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The Model Servant

Isaiah 42:1-4 - Behold, My Servant, whom I uphold; My chosen One in whom My soul delights. I have put My Spirit upon Him; He will bring forth justice to the nations. 2He will not cry out or raise His voice, nor make His voice heard in the street. 3A bruised reed He will not break, and a dimly burning wick He will not extinguish; He will faithfully bring forth justice. 4He will not be disheartened or crushed, until He has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands will wait expectantly for His law.

Christian service is certainly an important and necessary aspect of living a balanced Christian life. Most growing Christians, however, are unbalanced in their approach to this vital area of Christian living. "Whereshould I serve?" and "What ministry is best for me?" are the usual questions that we ask about Christian service. Proper balance should also include questions such as: "Do I meet the qualifications of a goodservant?" and "How do I become the kind of servant God uses?" In fact, these questions should really be considered before we move on to the where and what of Christian service.

The Lord Jesus Christ is the perfect model Servant. Throughout the days of His earthly ministry He was totally involved in serving others. In Mark 10:45, He said to His ambitious disciples, "For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many." All the questions concerning biblical servanthood are answered by looking at the example of our Savior. He was the perfect Servant, the model for us to follow.

In analyzing the servant character of the Lord Jesus there are many Scriptures that could be examined. The entire Gospel of Mark, for example, presents Christ as the perfect Servant. Mark should be studied from this perspective for rich insights concerning the proper servant mentality and the attitude we should emulate. For the purposes of this limited study, however, we will look at a messianic Servant-passage in Isaiah.

In the prophecy of Isaiah, the amazing truth that the Messiah would come as a Servant emerges in no uncertain terms. Many Old Testament prophecies predict that the Messiah would come as a great Prophet, a perfect Priest and a mighty King. But in addition to these themes, the prophet Isaiah emphasized that the Messiah would also come as a humble Servant. God had called His people Israel to be His servant, but they had turned away from the Lord and forfeited their privileged position. Thus in the prophecy of Isaiah, while the nation of Israel is sometimes referred to as God's servant (see 41:8, 42:19, 43:10, 44:1, 45:4), Isaiah foresees the servant role being fulfilled instead by an individual--the Messiah. It is He and not the nation who would be a "light to the Gentiles" and it is He who would ultimately restore Israel to God. (See Isaiah 49:5-7.) The idea that the Messiah would come as a humble servant was so shocking to the Jews that Judaism pushed this truth aside. The concept of the Messiah in orthodox Judaism today still does not allow for a humble servant type of Messiah such as Jesus of Nazareth.

The Servant passages of Isaiah are interspersed within the second half of this prophetic book. They begin in chapter 42 and conclude with the well-known 53rd chapter where God's Servant becomes God's Lamb of sacrifice for the sins of the people. These Messianic sections are sometimes referred to as Isaiah's four "Songs of the Servant" and are generally delineated as follows: First song, Isaiah 42:1-9; second song, Isaiah 49:1-13; third song, Isaiah 50:4-11; fourth song, Isaiah 52:13-53:12. The Servant songs bring out various aspects of the Servant's character and ministry. We will focus on the beginning of the first Servant song and look at the character traits of the perfect Servant presented here. These are moral qualities that need to be developed in us if we are to be effective in Christian service.

The character traits of the model Servant presented in Isaiah 42:1-4 can be looked at from four perspectives: God-ward, self-ward, man-ward and world-ward. In verse one we see the relationship between the model Servant and God. Every clause of the verse brings out the perfect supportive/dependent relationship between God the Father and God the Son who, as man, would take on the role of a Servant. The Servant is specifically chosen and especially supported by God Himself. He is not designated as a chosen Servant, or even thechosen Servant, but "My Servant...My chosen One." The Spirit of God would empower Him. Thus His ministry of justice to the nations would prosper in contrast to the failing attempts of great world leaders. (One such leader would be Cyrus the Persian who is mentioned several times throughout this section of Isaiah's prophecy containing the Servant songs. See, for example, Isaiah 44:28-45:5. While Cyrus would be used of God to help the Jews return from captivity in Babylon, he never established justice and God's laws on the earth. Although he is referred to as God's anointed shepherd because of his dealings with Israel, he is never called "My Servant". That term is reserved for the coming Messiah who, as God's humble servant, would be incomparably greater than powerful world leaders such as Cyrus.)

We should mention in passing that the same "success power" of the Holy Spirit is available to us for Christian service today if we follow the model of the perfect Servant. Too often, however, we are content to operate in our own power and too often for self-serving causes. All of the perfect Servant's actions and motives were Spirit-led and thus pleasing to God. Could there be any higher praise from God than "in whom My soul delights"? This could be said only of the perfect Servant. Remember the Father's declaration at Christ's baptism and also at the Mount of transfiguration, "This is My beloved Son in whom I am well pleased." (See Matthew 3:17 and 17:5.) The model Servant never wavered in His obedience or submission to the Father. What a contrast to the nation of Israel that was so displeasing to the heart of God because of its disobedience and rebellion. What a contrast to us as well. How can we possibly delight the Son of God when, so often, our commitment is weak and vacillating. Frequently we're governed more by our pleasure and prestige than by pleasing God. Why, for example, are we sometimes more concerned about our public image than our private devotional life? May our Christian service be more like the "God-ward" model of the perfect Servant!

