The Servant Leader
by Jack Wald | November 8th, 2020

Isaiah 50:4-10

Last Sunday I preached from the second of four servant songs in the last half of Isaiah. This week we come to the third servant song. These servant songs find their greatest fulfillment in Jesus who came to serve.

Do you remember when the mother of James and John came to ask Jesus to have her sons rule with him in his coming kingdom? It may be that she was the sister or half-sister of Mary, the mother of Jesus, which would have made her the aunt of Jesus. So she would have used the age old tool of nepotism, asking Jesus to grant favors for family members, to put her sons in positions of power. But this did not go over well with the other disciples when they heard about this. (Matthew 20:24–28)
When the ten heard about this, they were indignant with the two brothers. 25 Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 26 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever wants to be first must be your slave—28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

The servant leadership of Jesus is a powerful example that too often is ignored by pastors and other church leaders. The temptation to use power to benefit the one who has it is so strong that it is difficult to resist. When we find a church leader who leads as a servant of his or her flock, it is a blessing and a relief.

So I find these servant songs to be rich and refreshing. They encourage me, remind me who I follow, remind me who loves me, remind me who I love, remind me why I am so fortunate to be a follower of Jesus.

Here is the third servant song. Listen to God’s word for you.
Isaiah 50:4–9
The Sovereign Lord has given me a well-instructed tongue,
to know the word that sustains the weary.
He wakens me morning by morning,
wakens my ear to listen like one being instructed.
5 The Sovereign Lord has opened my ears;
I have not been rebellious,
I have not turned away.
6 I offered my back to those who beat me,
my cheeks to those who pulled out my beard;
I did not hide my face
from mocking and spitting.
7 Because the Sovereign Lord helps me,
I will not be disgraced.
Therefore have I set my face like flint,
and I know I will not be put to shame.
8 He who vindicates me is near.
Who then will bring charges against me?
Let us face each other!
Who is my accuser?
Let him confront me!
9 It is the Sovereign Lord who helps me.
Who will condemn me?
They will all wear out like a garment;
the moths will eat them up.

This is the word of the Lord.
Thanks be to God.

In this third servant song, like the second, it is the servant who is speaking.

There are four stanzas, each beginning with “The Sovereign Lord.” Listen to the first stanza.
The Sovereign Lord has given me a well-instructed tongue,
to know the word that sustains the weary.
He wakens me morning by morning,
wakens my ear to listen like one being instructed.

In each of the first three servant songs there is reference to the words the servant speaks.

In Isaiah 42 the servant song speaks about the manner of the servant, how the servant will act.
He will not shout or cry out,
or raise his voice in the streets.
3 A bruised reed he will not break,
and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.

The servant will be gentle and tender in his words and manner. Those who are fragile will be treated with care.

In the second servant song in Isaiah 49 the servant will speak with words that will go directly to the heart of the matter being discussed and cut to the heart of the concerns of the ones who listen to his words.
He made my mouth like a sharpened sword,
in the shadow of his hand he hid me;
he made me into a polished arrow
and concealed me in his quiver.

Now in this third servant song we read,
The Sovereign Lord has given me a well-instructed tongue,
to know the word that sustains the weary.

Once again the servant will speak words that will encourage those who are tired and weary. The first servant song talked about the servant not breaking off a bruised reed or snuffing out a smoldering wick. In this third servant song the servant will speak the right words, the true words, the gentle words that will sustain those who are weary.

Jesus was not always gentle with the words he spoke. He confronted the Pharisees and teachers of the Law and spoke strong words against their practices. He confronted Peter when Peter challenged Jesus about going to Jerusalem to die. But when the woman caught in adultery was dragged to him and threatened with death by stoning, Jesus spoke words that caused her accusers to walk away and then said to her, (John 8:10–11)
“Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”
11 “No one, sir,” she said.
“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”

She expected to die and the words of Jesus set her free to live.

The words of Jesus come straight to our hearts. They penetrate like a sharp sword, cutting through all our defenses. There are times when we need a strong word and other times when we are feeling weak and vulnerable when we need to hear gentle words that sustain the weary. This is why we love these words of Jesus. (Matthew 11:28–30)
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

The servant knows the word that sustains the weary because he has been given a well-instructed tongue. How is his tongue instructed?
He wakens me morning by morning,
wakens my ear to listen like one being instructed.

The servant is not born with the ability to speak words that cut like a sword to the heart of the matter or words that go directly to the heart of the issue. Knowing the word that will sustain the weary is something that is learned.

