Matthew 12:15-21 New International Version (NIV)
God’s Chosen Servant
15 Aware of this, Jesus withdrew from that place. A large crowd followed him, and he healed all who were ill. 16 He warned them not to tell others about him. 17 This was to fulfil what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah:
18 “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.
19 He will not quarrel or cry out;
no one will hear his voice in the streets.
20 A bruised reed he will not break,
and a smouldering wick he will not snuff out,
till he has brought justice through to victory.
21 In his name the nations will put their hope.”[a]
Why does Jesus tell the people to keep quite; and why does Matthew link this with a prophecy written hundreds of years before Christ? Well, it comes down to the conflict of how men do things and how God does things.
I was interested to research this last week the interaction between early Christians and Roman culture in the first few hundred years after Christ. The Romans despised everything about Christianity; they thought Jesus to be weak, and asked what kind of God choses to die? They though Christians pitiful, as they too embodied this desire to be peaceable and die. And so in 303 AD a great and final Roman persecution against the Christians broke out. Now, what does this have to do with the passage we are reading tonight; well we see in this passage the nature of what Christ came to do and how he did it, and how this set up the culture and activity of the church for the first few hundred years. And I want to suggest tonight that all who embrace the gospel will continue in this pattern.
You see this passage that Matthew quotes is a respond to what we went through last week; which was as we read in 12:14
14 But the Pharisees went out and plotted how they might kill Jesus.
What is Jesus’ response to his life being threatened?
We read, that he withdrew, He did not take the fight to the Pharisees, but rather continued the work of healing and bringing good news to the down and outs. In all this we see a Messianic hope and expectation collide with the reality of what Christ actually came to do. Now, we need to talk about this tonight, because often our expectation of Christ in our life and the reality of Christ need to be held up to the light of Scripture and scrutinised.
So the first way that Jesus destroys the expectation of the Jews and in fact our expectations today is;
1. He did not want to start a revolution; He was the revolution
We read in the prophecy by Isaiah, that Matthew quotes here, that the Messiah, God’s chosen servant will proclaim and bring Justice to the nations. Now, we have covered this idea several weeks back, as Matthew has brought up this idea before. But to recap; the hope of the Jews, and what is being refenced here is the idea that the Jews believed that YAHWEH, their God was the true God, and He was a good God who made a good world. Yet through sin we had forfeited the good in this world and handed it over to evil.
So, essentially we are living in a good world that is under the siege of evil. The hope was that God is going to come down and retake his world, re-establishing justice and goodness.
Now, the Jews, and if we are honest, we even today believe that the establishment of justice will come with a revolution; a fight back by the oppressed and downcast. This has always been the motivation of mankind.
Throughout human history you have had people rise up to fight against the evil of tyranny and over-throw the system to bring justice. You have had several “peasant revolts” in the middle ages, you had the French and American Revolutions of the 18th century. In the 20th century we saw the “workers revolution” or Russia and East, and in the 21st century everything seems to be a revolution. The crisis of all these great dreams of justice, of these desires to stick it to the oppressor, to destroy the evil in the world, is that without exception; those who do the overthrowing become more oppressive and more evil than those they sought to overthrow.
We all want justice and revolution until it calls out our evil. The revolution that the world needs, the revolution that this country needs is a revolution of heart! Where people start to love justice (real justice) and love goodness! The crisis is that we cannot love justice, because all of us are guilty. All of us! We fail on the most basic demands of justice; we do not live up to the standards that we demand of others. This is why I believe, more and more strongly the older I get, that Christ is the revolution that the world longs for. For it is only in Christ that real justice is achieved! You want real justice in the world, well then everything wrong must be call to account! Everything! Every bad action, every lie, every hateful thought, every lust, all greed, every act of disobedience must be held to account! If you want a good world, we need to ensure that it is really good!
