The Servant Songs and the Greatest Service of All
I am impressed by good service.
Good service at a restaurant I eat at, good service by the plumber who fixes my house, good service from the kindergarten teacher my child attends. Wherever it may be, if I receive good service I am impressed by it.
I’m impressed because good service surpasses my expectations for the everyday, give-and-take interaction.
At Christmas each year we read and hear the story of Jesus’ birth. For those of us who have been involved in church and walked the Christian life for some time, we can take this story for granted. Instead of being impressed by the truths of the incarnation, we often become blasé and apathetic to the season.
Yet, as I delve into scripture in greater depth, I am more and more impressed at how God’s handiwork throughout the Old Testament speaks into the birth of Jesus. And lately, for me, this has come from the book of Isaiah.
Seven to eight hundred years prior to the birth of Jesus, we read the prophecies and teaching of God through the person of Isaiah. He speaks to the leaders of God’s people with admonishment and judgement upon their rebellion toward God, but also (like all of the Old Testament prophets) provides promises of hope for the future.
Through what is known as four ‘Servant Songs’ (Isaiah 42:1-4; 49:1-13; 50:4-9; 52:13-52:12), God’s message through Isaiah depicts a person who will come and serve the people of God. This person will come from within Israel, and is to serve them as one who has been called and consecrated by the Lord. Through this ‘Servant of the Lord,’ there will come restoration, hope, and salvation for God’s people.
In chapter 49:5-6 the words of Isaiah speak of how the Lord will form this servant from the womb, and will provide him with strength to unite God’s people. The Lord then seems to be speaking to this servant directly when he says,
“It is too small a thing for you to be my servant, 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 you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth.” (See also Isaiah 50:10; 52:13; 53:11).
Through what we could call this ‘Servant-King’, God will enact his mission in reconciling the world to himself once again. No longer will God’s people be ruled by inept human leaders, but will be governed by a selfless, humble, and perfect Servant-King. And this Servant-King, as we understand from the New Testament, is Jesus. The birth of whom we celebrate each Christmas.
And as we celebrate Jesus this Christmas it is worth considering at least one of these four Servant Songs, because through them we find how important they are for understanding the incarnation event. These Servant Songs – written centuries before Jesus’ birth – reveal just how specifically the scripture speaks to the truth of who he would be.
In Isaiah 42:1-4 it reads:
1 Behold my servant, whom I uphold,
my chosen, in whom my soul delights;
I have put my Spirit upon him;
he will bring forth justice to the nations.
2 He will not cry aloud or lift up his voice,
or make it heard in the street;
3 a bruised reed he will not break,
and a faintly burning wick he will not quench;
he will faithfully bring forth justice.
4 He will not grow faint or be discouraged
till he has established justice in the earth;
and the coastlands wait for his law.
These words of Isaiah give us insight into the Servant-King. We are told of what this person will do and what he won’t do. This prophecy speaks to the heart of who Jesus is and why he has been sent. Here are words that bring hope and encouragement to the people of God, both at the time of writing and today.
Through these four verses we begin to gain a picture of the character and mission of this Servant-King Jesus. This Servant-King:
- is a specific person chosen and upheld by the Lord (v1)
- is one who is delighted in by the Lord (v1)
- will have the Spirit of God upon them (v1)
- will bring justice to the nations and peoples of the world (v1)
- will not cry aloud and lift his voice in the streets (v2)
- will not break people, abuse them, or squash them (v3)
- will not tire nor be discouraged from pursuing his mission (v4)
And when we read these, knowing our New Testament scriptures, we find that Jesus meets each aspect of this criteria. Jesus was chosen, upheld, and delighted in by God. He had the Spirit upon him, and has come to be the perfect just judge. Through his ministry he worked in humility and with patience, seeking to serve, to be kind and compassionate, and tender toward others. And finally, he did not grow discouraged or stop the work he was called to do, not even unto the point of death.
Seven hundred years after Isaiah wrote these words, they find fulfillment through the Servant-King Jesus.
Through his birth Jesus comes as the great justice-giver. Jesus comes to bring justice to the nations, and establish justice upon the earth. Jesus achieves these words of justice through his life and ministry, ultimately turning that justice upon himself, making himself the conduit of justice by taking upon the sins of the world. Through the cross Jesus achieves and establishes justice for the nations, and for us personally. He serves as the Servant-King, reminding us of the words of Mark 10:45, “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
The faithfulness of God toward his people, the delivery of true restoration, the provision of hope for the future, and the salvation for souls finds culmination at the cross.
Jesus, the Servant-King, provides us with the greatest service. And as we turn toward the celebration of his birth may we be wonderfully impressed, strengthened in faith, and humbled through grace, because of God’s words through his prophets.