I talked last week about how Jesus grew in his understanding of who he was over the course of his life. In the account of Jesus as a twelve year old in the temple, Luke writes, (Luke 2:52)
And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.

How did Jesus grow in wisdom and stature? Certainly he learned from Mary and Joseph, his mother and father. Mary and Joseph were chosen by God to be the earthly parents of Jesus. They were chosen because they would be good parents for Jesus, teaching him about how to live well.

But Jesus also grew in wisdom and stature because of his devotional life.
He wakens me morning by morning,
wakens my ear to listen like one being instructed.

We know very little about Jesus as a child, as an adolescent, as a teenager, as a young adult. But we know that when Jesus spoke with the teachers in the temple in Jerusalem, they were amazed. (Luke 2:47)
Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers.

I imagine he must have been a star pupil when he went to the classes at the local synagogue in Nazareth. I can hear the local rabbi saying, “OK, does anyone other than Jesus know the answer to my question?”

We can assume that Jesus had a discipline of daily devotion because of his deep understanding at the age of twelve and because in his years of public ministry he repeatedly went away to spend time with his father in heaven.

Jesus had a busy day in Capernaum with the whole town gathering in front of the home where he was staying. They brought all the people in the town who were sick or possessed. Jesus healed many people from various diseases and delivered those who were possessed. After this we read in Mark 1:35
Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.

Jesus spent regular and consistent time with his father in heaven. This is where Jesus received his strength and wisdom. This is where Jesus received the encouragement and guidance he needed.

Spending time with our father in heaven each day is the path of all true disciples of Jesus. We read about Peter after the resurrection and ascension of Jesus and we see that he and John were going to the temple for the regular time of prayer when they healed the man born lame.

Peter was on the roof in Joppa praying when he received a vision that led him to go to the home of Cornelius. James, the half-brother of Jesus, was a leader in the church in Jerusalem and was called “camel knees” because of the calluses that were the result of praying so many hours on his knees. The disciples of Jesus and the half-brother of Jesus modeled their behavior after the example Jesus set for them.

We do not all pray in the same way, but disciples of Jesus have the discipline of daily devotions. In this way we are instructed and grow in our ability to speak words that encourage the weary, words that go directly to the heart, words that come with wisdom.

It is too easy to come to Jesus, spend some years learning about Jesus, and then resting on what we know – not continuing to listen, not continuing to be instructed, not continuing to grow.

I encourage you to persevere in spending time with God, beginning your day by reading the scriptures, beginning your day with prayer and reflection that will lead you through the day. Become a well-instructed tongue. This is the path for all true disciples.

Let’s move on to the second stanza
The Sovereign Lord has opened my ears;
I have not been rebellious,
I have not turned away.
6 I offered my back to those who beat me,
my cheeks to those who pulled out my beard;
I did not hide my face
from mocking and spitting.

There are some who take in instruction eagerly and others who rebel. The servant meets his instruction with eager obedience.

The phrase “opened my ears” does not use the Hebrew word for opening an ear; it uses the Hebrew word for opening a door. You can hear without taking in what you hear. And in fact you can hear without paying attention to what is being said.

Annie told me something the other day when I was working on my computer and when I was done I had to go back and ask her what she said. I did not hear a thing. I knew she said something but did not know what she said.

This phrase. “Opened my ears,” is a much stronger way of expressing hearing. The servant opens the door so that the words he hears come into his life. This is an expression of total obedience, willing obedience. “I want to hear what you have to say and I am ready to be responsive to what you say.”

I offered my back to those who beat me, 
my cheeks to those who pulled out my beard; 
I did not hide my face 
from mocking and spitting. 

This speaks of a future suffering. This is not suffering for wrongdoing. The servant has not been disobedient. The servant says,
I have not been rebellious,
I have not turned away.

His suffering will not be deserved. He will be innocent and he will willingly offer himself to those who will make him suffer.

When Jesus understood that he was going to be crucified in Jerusalem, he came down from the Mount of Transfiguration and set his face toward Jerusalem. He had a choice at this point. He could have walked away and said he did not want to endure that suffering, but he chose to walk in obedience to the work his father called him to do.

In the Garden of Gethsemane he prayed in agony, (Luke 22:42)
“Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.”

Jesus willingly chose to go to the cross because he was obedient to his father in heaven. He knew this was his father’s will for him.

This makes me think of Paul. He set out from Ephesus and began to make his way to Jerusalem. He did this because he sensed that God wanted him to go to Jerusalem and then make his way to Rome. He understood this to be God’s will for him.

