Scripture Reading: Isaiah 42:1-9
Have you ever heard a description of someone, and without hearing the name you just knew who it was? Here’s a few to see if you can picture them for yourself.
Chubby guy with a beard, dresses in red, travels a lot. Can you picture someone like that?
What about: dresses in white, hangs out in people’s front yards, wears a hat, carries a pipe, he’s cold all the time, and has a button nose and two eyes made out of coal.
How about one more: he’s a successful businessman, also seems to not mind being cold, nor does he like spending any money. Doesn’t seem to have a lot of friends. Is known to possibly have hallucinations late at night.
For each of those descriptions, someone came to mind. Maybe you could even form a picture of them. There are some characteristics which point us to picture someone clearly, we don’t even need to know their name. We just know.
When we look at Isaiah 42 this morning, we are seeing a description of someone. We don’t know the name, but the prophet is laying out the characteristics of someone God is pleased with.
This is someone who is chosen by God, has the Spirit of God, works tirelessly for justice, is gentle, teaches, is given for the people, is a light, gives sight, sets prisoners free, and is part of a new thing God is doing. For us today, that picture points us to someone pretty obvious. We don’t need to hear the name, we know who the prophet is talking about.
But what about the people in Isaiah’s time who have yet to meet this person? We are hearing God’s promise to raise up such a person. The Jews, at this time, are living in exile. They are spread out all over the place, and life is not what they had expected, seeing as how they are God’s chosen people after all. This promise has to bring them some hope!
When Bev and I lived in Ottawa, it was hard being away from home at certain times of the year. Certainly Christmas was one of those times. At least we had other good friends to celebrate with us as they too were away from home and family at Christmas as well. But it’s just not the same as having family around.
I’m in no way comparing Bev and I living in Ottawa with the Jews in exile. We weren’t dragged to Ottawa to be slaves. We chose to move there so I could work. But in the back of our minds, we always had the hope that someday we would come back home.
The Jews are living in far harsher conditions than Bev and I. And I know they are longing to find their way back to Jerusalem where they could live together with their wider Jewish family, to be their own nation again. They are searching for hope. The words from the prophet Isaiah are words that are going to bring them hope, even if it doesn’t give a clear description of who this amazing person will be.
They are in need of hope. Where do we find our hope?
So, since we seem to think the Prophet Isaiah is talking about Jesus, let’s take a closer look at what he is saying.
“Here is my servant, whom I uphold,
my chosen one in whom I delight;
I will put my Spirit on him…” (Isaiah 42:1)
Here we see God say he will put his Spirit on his chosen one.
In Matthew 3 this happens after Jesus is baptized by John the Baptist,
As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:16-16)
God put his Spirit on Jesus, and God delights in him.
Isaiah also says,
“A bruised reed he will not break,
and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.
In faithfulness he will bring forth justice;
he will not falter or be discouraged
till he establishes justice on earth.
In his teaching the islands will put their hope.” (Isaiah 42:3-4)
In John 8, a woman is caught in an adulterous relationship and the people drag her before Jesus, and this is what comes of the encounter.
They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” … But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.
At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”
“No one, sir,” she said.
“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.” (John 8:1-11, selected verses)
Jesus came to teach about the kingdom of God and how people should live with respect for each other. This already broken woman Jesus was not willing to condemn and break even further. In fact, he took the moment to teach others about seeking justice and bringing peace among the community. This is just but one example of Jesus bringing justice, peace and hope to the people. There are many, many more we could look at today.
Isaiah says, “In his teaching the islands will put their hope.” (Isaiah 42:4)
People from everywhere came to Jesus. They came to hear him teach. They came to be healed by him. They just came because they heard what he was doing and needed to see it for themselves. In other words, people came to him for hope. And people still come to Jesus today seeking hope, and when they come with open hearts to what he can do, they find that hope.
