CMC/Preface: The following was the first of many messages given by pastor Kenny Stokes on May 1, 2010 during pastor John Piper’s extended leave at Bethlehem Baptist Church. We encourage our readers to give it careful consideration and if they are able to listen to the actual message (mp3) by visiting Hope In God. Brother Stokes’ understanding of the New Covenant is appreciated.
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. He will not cry aloud or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street; a bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice. He will not grow faint or be discouraged till he has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands wait for his law. Thus says God, the LORD, who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out the earth and what comes from it, who gives breath to the people on it and spirit to those who walk in it: “I am the LORD; I have called you in righteousness; I will take you by the hand and keep you; I will give you as a covenant for the people, a light for the nations, to open the eyes that are 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 carved idols. Behold, the former things have come to pass, and new things I now declare; before they spring forth I tell you of them.”
Introduction to Eight Months of Pastor John’s Absence
First, let me thank you, Bethlehem, for the sabbatical that I just finished yesterday. It was my first sabbatical in 21 years of ministry and it was a gift to my wife and family, but more about that at another time. As you probably know, Pastor John Piper begins an eight-month leave this weekend and in your worship folder we have a copy of his prayer for us—that it might become our prayer together for these 8 months.
Growing up, my father was an officer in the Army Reserve. On occasion, he had to leave town for the weekend. The prospect of preaching at Bethlehem in Pastor John’s absence feels like when my father left for the weekend and said to me, “Take care of your mom, you’re the man of the house while I’m gone.” I was twelve. Praise God that our sufficiency is in him. Thank you for letting me know that you are praying for me in encouraging words, calls, emails, Facebook, and text messages.
Let’s pray that the Spirit give us ears to hear God’s voice in this text and eyes to see Christ Jesus.
Father in Heaven, we pray for you to speak to us now from your word. These are your words, written through Isaiah. Who is sufficient for these things? Bring them to life today by the sovereign power of the Spirit that we might see Christ Jesus, and in seeing him—draw us to worship him, love him, trust him above every idol, and every one of your gifts. For the glory of your name through Christ, do a new thing today and during this eight-month season in our hearts for the glory of your name and our joy. Amen.
Context of Isaiah 42
Three things you should know by way of introduction to Isaiah 42:1-9.
1. Isaiah’s Servant Songs
Our text is the first of 4 “Servant Songs” in Isaiah, the others coming in chapters 49, 50 and 52-53 (cf. 49:1-13; 50:4-11; 52:13-53:12). These prophetic songs that point to the “Servant,” or better the “Suffering Servant,” who would come bring about God’s reign and kingdom with justice, grace, mercy, peace, joy and glory to God. In short, the one described is the promised Messiah, the Christ.
2. God is the One Speaking
It is God who directly speaks in our text. Look at verse 5, of Isaiah 42.
Thus says God, the LORD, who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out the earth and what comes from it, who gives breath to the people on it and spirit to those who walk in it: (v.6) ‘I am the LORD…. (v.8) I am the LORD; that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to carved idols.
God wants this clear: He is speaking. We would do well, when God speaks, to listen.
3. The Song Follows a Warning Against Idolatry
Our text comes after a warning about idolatry in chapter 41. Back in chapter 41, God directs his people away from trusting in idols. In Isaiah 41:24, God says to the idols,
Behold, you are nothing, and your work is less than nothing; an abomination is he who chooses you…. (v.29) Behold, they are all a delusion; their works are nothing; their metal images are empty wind.
Behold, look! Idols are nothing! Idols cannot satisfy. Look! They cannot help. Look! They promise, but don’t deliver. Look! They have no foreknowledge. They cannot guide you. They cannot help you. They cannot save you; they are vain and empty. The Lord is directing the attention of the people of Israel away from the idols and “Behold!” is the way to do it—“Look, not this—not idols!” In verse one of chapter forty-two, he says “Behold” and directs our attention to Christ.
Before we brush off the warning of idolatry because we are modern people, let’s think briefly about idolatry.
