May 9, 2011 David Balzer

Isaiah 42: 20 20 spiritual vision

DIPLOMATIC IMMUNITY. It’s what staff at foreign embassies claim whenever they fear they’ve broken the law in Australia. My understanding is the two countries agree that each embassy is like a small part of their home country on foreign soil. So, the Chinese embassy in Canberra is actually part of China. And so, Australian authorities have no jurisdiction inside the embassy.

And it’s the same for staff. They don’t actually operate under Australian law. If they break Australian law, or are suspected of it, they claim DIPLOMATIC IMMUNITY, and Australian law can’t touch them. If a foreign authority threatens, then the government can just say, “Watch out! That’s my servant you’re messing with! Mess with MY SERVANT, and you mess with ME!”

And as we move into the next part of Isaiah’s prophecy, we see God offering his people Israel A KIND OF DIPLOMATIC IMMUNITY.

Remember, God’s exiled them to Babylon. They’ve been there for decades. But now God’s promised to bring them back. All’s forgiven, the debt’s been paid. And, once more, they’ll be God’s people, in God’s place, under God’s rule. That was in ch 40 that we looked at last week.

Now, into ch 41, God begins to explain the DETAILS of the plan. V2 – God is the One who raises up Cyrus from the East, the king of Persia. And he’ll hand kings and nations over to him, so God can work out his purposes through him.

And then in v8, we see God’s promise of DIPLOMATIC IMMUNITY. Israel’s safe because they’re God’s SERVANT.

8 “But you, O ISRAEL, MY SERVANT, Jacob, whom I have chosen, you descendants of Abraham my friend, 9 I took you from the ends of the earth, from its farthest corners I called you. I said, ‘YOU ARE MY SERVANT’; I have chosen you and have not rejected you. 10 SO DO NOT FEAR, FOR I AM WITH YOU; do not be dismayed, for I am your God.

The surrounding nations might be HUGE, and Israel might be TINY, but size doesn’t matter when God’s in your corner. Or more accurately, YOU’RE in HIS. V11.

11 “All who rage against you will surely be ashamed and disgraced; those who oppose you will be as nothing and perish.

Down to v13.

13 For I am the LORD, your God, who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you. 14 Do not be afraid, O WORM Jacob, O LITTLE Israel, for I myself will help you,” declares the LORD, your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel.

Israel might only be A WORM. But God is the loving Father gently and firmly holding onto his child’s hand. Keeping her from stumbling, and guiding her in safety. It’s a lovely image. Like a father holding the hand of his child in the surf. As the waves roll in, they should knock the boy off his feet. But he stands firm, because he’s holding onto his father, who’s going nowhere.

It’s like diplomatic immunity because it’s Israel’s connection to GOD that guarantees her protection. God’s SERVANTS receive the same protection as GOD HIMSELF. Just like DIPLOMATIC servants receive the protection of the country they’re LOYAL to.

God is saying to the nations around, “Hands off! This one’s MINE! You mess with my SERVANT, you’re messing WITH ME!”

And God’s promises continue. Down to V17-20 – God’s going to do MIRACULOUS THINGS, so people will HAVE TO acknowledge that he’s behind them.

And down to v25. God FORETELLS THE FUTURE. “One from the NORTH will come to tread on rulers.” God PROPHESYING it proves he’s BEHIND it. And the gods of the nations are left SPEECHLESS. V29.

29 See, they are all false! Their deeds amount to nothing; their images are but wind and confusion.

And so we come to Ch 42, and our attention returns to God’s SERVANT. To this one he’s claiming DIPLOMATIC IMMUNITY for.

It’s like he’s presenting his servant to the nations. Outlining his agenda for him. IN WHAT WAY he’s going to serve God.

And as I read through these familiar verses, just resist the temptation to put on your New Testament glasses for a moment. And just listen to these words thinking about ISRAEL. Back in Ch 41 v8 God’s servant was OBVIOUSLY Israel, so let’s assume that’s STILL the case.

So, ch 42 v1. God presenting his servant:

“Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him and he will bring justice to the nations. 2 He will not shout or cry out, or raise his voice in the streets. 3 A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out. In faithfulness he will bring forth justice; 4 he will not falter or be discouraged till he establishes justice on earth. In his law the islands will put their hope.”

As the nations and their false gods look on, God unveils his servant. The one he plans to use to bring about his purposes for his world.

There in v1. Israel is God’s DELIGHT. The only one he’s chosen. No one else gets that special privilege. He chose Abraham, way back in Genesis, and promised to make him into a nation. A nation who would be a blessing to ALL nations. And so ISRAEL is God’s servant, his CHOSEN ONE.

In Deut 7 God talks about WHY he chose Israel. Deut 7:6.

6 For you are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be his people, his treasured possession. 7 The LORD did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. 8 But it was because the LORD loved you and kept the oath he swore to your forefathers that he brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery

Israel is God’s CHOSEN ONE.

And He’ll KEEP HIM FIRM. And equip him with his Spirit – God’s personal presence.

