Isaiah 42 Suffering Servant

The Lord’s Chosen Servant – Isaiah 42:1-9

When you were a kid, were you ever asked the question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

I loved animals. I had pictures of wild cats hanging all over my room. The first job I wanted was a zookeeper. Later, as I got older, I wanted to be a park ranger. Neither one happened.

Some common childhood dreams include:

• Astronaut
• Firefighter
• Police officer
• Athlete
• President

There is one job that I have never heard a single child mention. Being a servant. No one says, “I want to grow up and become a servant.”

Yet one person did. One person’s entire life mission was to be a servant. Today we are studying the first of the “servant songs” in the book of Isaiah. We looked at the most famous one in Isaiah 53 on Easter Sunday. We will be looking at two more in the coming weeks.

Who is the servant? How did He serve? What can we learn from Him? Those are some of the questions we will be looking at today as we study the first servant song in Isaiah 42:1-9.

Isaiah 42:1-9 – 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.
He will not grow faint or be discouraged
till he has established justice in the earth;
and the coastlands wait for his law.
Thus says God, the Lord,
who created the heavens and stretched them out,
who spread out the earth and what comes from it,
who gives breath to the people on it
and spirit to those who walk in it:
“I am the Lord; I have called you in righteousness;
I will take you by the hand and keep you;
I will give you as a covenant for the people,
a light for the nations,
to open the eyes that are blind,
to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon,
from the prison those who sit in darkness.
I am the Lord; that is my name;
my glory I give to no other,
nor my praise to carved idols.
Behold, the former things have come to pass,
and new things I now declare;
before they spring forth
I tell you of them.”

I. The Servant’s Identity (1)

A. He is the Messiah (fulfilling Israel’s purpose)

Behold my servant –

This entire section is about the Lord’s chosen servant. But who is the servant?

Isaiah 41 shows us that Israel as a nation was called to be the servant of God.

Isaiah 41:8-9 – But you, Israel, my servant,
Jacob, whom I have chosen,
the offspring of Abraham, my friend;
you whom I took from the ends of the earth,
and called from its farthest corners,
saying to you, “You are my servant,”

God chose this nation among all the nations of the earth to be His people. He was not just choosing them to be recipients of His blessings. He chose them to be His servant. He had a task for them. The Jewish nation as a whole was supposed to be a light to the world, teaching others about God. However, as a nation, they did not fulfill this purpose. They failed.

God’s plan was that the Messiah would come and do for the world what the nation of Israel had failed to do.

In Isaiah 41, the servant was Israel. But in Isaiah 42, the servant is an individual. God prepared a Jew from the nation of Israel to step in the gap and fulfill Israel’s national purpose. Where the nation failed, the Messiah would not. The Messiah would be a light to the nations. The Messiah would singlehandedly accomplish what millions of Jews for thousands of years before Him could not. He is the true servant who did His Master’s will.

Who is the servant? The servant is the Messiah.

The New Testament also confirms this. In Acts 8, Philip is talking with the Ethiopian eunuch. That man was studying one of the four servant songs, Isaiah 53. It was about the suffering servant. Philip told him that this was about Jesus, the Messiah.

Matthew quotes Isaiah 42 in Matthew 12:15-21 and identifies Jesus as the servant Isaiah wrote about.

The servant is identified as Jesus. Jesus could have taken any title. He could have come as a king or a conqueror. But He chose to come as a servant. He lowered himself to become a man. Then He lowered Himself even further to become a servant of men.

B. Jesus is the ultimate servant

• Jesus came to do His Father’s will.
• He did not come to be served but to serve
• Teaching
• Healing
• Busy to the point of not eating. His family thought he was crazy because he was ministering instead of eating.
• Lowering himself. Washing the disciples’ feet.
• He did all these things with a good attitude and without complaining.
• He served by giving His life.

Jesus is the Creator. Before coming to earth, He was in heaven on the throne with thousands of angels at His service. He deserved to be served. That is His right.

Application – If Jesus, who deserved to be served, lowered himself to become a servant, how much more should we? It is not our right to be served.

The last emperor of China was named Pu Yi. He grew up with servants all around him. He was so lazy that it is said he never tied his own shoe. Eventually, he was imprisoned for a while by the new government. Life was very difficult for him there. Before, he had his servants brush his teeth, but now he had to do these tasks on his own.

Jesus did not call us to a life of easy like Pu Yi.

Mark 9:35 – And he sat down and called the twelve. And he said to them, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.”

Followers of Jesus are called to be servants.

I checked out the Pope’s full title and it is “Bishop of Rome, Vicar of Jesus Christ, Successor of the Prince of the Apostles, Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church, Primate of Italy, Archbishop and Metropolitan of the Roman Province, Sovereign of the State of Vatican City, Servant of the Servants of God.”

