Not Breaking The Damaged Reed

January 6, 2008
日本キリスト教団 頌栄教会牧師 清弘剛生 Pastor Takao Kiyohiro, Shoei Church, Church of Christ, Japan
Translator M.A.F., Indiana, USA
Isaiah 42:1-4

Look At My Servant!

1. In the first worship service of the new year we are given a message from Isaiah chapter forty-two. God points to a single character and says to us, "Look at [him], behold [this man]!" That man is called "my servant." A servant is a person who serves another. He is the person chosen to serve the Lord. What does he do [as] he serves the Lord? In verse one the text says, "He brings forth the judgment of the nations." This is his mission. In verse three the text says, "Bringing forth the judgment, he will deal firmly." If we ask how long will he keep this up, it will be "until he places judgment on this earth." God is saying to us, "Pay attention to this servant of the Lord."

2. These words from Isaiah are quoted in The Gospel According To Matthew. The flow of the message goes as follows. It was some Sabbath day. Jesus went into the synagogue as usual, and in it there was a man with a crippled hand. Those having animosity against [Jesus] wanted to put him to the test and said, "Is it permitted by the law to heal an illness on the Sabbath?" They thought Jesus would surely not leave that man undone. So he would heal [him] without a doubt most definitely. And if he should do the healing, they were conspiring to charge him with a violation of the Sabbath law. Jesus knew [their] plot [against him] and answered them as follows. "Who, among you, having a sheep, and in the event it fell into a hole on the Sabbath, would not pull it out with his own hands? Human beings are far more valuable than sheep. Therefore, it is permitted to do good on the Sabbath," (Matthew 12:11-12). Having said that, in spite of the Sabbath, indeed, because it was the Sabbath, he healed that man.

3. What happened here would stir up the hatred of the Jews, especially the Pharisees. "The Pharisees left and discussed how they would kill Jesus," (Matthew 12:14). The very next thing after that, the scripture says, "Jesus knew it, so he departed from there. A great crowd followed. Jesus healed every illness, and commanded that they do not talk about him all over the place. It was to fulfill that which was spoken through the prophet Isaiah," (Matthew 12:15-17). And the message from Isaiah from some time ago is being referred to. In short, the gospel account is seeing the fulfillment of the words from Isaiah in the figure of Jesus the way he is here.

4. God points to a single character and says to us, "Look at [him], behold [this man]!" And when you follow the direction of his finger tip, Christ is right there at the end of it.

The Servant Of The Lord Does Not Break The Damaged Reed

5. "Look at my servant, the one I support, the one I choose and delight in." As I touched upon just ago, [the scripture] states about the "servant of the Lord" that "he brings forth the judgment of the nations." That is the mission given to the servant [from God].

6. But what does [the statement of] "he brings forth the judgment of the nations" mean? The Japanese for "judgment," when heard in the church, doesn't not have a very positive sound. In situations where one says, "That person judges others," it is not a complimentary statement by any means at all. When one hears "the judgment of God" many only feel fear and dread. But the word translated as "judgment" here originally did not have a negative connotation. In the [Japanese] Interconfessional Version of the Bible it has been translated "He will point the way to the peoples of many nations." As "the way," you don't get that negative sounding ring from it.

7. It is believed that in the book of Isaiah this statement means the plan God has set forth. Therefore, it also includes "judgment" in it. It includes God's justice being pervasive. It includes God's path being shown. Everything is moving to salvation being fulfilled. This servant of God shows God's will and plan and he also fulfills it.

8. Furthermore, it is significant that the text here says "of many nations." By saying nations it refers to the many races, except the Israelites. You could also put it as "Gentiles." In verse four it is written that "The islands await in hope for his teaching." The islands of the Mediterranean, as per the awareness back then, are "the outer edges of the world." God's plan of salvation extends to the various peoples and their nations and it extends even to the ends of the earth. The object of God's interest is world wide. It is not just the Israelites. It is not just believers. God's interest always goes to others beyond.

9. Today is January 6. This day happens to be "The Epiphany" in the church calendar. This year it falls right on a Sunday. The Epiphany is the day we commemorate the event which you are familiar with from even the Christmas pageant, when the wise men had come from the east and had presented gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh, and had worshipped the infant Jesus. God also had the Gentile scholars of astrology on his heart and guided them. What happened in this shows how God's plan of salvation does not stop with the people of Israel but goes to the Gentiles and goes to the entire world. In addition, God's will and plan to go to many peoples and to go to the Gentiles had already been spoken of in the period of the Old Testament scriptures. [The OT] has also spoken in regard to the servant of the Lord, that he is to show this plan of God and to fulfill it.

10. Then, I would like for us to observe the point here, that the servant of the Lord, who does this kind of work that extends to the ends of the world, is described as follows. "He does not cry out, he does not call out, he does not ring out his voice in public. Not breaking the damaged reed, not putting out the lamp wick that has grown dark, but bringing forth the judgment, he will deal firmly," (verses two and three).