Idolatry in Isaiah
In the book of Isaiah, the Jewish people were looking for God to rescue them from the Babylonians. They had captured Jerusalem and carried some of the brightest and best—like Daniel—away to exile in Babylon. To save them, God was about to raise up King Cyrus of Persia. He is even called God’s “servant” in Isaiah 44—note that this is with a little “s,” not like in chapter forty-two. Cyrus was God’s man to defeat the Babylonians and bring the Jews back to Israel, but that’s it; he is no savior. In Isaiah, idolatry was an issue because the hope of the people in King Cyrus became indistinguishable from—or surpassing—their hope in God’s Servant, with a big “S”—Christ himself.
Biblically, idolatry is the most frequently addressed problem of the human heart. We are prone to love, adore and depend on everything but God—both bad thing and good things, even the gifts of God. The 16th Century reformer Martin Luther rightly said, “…that to which your heart clings and entrusts itself, I say, is really your god.“ When your sense of well-being and joy and belonging terminate on something or someone other than God, its idolatry. Just think of when you pray, “Lord heal me.” Now, if I want my healing more than I want God, repent. If you want the fixes in your life more than you want God, repent.
Personally, idols are the problem for each of us. Idolatry, in various forms, is our enemy across the battlefront line in the fight of faith to trust God and his promises. You realize don’t you, that your wanderings away from God—our sin, our pride, our selfishness, our anger, our addiction, our striving for the approval of others, our quest for money, our lack of love, our distance from God, our work-a-holism—is idolatry? In these and other ways we seek to manipulate the world through various these sinful means to get what we want when we want it, where we want it, rather than trusting God to satisfy you with himself and in his own manner and timing.
One of the tasks of Pastor John these days is to kill the idol of pride in his own soul. Remember, regarding his present break, he said, “I see several species of pride in my soul that, even though they may not rise to the level of disqualifying me for ministry, grieve me, and have taken a toll on my [close relationships].” I want you to know that the fight of faith against unbelief and sin in our lives and hearts has a line. On one side is faith in God, trusting in him, hoping in him. On the other side is idolatry in a million forms; it is just coming in day after day.
Idolatry in Bethlehem
Corporately as a church, perhaps one of the aims God has for us in this text is to redirect our hopes from Pastor John as God’s servant (lower case “s”)— faithfully directing us to God week in and week out through his preaching—and direct us to Christ himself, the Servant with a capital “S.”
I am throwing no stones here. I’m as disappointed as you are that I won’t hear pastor John preach for the next eight months. I’ve been here before. I remember back in the 1980’s after about 6 years being here at Bethlehem under John’s preaching, I graduated from Bethel Seminary and I was called as a 30 year-old to become an associate pastor in a church in Iowa.
It took me a year before I could hear the Word of God preached from the pastor there. The problem was not that he was not true to the Word of God, he was. At root, I believe the problem was idolatrous: I had “John Piper” shaped ear. I could only hear the “word of John” bringing me the Word of God. Mercifully, God broke me and showed me this and opened my ears to hear the preaching of others. The lesson was, “Look for me here, in the Bible, by the power of the Spirit. Listen for me in the Bible and I will meet you. I’ll feed you. I’ll be your all in all.”
Pastor John is 63 years old and away for 8 months. Perhaps one of God’s aims in this text this weekend to cause each of us to desperately open the Word and look to Jesus with ourselves? Perhaps one of Gods aims is corporately is to give us a “new ear” opened to hear from “ordinary pastors” and preachers and teachers like me and the staff—and the thousands of other ‘ordinary’ pastors around the globe.
In Isaiah 42:1, to correct the vanity of trusting in idols, God shifts our attention by saying, “Behold, my servant…my chosen [one]…Behold! Look to my chosen one, look to the one in whom I delight, look to Christ.” So, my aim in the remainder of this message is to align with God’s aim and point you to behold Christ, to see Christ as he is in this text. And to that end I will point out five things in this text that I believe God wants us to see and behold about Christ for the advancement of our faith.