That is quite a mouthful. I like the last part. Servant. Perhaps the rest is unnecessary.

Do you identify as a servant? Jesus’ core identity was a servant. We do not need to chase titles. We are called to serve. Let us take on the mentality of the one we follow and become a servant. A servant puts others’ needs above his own. A servant takes initiative to do what needs to be done instead of waiting for others to do it. A servant lowers himself to take on the tasks others don’t want to do. Serve your spouse. Serve your children. Serve your classmates. Serve your neighbors. Serve in church.’

C. He is chosen

My chosen, in whom my soul delights.

A servant subjects himself to someone else. The Messiah did not take this role onto Himself. He was appointed. He was chosen for this task. He willingly accepted it.

Matthew 3:17 – And behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”

This statement was a divine allusion to Isaiah 42:1, where God says that He is delighted in the servant. God is telling people, “Look at Isaiah 42! This is the one I delight in.”

The Father chose His Son for this role and Jesus submitted to it. That is what a servant does.

Application – He chooses each of us for different roles. What has He chosen you to do? Are you doing it?

D. He is filled with the Spirit

Jesus did not go into ministry alone. Many Old Testament passages point to the fact that the Spirit would be on Him (Isaiah 11:1-2, 61:1).

Jesus Himself quoted the Isaiah 61 passage and applied it to Himself.

Luke 4:18 – “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor…”

Jesus had a deep and personal connection with the Holy Spirit, who was Jesus’ constant companion.

The Spirit was active at Jesus’ birth.

The Holy Spirit will come upon you. – Luke 1:35

He was active at Jesus’ baptism.

And the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form – Luke 3:22

He was active in Jesus’ ministry.

And Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee – Luke 4:14

He was active in Jesus’ death.

How much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God – Hebrews 9:14

He was active at Jesus’ resurrection.

If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead. – Romans 8:11

On this point, Mark Jones, in the book Knowing God, said, “Any Christians wanting to know Jesus will inevitably find themselves faced with the fact that Jesus, from the time of his conception, had an inseparable companion: the eternal Holy Spirit. To know Jesus is to know the Holy Spirit and vice-versa.”

Jesus told His disciples repeatedly to “follow Me.” We are to follow not only His teachings but His life and example. And Jesus’ life shows us how important it is that we be filled with the Spirit.

Jesus is divine. He created the universe. And He still highly valued a close and personal connection with the Spirit. How much more do we need the Holy Spirit in our lives?

The Holy Spirit is with us. He desires to help us. He desires to fill us. He wants to be our constant companion and Helper. He wants to be involved in every aspect of our lives (our marriage, our job, our successes and failures, temptations and trials).

If we want to be renewed in Christ, we can’t do it without the Holy Spirit.

II. The Servant’s Qualities (2-4)

A. He is meek

Isaiah 42:2 – He will not cry aloud or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street.

This does not mean that the Messiah would never raise His voice. Rather, it refers to His calm countenance and demeanor. He would not seek to gain fame or following through bluster or brashness. Jesus was not out to generate soundbites.

His attitude is in stark contrast to many politicians and media personalities today. Many seek to generate attention, clicks, likes, and popularity through clickbait titles and phrases.

My boys and I watched a political debate a couple of years ago. The participants made very few rational arguments. Instead, they constantly interrupted each other. It degenerated at times into a shouting match.

Jesus was not like this. Many times, rather than drawing attention to himself, he told those whom he healed to keep it quiet. Can you imagine people doing that today?

Did you know that Matthew quoted Isaiah 42 (Matthew 12:15-21)? He quoted it in reference to Jesus’ practice of telling people not to make the miracles known.

Matthew 12:15-17 – Jesus, aware of this, withdrew from there. And many followed him, and he healed them all and ordered them not to make him known. This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah….

Jesus was a servant. He was not out to glorify Himself.

John 8:50 – Yet I do not seek my own glory.

He was a true servant leader in every sense. A servant is meek. However, we should not confuse His meekness with weakness.

I have seen nature documentaries where lions take down huge prey. But those same lions are gentle with their cubs, carefully carrying them from place to place.

Jesus was strong when He needed to be. He did not back down from or compromise with the Pharisees. He taught with authority. Jesus used His strength to protect others, not Himself.

Application – Jesus deserved the glory and did not seek it. We do not deserve glory and often seek it. One simple application is to regularly come before the Lord and ask Him to help you be humble.

• Before you preach
• Before you perform
• Before you compete in athletics

B. He is compassionate

Isaiah 42:3 – A bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench.

What a beautiful verse!