11. "He does not cry out, he does not call out, he does not ring out his voice in public." Thus, he refuses to forcibly enter people's attention and their hearts. He will not move people or control them in such a manner. The figure of this kind of servant is being depicted here. Furthermore, he will not break "a damaged reed." What does "a damaged reed" mean? The same words but in another passage are translated as "the staff of a broken reed," (Second Kings 18:21). Some explain that it is not a staff, but it is the bottom support of the candle stand. Whether a staff or a candle stand base, it is of no use because it has been broken. Since such a thing is dangerous, you break it you pitch it. However, the servant of the Lord turns his eyes on its "not being useful." He does not break it. He does not pitch it away. Also, he will not put out "the lamp wicks that have grown dark." What do "the lamp wicks that have grown dark" mean? They are lamp wicks where the flames are smoldering and they emit smoke. If they are just not useful, will they still be good? Lamp wicks that have faded out are just existing and are an annoyance. One will put out such a thing and rightly so. However, the servant of the Lord turns his eyes on annoying existences. He does not put out their flames. He is waiting for [them] to shine brightly again.

12. It would be annoying to mess with a damaged reed or a fading lamp wick. Since he is not crying out, not making his voice heard in public, and doing things glibly, things are going nowhere. Somebody will think that. The servant of the Lord was established for a work to reach the world, so should [not] he do it? But, pointing to this "servant of the Lord" God says, "Look at my servant, the one I support, the one I choose and delight in." God says "Look" because we humans too many times are looking in an entirely different direction.

As The Body Of The Christ, The Servant Of The Lord

13. The words of this prophecy were originally spoken in the sixth century B.C.E. It was a period of upheaval when the world kept changing greatly. The one who served the leading role in that period was the character named King Cyrus of Persia. Persia, which he commanded, expanded its powers from the east, conquered Media, conquered Lydia, and finally succeeded in entering the fortress city of Babylon, and even conquered the Babylonian empire. Thus, he completely redrew the map of the Oriental powers.

14. The people were looking at the way the world was as it stood before their eyes. They were looking at the circumstances of power changing the world. The people were fixing their eyes on the character named Cyrus and his power, who truly did play a leading part in things.

15. We, today, are also looking at a world where "Power counts the most." He or she who has the power moves the world. Therefore, we also fix our eyes on today's Cypruses. We always think that to do a great work power is needed for it. We think that political power and / or economic power is needed to change the world. Furthermore, nowadays, doing something like making your voice heard publicly isn't even enough. You also have to move the mass media in order to penetrate into the ears, the eyes and the hearts of the people against their will. He or she who controls the mass media controls the world. We think that way. We do, that in order to fulfill God's plan, in order for God's salvation to reach the world, we need both power and money. Just like the people twenty-five hundred years ago, we too keep looking at the modern Cypruses and their power, and at the changes which their power brings.

16. But, God says, "Look at my servant, the one I support." And we have already been made to know at whom the finger tip of God points. It is [at] a person who is completely indifferent to the authorities of this world or the power of money. It is [at] a person who refuses to expand any kind of great movement that would move the rich or the leaders in government. Jesus announced the kingdom of God and he came to fulfill God's plan of salvation, and when the people wanted to broadcast zealously of Jesus, on the contrary, Jesus commanded that they do not talk about him all over the place.

17. When we read in the scriptures the words "A great crowd followed," it is easy to get the illusion that Jesus gave rise to one huge movement that anybody would have noticed in the world back then. It was no more than an event, after all, within the smaller Jewish world. As a matter of fact, if we exclude documents from the church like the gospels, almost no record related to Jesus at that time has survived. In short, it means that when it comes to the person of Jesus, society at large has not noticed him as much as we think. From the world's point of view, the events that took place in Jesus are no more than trivial, like they were buried in the various events that took place in the Roman empire. It's like his voice did not resound in the public arena.

18. Under these circumstances, Jesus truly did not break the damaged reed, nor put out the fading lamp wick, he walked patiently with those good for nothing disciples [of his], and he lived having to deal with people who wouldn't be considered by anybody, and then he died upon a cross. The cross of that Christ was truly erected in the corner of the world.

19. But God pointed to this Christ and said, "Look at my servant, the one I support, the one I choose and delight in." The crucified One rose from the dead and is alive right now. In addition, he is at work right now through the church, the body of Christ. Not breaking the damaged reed, not putting out the fading lamp wick, he continues to deal patiently with each and every single human being. We too are here in this place precisely because of this Christ. Thus, God's plan of salvation is certainly being made manifest and making progress.

20. In order for God's work of salvation to be fulfilled, there is no need -- to acquire political power in this world, to stand on the side of the rulers. There is no need -- to wage large scale campaigns at the risk of great cost or to grab the ears and the hearts of people by mobilizing the powers of the mass media. What we need is that as the body of the One who did not break the damaged reed and did not put out the fading lamp wick, we too are to continuously be persons who do not break the damaged reed and do not put out the fading lamp wick.