First Sunday after Epiphany January 10, 2021
126, 134, 129, 130:1,5-6
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
+ In the Name of Jesus Christ. Amen. +
Dear friends in Christ,
“Check this out!” What do those words mean to you? When I hear them, it can mean one of two things. “Check this out,” can mean someone is really excited about something and wants you to pay close attention to it OR “check this out” means someone wants you to pay close attention because they are about to do something dumb. For instance, when someone finds out they will be receiving a new tax break, they might excitedly say, “check this out! We’re going to get some more money back this year!” Or, someone who is about to jump off the roof of their house into a snowbank below might first yell to their friends, “check THIS out!” Either way, the person speaking wants you to pay close attention to something.
The Bible doesn’t use the phrase “check this out” when God wants you to pay close attention to something. In Hebrew there is the word “Heen,” in Greek it is “i-deh.” Several translations render those words as “BEHOLD.” With this word the Holy Spirit wants you to pay close attention to what follows this word.
Think of all the times we come across the word “BEHOLD” in the Bible. The Christmas angels tell the shepherds, “Fear not, for—BEHOLD—I bring you good tidings of great joy…” (Luke 2:10) In other words, “SEE, you don’t have to be afraid…” and this is the reason why—a Savior has been born to you who is Christ the Lord. Pontius Pilate brings Jesus out and says, “Behold your King!” and shows to the crowds a bloodied Jesus with a crown of thorns on His head.
This morning we have a lot to “BEHOLD” about Jesus. In Matthew 3, we watched carefully as Jesus was baptized in the Jordan River. We heard how God the Father spoke and God the Holy Spirit descended on Jesus in the form of a dove. In our text from Isaiah 42, the LORD wants us to pay close attention to His servant, His Elect One, of whom—as the Father said in Matthew—His soul delights and is well pleased. As we behold the servant of the LORD we will hear of His mission and His manner of coming. Listen now to the Word of the LORD in Isaiah chapter 42, verses 1 through 7:
“Behold! My Servant whom I uphold, My Elect One in whom My soul delights! I have put My Spirit upon Him; He will bring forth justice to the Gentiles. He will not cry out, nor raise His voice, Nor cause His voice to be heard in the street. A bruised reed He will not break, And smoking flax He will not quench; He will bring forth justice for truth. He will not fail nor be discouraged, Till He has established justice in the earth; And the coastlands shall wait for His law.” Thus says God the LORD, Who created the heavens and stretched them out, Who spread forth the earth and that which comes from it, Who gives breath to the people on it, And spirit to those who walk on it: “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, Those who sit in darkness from the prison house.”
This is the word of God.
I don’t know how many comic book fans we have here, but how many of you know which superhero stood for “truth, justice, and the American way”? Superman. Superman is all about justice. He wants to protect the innocent people of Metropolis from the cruelty and violence of supervillians like Lex Luthor. We like superheroes who stand for justice. We want heros who protect the innocent and punish the guilty.
As the LORD calls on us to BEHOLD His servant Jesus, He tells us of His mission in verses 1, 3, and 5. “He will bring forth JUSTICE to the nations.” Now this is interesting. If the Servant of the LORD comes to bring justice and justice means that the innocent are protected and the law-breakers are punished, what does that mean for us? As we behold the Servant of the LORD, how should we view His coming?
God has set the standard for innocence and guilt. “You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy,” God tells His people. (Leviticus 19:2) God requires that our attitude, choices, and words be just like His—PERFECT. God requires a complete commitment to Him and His ways with all of our thoughts and every desire. In Micah 6:8, we read, “He has shown you, O man, what is good; And what does the LORD require of you But to do justly, To love mercy, And to walk humbly with your God?” Have we been JUST in all our dealings? Do we love to see mercy and have mercy on other people? Do we walk humbly and lowly with God or do we sometimes think we know better than God?
What does justice require of the Servant of the LORD? Doesn’t justice require that He punish the law-breakers? Absolutely. Justice most certainly does require punishment. That is justice after all and God is a just God. As a just and holy God He cannot be like a state patrol officer who overlooks certain lane violations and speeding. No, a just and holy God must carry out His threats and punishments against ALL violations of His holy commandments. Justice demands it.
