Isaiah 49: 1-6 (Epiphany 3 – January 15, 2017)
“The LORD’s Servant: Sharpened for Victory!”
How should I not have known Isaiah would be there …” (CW 54:3) “Before I was born the Lord called me … he made me like a polished arrow.” Isaiah speaks of Jesus, not himself. Swords and arrows mean war. Before there was a birth in Bethlehem; before there was a speck of created dust ... The Son of God was designed for war against Hell. He was sharpened as a sword for Victory in that war. In Epiphany season we are reminded that this Victory is for entire world of people.
A Sharpened Arrow for War
Through Isaiah’s pen Jesus speaks: “He made my mouth like a sharpened sword in the shadow of his hand he hid me; he made me like a polished arrow and concealed me in his quiver.” Like a burnished sword is placed in a sheath for war, or a freshly sharpened arrow is placed in the hunter’s quiver, God placed the plans and purposes of his Son into the pages of the Old Testament. With each page of the scrolls, this news of Messiah was being revealed. With each picture in the Temple, God was sharpening the image of his Servant. He was imprinting his message on heart of Abraham’s children. Every sacrificial Lamb, every act of the Temple ceremonies, every Word of every prophet clarified the mission of the Servant, Jesus. The LORD polished Jesus for war; for Victory.
Sadly it was Abraham’s children who were the first to miss the point. “He came to his own and his own did not recognize him” (John 1: 11). Rather than being welcomed, he was persecuted. Branded as an enemy, they condemned him to a criminal’s death. Through Isaiah’s pen he says: “I have labored to no purpose, I have spent my strength in vain and for nothing.” The Servant’s task would not seem glorious. It was certainly not going to be an easy task. It was dangerous, sacrificial, and brutally fatal. Isaiah himself would lament: “Lord who has believed our message?!” (Isaiah 53:1)
Paul explains: “We declare God’s wisdom, a mystery that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began. None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. (1 Corinthians 2:7-8). In time, however, God unleashed his Sharpened Arrow!
Sin is an ugly war against God. It fights against our faith each day. The pattern of our godless society, polished by our own selfishness, beckons us to join in the rebellion against God. We get supplied with the swords the world uses: vanity; greed, laziness. We fling the prideful arrows the devil places into our quivers: hatred, manipulation, jealousy. Sin drags us onto battle fields where every soul is at stake: marriage; civic duties; stewardship; core values in work place; visions of ministry for the gospel. The battles we choose to fight on our own we lose each day. Our own solutions bring us more grief.
God declared war on sin. He is Servant is forged by heaven’s burnished gold; a Sharpened Arrow piercing into the heart of the war. We need him too! He sent us Jesus! Jesus pierced the darkness of sin with his Sword of Truth. He spoke the truth. He lived the truth. He taught love. He lived love. He died in love for our sins. He aimed straight into the dungeons of hell. Remember Paul’s list of battle gear in Ephesians: “The shield of faith to extinguish the flaming arrows of the evil one and the Sword of the Spirit: the Word of God!”
It does not seem glorious. It seemed to be in vain. What good is a bruised, beaten body on a cross? What good is a dead Champion in a cold grave? His battle ended when he gave up his last breath. But the Risen Christ reminds us that the Arrow hit its target! He is proven glorious in majesty because he lives. His sword wiped out Hell’s armies and brought glory to the Throne of heaven. His victory over death brought us the Victory; over sin, hell, death, devil and all enemies!
A Victory for All
The Lord said of his Son: “You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will display my splendor.” In other words, I have bigger plans for you. The Lord was planning to send his Sharpened Weapon into the heart of his creation, destroy his enemies and rescue his children. “He who formed me in the womb to be his servant to bring Jacob back to him and gather Israel to himself, for I am honored in the eyes of the LORD.”
The Father was pleased with his Servant and his work. He said that to us last week upon his Baptism. Jesus was designed to bring glory to heaven’s throne. He was designed to keep the promises that were made to Israel. He was designed to rescue His people from their slavery to sin. That task was completed.
But the Lord knew that the task had even greater results! “It is too small a thing for you to … bring back those of Israel I have kept. I will also make you a light to the Gentiles, that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth.” Jesus was pierced for everyone. Our God wants all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. God had plans that were intended to save the whole world of souls from unbelief. He did not come only for Jacob’s sons. He came for all of Adam’s sons! He came for you! He came for everyone!
What is here for us today? “I have labored to no purpose, I have spent my strength in vain and for nothing.” Do you, like me, feel that way often! Most times it is pure frustration out of things not turning out the way I had hoped. Sometimes it is pure jealousy. But it always comes out of forgetfulness; forgetful that the Lord is the one who determines the results of his Word in his kingdom. When we measure things according to our own humanity we always measure incorrectly. I have been slugging it out, working very hard, busting a gut: at home to make family life better, at work to make things go more smoothly, at church in hopes that more people will be hearing the Word and responding to its treasured promises. When things don’t go our way we sulk and say “I have labored for nothing!”
The Lord measures the results of his Word and our labors. His sharpened Arrow works, not mine. His Word will not return to him empty. (Isaiah 55: 11) Our Labor in the Lord is never in vain (1 Corinthians 15: 58). These results are not always seen. They are not always recognized by the world; or us. They are not always the results we had hoped for. But nothing the Lord does is without purpose. His cross has power to bring forgiveness and healing to your homes. His resurrection has power overcome unbelief in our mission work. His Word carries power to increase our trust in his promises and our love for souls!
Also: “It is too small a thing for you … bring my salvation to the ends of the earth.” Do we think smaller than God? Do we limit the “bigness” of God when we trap his kingdom into our faulty human expectations? We think too small when we expect less of God’s people than what God IN his people can do. The Lord was not satisfied with the rescue of one group. He sharpened his Son to the whole world. He loved the entire globe of humanity. He cast that piercing Arrow to shed holy blood for every sinner; from Adam to the last souls that will walk the dust of this earth.
God, who so loved the world, wants all to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. He has planted that truth in your heart. He has planted that truth in his Church. He has supplied us with a burnished Sword, forged in heaven’s divine glory – the Word that pierces unbelief. He has placed on our lips the arrows of his Son’s salvation, arrows that go beyond walls, cultures, languages, and any other kind of barrier. The Lord has poised us to think bigger than we already do. Why? Because HE does! The Lord sharpened his Servant Jesus, and you, for Victory for all. But also for you, for all eternity! Amen.