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First Sunday after the Epiphany
St. Stephen's Anglican Church
The Rev. Jeffrey O. Cerar, January 11, 2015

God’s Spirit is upon His Servant

Text: Isaiah 42:1-9

Today we have read a passage from Isaiah that we call a “servant song.” There are four of them in chapters 42 through 53, and this is the first of them. They are somewhat mysterious. They don’t say clearly who the servant is of whom they speak. And yet, in them, God reveals a great deal about His ways and His purposes. He speaks to us on several spiritual and historical levels. It was not until more than 700 years after they were written that some of those levels began to come into view.

This is the nature of revelation. This is the nature of prophecy. This is the way God communicates with His people. In order to embrace God’s revelation,

• We have to submit to the truth of His Word.

• We have to commit to the hard work of understanding it,

• And we have to put ourselves into God’s hands to bring it to pass in our lives,

As we look at Isaiah 42:1-9 this morning, I want to bring it into the immediacy of our lives today as disciples of Jesus. God was revealing Himself, His plan and His techniques in these servant songs. This prophecy was given sometime around the end of the 7th century BC, when the people of the Northern Kingdom, known as Israel, had been brutalized by the Assyrians and taken off in captivity to Babylon. God was speaking to the Southern Kingdom, known as Judah, and warning them that the same fate awaited them because of their sin and their idolatry. But God was also reassuring them of three things:

1.  He was the God of history, and He was in control of the future.

2.  Their punishment would not last forever.

3.  They could still count on His promises; He would restore their fortunes one day.

God assured them of another thing as well. And that was that His grace and His salvation were for the whole world. These servant songs show us that God is going to save the world through His own Son, and through the willing hearts and hands of those who reflect His self-giving love.

Who is the servant? First, God is speaking about His chosen people, the Hebrews. It has always been His expressed intent that the whole world would be blessed through the descendants of Abraham.

But God was also speaking about the Messiah, the highly anticipated deliverer of God’s people.

And, when Jesus came into the world as God with us, as the Word made flesh, as the Son of God, we realized that He was the Messiah.

And yet, was God done? Jesus didn’t just come and conquer and leave. He left behind a servant people to do His will—the Body of Christ, the Church. And when you read the job description of the servant in Isaiah chapter 42, you can see the ideal Jesus had for the Church.

The servant of whom God speaks in the Book of Isaiah is all of the above:

• The chosen people, the Hebrews;

• The Messiah;

• Jesus, the King of kings and Lord of lords;

• And the Church.

Let us focus on Jesus and the Church. Verse 1 of our passage says, “Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights.” We heard the Father speak those words over Jesus just this morning as we read of the baptism of Jesus in the River Jordan. And Jesus spoke those same words over us:

• As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you.” [John 15:9]

• “You did not chose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit and to bear it in abundance.” [John 15:16]

Verses 2-4:

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.

Do you see the gentle compassion of Jesus?

Do you see Him standing firm and silent before His accusers on Good Friday?

Do you see His eternal rule, His kingdom that will have no end?

Do you see His universal monarchy? Ephesians tells us God intends to unite all things in heaven and on earth under one head, even Jesus Christ.

Do you see the Church in these verses?

Do you see us as the Bible calls us, to be gentle and lowly in spirit, to speak the truth in love?

Do you see the self-giving love Jesus called us to have?

Do you see us as Christ’s witnesses?

Do you see us spreading His Word and His truth and His rule to the ends of the earth, as Jesus told us to do in the Great Commission?

Three times in the first four verses of this passage we read of the servant bringing forth justice in the earth. The Hebrew word Isaiah used was mishpat. In his prophecies, mishpat meant something much broader than what we mean by the term “justice.” It is a breathtaking vision. The justice the servant will bring to the earth is nothing less than making God known to all people, spreading abroad the truth of His Word, and effectuating His grand design of bringing all things under His sovereign rule.

It is striking how the Father announced that He would accomplish things through these servants. He said in verse 1, “I have put my Spirit upon Him.” (Isaiah 42:1) And He said in verse 6, “I will take you by the hand and keep you.” God is saying,

• I have chosen this servant,

• I delight in Him,

• I am sending Him,

• I will empower him by the Holy Spirit,

• and I will be with him always.

That is God’s revelation. And that is God’s promise to us.

Let’s look at what God meant when He said, “I have put my Spirit upon Him.” The Gospel writers tell us that the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus at His baptism. Luke tells us that from there, Jesus went out into the wilderness, “filled with the Holy Spirit.” (Luke 4:1) And shortly thereafter, Jesus revealed it to the people at the synagogue in Nazareth when He read from the scroll of Isaiah:

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down...[and said, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” [Luke 4:18-21]

It was in the power of the Holy Spirit that Jesus healed the sick, raised the dead, and brought sight to the blind. It was through the Holy Spirit that the lame walked and the deaf could hear and the demons fled.

We live in a scientific age, when many wonderful things have been learned by science. We have discerned laws of nature which cannot be contravened by human beings. But there is something outside science that is more powerfully at work than all the ingenuity of humankind, and that is the power of the Holy Spirit. For God, the Creator, can wave aside the laws of nature to do His will. And it is through God’s Holy Spirit that the servants of God are able to serve Him.