Isaiah also says,
“I will keep you and will make you
to be a covenant for the people
and a light for the Gentiles,
to open eyes that are blind,
to free captives from prison
and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness.” (Isaiah 42:6-7)
In John 1, the book opens with these powerful words,
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:1-5)
Jesus is the light of the world. He came so that the world could see again. He came to bring us back into a covenant relationship with God, our Father, and to chase away the darkness we experience in our lives. To set us free from the prison of our sin and to open our eyes to the glory of God.
Jesus has come to fulfill all that the prophet Isaiah has written to the people of Israel, even though they are far from home. They are a people in great need of hope as they long to return to their homeland, the land which was promised by God. Through Isaiah, God tells them about the saviour of the world he is sending. The one we celebrate at this time of year, as we remember Jesus Christ being born in the manger.
But you know what? When we look at the characteristics of the Messiah God is sending; when we see how he promised to send someone who is: chosen by God, has the Spirit of God, works tirelessly for justice, is gentle, teaches, is given for the people, is a light, gives sight, sets prisoners free, and is part of a new thing God is doing… when we look at those things, what of those things can we not do?
Can we be chosen by God? You better believe it!
Can we have the Spirit of God? We sure can, in fact Jesus promised those who follow him, they will have it.
Can we work tirelessly for justice? That’s a big yes too.
Can we be gentle? When we want to be, we can be very gentle. Some of us are more natural at it than others.
Can we teach? Yes, Jesus even asks us to teach others about him as he instructs us to make disciples of every nation. Discipling people includes a lot of teaching.
Can we be given for the people? Now, the answer to this one is a little trickier. The simple answer is “yes” but we must also be aware that there has already been a Saviour who has given his life for all. We are not being asked to give our life, but we may be asked to give a lot, to sacrifice so that others may have a better life. So in that case, yes we can be given for the people. Remember the rich man who asked Jesus what he needed to do to inherit eternal life? What did Jesus tell him? Sell all you have and give it to the poor. The man needed to sacrifice many things in order to follow Jesus. He needed to give up himself for others.
As we keep looking, can we be light? Jesus says this in Matthew 5,
“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:14-16)
Jesus says we can be a light, who’s going to argue with him? Not me, that’s for sure!
What else was in Isaiah’s list: gives sight, sets prisoners free, and is part of a new thing God is doing.
If we are going to be lights, then we are going to help people see. We will help give sight to those who are blind to Jesus.
We can help people be set free from the prisons of their lives. Sin has trapped so many people in this world, they are unable to see God in their lives because of it. They need to be set free from their sin, that is they need to be released from these prisons so they may know the freedom God has in store for them. Yes, we can set people free. We’ve already started the process here ourselves of being set free.
And finally, can we be part of a new thing God is doing? O you better believe it. If we don’t believe this, if we think God could never use us, then why are we even here? If we believe in Jesus and have any sense of hope in him, then we are already part of the new things God is doing. I’ve been here nearly 10 years, and I know God is using us to do something new. Now it’s not happening overnight, but that’s part of God’s plan. He is taking us one step at a time. He is giving us hope. He is setting us free. He is showing us he has chosen us to do great things. This is the wonderful gift of God to us.
So while Isaiah has spoken words of God which point to the coming of Jesus into the world, these words still speak to us today. In fact, because of Jesus, and God’s Spirit which he has given to us, we can do all those same things.
In John 14, Jesus says this to his friends,
“Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves. Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.” (John 14:11-12)
We can be like Jesus, because Jesus is with us. Because Jesus empowers us by his Spirit. Because Jesus is coming again.
What a joyous message to receive on this third Sunday of Advent where we celebrate the joy Jesus brings to the world.
Jesus is the promised one of God, and we are the people who have received this promise and live his life still today.
Let us pray,
In you we find our joy. We find this joy in how you call us to be lights for the world; to fight for justice; to help people see you at work in their lives; to do the wonderful things you have done, and have done for us.
Jesus, you are the promised one of God, and we delight in knowing that when we follow you, God delights in us.
Jesus, give us hearts which burn with God’s love and long to follow you, for you are our hope and our joy.
This we pray in your Holy Name. Amen and amen.