Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston, IA;
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. (Isaiah 42:1-4, ESV)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ;
People have in mind what servants should be. I remember the classic Disney movie Cinderella. The prince’s messenger is at the door after trying to put the glass slipper on each of the evil step sister’s fat feet. “Are you sure there isn’t anyone else in the house?” “Wait!” Comes the cry from the stair way. Cinderella comes bounding down to deftly place here delicate foot there. But it is the look that her step mother and step sisters have on their faces that makes the whole movie priceless. They had become accustomed to Cinderella being a servant. Clean up after me. Bring me food. In their minds she was just not princess material. She was their servant. And there are just certain things servants don’t do… shouldn’t do. But that’s what makes the story a good one. Something remarkable happens.
Isaiah is telling us a about a servant too. “Behold my Servant,” he says, some translations say, “Here is my Servant.” By starting that way God tells us that this Servant is a very important person, actually a ‘chosen one.’ Someone who God has specifically sent. But as we read on, we may see some things that make us wonder. It isn’t the kind of stuff we’d expect to see a Servant do. Here, according to Isaiah, this Servant actually seems more like a Hero. Children (and adults) often imagine themselves as heroes. You’ve maybe seen them tuck a towel in their shirt and play “super hero.” It is great fun to pretend that we are capable of ‘saving the world’. But somehow, I don’t remember that the heroes that I pretended to be were really much of a Servant. Being the hero means you get to be in charge. Being the hero means you get to care of everything. Being the hero means you get to be the boss. But that’s not what we see here. How can a Servant be a hero? We don’t always see those two things as being compatible, unless, like the Cinderella story the Servant first becomes something different.
Well, to understand this better let’s look at Isaiah’s job description for God’s Servant / Hero, and maybe we’ll be able to see how they fit together here.
“He will bring forth justice to the nations” Now this justice that is being talked about here is bigger than just seeing that the law is administered evenly to everyone; that criminals are punished and innocent people are not. It’s a much bigger picture that is in mind. Another way to think of it might be “salvation-justice.” What God is promising here is that His Servant is going to set the world back in order . The whole world, “the nations,” set back to the way God intended it all to be. People can’t do this kind of work. It takes God’s Spirit and power. And that’s what this servant is going to have.
Isaiah goes on, “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.” And here another part that clashes with our thinking. He will establish this “justice-salvation” but he is humble and gentile. He doesn’t shout out about his accomplishments. He doesn’t do His work by brute force. He’s no a bull in a china shop, changing things, doing his work by force. His work will be so careful that he will care for even those who are already hurting, and those who are weak. But just because we don’t see what we think of when we think of heroes, we are told that he will be successful. We aren’t to think that because he is gentle and humble that he can’t accomplish God’s task. We aren’t to think that he’ll be weak. God promises that it will be done. Apparently, this Servant can be a Hero after all!
And that brings us to the Gospel reading for today. It’s the account of Jesus baptism in the Jordan River. This even marks the beginning of Jesus public ministry, a kind of stepping out in the open, being shown for who He is. Lot’s of things here point to Jesus as Our Servant / Hero. The dove coming down from the sky, and the voice of God speaking about Him. But mostly all you have to do is remember what Jesus did to see that He fits the bill. He is the one who brings God’s salvation for all people. He walks among the hurting people of the world, healing them and loving, even the unlovable. He serves them humbly, shedding the truth of God into their darkened world. He healed the sick and freed the captives from the prison of their sin. He shows us that he is a Servant / Hero who could live a life without selfishness, unjust anger and sin of any kind. But just because Jesus serves in this we shouldn’t get the idea that He is weak. Jesus Christ, our Servant / Hero, gives his very life for the sake of others. He serves by offering up His body and blood on the cross. The life and work of Jesus the Servant / Hero has its greatest point when he sheds his blood for the sins of the whole world. To all the world it looks like weakness, but in reality it is only the great strength of God that could do it. Jesus is the true hero, who takes the sins of the whole world on himself, suffers the just punishment for all nations. He takes the selfishness, the pride and the violence of sinful people on himself. His innocent death set in motion the restoration of the whole world back to God’s perfect creation.
