The Servant Messiah

Title: The Servant Messiah

Text: Matthew 12:15-21

Date: September 20th, 2009


I recently watched a debate on CNN between a conservative evangelical Christian and a liberal religious leader. In an attempt to harmonize Christian values with the agenda of President Obama’s administration, the liberal church leader said that because evangelical Christians are all about “good news” they should welcome the new emphasis on “good news” for the unemployed with greater job growth, the poor with more social assistance programs, and the uninsured with national health care. According to this spokesman, evangelical Christians should welcome all these initiatives because they represent “good news.” But he’s obviously using the phrase “good news” in a loose and general sense, not in the very specific biblical sense of salvation from sin, judgment and damnation. The “good news” or “Gospel” found in the New Testament is a message of spiritual salvation, not just “good news” in any or every sense. For example, what is “good news” to the drug addict? More drugs. Or what is “good news” to an alcoholic? Another drink. To an addict of any kind, “good news” would be more of the same kind of thing that they’ve grown to crave – the fulfillment of their addiction in whatever form that manifests. So then, we see that we can’t simply say that any loose or general application of the phrase “good news” is appropriate. People can get into their minds what they think is good news, but what they think or consider “good news” might not be best in the long term. That’s why we simply can’t equate Christians as promoting anything that comes along that seems to be good news to somebody, because that has nothing to do with what really is good news from a long term or eternal perspective. The salvation of the soul is the ultimate good news, and that is why Christianity preaches the Gospel message, but Christians are not under any obligation to promote simply anything anyone might consider good news because that would take the church far from its primary mission. That’s why I can’t go along with the statement, “Evangelicals are all about good news, and therefore should support all of the Obama administration’s initiatives.” In the short term, it might be “good news” to get a government paycheck, but what are the long-term consequences to out-of-control government spending? What may be “good news” for some people now, might be “bad news” for everybody down the road when the bills come due. The ancient Jews at the time of Christ were also thinking short term when it comes to the promised Messiah. They wanted a conquering hero to free Israel from Roman occupation. They wanted another king like David to rule a free Jewish nation. That’s why most Jews didn’t accept Jesus as Messiah, because he didn’t bring the “good news” of freedom and independence they were wanting. The real “good news” for them would have been a conquering Messiah similar to David; that’s what they wanted Jesus to be. But that wasn’t the “good news” Jesus brought, instead he came with the gospel of freedom from sin, freedom from judgment and freedom from eternal damnation. We see Jesus explaining this in Matthew 12:15-21 (read). Now the question we must ask ourselves today is – are we trying to fit Jesus into our short term expectations about life or are we letting him be our Savior on his own terms? Are we letting Jesus set his own agenda for our lives or are we trying to fit Jesus into our own agenda for life? Let’s look at the passage more closely to find out.


First, Jesus was a different kind of Messiah. Matthew 12:15, “Aware of this, Jesus withdrew from that place. Many followed him, and he healed all their sick, warning them not to tell who he was.” Now the big question is, “Why did Jesus warn them not to tell others who he was?” The most obvious answer is that he wanted to travel freely throughout the country and in the towns, villages and cities of Israel; large crowds would prevent him from traveling freely – as many Gospel passages show this is exactly the problem that did occur in many instances – he wasn’t able to come and go as freely as his ministry required with his increasing notoriety. So from a purely practical standpoint – his ability to move about — he was urging the people not to spread his fame far and wide. But there’s a more profound reason why Jesus discouraged people from publicizing his identity and activities – he didn’t want to add to the already confusing Messiah expectations among the Jews. As I explained before, when the typical Jew heard the word “Messiah” he or she thought of some conquering king like David. They thought when the Messiah came he would liberate the Jews from the Romans through violent revolution and then establish an independent Jewish state where the Jews could then live happily ever after. For the typical Jew, therefore, “good news” would mean the Messiah had come and began to carry out his plan to conquer the enemy and then establish an independent Israel. When people heard about Jesus they immediately expected him to be the long awaited conquering Messiah. In this context, we can begin to understand why Jesus was trying to keep things from getting out of hand by warning people from getting too excited about him as Messiah. He didn’t want them to spread the wrong thing about him; he didn’t want them spreading the word that the conquering Messiah had arrived. Yes, he was the Messiah. Yes, he is the fulfillment of the prophecies of the Old Testament. But he didn’t come to fulfill all the prophecies of the Messiah; he only came to fulfill the most important prophecies concerning forgiveness and salvation. If the Jews knew what was best for them, they’d understand, but they didn’t, because they were thinking immediate and short term, not long term or eternal. Aren’t we all like the Jews in our thinking even today? We have so many short term needs and so we come to the Bible, Christianity, the church, Jesus and God with our pressing, immediate needs and expectations and demand that Jesus fulfill them. Is it any wonder why thousands and thousands of people flock to mega-churches to hear sermons on how to succeed in life, how to meet their emotional needs, how to save their marriage, how to prosper financially, how to fulfill their countless felt-needs? But we need to be careful that we aren’t trying to squeeze Jesus into our expectations rather than let Jesus set our agenda and expectations. Jesus wants to meet our needs but we must let Jesus determine which needs to meet and when to meet them. If we try to push our will upon Jesus instead of letting Jesus work his will, his own way, we are no better than the ancient Jews. Let’s ask the question more, “What is Jesus trying do in my life,” rather than come to Jesus with a “to-do” list for him.