But along the way he was repeatedly warned that if he went to Jerusalem he would be arrested and handed over to the Gentiles. (Acts 21:10–14)
After we had been there a number of days, a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. 11 Coming over to us, he took Paul’s belt, tied his own hands and feet with it and said, “The Holy Spirit says, ‘In this way the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem will bind the owner of this belt and will hand him over to the Gentiles.’ ”
12 When we heard this, we and the people there pleaded with Paul not to go up to Jerusalem. 13 Then Paul answered, “Why are you weeping and breaking my heart? I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.” 14 When he would not be dissuaded, we gave up and said, “The Lord’s will be done.”

Jesus knew that going to Jerusalem would result in his crucifixion, but he chose to go because he knew this was the will of his father. Paul went to Jerusalem because he understood this to be the will of God for him. In our obedience to God, we may walk into a road with suffering. A road with suffering is not a sign that we are unloved or not valued. Sometimes this is the path we are called to take.

I offered my back to those who beat me, 
my cheeks to those who pulled out my beard; 
I did not hide my face 
from mocking and spitting. 

This is the mark of the servant in Isaiah. He will suffer in three ways: he will be flogged “I offered my back to those who beat me,” he will be tortured “my cheeks to those who pulled out my beard,” he will suffer personal humiliation “I did not hide my face from mocking and spitting.”

Again, Jesus knew what was coming. He chose to suffer because it was the father’s will for him and because he knew this was the only way for us to be reconciled to the father and enter into his eternal kingdom.

So we sing in the Chris Tomlin song:

And I’ll never know how much it cost
to see my sin upon that cross

So here I am to worship,
here I am to bow down,
here I am to say that You’re my God.
You’re altogether lovely,
altogether worthy,
altogether wonderful to me.

We sing songs of praise for what Jesus did for us on the cross. We stand in awe of his love that led him to suffer so much for us. Every time we share in the sacrament of communion, we remember that Jesus willing suffered and gave up his life so we could have eternal life.

And so we sing in the Phil Wickham song:

This is amazing grace
This is unfailing love
That You would take my place
That You would bear my cross

You lay down Your life
That I would be set free
Oh, Jesus, I sing for
All that You’ve done for me

This brings us to stanza three.
Because the Sovereign Lord helps me,
I will not be disgraced.
Therefore have I set my face like flint,
and I know I will not be put to shame.
8 He who vindicates me is near.
Who then will bring charges against me?
Let us face each other!
Who is my accuser?
Let him confront me!

Because the Sovereign Lord helps me, 
I will not be disgraced. 

The servant has confidence as he approaches his suffering because he knows the Sovereign Lord helps him.

This is the confidence David had throughout his life. (Psalm 28:7)
The Lord is my strength and my shield;
my heart trusts in him, and he helps me.
My heart leaps for joy,
and with my song I praise him.

When we face difficult times we remember how God has been faithful to us in the past and gain confidence that he will be present with us in this difficult time.

Jesus remembered the words that were spoken by his heavenly father at his baptism. Jesus remembered the words that were spoken by his heavenly father at the Mount of Transfiguration. It was the lifetime experiences of Jesus with his heavenly father that gave him confidence that he would not be put to shame.

The servant says,
Because the Sovereign Lord helps me,
I will not be disgraced.
Therefore have I set my face like flint,
and I know I will not be put to shame.

Jesus was crucified, the most shameful way to die in the Roman empire. But his shame did not last. He was crucified on Friday and Sunday morning he burst out of the grave in glorious triumph. His shame was replaced with honor and glory.

Jesus approached the cross with absolute confidence, absolute trust. This does not diminish the suffering of Jesus on the cross. This does not diminish the agony expressed when Jesus cried out, (Matthew 27:46 )
“Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”)

But even with the depth of the suffering Jesus experienced, he approached his trial with confidence because he knew God was with him.

Again, a psalm of David illustrates this. (Psalm 23:4)
Even though I walk
through the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.

When I find myself coming back to David’s psalms to illustrate this servant song, it becomes clear why David is described as a man after God’s own heart. (Psalm 63:7–8)
Because you are my help,
I sing in the shadow of your wings.
8 I cling to you;
your right hand upholds me.

The servant has confidence in advance of his suffering and is certain of the outcome because God is his help.

He who vindicates me is near. 
Who then will bring charges against me? 
Let us face each other! 
Who is my accuser? 
Let him confront me! 

