The Mission of God’s Servant – Isaiah 49

Intro: Isaiah provided a vision of freedom to God’s captive people. This vision involved both an immediate and remote fulfillment; or more clearly, a lesser and greater fulfillment. In Chapters 40-48 the prominent scene in view is the fall of Babylon, Israel’s enemy, and God’s deliverance of His people from Babylonian captivity through His servant, Cyrus, the Persian monarch. Jehovah’s work in commissioning and sending Cyrus to free His people is one of the great fulfilled prophecies of the Bible, and stands as a testament to His power and sovereignty among the nations of the world.

  • But the later part of Isaiah’s message focuses on a greater deliverance and a more profound Deliverer. Isaiah sets forth the character and mission of God’s divine Servant, Israel’s Messiah, Jesus Christ. God will redeem His people through the work and faithfulness of this Servant. He stands in contrast to all previous servants of God, even Israel itself, who had failed God at some time or another. But this Servant will complete His mission.
  • In our study two weeks ago we noticed the first of the four Servant Songs of Isaiah (Isaiah 42); We noticed several important characteristics of Jesus and His mission:

1) He was chosen to be a servant. Isaiah 42:1 calls Him God’s elect (chosen) who would be upheld by Jehovah.

2) He would serve Jehovah with meekness (not cry out or make His voice heard in the streets); with compassion (not discarding the broken reed or smoking wick) and with determination (He would not succumb to discouragement (42:3-4)

3) He would bring forth justice to the Gentiles, and become the very covenant between God and His people.

4) Those who will be redeemed and freed from their prison house will sing a new song. (42:10)

Isaiah 49 contains another of the “servant songs” and a deeper picture of Jesus as the Servant of God, and His powerful mission:

I. The Servant’s Weapons: (49:1-3) Jehovah’s Sharp Sword & Hidden Arrow: Turn to Isaiah 49:1-3 – “Listen, O coastlands, to Me, And take heed, you peoples from afar! The Lord has called Me from the womb; From the matrix of My mother He has made mention of My name. 2 And He has made My mouth like a sharp sword; In the shadow of His hand He has hidden Me, And made Me a polished shaft; In His quiver He has hidden Me.” 3 “And He said to me, ‘You are My servant, O Israel, In whom I will be glorified.’ The Servant Himself speaks in this vision. He calls on those faraway (coastlands) to pay attention to what He is saying. The Lord called Him to this mission from the womb of His mother. This is not a reference to Mary, nor to the nation of Israel, but to the spiritual remnant that will return from exile, and give birth to their Messiah (Isa. 66:7-8) and the one through whom the Messiah would come. With the Servant comes the power to deliver. He sets forth the weapons by which He will conquer.

A. “made my mouth like a sharp sword” – The word mouth signifies His words. Jehovah will give His Servant words to speak. These words will bring the nations into subjection. Jesus consistently characterized His teaching as the words the Father had given Him to speak. (John 12:49For I have not spoken on My own authority; but the Father who sent Me gave Me a command, what I should say and what I should speak.) His words called men to faith and obedience. As the edge of a sword His words would cut the hearts the men and separate. Heb 4:12 – For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.

B. “In His quiver He has hidden Me” – The Messiah is pictured as an arrow hidden in a quiver until just the right time when it will be sent to its target. Jehovah’s secret weapon. Gal 4:4But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son. Rev. 6:2 – One riding on a white horse with a bow in his hand, “went out conquering and to conquer”.

1. This is the significance of the mystery of the gospel. It denoted that which was not fully made known until the time was right. Eph 3:3-6 – how that by revelation He made known to me the mystery (as I have briefly written already, 4 by which, when you read, you may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ), 5 which in other ages was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to His holy apostles and prophets: 6 that the Gentiles should be fellow heirs, of the same body, and partakers of His promise in Christ through the gospel,

C. In 49:3 the One speaking is identified as “My Servant, Israel“. This is not a reference to the nation of Israel, but rather to Christ as the One who will prevail. The name was first given to Jacob when he wrestled with the angel, then later referred to the nation that came from him. But the word meant one who struggles and prevails. Both Jacob and the nation had failed to prevail, but this Servant would come through His struggles victorious, and God will be glorified.

II. The Servant’s Enlarged Mission (49:4-8)Then I said, ‘I have labored in vain, I have spent my strength for nothing and in vain; Yet surely my just reward is with the Lord, And my work with my God.'” “And now the Lord says, Who formed Me from the womb to be His Servant, To bring Jacob back to Him, So that Israel is gathered to Him (For I shall be glorious in the eyes of the Lord, And My God shall be My strength), 6 Indeed He says, ‘It is too small a thing that You should be My Servant To raise up the tribes of Jacob, And to restore the preserved ones of Israel; I will also give You as a light to the Gentiles, That You should be My salvation to the ends of the earth.'” 7 Thus says the Lord, The Redeemer of Israel, their Holy One, To Him whom man despises, To Him whom the nation abhors, To the Servant of rulers: “Kings shall see and arise, Princes also shall worship, Because of the Lord who is faithful, The Holy One of Israel; And He has chosen You.” 8 Thus says the Lord: “In an acceptable time I have heard You, And in the day of salvation I have helped You; I will preserve You and give You As a covenant to the people, To restore the earth, To cause them to inherit the desolate heritages;

A. First we notice that Paul applies these words to His work as Christ’s apostle among the Gentiles in Acts 13:46-47Then Paul and Barnabas grew bold and said, “It was necessary that the word of God should be spoken to you first; but since you reject it, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, behold, we turn to the Gentiles. 47 For so the Lord has commanded us: ‘I have set you as a light to the Gentiles, That you should be for salvation to the ends of the earth.'” This confirms that Isaiah is speaking of Jesus as the Servant, and not the nation of Israel.

