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Intro: The conversion of the Ethiopian in Acts 8 was unique at the time it happened. Not because of who did the teaching or who was taught, but it was the first recorded conversion in Acts that does not include an apparent miracle. What convinced this man to become obey God was his personal study of an OT passage and the exegesis of the preacher, Philip. What OT passage was he studying that led him to Jesus?
- The text tells us he “…was returning. And sitting in his chariot, he was reading Isaiah the prophet. 29 Then the Spirit said to Philip, “Go near and overtake this chariot.” 30 So Philip ran to him, and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah, and said, “Do you understand what you are reading?” 31 And he said, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he asked Philip to come up and sit with him. 32 The place in the Scripture which he read was this: “He was led as a sheep to the slaughter; And as a lamb before its shearer is silent, So He opened not His mouth. 33 In His humiliation His justice was taken away, And who will declare His generation? For His life is taken from the earth.” 34 So the eunuch answered Philip and said, “I ask you, of whom does the prophet say this, of himself or of some other man?” 35 Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning at this Scripture, preached Jesus to him.” (Acts 8:28-35) We can easily identify the text as Isaiah 53. It has often been called the suffering servant passage of Isaiah. In fact, it is the fourth in a series of passages that present the Messiah as the servant of the Lord. These are referred to as the “servant songs” of Isaiah. It fits that the Ethiopian would find Jesus here.
- The N.T. writers, and even Jesus Himself repeatedly applied the words of these servant songs to the life and work of Jesus. Morris writes in the Dictionary of Bible Imagery… The NT rests its doctrine of atonement on this prophetic concept of the suffering servant. Thirty-four times we find various NT writers referring to Isaiah’s proclamation as fulfilled in Jesus. (Acts 8; 1 Pet. 2)
- How is the “suffering servant” revealed in the book of Isaiah? I want to briefly consider the picture of Jesus as a servant in the message of Isaiah.
- But, first consider a “mission statement” of Jesus in Mark 10:44-45 – And whoever of you desires to be first shall be slave of all. 45 For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” Let me ask you, what do you think of when you hear the word,” slave, or servant? (weakness, powerlessness, suffering) Do you see Jesus in this word? Yet this was His mission – to be a servant. The most obvious way in which Jesus is a servant is that He was a true servant of God.
I. The Messiah as Jehovah’s Ideal Servant – Isaiah 42:1-4 – “Behold! My Servant whom I uphold, My Elect One in whom My soul delights! I have put My Spirit upon Him; He will bring forth justice to the Gentiles. 2 He will not cry out, nor raise His voice, Nor cause His voice to be heard in the street. 3 A bruised reed He will not break, And smoking flax He will not quench; He will bring forth justice for truth. 4 He will not fail nor be discouraged, Till He has established justice in the earth; And the coastlands shall wait for His law.”
A. His Call to Serve: (v. 1) The word “behold” means to pay attention, look carefully at… The prophet calls on us to see Jehovah’s servant. It is ironic that this same language was used to announce Jesus to His people in John 19:5 – Then Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. And Pilate said to them, “Behold the Man!” Pilate’s call was immediately met by cries of “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!”
1. When the Pharisees took counsel against Jesus in order to destroy him, the multitudes followed our Lord and He healed them. Matthew directly applied these words of Isaiah 42 to the event, and leaves no doubt that Isaiah is speaking about Jesus. Matthew 12:15-21 – “But when Jesus knew it, He withdrew from there. And great multitudes followed Him, and He healed them all.16 Yet He warned them not to make Him known,17 that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet, saying: 18 “Behold! My Servant whom I have chosen, My Beloved in whom My soul is well pleased! I will put My Spirit upon Him, And He will declare justice to the Gentiles. 19 He will not quarrel nor cry out, Nor will anyone hear His voice in the streets. 20 A bruised reed He will not break, And smoking flax He will not quench, Till He sends forth justice to victory; 21 And in His name Gentiles will trust.”
a. v. 1 – He is described as One who was chosen (elect) by Jehovah and upheld by Him as well. The word “upheld” means to lean upon, rely upon. Jesus would rely upon the Father in all that He did. He is further described as One on whom God would put His Spirit, and whom He would find pleasure (delight). This reminds us of the account of Jesus’ baptism, when the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus and the voice from heaven said, “This is My beloved Son (servant) in whom I am well pleased.” (Matt. 3:17), and again, at the transfiguration of Jesus. (Matt. 17:5). Who but Jesus could have perfectly performed the work of the Father?
B. His Manner of Serving: (v. 3-4) But Isaiah also depicts the manner in which the Messiah will accomplish the will of the Father. He presents at least 3 characteristics:
1. With meekness: He will not cry out or raise His voice, nor make His voice heard in the street (v. 2) He would not appear as a boisterous revolutionary exciting the crowds with His rhetoric. His influence would come through the powerful exegesis of scripture and humble teaching
2. With compassion: A bruised reed He will not break, and a dimly burning wick He will not extinguish; (v. 3) This word picture points to a common occurrence in the world at that time.