If the servant is put on trial, he will be vindicated. He is confident of being found innocent.

Let us face each other! 
Who is my accuser? 
Let him confront me! 

Bring it on!

When Jesus was brought to Pilate and examined, Pilate said to the chief priest and Jewish leaders, (Luke 23:14–15)
“You brought me this man as one who was inciting the people to rebellion. I have examined him in your presence and have found no basis for your charges against him. 15 Neither has Herod, for he sent him back to us; as you can see, he has done nothing to deserve death.

Jesus was found innocent but it was necessary for him to die. Being found innocent by Pilate did not keep him from the work he came to do on earth. Jesus died the death of the guilty, but his death is a story of love. It is the story of the victory of that love, victory of life over death, hope rather than despair, glory replacing shame.

And finally we come to stanza four.
It is the Sovereign Lord who helps me.
Who will condemn me?
They will all wear out like a garment;
the moths will eat them up.

The servant is confident of being found innocent of the charges against him and now he is confident of the judgement that will come to his opponents.

Imagine what went through Pilate’s mind when he died and discovered who Jesus was. Caiphus, the chief priest, and all the other Pharisees and Jewish leaders who plotted against Jesus died and then discovered they had plotted to kill God in the flesh. The Roman soldiers who beat, flogged, and mocked Jesus, after they died, discovered who it was they had beaten.

Many in the world have worked against Jesus only to die and discover to their horror that they had conspired against their eternal judge. Those who work against Jesus go to the grave like the rest of us and then they discover who it is they had been fighting against.

But there is good news for those who work against Jesus. Jesus wants them in his kingdom. This is what Saul discovered on the road to Damascus. Jesus, whose followers Saul was persecuting, wanted him on his side.

They will all wear out like a garment; 
the moths will eat them up.

Men and women have worked against the purposes of God over the centuries, but they have all died and gone to the grave. Only God has endured through the centuries. God is eternal; those who oppose him are created beings whose eternal existence is in his hands.

God is determined to accomplish his purpose.

God revealed himself to Abraham with the intention of drawing his human creation into an intimate relationship with himself. This is the reason humans were created in the beginning of time. Look at all the obstacles God has faced over time as he has worked to accomplish his purpose.

Imperfect Isaac, imperfect Jacob, whining and complaining Israel who rather than thank God for their deliverance began to give thanks to a golden calf, the years of persistent idolatry in Canaan. God gave Israel prophets and then when they demanded a king like other countries around them, he gave them kings. But no matter how much God did for the people he chose, they rebelled against him.

Their idolatry resulted in the conquest of Jerusalem and exile in Babylon. But no matter how much the people rebelled, God continued to work toward his goal of drawing his human creation into an intimate relationship with himself.

God brought Israel back to Jerusalem where they waited for the coming of the Messiah. And then, finally, God became flesh and Jesus was born to Mary and Joseph in Bethlehem. Jesus lived, died, and resurrected from the dead. He ascended to heaven and then the Holy Spirit was poured out on the followers of Jesus at Pentecost. Jesus has been at work to build his church ever since.

God’s purposes will not be thwarted. He will work and work and work until his will is accomplished.

Who can stand up against the work of God in the world? Jesus told Peter, (Matthew 16:18)
And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.

The church grows in each generation. It never loses members. It only grows. It grows in good times and it grows in bad times. Human rulers do not stop his work. Persecution of his followers does not stop his work. The church grows and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.

God’s love for us is eternal. Paul concluded his theology in Romans with this extravagant response. (Romans 8:31–39)
If God is for us, who can be against us?

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?

 I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

God does not force our hand. We are given the freedom to choose to follow him or not, but at the end we will see the fulfillment of the early church hymn in Philippians 2:9–11
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

God is determined to accomplish his purpose and he will not be thwarted.

Each of the servant songs in Isaiah are followed by a tag line. Here is the tag line after this third servant song.
Who among you fears the Lord
and obeys the word of his servant?
Let the one who walks in the dark,
who has no light,
trust in the name of the Lord
and rely on their God.

Isaiah has painted a picture of the servant who is to come. We see the fulfillment of this servant song in Jesus. Have you heard the word of God in this sermon? Have you opened the door to your mind and heart so his word can come in and bring life, encouragement, and hope to you?

In the darkness of present circumstances, in the darkness of uncertainty, in the darkness of corrupt leaders, in the darkness of human self-centeredness, put your hope in Christ who brings light into darkness. Put your trust in Christ who will never fail you.