“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. He will not quarrel or cry out; no one will hear his voice in the streets. A bruised reed he will not break, and a smouldering wick he will not snuff out, till he leads justice to victory. In his name the nations will put their hope.” (verses 18-21)
Matthew now includes a quote (the longest in his Gospel) from one of the Servant Songs in Isaiah’s prophecy (Isaiah 42:1-4*), each one focused on Messiah. Matthew chooses this portion to contrast the compassionate, life-giving ministry of Jesus with the querulous, death-threatening attitude of the Pharisees.
It all spills out of the immediately preceding confrontation in the synagogue over healing a man with a withered hand. Is such a healing okay on the Sabbath? The Pharisees’ attitude, saturated in legalism and judgementalism, adamantly says, “No!” But Jesus, whose very name means “the Lord saves,” compassionately affirms the opposite: “It is lawful to do good on the Sabbath” (Matthew 12:12).
The fruit of these opposing viewpoints is immediately seen. In anger, the Pharisees leave the synagogue plotting to kill Jesus. But Jesus himself withdraws from the fray, not engaging further in the quarrel, but instead extending healing to all the sick who follow after him. Murderous hostility bubbles up from the Pharisees. Life-giving refreshment flows from Jesus.
Which is why the quotation from Isaiah comes to mind. There are a multitude of prophecies in the Old Testament about Messiah, many of them emphasizing his position as King, delivering God’s people and ruling decisively over a Kingdom that will never end. But Matthew chooses instead this prophecy, permeated with gentleness and compassion. In contrast to the Pharisees, the Servant of the Lord doesn’t engage in street-brawling – “he will not quarrel or cry out.”There isn’t a need for harsh, aggressive assertion, for the Servant is steeped in calm confidence, knowing he is embraced in the Father’s choice and love and delight, the Spirit of God resting upon him. And he treats people with gentle compassion. It’s the very attitude Jesus evidenced as he healed the man with the withered hand, who didn’t need a theological quarrel over Sabbath-keeping, but rather release from infirmity.
“A bruised reed he will not break, and a smouldering wick he will not snuff out.” What a powerful description of Jesus. It’s a sentence that has always touched my soul. So often I find myself much weaker and bruised and faltering than I’d like to admit. Yet my Saviour meets me here. His grace extends to withered hands. Indeed, he goes much further yet. As the Servant, he suffers for our sake, carries our infirmities, bears our iniquities, and is wounded for our healing (see Isaiah 53). What depth of compassion and grace.
So, praise his name. There will come a future day when the Kingdom is fully established, when justice is finally led to victory, and when every tongue will confess, shouting aloud in every street and byway, that Jesus is Lord. But in the meantime, our Lord himself is intent on gently extending his healing grace to all who are weak and needy, bruised and smouldering, withered hands and all. How good.
Lord Jesus, I praise you as King and Messiah. I look forward to that day when my voice will join with all creation in declaring you “Lord.” But I thank you so much that you are also the Suffering Servant, patiently extending your healing grace, gently applying compassionate care to the depths of my soul. Praise your name.
Give thanks: Reflect on the many experiences you have had of the Lord’s gentle compassion, extended to you in need. Give thanks from your heart.
(*There are some differences in the wording of Isaiah 42:1-4 when compared with Matthew’s quotation, but the main flow is the same.)
Photo by Amit Srivastava on Unsplash