In verse 2 we have the "self-ward" perspective of the model Servant. The coming Servant would not be intent on drawing crowds to Himself by loud and dramatic public speeches. He would not yell or be pushy but He would be characterized by a mild demeanor. His quiet and reserved way of operation would not be for lack of courage or sense of mission, but rather because He would not be out to make a name for Himself. Even though He would minister to large crowds He would disdain sensationalism, ostentation and fanfare. Matthew quotes this prophecy of Isaiah to explain the frequent requests of Jesus to the crowds that they should not make Him known. (See Matthew 12:18-21.) As the perfect Servant, He avoided the limelight and publicity. How different we are! We don't seem to mind our good works being made the center of attention. In fact, we are not opposed to making a big splash with good press coverage so more folks will take notice of our service for the Lord! Can you imagine our "game plan" if we could walk on water or multiply loaves of bread?! What self-control the model Servant exhibited throughout His ministry in the use of His power and spiritual gifts. We need to follow the unassuming and unpretentious ways of the model Servant!

Following the "self-ward" model of the perfect Servant does not mean that there will be no stormy public confrontations at times. Think of our Lord's reaction to the moneychangers in this connection (John 2:14-16). However, if these kinds of stormy confrontations did not characterize the Servant, so they will notcharacterize us if we follow His example. The kingdom is not best advanced by servants who are characterized by public shouting-at-the-street-corner tactics. Steady progress comes through servants who are characterized by personally sharing the love of Christ with the many individuals God brings into our lives--business associates, fellow students, neighbors, or persons we just happen to sit next to on the plane. Shouting the Christian message in the streets may actually be a way of drawing attention to ourselves! We servants need to be characterized more by living the Christian message in the streets and following the modest and unobtrusive ways of the model Servant.

In verse 3 the "man-ward" perspective of the model servant comes before us. The two figures of the bruised reed and the dimly burning wick emphasize the graciousness and gentleness of our Lord's dealing with people. Bruised reeds are practically worthless and easily broken. Normal procedure is not to waste time with bruised reeds, but to toss them aside. But that's not the way the Lord works with people. No one is worthless or beyond His sympathetic touch, no matter how battered or bruised they may be--physically, spiritually or psychologically.

Dimly burning wicks are feeble and fragile and easily snuffed out. Who would take the time and effort to "nurse" such a small smoldering light back to full strength? The Lord would! He is tender and patient with us. He knows how to properly trim the wick and gently fan the delicate spark back to flame and full light. Think of how the Lord worked with the bruised reed of the Samaritan woman (John 4), or the dimly burning wick of Nicodemus (John 3).

Do you feel like a bruised reed or a dimly burning wick in your faith right now? Maybe you're so bruised that you're almost turned off to the faith. Maybe you're so smoldering that you're almost burned out as to any kind of Christian service. Don't give up! The model Servant is still in the business of healing and helping bruised reeds and flickering wicks. Submit to His tender and gentle hands. And those of us who have come to know His kind touch must follow His example in the way we treat fellow servants and others who are hurting.

In verse 4 we are told what the relationship would be between the model Servant and the world. We see that the coming Servant would not be "disheartened or crushed" by the pressures of the world system. It is very significant that these two words in Hebrew are the same as the terms "dimly burning" and "bruised" respectively in verse 3. In other words, while the perfect Servant would reach out to the bruised and dimly burning people of the world, He Himself would not be bruised or burning dimly. The world system with all its disappointments and discouragements and evil pressures would not detrimentally affect His ministry. Who could this Servant be but God Himself!

The world into which the humble Servant would come would be a world where justice and the law of God would not be upheld. But God's Servant would patiently preach and practice the standards of heaven, even if immediate results were not spectacular. The promise is made in this verse that His truth would eventually triumph. While world leaders like Cyrus would come in glory in their own political and military triumphs but then pass away, the perfect Servant would live on to see God's justice and truth established in the earth.

The world still is not looking for Christ's order on this earth, but our resurrected Lord is going to return. When He returns to this world, His just judgments and perfect laws will not only be established but joyfully accepted. Think of the patience of our Lord as He waits in heaven to see the full fruits of His labor on earth. Here again we are taught the proper servant attitude. We must not become discouraged because the "world-ward" results of our serving the Lord are not instantaneous or spectacular. Let us follow the perfect example set for us by our Lord Jesus Christ, the model Servant.
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