God appointed Israel to be His servant ‘“and He said to me, “You are My servant, O Israel, in whom I will be glorified”’ (Isa. 49:3). But Israel failed in her calling. She was not faithful or righteous. She did not glorify the Lord, but brought shame and dishonor on His name. She was a most unprofitable servant.
In His love and mercy, God did not abandon Israel utterly, but appointed a servant to do what Israel could not do: glorify God perfectly and provide salvation for all who would trust in Him. ‘“And now the Lord says, who formed Me from the womb to be His Servant, to bring Jacob back to Him, so that Israel is gathered to Him (for I shall be glorious in the eyes of the LORD, and My God shall be My strength), indeed He says, “It is too small a thing that You Should be My Servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved ones of Israel; I will also give You as a light to the Gentiles, that You should be My salvation to the ends of the earth”’' (Isa. 49:5-6).
That new servant is our Lord Jesus Christ the apostle Paul tells us, "Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant" (Phil. 2:5-7a). The eternal Son of God became a servant, the Servant, to save His people, the servants who had failed to serve, from their sins.
As the servant of the Lord, God has made Jesus to be the new covenant for His own. ‘“I, the LORD, have called You in righteousness, and will hold your hand; I will keep You and give You as a covenant to the people, as a light to the Gentiles, to open blind eyes, to bring out prisoners from the prison'" (Isa. 42:6-7a). "Thus says the LORD: 'In an acceptable time have heard You, and in the day of salvation I have helped You; I will preserve You and give You as a covenant to the people, to restore the earth, to cause them to inherit the desolate heritages'" (Isa. 49:8).
Jesus is the new covenant, the new access to God through His serving and saving work. In becoming a servant, "He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross" (Phil. 2:8b). On the cross, the Servant of the Lord established, kept, and fulfilled for Israel and for us that new covenant.
Isaiah celebrated Christ as the Servant of the Lord in several ways. First, He was the obedient Servant. The Servant declared, ‘“The Lord GOD has opened My ear, and I was not rebellious, nor did I turn away''' (Isa. 50:5). In everything He did, our Lord Jesus was perfectly obedient to our heavenly Father. He was born under the law (Gal. 4:4) and He fulfilled all righteousness (Matt 3:15). He kept the law for us.
Jesus was also the Suffering Servant. “I gave My back to those who struck Me, and My cheeks to those who plucked out the beard; I did not hide My face from shame and spitting'" (Isa. 50:6). During His life, over and over again, He suffered mockery, rejection, and abuse at the hands of His own people. At last He suffered the ultimate rejection of betrayal and execution, even though innocent. "He was oppressed and He was afflicted, yet He opened not His mouth; He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so He opened not His mouth. He was taken from prison and from judgment, and who will declare His generation? For He was cut off from the land of the living" (Isa. 53:7-8a).
The wonder of the Gospel is that the suffering of Jesus was not a defeat but a victory. What looked like utter failure was instead the ultimate success. The Suffering Servant was the saving Servant "Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed" (Isa. 53:4-5). The salvation that He accomplished and the covenant that He initiated are everlasting: '''My righteousness will be forever, and My salvation from generation to generation'" (Isa. 51:8b).
Isaiah reminds us that the obedient Servant, the Suffering Servant, the saving Servant, will be the glorified Servant. “I will divide Him a portion with the great" (Isa. 53:12), and "My Servant ... shall be exalted and extolled and be very high" (Isa. 52:13). Jesus Christ is indeed the glorified Servant. He is glorified in His mighty resurrection, conquering sin and death. He is glorified in His ascension and enthronement in heaven as our great King and Priest. He is glorified in the sending of His Holy Spirit to empower the church. Finally, He will be glorified when He comes once again to make all things new.
The astounding promise of Isaiah is that those who trust the Servant of the Lord and are saved by His work will share in the glory that will be His. ““Kings shall be your foster fathers and their queens your nursing mothers; they shall bow down to you with their faces to the earth, and lick up the dust of your feet. Then you will know that 1 am the LORD, for they shall not be ashamed who wait for Me”’ (Isa. 49:23).
Surely the great Servant of the Lord has done great things! Surely His glorious work is cause for glorifying Him.
First published in Tabletalk, August 1999.
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