- The reed refers to a brittle or hollow stick that grew in the marsh. It was by nature fragile, and could easily be bent or “bruised”. If you were using it and it bent over, you would simply break it all the way in two or throw it away and get another.
- People lit their homes with oil lamps (clay vases) with flax wicks. When the oil ran down the flax wick would begin to burn and smoke up the house. The common response was to extinguish the wick, fill the lamp and put in a new wick.
a. The Servant of the Lord would not discard that which was bruised or just barely burning. He would extend grace and rekindle. This compassionate character of the Messiah is referenced often in the OT. Later in Isa 50:4 – The Lord God has given Me The tongue of the learned, That I should know how to speak A word in season to him who is weary. In Isa 61:1 He is described as one who would bring good news to the poor, heal the broken hearted and set the prisoners free. Jesus applied these very words to Himself as He taught in the synagogue of Nazareth.
b. Matthew tells us that when Jesus “saw the multitudes, He was moved with compassion for them, because they were weary and scattered, like sheep having no shepherd” (Matt. 9:36).
3. With determination: v. 4 – He will not fail nor be discouraged. This Servant will faithfully serve His calling even though He will meet opposition. He will not be disheartened or crushed by the circumstances of His work.
a. I love this description of Jesus’ commitment: John 13:1 –Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that His hour had come that He should depart from this world to the Father, having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end. Heb 12:3-4 – For consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls. 4 You have not yet resisted to bloodshed, striving against sin.
C. His Mission: What is His work? What does this servant accomplish? The purpose, or mission of God’s Servant is dispersed through the passages, and is not hard to see.
- v. 1 – He will bring forth justice to the Gentiles.
- v. 3 – He will bring forth justice for truth.
- v. 4 – Till He has established justice in the earth; And the coastlands shall wait for His law.”
- v. 6-7 -I will give You as a covenant to the people, As a light to the Gentiles, 7 To open blind eyes, To bring out prisoners from the prison, Those who sit in darkness from the prison house.
1. It seems obvious that a main objective of the Servant’s work is to bring justice or judgment. The same word is used 3 times (v. 1, 3, 4) to describe what the Servant will provide or bring. He will bring this, not only to Israel, but to the Gentiles, and to the whole earth.
a. The word in the Hebrew is Mishpat, which is translated as judgment or justice. Vines says… This word has two main senses; the first deals with the act of sitting as a judge, hearing a case, and rendering a proper verdict. …”For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil.” … can also refer to the “rights” belonging to someone Ex 23:6. This second sense carries several nuances: the sphere in which things are in proper relationship to one’s claims. (from Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words) The work of Christ touches upon both of these meanings:
1) Through His accomplished work He is qualified to judge all men, and will consummate the work of judgment in the last day. The apostles spoke of this final judgment as the result of Jesus’ work on earth: Acts 10:39-42 – And we are witnesses of all things which He did both in the land of the Jews and in Jerusalem, whom they killed by hanging on a tree. 40 Him God raised up on the third day, and showed Him openly, 41 not to all the people, but to witnesses chosen before by God, even to us who ate and drank with Him after He arose from the dead. 42 And He commanded us to preach to the people, and to testify that it is He who was ordained by God to be Judge of the living and the dead Acts 17:31 – because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead.” It is Jesus who will sit as a judge and render a final, just verdict for the whole world.
2) But the second sense may also be seen in the work of the Servant. It is through Jesus; work that things are brought into proper relationship to one’s claims. How can God accept and fellowship those who have sinned? Justice does not allow it. But Jesus brings things back into the proper relationship so that God is just in justifying the sinner. Rom 3:24-26 – being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, 26 to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.
3) The Messiah brought justice to the Gentiles by paying the price for sin in His own death. He redeemed the sinner, and all who come to Him through faith are declared innocent (righteous).
4) Homer Hailey comments on v. 6 – Not only would God make Him the Mediator of a new covenant that He would make (Hos.2:18; Jer. 31:31-34; Heb. 9:15; 12:24), but God would give Him as the personal bond (covenant) between Himself and the people who would be bound to Him.” Jesus’ atoning sacrifice is our guarantee that our sins can be forgiven and we can be right with God.
5) When we obey the gospel message concerning Jesus’ work in their behalf, we are cured of our blindness and set free from the prison house of sin. No one comes to the Father except through the Son; Acts 4:11-12 – 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.”
6) In 42:10 Jehovah calls on those who have been delivered from the prison to sing a new song in praise to God. This is the new song of Rev. 5:9-10. And they sang a new song, saying:”You are worthy to take the scroll, And to open its seals; For You were slain, and have redeemed us to God by Your blood Out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation, 10 And have made us kings and priests to our God; And we shall reign on the earth.”
Conclusion: If any one reads this Servant Song looking for a physical fulfillment, he will be disappointed, for he will find no such servant. But if he looks for a spiritual fulfillment, he will find it in Jesus the Christ of the New Testament. Mark 10:45 – For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”