Five Aspects of Christ from Isaiah 42:1-9
- Christ’s Anointing—his being blessed and set a part
- Christ’s Assignment—his mission
- Christ’s Approach—the way in which he accomplishes his mission
- Christ’s Attitude—his demeanor, an aspect of his character
- Christ’s Assurance—the guarantee that he will accomplish the assignment for which he has been anointed
1. Christ’s Anointing
Verse 1, “Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my Spirit upon him.” In five ways, Christ is uniquely set apart by God in verse one. God says,
- He is my servant. In other words, He came to do the will of God.
- I uphold him. He is empowered to do his work by the sustaining, upholding power of God.
- He is my chosen. He is God’s elect one, uniquely loved and chosen.
- I delight in him. The delight of God in this servant is deep pleasure in this Servant.
- I have put my Spirit on him. That is, God has anointed him with the Holy Spirit
Are we to understand that this chosen, Spirit-empowered servant whom God upholds and delights in, is Jesus? The human, born of Mary, who walked the earth? Turn to Luke 3.
At Jesus’ baptism, God spoke. Luke recorded God’s audible declaration after Jesus came up out of the water in Luke 3:22: “The Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form, like a dove [I have put my Spirit on him]; and a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased [in whom my soul delights].’” (Luke 3:22; cf. Mark 1:11; Matthew 3:17).
Likewise in Luke 9, when Jesus took three of his disciples with him onto a mountain to pray, God spoke again. Luke writes that, “A cloud came and overshadowed them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. And a voice came out of the cloud, saying, ‘This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!’” (Luke 9:34-35 cf. Mark 9:7). So the answer is “yes.” We are to understand that this chosen, Spirit-empowered servant whom God upholds and delights in, is Jesus of the Gospels.
2. Christ’s Assignment
God himself points us to Christ’s mission. It’s described in the middle of verse one and the middle of verse three, “He will bring forth justice to the nations…(v.3) He will faithfully bring forth justice…(v.4) He will not grow faint or be discouraged till he has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands wait [or ‘hope’] for his law.”
In other words, Christ will bring forth justice (v.1), do so in faithfulness andtruth (v.2), and will actually establish justice in the earth (v.4). He won’t just present the possibility of justice or the option; he will put justice in place on earth—and even the distant peoples hope in his word.
What does “justice” mean? The concept communicated by this word translated “justice” is bigger than what we typically mean by the English word “justice.” The meaning is not merely that the Christ will bring about “fairness” on the earth. It’s more than justice for you who were bullied at school to the point of despair, more than justice for those of you who lost loved ones to drunk drivers, more than justice for those who are sold into child prostitution, and more than justice for those wrongfully slandered at work. It is that but more than that.
It is an attribute of God, his justice, to be extended and known through Christ into “all the earth.” There are at least thirteen related but distinct uses of the concept of “justice.” It extends from being and the sovereign rule of God into the itsy-bitsy affairs of men to what we would call providence—all things. This justice of Christ extends to make right everything under the sovereign righteous reign of God, including…
- the relationships between God and human beings;
- the relationship between people everywhere, in all relationships;
- and the relationship between peoples and nations.
The word is used in Exodus 26:30 regarding the blueprint of God for the Tabernacle. Similarly, this “justice” brought by the Christ brings us into alignment with God’s blueprint for the universe, the earth and our lives. We worship God alone and are reconciled through Christ. And with God in his proper place, our idols are crushed beneath Christ’s feet. Relationships between people are ordered according to his word and ways. The Lord’s prayer, “Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” is a prayer for the justice of the Messiah to come.
3. Christ’s Approach
God addresses Christ in verse six, “I will give you as a covenant for the people, a light for the nations, (v.7) to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness….”
The way in which Christ will accomplish God’s mission, his messianic mission, is by being a covenant and by being light.
Christ is the Covenant
The Old Covenant, God’s covenant with Israel was a covenant between God and the people of Israel. This New Covenant of the Christ is different. In the Old Covenant, Israel sinned over and over again and thereby, in unbelief, failed to keep the covenant.
But in the “servant songs,” a New Covenant is being revealed. In this covenant, God gives Christ as the covenant on behalf the people. Hehimself is the covenant. The covenant is somehow fulfilled in him, on behalf of his people. In him are the obligations kept and promises extended. He is the deal.
