Isaiah 49:1–7 2nd Sunday after the Epiphany, January 19, 2020
Children can bring their parents a great deal of joy and glory. A child makes the game winning shot, hits a homerun in the bottom of the ninth, grabs a touchdown just as time expires to win the big game. The crowd cheers. And there you sit with a smile on your face and tears in your eyes. People praise your child. Children can bring their parents a great deal of joy and glory. Or a teacher compliments your son/daughter at a parent/teacher conference. The teacher shares all the great work they’re doing in school – academically and socially. Children can bring their parents a great deal of joy and glory.
In our Old Testament Reading for today, a servant is described who brings God a great deal of glory. God even calls the Servant by name in our text, “Israel, in whom I will be glorified” (Is 49:3).
However, in the first Israel, the Israel that we most often call by that name, that is, the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, God was anything but glorified. He had chosen them to be his people and had promised to be their God and to bless them in abundance, which he did. They were to be his people, his servant in this world and among the other nations.
But their ingratitude for all that God had given them, their wandering eye that always found the false gods of their neighbors attractive, their injustice and oppression of one another – all of this brought God anything but glory!
Like Israel in the Old Testament, we, too, fail to bring God glory at times. We, too, can be ungrateful for the blessings God showers down upon us, thinking we earned them, we deserved them, or, worse yet, we are entitled to them. We, too, can find the gods of our neighbors very attractive and alluring. We, too, can think only of the ways that others can benefit us instead of the other way around. At times, we, like Israel in the Old Testament, fail to bring God glory.
Fortunately for all, a new Servant would be sent by God. One who will be everything that the first Israel was not. You see, our Old Testament Reading is actually one of four sections in the Book of Isaiah called “Servant Songs.” All of them describe a particular “servant of the Lord.” And who is this Servant in our lesson? The only person who completely fulfills all of the characteristics of the Servant is the promised Messiah, the Christ, the Son of God, Jesus. And so this Old Testament Reading is describing God’s Son and the salvation he would bring, some seven hundred years before he will walk this earth.
This Servant of God speaks at the very beginning of our lesson and describes how the Lord called him from the womb and named him from the body of his mother. In other words, God had set this Servant apart even before this Servant was born. And God had named this Servant even before this Servant was born. Through this Servant, Jesus, God will be glorified.
And God will be chiefly glorified by this Servant when this Servant completes the will of the Father and voluntarily, willingly, lays down his life for the sins of the world. As Jesus said, “The Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mk 10:45).
Jesus, in his High Priestly Prayer to the Father less than twenty-four hours before he would go to the cross, prays, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son, that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him” (Jn 17:1–2). In this Servant, and in his willing submission to the will of the Father to be the sacrifice for the sin of the world, the Father is glorified.
And nowhere is the glory of God more visible for all the world to see than on the cross of Calvary. There, Christ serves not only his Father, but all of us by paying the price for our sin. Stop and consider that in Jesus, God himself bows his head and dies for sinners. How amazing! And in so doing, he reveals the glory of God for all the world to see.
This Servant will bring glory to God by the breadth and depth of his work. God says to his Servant in our text, “It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to bring back the preserved of Israel; I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth” (v 6).
This was no small, limited mission. Christ did not die for some of the world’s sin or for some of the world’s sinners. As John the Baptist states so wonderfully in today’s Gospel, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (Jn 1:29). His work was all-encompassing. He is a “light to the nations,” and the Lord’s salvation has reached “to the end of the earth.”
And now, it is we, whose lives have been eternally changed through the work of God’s Servant, who can reveal the glory of God to the world. Daily, we have the opportunity to let those around us see the glory of God through our words and through our actions. For we are God’s servants who follow in the footsteps of the Servant of God, Jesus Christ.
If you look up the definition of the word servant you’ll find that it means “one who performs tasks for others.” When we think of our lives now, we might slightly change that definition to read, “one who performs tasks that bring God glory.”
Freed from our sins, we are free to love one another as Christ has loved us. Freed from our sins, we are free to place the needs of those around us above our own. Freed from our sins, we are free to serve others in ways that God is glorified. Perhaps you make a meal for someone after they get home from the hospital. Maybe you visit someone who could use some company. Or you simply speak a kind word to lift another up – at work, at school, wherever. We follow the example of Christ, who bound himself in service to us. So also, we are bound to one another.
A servant’s life in early twentieth-century England, as depicted in the show Downton Abbey, was anything but easy. These servants experienced long hours often spent in hard, physical labor. Whether it was cooking, cleaning, carrying luggage, shining shoes, or any number of other domestic duties, the life of the servant was not an easy one. The servant was to listen and not to speak when a member of the family spoke to him or her. Only if they were asked to respond would servants be expected to engage in conversation with the family. And servants were not expected to speak about themselves. All of this was done for relatively little pay. It was not easy being a servant in late nineteenth-century England. In a similar way, it’s not easy being God’s servant in this day and age. Our sinful nature, the devil, and the world will tell us to serve ourselves and bring ourselves as much glory as we can. Our culture is turning increasingly away from Christ and his Church (even as it’s growing in other places like Africa and Asia), not seeing the need for a Savior and not wanting to entertain the idea that Christ is the Savior. Despite these challenges, may God continually equip and strengthen us to be his servants – serving him and one another. We serve him by serving others. May he empower us to do and say those things that bring him glory. Remembering God’s perfect Servant and all he did to serve God and us, bringing God glory, together may we be God’s servants who bring him glory. Then will be accomplished the timeless purpose, that in Christ, God’s Servant, and in his servants today, God is glorified.