A bruised reed is a stalk of grain that has been damaged. It is mostly broken and out of shape. It looks like it is good for nothing. Without outside intervention, it will never bear grain. In a typical field, there would be many damaged stalks of grain. But it is not efficient to bother with them. Farmers would just ignore them or cut them down. Can you imagine how time-consuming it would be for a farmer to individually straighten, mend, and nurture hundreds of damaged stalks of grain? A farmer would tell you it is crazy to use his time like that.

The faintly burning wicks are similar. These refer to oil lamp wicks. The oil has mostly been burned up, and the wicks are about to go out. The easiest method would be to snuff out the smoldering wick and replace it. But they can burn again. They need to be trimmed. Oil needs to be added. They can be reignited, or the flame can be fanned to grow again.

The bruised reeds and smoldering wicks refer to spiritually flawed or broken people. Perhaps they are wounded emotionally. Perhaps they have major moral failings. These are the outcasts of society.

They are the weak, the sick, and the sinner whom Jesus came to minister to.

His philosophy stands in stark contrast with the world. The evolutionary model teaches survival of the fittest. This Darwinian philosophy was the foundation upon which the nazis’ “final solution” was formed. They sought to eradicate those they deemed as weak. They believed the strong should dominate and destroy those who couldn’t defend themselves.

Jesus, on the other hand, loved, protected, and nourished the weak.

Jesus believed several things about the frail and damaged.

1. They have value.
2. They can be redeemed.
3. They need to be nurtured.

Think about the bruised reeds and the faintly burning wicks that Jesus nurtured and restored.

• Peter after denying Jesus three times.
• The disciples, after repeatedly arguing about who would be the greatest.
• The Samaritan woman at the well, who was a social outcast.
• Matthew and Zacchaeus, the tax collectors.
• The woman who had a hemorrhage for twelve years.
• The woman caught in adultery.

When Jesus sees someone who has failed or is struggling, He does not cast that person out. He seeks to nurture and heal. No one is too broken for Him to fix. No one is too wounded for Him to heal. No one is too sinful to forgive.

When Jesus looks at you, He does not focus on your brokenness. He will not reject you though some in the world might. He focuses not on what you are but on what you can become through Him.

Jesus changed Simon’s name to Peter (rock). Peter was far from being a rock at the time. Jesus knew what He could become and patiently helped him get there.

Jesus looks at us like a master sculptor looks at a piece of rock. Most people would just see an ugly rock or piece of wood. The sculpture looks through different eyes. He thinks about what He can make out of that rock. He then sculpts away the excess and creates a beautiful piece of art.

Application – Be thankful that we have a Lord who is so kind and tender. We are all damaged goods, but He still welcomes us and heals us. As we recognize His love for us, let our love for Him increase.

C. He is just

Isaiah 42:3 – He will faithfully bring forth justice… He will not grow faint or be discouraged till he has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands wait for his law.

God’s servant, the Messiah, brings justice to the world in two ways.

The cross

God’s character does not allow Him to just “let sin go.” According to His righteous character, sin has to be punished. On the cross, Jesus took the sins of the world onto His own shoulders. He satisfied the demands of justice and love.

The Millennial reign

Isaiah 11:3-6 – He shall not judge by what his eyes see,
or decide disputes by what his ears hear,
but with righteousness he shall judge the poor,
and decide with equity for the meek of the earth;
and he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth,
and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.
Righteousness shall be the belt of his waist,
and faithfulness the belt of his loins. The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat,
and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together;
and a little child shall lead them.

This passage is a reference to the righteous reign of Christ during the millennium when He will bring justice to the ends of the earth.

For its entire history, the earth has been a place of corruption. Nations are composed of sinful men ruled by sinful men. Justice is perverted.

Jesus has brought justice into His spiritual kingdom through the cross already. One day that justice will be brought to the entire earth.

D. He is persevering

Isaiah 42:4 – He will not grow faint or be discouraged till he has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands wait for his law.

The Lord’s servant would not give up on His mission. He will accomplish everything He sets out to do. No enemies can thwart Him.

Many would try. Jesus’ earthly ministry was the focal point for Satanic opposition. The opposition watched Him like a hawk. They sought to discredit, embarrass, intimidate, and silence Him at every opportunity. One after another, they came at Him with the most difficult questions they could muster. Other times, they attempted to kill Him.

The attacks went beyond the physical. Satan tried to tempt Jesus. Demons surrounded His ministry, trying to create chaos.

Jesus was never phased. He kept right on with His eyes fixed straight ahead on the mission.

A good servant perseveres.

Application – We are called to serve as Jesus did. Sometimes you will feel tired. Sometimes you will face opposition. Sometimes you won’t feel like serving. What will you do during those times?

