Reflections on how Christians help each other to grow and mature in loving God with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength and to love their neighbor as themselves.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Servant Leadership - Part 3

Isaiah 42:1-4

The Bearer of Justice to the Nations

Here we see the servant of God who is chosen and empowered to “establish justice in the earth” (v. 4). As the bearer of justice for the earth, the chosen one serves all of creation. This chosen one is filled with the spirit of God (v. 1). The Spirit leads, teaches, and conforms the servant’s will to the will of God. Because of the power of the Spirit within and around the servant is able to bear witness to and establish God’s rule of justice for all nations not through violence or domination but through love, compassion, and suffering. “…a bruised reed he will not break, a dimly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice” (Isaiah 42:3).

What is justice? The Hebrew here is mispat. Bruce Birch provides a clear definition in his book Let Justice Roll Down: The Old Testament, Ethics, and Christian Life:

Justice (mispat) relates to the claim to life and participation by all persons in the structures and dealings of the community, and especially to equity in the legal system.”[i]

“Justice is a chief attribute of God’s activity in the world… God is the source of care for the right of every person, and the giver of the law which seeks to embody that right in structures of faithful community. Thus, the context for apprehending the activity of God as justice is the wider covenant community and not merely the structures of the judicial system. The prophets in particular appeal to this broad understanding of God’s justice as a warrant for human justice.”[ii]

As God’s chosen one within the human community the servant must bear witness to the reality and the nature of divine justice. He does this by identifying himself with the poor, the weak and the vulnerable members of the world. In this sense, the world is God’s household and is under God’s compassionate and just sovereignty. Likewise, God’s chosen one is the representative of the head of the household and bears witness to the household rules of justice and righteousness that assure that everyone has a place at the table and a share of everything that is on the table; that all receive what is needed to live and to participate fully in the community.

The early church interpreted the baptism of Jesus through the lens of Isaiah 42:1-4. All the synoptic accounts of his baptism present Jesus as God’s chosen one upon whom the divine Spirit rests:

And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:16-17)

For the gospel writers there is no question as to the identity of God’s servant. Jesus is the one who will bring forth justice for Israel and for all the earth. Later in the synoptics each writer reinforces the servant identity of Jesus as he prepares to set his face toward Jerusalem for the last time on the mount of Transfiguration (Matthew 17:1-8; Mark 9:2-13; Luke 9:28-36; 2 Peter 1:16-18). As he prepared to encounter suffering, rejection, betrayal, and death Jesus’ appearance is transformed “and his clothes became dazzling white” (Mt. 17:2). The light brings to mind here Isaiah 42:6-8:

…I have given you as a covenant to the people, a light to the nations, to open the eyes of the blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness. I am the LORD, that is my name, my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to idols.

In all that he suffered in the days that followed, Jesus was the light of God to the nations that revealed God’s power in weakness. His passion became the light that gave freedom to all that were living in the darkness of oppression, suffering, and injustice. God’s kingdom of compassion and justice was revealed for all to see in the servant of God who was crucified.

The eyes of Peter, James, and John were opened. They witnessed the glory of God and the full identity of Jesus. To clarify their understanding of the image standing before them, they heard the voice of God saying, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him! (Mt. 17:5)” The voice reaffirmed Jesus’ identity as the Son and servant of God heard years earlier at his baptism by John. Thus, in both the accounts of his baptism and in the transfiguration stories, the early church identified Jesus with the servant of God in Isaiah 42.

Jesus is explicitly recognized as God’s chosen servant in Matthew 12:15-21. The author of Matthew cites Isaiah 42:1-4 to show that Jesus’ ministry of healing and of challenging the legalism of religious authority (Matthew 12:9-14) were fulfillment of prophecy. Jesus’ life and ministry was that of the servant of God. He was the bearer of God’s justice for all people, Jews and Gentiles. When he healed the sick he restored them to wholeness. As whole persons they could become full participants in community life and resources. When Jesus challenged the Sabbath law (Mt. 12:9-14) he liberated the Sabbath from rigid limits imposed upon it by the traditions of religious leaders. He taught that the Sabbath was created for humankind. Humankind was not created for the Sabbath. In this teaching Jesus set the Sabbath free to be the life-giving time of re-creation for which it was intended. Here Jesus illustrated the servant nature of his ministry and of the institution of the Sabbath. Both he and the Sabbath were gifts from God to give and to celebrate life, love and justice for all people.



[i] Bruce C. Birch, Let Justice Roll Down: The Old Testament, Ethics, and Christian Life (Louisville: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1991), 259.

[ii] Ibid., 155-156.

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