But the Holy Spirit would have us BEHOLD the Servant of the LORD. John the Baptist also calls on us to look carefully at Him. In John 1:29 he points to Jesus and says, “Behold the Lamb of God who TAKES AWAY the sin of the world.” Later on in Isaiah, the prophet tells us that the Servant of the LORD would be “wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities.” (Isaiah 53:5) All this in the name of “justice.” The servant of the LORD carries out His mission of bearing the just punishment for the sin of the world.
As we Behold the Servant, we realize this mission will not be easy. In the Garden of Gethsemane we see the burden of our sin weighing Jesus down as He sweats great drops of blood, crying out in anguish to the Father that if it is possible to let this cup of suffering pass from Him. From His anguish in the Garden, to His betrayal, to the scourging, crown of thorns, and nails, none of this stops Jesus from carrying out His mission. Verse 4—“He will not fail nor be discouraged, till He has established justice in the earth.” The LORD Himself, the Creator of Heaven and Earth, will hold Him and keep Him so that He can be a covenant—a promise of peace to the people. Jesus does this, as verse 7 says, to bring you out from the dark prison house of your sin and the hell that we all deserved.
Having bore the punishment for the sin of the world in His body on the cross, having given His very life into death for our sins, the judge rendered His verdict. Because of His sacrifice on the cross, the punishment for sin has been carried out, justice has been met. The mission has been completed. On Easter, God raised His Servant from the dead for our justification. The Servant of the LORD has brought forth justice to the Gentiles—declaring you “not guilty” through faith in Him. Behold the servant of the LORD.
As we behold the Servant of the LORD, Isaiah also writes of the MANNER of His coming and working among us. When Rehoboam took over the throne for his father Solomon, he was asked by the people what sort of king he would be. Would he place a heavy burden on them like Solomon did or lighten their burden? Acting on the advice of his young friends, Rehoboam replied forcefully, “My father made your yoke heavy; I will make it even heavier. My father scourged you with whips; I will scourge you with scorpions.” (1 Kings 12:14) Rehoboam acted the way so many leaders of this world act. He thought that in order for people to respect him, he needed to demonstrate his might and act with overwhelming force.
As we behold the Servant of the LORD, who Himself was a descendant of oppressive King Rehoboam, what was His manner? Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the heavy yoke of God’s Law, with God’s thundering “You shall and You shall not…” As Jesus comes with all power in heaven and on earth, is that the way He comes too?
Behold the manner in which He comes. Verse 2 “He will not cry out, nor raise His voice, Nor cause His voice to be heard in the street.” Jesus is not a bombastic, loud-mouthed leader that shouts for attention in the streets. No, He comes as a Baby lying in a manger, a King riding on a the colt of a donkey, a Shepherd taking little children into His arms and blessing them, a Son who cares for His mother from the cross, a Servant who comes to serve and save you! Behold, the Servant of the LORD who comes in a gentle manner. He comes gently through the voice of the Gospel. He comes gently to the newborn through the water and word of Holy Baptism. He comes gently to the communicant in the bread and wine, saying “take, eat”… “take, drink…”
Take great comfort in this! Gentle Jesus deals with you in gentleness too! As you behold the Servant of the LORD, look at verse 3, “A bruised reed He will not break, And smoking flax He will not quench.” Maybe you feel like a reed by the lake that has been pounded by the wind and pushed around. You are drooping and fallen over, but Gentle Jesus doesn’t break you off as though you’re no good to Him any more. Or maybe your faith feels so weak that there is barely a flicker of flame left. The Gentle Servant of the LORD doesn’t snuff you out.
No, gentle Jesus deals with us in our weakness. The one who came to bear our burden of sin to give us the “just” verdict of “not guilty” isn’t about to break you off or snuff you out. Gentle Jesus who drove demons out of Legion, who pulled sinking Peter up out of the water, who said to the adulterous woman, “neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more,” (Jn 8:11) this same Jesus deals gently with each of us as He builds us up in His love, strengthening our faith by His Word, forgiving us when we fail Him. Though Jesus has all power in heaven and on earth, He uses His power to come gently to us and help us in our weakness. Behold, gentle Jesus, the Servant of the LORD!
Epiphany is the season of “check this out!” The LORD wants us to behold His Servant who gently comes to declare you not guilty. Behold the Servant of the LORD! Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.