Christ did not come to start a movement, to start a social justice movement. He came to be justice. He did this by taking upon himself all the evil and sin of mankind. Just a little further in this prophecy by Isaiah we see how revolutionary was God’s plan all along! How justices was going to come into this world; it wasn’t by overthrowing the evil people! We read in Isaiah 53:4-5;
He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief. Like one from whom men hide their faces, He was despised, and we esteemed Him not. 4Surely He took on our infirmities and carried our sorrows; yet we considered Him stricken by God, struck down and afflicted. 5But He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed. Freedom from oppression did not start in Christ; it was Christ, our true oppression; the real problem in the world today is not that that there are evil people out there messing it up; it is that my own heart is messing this world up. Now Jesus took that upon himself, He was pierced for your sins, He was crushed for your failures. But His punishment has brought us peace!
2. He did not come to fight; he came to heal
We read in this passage how he was quiet and gentle, and the broken and dying out things were not despised by him but rather he endured them until he brings justice to victory.
We live in an age of outrage, of fighting for our causes. We fight and are outraged because we really believe that the problems of the world are because there exists evil out there. And so it is our job, as those on the side of good to fight against the forces of evil. To identify and eliminate all those bad people out there. It can never be that our cause is false, or driven by evil intent. It can never be that those evil “others” have good parts to them, that they are people, they are animals, evil hateful subhuman things.
The crisis comes when we sit in a moment of clarity and see that our cause is just as bigoted as the others cause, that our injustices is just as glaring as theirs and we will see that no-one stands on the “right side of history”. Because there is only one who is truly God, and we all have like sheep gone astray, and are enemies with the only good in the universe. If God came to fight for justice in this world, we would all be against Him and we would all lose! But He didn’t, “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son that whoever believes in Him would not perish but have eternal life” (Jn 3:16)
As Isaiah says, “In his names the nations will put their hope.” Because it is only in Christ that there is hope that our injustice, our sins will be dealt with in a way that we could endure! This brings two profound realities to the fore, firstly your sins matter, injustices matters! If you think that because Jesus paid for my sins so I can now live how I like; you have no concept of what Jesus did, nor the great cost He endured to ensure your forgiveness! Christians should look at the sin and injustice of the world and weep, because we more than anyone know the great horror of our sins!
We know that a little lie leads to death! We know that small hatred leads to death! We know lust leads to death! Because Jesus had to die, a gruesome and violent death! You want to see the conclusion of your secret sins; you want to know where they are pointing you; look at the violence and brutality of the cross! We tend to compartmentalise sins, well this sin is not as bad as another; but the reality is that they set things into motion that reap destruction and chaos! We should not marvel when bad things happen in the world; we should marvel that there is any good left! That is grace! Because all of us here, everyone has sowed enough sin in our lives to reap the darkest depths of hell!
Secondly, and this is so important for us to get, God through Christ is welcoming sinners back to himself! Oh, how we have sowed hell, but Christ has already endured our hell on the cross, so that in Christ; there is now, no condemnation! We cry out as David did in Psalm 32:1; “Blessed is the one whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered.” This is why, although in 303 AD a great persecution broke out against a group of people who worshiped a dying God, and it was not a war, it was a slaughter; thousands and thousands of Christians led into stadiums to die. But they died with joy; they loved those who hated them, they cried out not to be avenged but for the forgiveness of those who persecuted them. Because they had become like their saviour; who identified with the sinner, the enemy those who hated Him. That is why in 325 AD just 22 years later Christianity would be making moves to usurp Rome’s dominance in the West, and why a group of people who were willing to die would become the idea that shaped the Western world for the next 1500 years!
We all want to leave our mark on the world, we all want to be something great! We want to fight for something that is right. But the only right good and great person who ever lived did not rally great troops for His cause, He did not take the fight to those evil oppressors, He loved those who hated Him, He cared for those who could not pay Him back and He died for those who cursed Him and reviled Him! We say we want to follow Jesus, well he said; if you want to follow me, pick up your cross! Love those who are your enemies! Endure and bless those who hate you and hurt you! Forgive those who wrong you!
We will never do that and in fact can never do that until we see that He did it for us! We are the enemy, we are the ones who hurt Him and hated Him, we are the ones who sent Him to the cross to die! When we see that we see ourselves in everyone who is like us! And we will be like Him and want to endure their hatred with love, to overcome their evil with kindness, and love when they hate!
We love because He first love us (1Jn 4:19)!