And the REASON he needs God’s presence and power is because God’s got a job for him to do. V1 – to bring JUSTICE to the nations. In the midst of violence and ruthless destruction, God’s servant will bring God’s JUSTICE to the world.

But it won’t be at the end of a sword or a battering ram. It won’t be loud, aggressive and dominating. V2. God’s plan  is for justice to come gently and quietly and meekly.

2 He will NOT shout or cry out, or raise his voice in the streets. 3 A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.

A bruised reed is barely able to stand upright, but God’s servant won’t flatten it. A smouldering wick is half a breath away from extinction. But God’s servant won’t put it out. He’ll coax life out of almost dead candles.

And he’ll do the job RELIABLY. Second half of v3.

In FAITHFULNESS he will bring forth justice; 4 he will not FALTER or be DISCOURAGED till he establishes justice on earth.

He’s the sort of servant you can give a job to, and know he’ll see it through. You won’t find him clocking off early, or reading the paper. He’ll stick at it until the job’s finished.

A light to the nations

And there’s a bit more of God’s job description for his servant down in v6. Rather than talking ABOUT him, he talks TO him.

6 “I, the LORD, have called you in righteousness; I will take hold of your hand. I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people and a light for the Gentiles, 7 to open eyes that are blind, to free captives from prison and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness.

Israel is God’s righteous instrument for dealing with the world. It was a plan revealed to Abraham centuries before, that HIS nation would be a blessing TO ALL THE REST. HIS nation would be the means by which God made a covenant with ALL the nations. They’d be A LIGHT, showing everyone how good God was, how sensible and holy his LAW was. They’d LIVE OUT justice. God called them to testify to all they’d seen God do THROUGH them and FOR them.

And so, they’d open blind eyes, and free prisoners.

You catch a glimpse of what God wanted to do for the world through Israel back in ch 2 of Isaiah. Just flip back there for a moment. Ch 2 v1.

2:1 This is what Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem: 2 In the last days the mountain of the LORD’s temple will be established as chief among the mountains; it will be raised above the hills, and all nations will stream to it. 3 Many peoples will come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob. He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths.”The law will go out from Zion, the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. 4 He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore. 5 Come, O house of Jacob, let us walk in the LIGHT of the LORD.

Can you see all the same themes there? Judah being a LIGHT to the nations. Everyone DRAWN to Jerusalem. Attracted. They’d be the focus of the world as they studied and obeyed God’s law. And so there’d be peace and justice.

At least that was THE PLAN.

A blind witness

But how well did Israel MEASURE UP? The fact they were in exile as they hear Isaiah’s prophecy tells the story. They FAILED SPECTACULARLY. Rather than cause nations to recognise God’s glory, they SHAMED him. Rather than live out justice, there was Injustice – bribery, violence and abuse. Rather than be HOLY, they were no different, or WORSE, than the nations. They inter-married, and took on their gods, and their sins.

They were supposed to be WITNESSES. But what use are blind and deaf witnesses? They see and hear NOTHING. They’re USELESS. Jump back over to Ch 42, and down to v18.

18 “Hear, you deaf; look, you blind, and see! 19 Who is blind but my servant, and deaf like the messenger I send? Who is blind like the one committed to me, blind like the servant of the LORD? 20 You have seen many things, but have paid no attention; your ears are open, but you hear nothing.”

All the incredible saving acts of God in Israel’s history. And it makes no difference. Their attitudes and actions are just as wicked as if God wasn’t around. They don’t even NOTICE.

It’s like people talking right through a concert of beautiful music. Or a teenager playing on his mobile phone as the family drive through spectacular countryside, or tour a famous art gallery. Seeing and hearing EVERYTHING, but understanding NOTHING.

And then in v21 we see how God gave them his wonderful LAW, great and glorious. Gave it to them to obey. But they were BLIND AND DEAF to it.

And then, from v22, when God sends PUNISHMENTS, they’re blind and deaf to those TOO. None of it makes any difference. Plunder, looting, famine, violence, and war.

Like a child throwing a tantrum. The discipline makes no difference. A parent can just keep heaping consequence after consequence, but it just makes the behaviour WORSE. No TV for a day. A week. A month. No difference. The tantrum continues. No COMPUTER as WELL. And throw in no visits to friends’ places. And early bed for a year.

None of it works. That’s Israel.

And so the chapter concludes at v25.

25 So he poured out on them his burning anger, the violence of war. It enveloped them in flames, YET THEY DID NOT UNDERSTAND; IT CONSUMED THEM, BUT THEY DID NOT TAKE IT TO HEART.

God’s plan doesn’t fail

The chapter finishes with ISRAEL failing. But does that mean God’s PLAN FOR THE WORLD has failed?

Not at all! It’s just as well God’s not constrained by our inability. He’ll never use the excuse of a bad workman, and blame his tools. He’s the expert at using blunt instruments. Look at how Ch 43 continues the argument.