And it all starts with the removal of human sin. It starts publicly with Jesus being baptized. Jesus Baptism was very different from ours. In our baptism we receive the forgiveness of God through Jesus. But Jesus didn’t need the forgiveness of sins as we do. We’ll sing about Him in a moment when we celebrate His Supper. He’s the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. But just how does He do that? We always talk about Jesus taking away our sins… just how does Jesus take away our sin? How does serve us and carry your sins to the cross? Well, it’s His baptism marks the beginning of just that. In the old days the church pictured it this way. When we are baptized our sins fill the water. You know what I mean if you’ve cleaned a bathtub, and rubbed down the dirty ring that forms there. Our sins are washed off of us, and out of us, in Baptism, right down into the water. We say our sins are washed away in Baptism. Picture in your mind all your sins, floating on the water like a huge dirty oil slick. Think about all the times you lied, even those little white ones you use to make yourself look better. Think about all the times you put your own needs about the needs of your family. Think about all the times you should have spoken out about the sin you see around you and didn’t. Think about the sexual sins that flash through your mind that you want dwell on. Or the even the times you wanted to take matters into your own hands, instead of letting God take care of you. Like not trusting Him that even illness and death can be used for your good. We want to take these matters into our own hands, we want death with dignity instead of death trusting in God to know when is best for life to end. We want every child to be a wanted child instead of letting God determine the value of human life. You and I have been affected even by these sins. They creep into our thinking when we aren’t paying attention. Just like how we let the people outside the church tell us what we should believe, teach and confess, instead of clinging to God’s Word alone. It’s not so much the things we do, but what’s happened to us because of sin. It’s corrupted what God intended us to be. And it comes from our very being. The sins we do, the thoughts we have are only pictures of what’s in our nature. That’s why no matter how hard we try we can’t change enough to get rid of all our sin. We can’t bring God’s justice to our lives by effort. It has to be brought to us. That’s what Baptism does. All those sins and every other sin of thought, word and deed, are floating in the water, dirty and oily, washed away by the Water and God’s Word in Baptism. But they can’t just stay there. God has to deal with sin. He’s got to clean things up. Sin has to have punishment. And that’s where Jesus the Servant / Hero comes in. In His baptism He gets down into our dirty, sin filled water and takes up all the sin that is there. He sucks it up into His own body. Just like the paper towel commercial, Mom starts with a perfectly clean towel and cleans up job after job around the kitchen until the towel is full of dirt. And remember Jesus is completely God, so He can take it all, every single sin every committed, and every sin that will ever be committed. In fact, He takes the sin that’s a very part of our human-ness, the sin that’s a part of our corrupted nature. In baptism God drowns our sinful nature. The sin that came to us through Adam and Eve rejecting God in the garden, the sin that wants to pushes God away. The sin that is at the root of all the sinful things we do. That’s what Jesus does in His baptism… He becomes our Servant / Hero the Sin-Bearer. And He takes all of it right to the cross, and buries it His death there. He puts to death our sin-bearing sinful nature. All that dirt, all that sin, all that muck, He puts to death, and into the grave. And when He rises again on Easter Sunday, they are all gone, forever. That’s what a Hero does. He helps us when we can’t help ourselves. He saves us when we can’t save ourselves. He serves when we need to be served.
So, did you know that God now calls you to be a servant / hero, too? No, you can’t bear the sins of the world as Jesus did. You can’t serve perfectly, live perfectly as he did. But we can, we are God’s servant / heroes right where God has placed us. You are God’s servant when you do simple ordinary everyday things that God has placed before you to do. Are you a parent? You are a servant hero to your children and you serve by doing what parents do, changing diapers, preparing meals, etc. The most important task of a parent though, the very reason God gives children parents is to teach the faith. He makes them servant / heroes to tell their children about Jesus. Do you have a job? You are a servant / hero to your employer. You serve by being faithful to your work and doing the best job you can do. Are you a plumber, farmer, child, teacher, you are God’s servant / hero exactly where God has placed you. You serve by serving those who need to be served, by doing what the commandments say, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Rom 19:9) That’s what we are talking about when we end the baptismal service with the words, “… a fellow member of the body of Christ, a child of the same Heavenly Father, to work and grow together in his kingdom.”
The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.