That is why Jesus said at the Last Supper, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood.” He is the covenant. His death is the covenant for us. God is saying, “He is your covenant.” It is by beholding Christ, looking to Jesus, letting him do your doing, letting him be your righteousness. How do we get right with God? Take hold of the contract; behold Christ! He is your peace with God, your reconciliation with others, your hope for the world. He is your covenant.
Christ is a Light
Verse 7, “…to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness.”
The second aspect of Christ’s approach is being a light. You don’t see very well if it is dark. Imagine it being pitch dark, “Behold Christ!” You can’t see anything. He is light.
One of our favorite passages around Christmastime is of old man Simeon, when at Jesus’ birth prophesied in Luke 2:29, “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation…a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.”
He is the light. When, by the grace of God, we receive the gift of faith to see Jesus—we see God, glorious and all satisfying—when he has “shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6).
He is this light of revelation of God to the nations—Jew and Gentile, to peoples form every tribe and tongue and nation.
4. Christ’s Attitude
We believe in the sovereignty of God. With the promise of Christ’s justice, we might fear that Christ will establish his absolute reign over all things the way a triumphant human king would. We fear his sovereignty will be tainted like human rulers. Isaiah 41:25 says of King Cyrus of Persia who conquered the Babylonians and freed the Jewish people from exile, that he “shall trample on rulers as on mortar, as the potter treads clay (Isaiah 41:25). But this is not so with the Christ in his coming to the earth.
He Will not Cry Aloud
Christ’s manner was not loud, but quiet and unassuming. Verse two, “He will not cry aloud or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street.” The simplest place that I see that is in the death of Christ. He is the King of all Kings, the Messiah, right? In Acts 8:32, Philip explains to the Ethiopian that Christ’s submission to death was in fulfillment of Isaiah 53, the last of the servants songs in Isaiah, “Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter and like a lamb before its shearer is silent, so he opens not his mouth.” He didn’t open his mouth.
So he comes and accomplished his mission by humbling himself and silently dying in our place for our sins and rising for our righteousness and reconciliation. This is not owing to his weakness. To the contrary, as we have already seen, he comes in sovereign authority to establish justice on the earth. He is silent in order to accomplish his mission to die as a covenant for his people. So see Christ’s humility and the manner in which he came to rule. He will come again and put all of his enemies under his feet.
He Will not Break
Second, his manner was gentle. Verse three, “A bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench.” A “bruised reed” is a blade of tall grass whose shaft, for one reason or another, has been crushed. A “smoldering wick” is the weakly burning linen cord of an oil lamp about to be extinguished, dim and smoking. It is not for lack of power that he does not break the reed or quench the wick. His tendency is not to break off the bruised reed, but to restore it. It is not to blow out the smoldering wick but to nurture it to burning. It’s a word picture.
Christ’s saving work is concerned with much more than grass and oil lamps. We know this prophecy of Isaiah is about Christ’s care for brokenpeople because immediately after recording Christ’s healing of a man with a withered hand, Matthew remembers this prophecy, “a bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not quench, until he brings justice to victory” (Matthew 12:20).
Christ has come into the world of people bruised to the breaking point and smoldering to the brink of extinction. His mission is to set at liberty those who are “captive” or “bruised” (Luke 4:18; cf. Isaiah). He has come to set free those who have been “crushed” by the activity of demons (Luke 9:39). He has come to seek and save sinners like you and me.
There is great mercy here. You, who are crushed with affliction, hope in Jesus. You, who are smoldering in faith, look to Jesus. As J.C. Rile observes, “We may be sure that ‘bruised reeds’ and ‘smoldering wicks’ are very precious in our Lord’s eyes.” You may be on the brink of despair and feel like the sovereign Lord will just come and blow your wick out. He will not crush or extinguish you by any calamity. He finishes what he starts.
5. Christ’s Assurance
Christ will not quit until his justice is established in all the earth. He will bring to completion the assignment for which he was anointed. First, verse four, “He will not grow faint or be discouraged till he has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands wait for his law.” He won’t grow discouraged with you; there will not come a time when he gives up and blows you out.