Jesus replenished His battery by regularly spending time with the Lord. He withdrew from the crowds and communed with the Father. That is the only way we can persevere. When you feel tired, come to the Lord and ask Him to renew your strength.

III. The Servant’s Mission (5-9)

A. He is the new covenant (6, 9)

Isaiah 42:6 – I will give you as a covenant for the people, a light for the nations…Behold, the former things have come to pass, and new things I now declare.

Covenant – A covenant is a promise, a contract. There are a number of covenants in the Bible. The Noahic covenant is God’s promise to Noah never to destroy the world by water again. The Mosaic covenant came in the form of the law. If God’s people would obey the law, they would be blessed. The Davidic covenant was a promise that David’s descendants would sit on the throne and reign over Israel.

The Abrahamic covenant includes God’s promises to Abraham to increase his descendants and give him land. In this covenant, he also promised that in Abraham all the families of the earth would be blessed.

The first promise covenantal promise in Scripture is in Genesis 3:15.

Genesis 3:15 – He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.

This is the first hint in Scripture that God planned to send a person to deal with the problem of sin. We see that same promise here in Isaiah 42:9.

I will give you a covenant – Note the words carefully. “You” refers to the servant, the Messiah. It doesn’t say that He would bring a covenant, perhaps an updated law. The wording shows us that this servant is Himself the covenant. The Father will give Christ to the world as His covenant.

Jesus is the covenant. He is the promise. God the Father gave Jesus to the world as our salvation.

Simeon alluded to this in Luke 2:30-32 “for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles.”‘

In seeing Jesus, Simeon said that his eyes had seen “your salvation.” Jesus is the salvation. He is the light promised.

“the former things have come to pass, and new things I now declare.”

The Mosaic law is part of the old set of former things. The law’s purpose was to act as a mirror pointing to the fact that we cannot be saved by ourselves and need help. That is where Jesus comes in.

• He fulfilled the Old Testament covenant perfectly.
• He entered the holy of holies on our behalf.
• He goes in between man and God.
• Jesus brings us into a relationship with God based on His righteousness.

Jesus identified Himself as being the new covenant that God had promised.

Luke 22:20 – This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.

Rituals and sacrifices could not bring people to God. Jesus’ death and resurrection could. Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6).

Application – Do not turn to religion or rituals for salvation. Turn to the person of Jesus Christ.

B. He is an emancipator (7)

Isaiah 42:6-7 – A light for the nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness.

Of all nations

He did not come just for the Jews but for everyone.

He sets us free from spiritual captivity

Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12)

The world is filled with blind guides. People claim to know the answers. Walk into a large bookstore, and you can find hundreds of self-help books on almost any topic, including marriage, parenting, and relieving stress. However, these “answer” books often contradict each other. Many of the authors are what Jesus called blind guides. Their own eyes have not been opened yet.

Spiritual captivity enslaves. Sin, addictions, and deception all keep people in bondage. 2 Corinthians 4:4 says that the “god of this age has blinded the minds of those who don’t believe.”

One can see it in many parts of society. Many would rather believe that aliens created life on earth and not God. There is a powerful blinding force at work.

Jesus is the one who can open eyes and set people free. The light of Christ shows us what the real problem is. It is not someone or something else. The problem is in us. It is our sin. We can’t break the chains on our own. This is the mission Jesus came for. He came to break our chains and set us free. He came to take our blinders off so that we could look at ourselves and the world from the right perspective.

He came to set us free from the chains of the world.


Today we learned about the Lord’s chosen servant.

I. Servant’s Identity
II. Servant’s Qualities
III. Servant’s Mission

Application #1 Come to Him – Are you bruised and hurting? Come to Jesus. He welcomes you. He will nurture you. He is tender. He is the one who can truly heal you from the inside out.

Look at Jesus’ invitation.

Matthew 11:28-29 – Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.

Application #2 Be a Servant – We are called to love and serve the weak and outcasts as Jesus did.

I remember watching a few clips of an old TV series called America’s Funniest Home Videos. Many of these videos showed people falling off bikes, running into poles, crashing vehicles, dropping things on themselves, etc. Each time the studio audience would howl with laughter. We should not laugh at others’ misfortune. The world mocks those who are silly, embarrassed, or make mistakes.

Let us not treat others like the world does. Instead, let us treat them how Jesus did. When someone is embarrassed, let us come alongside and encourage them. When someone falls, let us be the first to pick them up. When someone is being bullied, let us stand in the gap and put a stop to it. When someone is struggling in their walk with the Lord, let us befriend that person, pray with them, and help them overcome. When someone is lost and without Christ, let us preach the gospel to them.

Jesus lowered us to be a servant. We are followers of Jesus. Let us serve as He did.

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