B. The Servant expresses disappointment and a sense of failure (“I have labored in vain”) in bringing Jacob back to Jehovah. But He is confident that God has not removed His reward, and God will be His strength. His labor does recover a remnant of Israel (“preserved ones“), but God has even a larger mission. He is to be a light to the Gentiles and provide salvation to the ends of the earth. (49:6) No wonder He wanted the “coastlands” (Gentile nations) to listen to what He was saying! (49:1)

1. Compare Ephesians 2:11-13Therefore remember that you, once Gentiles in the flesh — who are called Uncircumcision by what is called the Circumcision made in the flesh by hands –12 that at that time you were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.

C. Although the Servant has such a noble mission of enlightenment and salvation, and is the Holy One of Israel, Jehovah points out that He will not be well received. Those to whom He is sent will despise Him, abhor Him, and account Him as of little worth. John 1:11He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him.

D. “Kings shall see and arise, Princes also shall worship” – But there would be a complete reversal when even the kings and princes among men would come and worship Him. He will triumph over all obstacles! How? Isa 49:7Because of the Lord who is faithful, The Holy One of Israel; And He has chosen You.” The Servant will prevail through the power of the One whom He serves.

1. In the day when Jehovah provides salvation for His people, He will come to the aid of His Servant. Jehovah will preserve the Servant, guard His life from danger until the appointed hour comes. How often Satan attempted to disrupt God’s plan and Jesus’ mission. But the mission of the Servant was completely in the hand of the Father and the Father did not abandon Him.

a. When God raised Jesus from the grave it was a proclamation that He had not abandoned His servant (as the people had done) but had placed Him as the only avenue of salvation. After Peter told the crowd in Acts 4 that the lame man was not healed through his power he said, “by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead, by Him this man stands here before you whole. 11 This is the ‘stone which was rejected by you builders, which has become the chief cornerstone.’ 12 Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:10-12)

2. This would all be accomplished in an acceptable time (Isa 49:8). Paul confirms that this was fulfilled in the days of the gospel. 2 Corinthians 6:1-2 We then, as workers together with Him also plead with you not to receive the grace of God in vain. 2 For He says: “In an acceptable time I have heard you, And in the day of salvation I have helped you.”Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.

3. This is the power of submission on display – even as Paul described in Phil 2:5-11Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, 6 who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, 7 but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. 9 Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, 11 and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

III. The Servant’s Highway (Isa 49:9-13) That You may say to the prisoners, ‘Go forth,’ To those who are in darkness, ‘Show yourselves.’ “They shall feed along the roads, And their pastures shall be on all desolate heights. 10 They shall neither hunger nor thirst, Neither heat nor sun shall strike them; For He who has mercy on them will lead them, Even by the springs of water He will guide them. 11 I will make each of My mountains a road, And My highways shall be elevated. 12 Surely these shall come from afar; Look! Those from the north and the west, And these from the land of Sinim.” 13 Sing, O heavens! Be joyful, O earth! And break out in singing, O mountains! For the Lord has comforted His people, And will have mercy on His afflicted.

A. What a powerful description of the accomplishments of the Servant. As Jehovah had assured those who were in captivity to Babylon that He would provide for them, so now He assures those who are (or will be) in captivity in the dungeon of sin that the Servant will free them. Jehovah would hear His Servant, Jesus, in an acceptable time, so that He can do what He came to do.

1. “Go forth… show yourselves“- do not be ashamed or afraid. Do not remain in the darkness. Come out and declare that you are on God’s side – take your stand.

2. God’s Servant will come as a shepherd to feed and care for His flock. If they come out to Him they will not suffer from the heat of opposition, or persecution, or judgment. He will provide mercy to those who follow where He leads.

3. Isa 49:11“I will make each of My mountains a road, And My highways shall be elevated.” Have you ever traveled down the expressway through the mountains (Blue Ridge Parkway) and wondered how people ever traveled this way before the highway was constructed? But now there is a highway that opens the way for people to come. So Jesus made a highway for all those who want to come to God. He made a way for you. John 14:6Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me. Those who could never find a way to God can now come because the Servant has completed His mission.

a. Notice how the writer of Hebrews points us directly to the work of Jesus our High Priest – Heb 10:19-23 – Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way which He consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh, 21 and having a High Priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful. We can have boldness and draw near (go forth and show ourselves) because He has consecrated a way for us through His death.

b. But those who come, must come as He has designed:

            • in full assurance of faith – or in fullness of faith, as opposed to a weak or powerless faith that is unwilling to express itself in obedience – faith without works is dead
            • Hearts sprinkled from an evil conscienceHaving our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience is a reference to penitent acceptance of Christ’s sacrifice through knowledge and contemplation of it and also a humble willingness to accept as our own what Christ has provided. (from Coffman’s Bible Commentary)
            • “And our body washed with pure water” – is beyond all doubt a reference to baptism in water, making it a precondition of salvation, or drawing near to God. Ananias told Saul of Tarsus to “arise and be baptized, calling on the name of the Lord.”

Conclusion: Isa 49:13 – Sing, O heavens! Be joyful, O earth! And break out in singing, O mountains! For the Lord has comforted His people, And will have mercy on His afflicted. God’s Servant, Jesus completed His Mission, and He extends to you His mercy.