Second, God secures the work of Christ in verse six, “I am the LORD; I have called you in righteousness; I will take you by the hand and keep you.” God’s promise to Christ, “I’ll keep you. I will not forsake you. We will celebrate mission accomplished.” The King reigns for his glory and the good of his people. Our salvation is the work of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit—the entire godhead united to bring it about.
Connection to Communion
We are just about to celebrate the Lord’s Table. There is never a time when it is not fitting to look to Jesus, to behold Christ. But in receiving the Lord’s Supper, unless we see our hope in Christ, it’s better to pass the elements and pray. Ask God through Christ to open your eyes—they are blind. Ask God to set you free from the dark prison of unbelief.
Take the bread and the cup only if you are beholding Christ, trusting Him. Take the elements if you are looking to him with the spiritual eyes of your heart.
Five Questions for Applying Isaiah 42
- Do you see Christ Jesus as God’s chosen Servant, beloved Son? By faith, do you rest in your being included in Christ when God calls him “chosen,” “the one in whom my soul delights” and “loved”? Trust him by the gospel; it’s true.
- Do rest in Christ Jesus to bring about his justice through his lordship over all creation? Do you gladly submit to his reconciling you to God by his death, forgiving your sins and transforming you from inside out into a person who loves others with the love of Christ? Rest in him. There is no condemnation in Christ. He is changing us from one degree of glory to another as we behold him and receive his daily grace.
- Do you see Christ as your covenant with God in which you receive all the blessings of the promises of God, secured by his death? All the New Covenant promises of God are yours in Christ: God’s spirit, a new heart, forgiveness, and his promise never to turn away from doing you good.See yourself as utterly unworthy of the covenant and welcome and included in the Christ of the covenant. You who are blind. You who are in darkness. You who are enslaved. We are the ones he came for. The more desperate you are, the more glorified he will be.
- Do you see him as gentle? “A bruised reed he will not break.” In your weakness and sins, do you see? He calls you to behold Christ, not to break you with the events of your life, nor to blow out what little light of grace is burning within.You, whose repentance is wavering; you, whose faith ebbs with doubts; you, whose hope teeters on despair; you, whose fears seem overwhelming—lift your eyes to behold Jesus. He will not break you. He will not snuff you out. He calls you to behold Christ in order to strengthen you and fan your flame to fire.
- Do you see in Christ the assurance that God will surely accomplish his saving work? God himself kept Christ, raised him from the dead and accepted his death in our place. Do you see that Christ will not quit—not on earth and not in heaven? He will not grow faint or discouraged until he has completed his work in you. And not only in you, but in the whole earth.
If you see Jesus Christ with the eyes of your heart standing forth from this text among other biblical texts, take the elements we are about to serve.
 John Piper, “The Son of Man Must Suffer Many Things,” March 28, 2010
 I draw the phrase “Ordinary Pastor” from Don Carson’s book about his father, “Memoirs of an Ordinary Pastor: The Life and Reflections of Tom Carson”.
 Harris, R. L., Harris, R. L., Archer, G. L., & Waltke, B. K. (1999).Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (electronic ed.) (948–949). Chicago: Moody Press.
 Ryle, J. C. Matthew. The Crossway Classic Commentaries (Crossway: Wheaton 1993). Mt 12:22.
In July 2005, Kenny became Lead Pastor for Spreading, overseeing the outreach ministry departments at Bethlehem, a role that is now filled by Ken Currie (asLead Pastor for Outreach). In July 2011, the congregation approved the elder recommendation that Kenny Stokes become Lead (Campus) Pastor, Downtown Campus. As Lead Pastor, Kenny works to mobilize the pastors and elders of his campus to provide care for the campus congregation as well as to see that the Word is faithfully taught and preached. He also coordinates collaborative pastoral leadership on his campus in the ministry areas of worship, nurture, and outreach. Kenny continues to provide pastoral leadership and oversight of our Treasuring Christ Together (TCT) church planting efforts.