But now, this is what the LORD says–he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: “Fear not (don’t focus on your failures!), for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. 2 When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. 3 For I am the LORD, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior;

It’s all about GOD, and nothing about ISRAEL. He’ll still bring about his plans DESPITE their sin. DESPITE their blindness and deafness. HE will do it, not ISRAEL. V5

5 Do not be afraid, for I am with you; I will bring your children from the east and gather you from the west. 6 I will say to the north, ‘Give them up!’ and to the south, ‘Do not hold them back.’ Bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the ends of the earth– 7 everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.”

Not just SERVANTS, but SONS and DAUGHTERS. Called by name. Created for God’s glory.

And where people FAIL, God SUCCEEDS. It’s GOD who’ll bring them back.

Even with A BLIND AND DEAF servant. A servant who was supposed to bring SIGHT to the blind, and healing to the deaf. But instead, is blind and deaf himself. Look there in v8.

8 Lead out those who have eyes but are BLIND, who have ears but are DEAF.

God’s going to give a demonstration of his power. And his CASE STUDY is his blind and deaf servant. Like the martial arts expert, or the master magician, or the stand-up comedian, who pulls some poor volunteer out of the audience. And then cuts him in half, or makes fun of him, or throws him to the ground. He USES him to demonstrate his SKILL.

And the audience is going to be THE NATIONS. The ones for whom this whole plan was to benefit. The ones Israel was supposed to set free from prison.

And he challenges the nations to DISPROVE God’s power. Let them present their OWN witnesses that THEIR gods are in charge. V9.

9 All the nations gather together and the peoples assemble. Which of them foretold this and proclaimed to us the former things? Let them bring in THEIR witnesses to prove they were right, so that others may hear and say, “It is true.”

The prosecution calls THEIR witnesses. But they can’t prove anything. And so God begins his defence. And calls HIS witness.

And guess who he calls to contradict the witness of the nations? The case for the defence?

Even blind servants can witness

Israel. The blind and deaf servant. Again and again they turned away from following God. Useless. But look at what God does anyway. V10. He’s talking to Israel again.

10 “YOU are … my WITNESSES,” declares the LORD,” and my SERVANT whom I have chosen, so that you may KNOW and BELIEVE me and understand that I AM HE. Before me no god was formed, nor will there be one after me. 11 I, even I, am the LORD, and apart from me there is no savior. 12 I have REVEALED and SAVED and PROCLAIMED–I, and not some foreign god among you. YOU ARE MY WITNESSES,” declares the LORD, “that I am God. 13 Yes, and from ancient days I am he. No one can deliver out of my hand. When I act, who can reverse it?”

In God’s upside down way of doing things, he chooses to use frail, faulty human witnesses to testify to his character. To testify to his salvation. Even though they’re BLIND. Even though they’re DEAF.

That’s the way God’s people witness about him. Whether it be THEN, or NOW. And so we say, “There’s nothing special about ME. I was blind. I was deaf. I was dead in sin. But God RESCUED ME ANYWAY. It’s all about him. And nothing about ME.”

Grace upon grace upon grace. Forgiveness after forgiveness after forgiveness. All about God. Nothing about ME. There’s nothing egotistical or self-righteous in a genuine Christian testimony. It’s one beggar telling another beggar where to find bread. It’s all about God, and nothing about US.

We’re DIFFERENT from Israel. Israel REMAINED blind and deaf. But through Jesus, the PERFECT servant, God chooses to open our blind eyes, to unstop our deaf ears. To breathe life into our dead, sinful hearts. To give us his Spirit. And make us ALIVE. And then give us the power and the desire to actually serve God whole-heartedly. Out of love and gratitude.

We’re DIFFERENT from Israel. But we’re also SIMILAR to Israel. WE TOO are God’s SERVANT. God’s plan for his world is STILL to use his servant to be a light to the world. To open blind eyes, and free prisoners. To live out justice. To live out compassion and gentleness and humility. TO not break bruised reeds or snuff out smouldering wicks.

It’s THE CHURCH that’s God’s servant today. It’s the church who are called to be salt and light in the world. It’s the church who are called to point people to the ULTIMATE servant. The ULTIMATE light. The servant who said (in John 8:12)

 “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

It’s the church who are called, not only POINT people to the light, but to WALK in the light. 1 John 1:7

7 But if we walk in the light , as he is in the light , we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.

And it’s the church (in the words of Phil 2:14) who are called to

14 Do everything without complaining or arguing, 15 so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, IN WHICH YOU SHINE LIKE STARS IN THE UNIVERSE 16 as you hold out the word of life

We work with God, proclaiming the light, holding out the word of life, walking in the light. Bringing his kingdom to the nations. Just like he planned for Israel. Just like he promised Abraham.

And here’s the truly incredible thing. God calls us to do that EVEN THOUGH WE’RE DEAF AND BLIND. Slow to understand. UNWORTHY. Sinful. Praise God for his grace.

Will YOU live, witnessing to those around you of the extraordinary work of God in YOU?

Isa 43:11-12. I, even I, am the LORD, and apart from me there is no savior. 12 I have revealed and saved and proclaimed– I, and not some foreign god among you. You are my witnesses,” declares the LORD, “that I am God.

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