Second, Jesus was a gentle and serving Messiah. Matthew 12:17-20, “This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah: ‘Here is my servant whom I have chosen. I will put my Spirit on him, and he will proclaim justice to the nations. He will not quarrel or cry out; no one will hear his voice in the streets. A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out, till he leads justice to victory.’” In contrast to the popular Jewish expectation of the Messiah, Jesus points to the prophet Isaiah to show that he is indeed the fulfillment of prophecy, but that it’s different than the commonly held view. In the passage Jesus quotes, Isaiah is describing a gentle, servant leader who is indeed chosen, called and loved by God, and who indeed is anointed by the Spirit for service – just a different kind of service than the typical Jew was expecting from the Messiah. He will proclaim truth to the nations, but he won’t agitate or march or protest or rally people together as a political force. “No one will hear his voice in the streets.” He won’t be the typical revolutionary who speaks up and speaks out with strong words and loud voice. In other words, he won’t “rally the troops” or stir up the people to political revolution, the way a conquering leader might. “A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.” Or in other words, Jesus won’t conquer through violence or through breaking or snuffing out or through political or military force. The Jews knew of King David and they knew how he operated as conqueror. David was resourceful and capable of bringing victory to Israel through any and every means possible. If violence was need, he brought violence. If cunning and strategy were needed, he employed these. Through shrewd planning and strong execution David conquered, and God was with him in battle, just as God had been with Joshua in battle to conquer the Promised Land. But Jesus was a different kind of Messiah or Deliverer. Upon his first coming to his people, he came as a gentle servant who came primarily to deal with the spiritual separation brought about by sin between the soul and God. Jesus came to deal with the long-term interests of people while often neglecting the short term needs of people. Remember when he said, “The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me.” That is an example of Jesus’ agenda in dealing with spiritual problems first, rather than the thousands of other problems people face. Yes, he did heal the sick and cast out demons and performed miracles, but these were only temporary solutions to temporary human needs. His real agenda was cosmic and eternal; he came to liberate people from the bondage of sin, forgive their sins, rescue them from Judgment Day, and ultimately save their souls from eternal damnation and to eternal happiness in heaven. Again, we are challenged here to let Jesus fulfill his long-term agenda in our lives rather than look to him only as a quick fix or short-term solution to our personal life problems. Yes, Jesus heals our hurts, but he’s so much more than that. Let’s not lose sight of why he’s our Savior; let’s not minimize his role in our lives to fixer-upper. Let’s appreciate his long-term, eternal importance to us.


Third, Jesus is the universal Messiah. Matthew 12:21, “In his name the nations will put their hope.” The mistake the Jews were making was they were not only thinking of the Messiah meeting their own immediate political and economic needs, they were also thinking only in terms of the Messiah meeting Jewish needs. But isn’t God the God of all people? Or at least, shouldn’t God be God of all people? If there is one God and he’s Lord of heaven and earth, shouldn’t all people worship and serve him? And when the Messiah comes, shouldn’t he be concerned about the needs of all people, not just the Jews. But the Jews were thinking only in terms of themselves and their own needs. But the Isaiah prophecy speaks about all people, “In his name the nations will put their hope.” The Jews aren’t the only ones with needs, temporal and universal. But from the Jewish standpoint, the only agenda the Messiah would have was with meeting the needs of the Jews – their liberation from their enemies, their national independence, and their prosperity. But not only are these needs temporary but they are also parochial — they are limited to only one people. But that doesn’t make sense if God is God of heaven and earth. Jesus as the Messiah came to meet the needs of all people, which means his agenda was a lot larger than simply copying the work of King David. Jesus came to set all men free from sin, all who would turn in humble faith, confess their sins, repent, and simply trust God’s grace. Jesus came to bring the Kingdom of God to all people, not just one group in one location at one time. The problem is that the Jews had too narrow thinking about God and the Messiah. It was “all about them.” But Jesus came to save all people, to bring salvation to everyone, Jew and Gentile. His plan called for the fulfillment of the prophecies concerning the Messiah as a servant rather than a conqueror. Yes, the conquering prophecies would find their fulfillment but only later at the end of history. The Jews could only see the end-time conquering fulfillments, but they couldn’t see the servant leader fulfillments. And that’s why they failed to accept and receive Jesus as Messiah – and that’s why they still reject Jesus as Messiah. Their thinking is still too narrow. Now before we are too harshly judgmental of the Jews, let’s think about our own situation as modern day Americans. Don’t we too think a lot about our own situation and ourselves? Aren’t most of our expectations about God made from within our own context? Just like the Jews, we too tend to look to God for short-term fulfillment of our needs, but neglect to see the big picture and what God is trying to accomplish with our lives overall. I’d challenge us all to resist making our Christian faith “all about us.” Resist the temptation to reduce faith to something that “works for me.” Think about the big picture, about ultimate ends, and eternal purposes of God. Let’s all start to live our lives in light of eternity.


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