would follow him. However, when we read the gospel accounts of Jesus’ life, we see that this wasn’t what happened. We have people constantly challenging him. We find the times when they wanted to throw Jesus off a cliff. One of his own disciples betrayed him into the hands of his enemies. We see the full extent of their hatred as they did whatever it took until Jesus was put to death on the cross. To the outward eye, it doesn’t look like God’s splendor was on display at all. We even hear the words of the Servant of the Lord in verse 4, “But I said, ‘I have labored in vain; I have spent my strength for nothing at all.’”
However, verse 4 continues, “Yet what is due me is in the LORD’s hand, and my reward is with my God.” With these words, the Messiah putting his complete trust in God’s plan. While, outwardly, it may not have looked like success, this was exactly what the Servant was sent to do. He came to be a suffering Servant. He came to be mistreated. He came to be put on the cross. This was God’s splendor in full display, that he would love a world of lost sinners so much that he was willing to sacrifice his own Son to rescue them. We see the splendor of God in full display on Easter morning, when Jesus rose from the dead. We read in Romans 1:4, “who through the Spirit of holiness was appointed the Son of God in power by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord.” There is no doubt as to whom this Servant is. He is the Son of God. Jesus has left the earth and is now seated in glory at the right hand of the Father. It says in Hebrews 12:2, “For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” At the end of time, Jesus will be seen by all people in all of his glory. When we see Jesus, we see the full display of the splendor of God.
We can learn something from this about our own lives, as well. The work that we do for God will not always have immediate results. There will even be times when people dislike us for doing things God’s way. It is so easy for our human natures to say, “What’s the use? I try to live for God and I just seem to have trouble after trouble. Those not living for God seem to have it so much easier.” At those times, we would do well to echo the words of the Servant of the Lord, “Yet what is due me is in the LORD’s hand, and my reward is with my God.” We have God’s promises that, no matter what we may face, our lives are directed by his loving hand. We, also, find so many wonderful words of encouragement from him. For example, listen to Paul, who also underwent so many hardships for the sake of the gospel. Yet, he could confidently say, “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” (Romans 8:18) We have the confidence because through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, the splendor of God was in full display.
We find the reason for this full display of God’s splendor in verses 5&6, “And now the LORD says — he who formed me in the womb to be his servant to bring Jacob back to him and gather Israel to himself, for I am honored in the eyes of the LORD and my God has been my strength — he says: ‘It is too small a thing for you to be my servant to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel I have kept. I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.’” First of all, he is to “bring Jacob back to him and gather Israel to himself.” In the short term, this would apply to the people of Israel coming back to their homeland after their captivity in Babylon. God was faithful to his promise and, after 70 years, the people returned.
However, there is more to this prophecy than just the physical restoration of a nation. The Messiah would come to bring the people of Israel back to God. The majority of Jesus’ ministry was done among the Jewish people. He came to the descendants of Abraham, in fulfillment of God’s promises to him. The Jewish people had been waiting centuries for the coming of the Messiah. At one point, Jesus said, “I was sent . . . to the lost sheep of Israel.” (Matthew 15:24) During the time that Jesus walked among them, there were Jewish people who put their faith in him as the promised Messiah who came to take away the sins of the world. The Servant of the Lord came to restore the tribes of Jacob to the relationship with God that Abraham enjoyed. His work would focus on the ancient people that God had chosen.
Yet, we see that this was not the sole purpose for the coming of the Servant of the Lord in verse 6, “[The LORD] says: ‘It is too small a thing for you to be my servant to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel I have kept. I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.’” What the Servant of the Lord would accomplish would be so important that it would affect all nations. The work of the Servant of the Lord would be for all people all over the world. What a wonderful message that is! If Jesus came to restore all people from the captivity of sin, death, and the devil, he came for me. If Jesus came to be the Light that would be for all people, he came to be my Light that leads me out of darkness into his wonderful light. It was always Jesus’ will that people throughout the world would come to believe in him as their Savior. This was the plan from the very beginning. This thought comes through so clearly in the well-known words of John 3:16, “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” The Servant of the Lord was used to bring back all God’s people.
God gives you and me a unique opportunity in this regard. There are people that we come into contact with who do not know about God’s love for them. They have no idea that a Savior has come to rescue them from their sins. Some people may feel that they are completely alone, that there is no one who cares about them. We have the privilege to tell them that God loves them and has proven it beyond a shadow of a doubt. God wants all people to be saved and he sent his Servant, Jesus, to carry out his plan. The Lord used his Servant to bring back his people.
A tool, in the hands of a skilled craftsman, can do amazing things. It is almost as though the tool took on a life of its own. The Lord used his Servant, the Messiah, to do even greater things. He was used to speak the Word of God in such unmistakable tones, that none could miss their meaning. Through his work, the splendor of God’s glory shines brightly for all to see. Because of his work, God’s people have been brought back to him for time and for eternity. We praise the Servant of the Lord, Jesus, for his faithfully carrying out his task on our behalf and to his Father’s glory. Amen.
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