The Hebrew people were not up to the task of changing the world to establish the universal rule of God. And neither are we. But the power of the Holy Spirit, working in us, can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine. (Ephesians 3:20) And Jesus promised that He would make that happen in us.

He told His disciples tantalizingly that they would do even greater things than He did. But He was going to have to make that possible. So He promised He would send them the Holy Spirit, who would be with them forever. (John 14:16-17) He told them that, after His ascension into heaven, they should go back to Jerusalem and wait until they had been “clothed with power from on high.” (Luke 24:49) “For John baptized with water,” He told them, “but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 1:4-6)

And they were. It was only a ten days’ wait. And when it came, on the day of Pentecost, all heaven broke loose. They went out into the streets, speaking in tongues, proclaiming the great deeds of God to everyone within hearing. And 3,000 people became believers that day. The Holy Spirit is mentioned 44 times in the Book of Acts. We see people “baptized” in the Holy Spirit. We see people “filled with the Holy Spirit.” We see the Holy Spirit speaking to those making decisions. We see God’s willing servants do amazing things in God’s power.

And so it goes on down to today. We are not equipped in our own flesh to do the great things Jesus has called on us to do for Him. We are not capable of being the servant who will bring justice to the earth, and open the eyes of the blind, and bring out the prisoners who sit in darkness. But God has chosen us. He delights in us. And He promises us His Holy Spirit to empower us to do His great works.

As He says in verse 9 of our passage this morning, “Behold, the former things have come to pass, and new things I now declare; before they spring forth I tell you of them.” [Isaiah 42:9]

God is doing a new thing. And what is that new thing? The world would have you believe it is that we humans have evolved to a point where we see things in a new way—so things the Bible calls evil are now called good. Don’t believe that for a minute. God’s righteous will and His truth never change. (See Matthew 24:35, Hebrews 13:8) But the new thing He is doing is to redeem the world. It may not seem new to us, 2000 years after Christ. It is taking a long time, by our reckoning. But it is still a new thing. From early, early times, the world has been filled with wickedness and hardness of heart, and people ignore, reject and oppose God. The new thing God is doing is to turn the hearts of people to Him, to bring all things in heaven and earth under one head, even Jesus Christ. And the new thing God is doing is to open the eyes of the blind to see His truth and say, “Alleluia! Our God reigns!”

America has forgotten that God is doing a new thing.

• We forgot that we were God’s chosen servant to reach and bless the world.

• We forgot that God’s Word was always true, in every respect.

• We forgot that without Him we could do nothing.

• And we forgot that He has poured His Holy Spirit into us, expecting us to put our trust in His power.

As a result, we face an uphill climb to come out of a dark place.

I have heard many of you bemoan this. But I haven’t heard as many say, “I want more of God’s power so that I can better be His chosen servant.” If God has chosen you, and if God delights in you, and if God has put His Spirit upon you, doesn’t it make sense that you should want as much of His Spirit as possible? Doesn’t it make sense that you should want to justify the trust God has put in you?

For a long time, all these words about the Holy Spirit working in us were missed or ignored. But in recent years, Christians have taken them more seriously. I was 51 years old when I first heard about being filled with the Holy Spirit. After asking about it for over a year, I went up for prayer at Ridge Crest, North Carolina, where I had taken my youth group for a conference on the Holy Spirit. Someone prayed over me and asked God to pour out His Holy Spirit on me. What happened is hard to explain. It was as if the pilot light that was lit when I had been sealed by the Holy Spirit in baptism in 1946 suddenly burst into flame. I was still the same introvert. I was still a person who chose my words carefully, and who looked before I leapt. But God did a new thing in me. I found Him taking me places I never thought I’d go, doing things I never pictured myself doing.

Within a few months, I found myself saying yes to my first overseas mission trip.

I found myself standing barefoot in the marble pulpit of a 1,000-seat Cathedral in Nagpur, India, preaching a sermon with almost no notice.

I found myself praying for a retarded child to be healed,

and for a barren woman to conceive.

And God answered both those prayers.

I found myself evangelizing Muslim shopkeepers in Africa.

I even found myself casting out a demon at a Board of Governors’ meeting at Christ Church School.

These were all the doing of the Holy Spirit. And I cherish the ride He is still taking me on. I wait with bated breath (and some trepidation) for the next surprise adventure He has in store for me.

Those amazing stories we read about in the New Testament are not just artifacts from a time when God was doing a new thing. These are those times. And if we want to be a part of God’s marvelous work, we can have the same in-dwelling of the Holy Spirit that those we read about in the Book of Acts had. In fact, we have to have the Holy Spirit’s power.

• The world is too far into the darkness for people to fix it.

• The devil’s lies have gained too much traction.

• People are too much into their false gods.

But God’s new thing is in full swing, and He wants to give us the privilege of being His instruments.

Today, during communion, I’m going to stand at the back of the aisle to pray with anyone who wants to be filled with the Holy Spirit. I can’t guarantee that you will feel any particular thing. But I can tell you that God’s promises are true. And He will use you in some way that you will look back on and know it was all His doing. And you will be blessed to be a part of God’s wonderful new thing.

© Jeffrey O. Cerar 2015

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