The Weary Sustained by the Servant
P. G. Mathew | Sunday, November 16, 2003
Copyright © 2003, P. G. Mathew
The Sovereign Lord has given me an instructed tongue, to know the word that sustains the weary. He wakens me morning by morning, wakens my ear to listen like one being taught.
In his great prophecy, Isaiah reveals to us God's sovereign plan to sustain the weary people of the world-people who are weary of sin, guilt, defeat and death. The gospel is addressed to such people; to those who are not weary of sin, God has nothing to say. This salvation for sinners would come through a suffering servant who makes his appearance for the third time in Isaiah 50:4-9. We read about this servant also in Isaiah 42, 49, and 53.
Israel could not help the weary because she herself failed to be a servant of God. She became rebellious, deaf to God's word, as God said in Isaiah 50:2: "When I came, why was there no one? When I called, why was there no one to answer? Was my arm too short to ransom you? Do I lack the strength to rescue you?"
But though Israel failed to respond to God, an individual Israelite would come who would hear and do the will of God. He would be the perfect disciple, the divine scholar par excellence. Through his perfect obedience in suffering, this Servant would bring salvation to those elect sinners who are weary of their sin and guilt. He would say to them, "Come unto me, all who are weary; I will give you rest."
Even today, this Servant calls anyone who is weary and without strength to come to him. The thief comes only to steal, kill, and destroy, but the Suffering Servant came to give us the everlasting rest of abounding life.
The Sovereign Teacher
Before this Servant could help anyone, he himself needed to be taught. Who taught him? Adonai Yahweh, the Sovereign Lord, the self-existing, self-sufficient, eternal, covenant God, who is sovereign over all powers of the world. As his disciple and scholar, the Servant has an intimate and constant relationship with Adonai Yahweh.
Daily, morning by morning, the Servant learned from the great master instructor. Just as Israel daily gathered manna in the wilderness, so the Servant was nourished by the heavenly manna of the word he received daily from the Sovereign Lord. When God called him, he responded as Samuel did, saying, "Speak, Lord, your servant is hearing." The word "hear" in Hebrew, shema, means "to hear and do." This Servant perfectly heard and carried out the words of the Lord. Additionally, he stored these things in his heart to speak later to his people, "For out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks."
The ministry of this Servant that brings rest to the sin-weary people is a ministry of preaching the word. At his first advent, he did not come to condemn the world, but to save the world by the proclamation of the gospel (John 3:17). Isaiah 49:2 emphasizes this word-centered ministry: "He made my mouth like a sharpened sword, in the shadow of his hand he hid me; he made me into a polished arrow and concealed me in his quiver." So the Servant must receive the word from the Sovereign Lord before he can help the weary ones. This is the pattern for all ministry. As Paul said, "What I have received, I give to you." We must receive something from the Lord to give to those who are weary, that they may be refreshed. As Jesus stated, "My word is spirit and my word is life."
John 7:16-18 also tells us where the Servant's teaching came from: "Jesus answered, 'My teaching is not my own. It comes from him who sent me. If anyone chooses to do God's will, he will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own. He who speaks on his own does so to gain honor for himself, but he who works for the honor of the one who sent him is a man of truth; there is nothing false about him.'" Everything Jesus taught came to him from the great instructor, Adonai Yahweh. Thus, though Israel as a nation became rebellious to the Sovereign Lord, there was One who was not rebellious. In God's mercy, Israel would be helped by this obedient divine scholar.
In Psalm 40 David spoke about this One: "Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but my ears you have pierced; burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not require. Then I said, 'Here I am, I have come-it is written about me in the scroll. I desire to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart'" (vv. 6-8). Now Isaiah introduces him to us in chapter 50. The Sovereign Lord woke him up daily and opened his ears so that the word of God went into him without any resistance. He who would instruct others to hear and do his teaching had to first hear and do the teaching of his Sovereign Master. We have no authority to teach and disciple others unless we ourselves are taught and discipled. Only those who are under authority are qualified to be in authority.
What was the heart of the teaching this Servant received from the Sovereign Lord? That he must suffer and die for our sins. This word about suffering was hard, but the Servant embraced it fully, saying, "The Sovereign Lord has opened my ears, and I have not been rebellious; I have not drawn back. I offered my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who pulled out my beard; I did not hide my face from mocking and spitting. Because the Sovereign Lord helps me, I will not be disgraced. Therefore have I set my face like flint, and I know I will not be put to shame" (vv.5-7).
Submitting to this teaching of substitutionary suffering, this Servant set his face like flint, in resolute determination to do God's will because he was convinced that the Sovereign Lord would help him in his obedience of suffering. So he said in verse 7, "Because the Sovereign Lord helps me . . ." and verse 9, "It is the Sovereign Lord who helps me." Daily, continuously, this Servant received help from Adonai Yahweh.
The Obedient Student
The obedient student of the Sovereign Lord speaks autobiographically in Isaiah 50:4-9, but he is not named. But in verse 10 he is identified as the Servant of the Lord: "Who among you fears the Lord and obeys the word of his servant?"
The seminary in which this divine scholar was trained was not an artificial atmosphere where he learned theoretical things. Rather, the Sovereign Lord trained him in the context of daily life with all its pressures, just as he would later train the twelve disciples. What was the crux of this teaching? Hear and do!
We must also note the humble and completely submissive attitude of this student. He was like the bondservant who voluntarily had his ear pierced by his master (Exodus 21:6, Psalm 40:6-8). In Philippians 2:5-8 Paul exhorts us to have the same attitude as this Suffering Servant, who showed perfect humility and obedience, even in the face of the most shameful death of the cross.
Hebrews 5:8 tells us that this Servant learned obedience by the things he suffered. Let me assure you, no one can learn obedience without suffering. If a father tells a child to go and play and he does so, that child is not learning obedience; he went because he loves to play. But when a word comes from the father or mother that requires the suffering of self-denial and the child obeys, he is learning obedience. Thus, in his great mercy, God will bring adversity to each of his children so that we may learn complete submission to his will. No one can learn obedience without suffering. When we try to manipulate events to avoid suffering, we not only are refusing to learn obedience, but we become useless to God and man.
This Servant was not rebellious to his master's word, even though it brought him severe suffering. He set his face like flint and delighted in the will of the Lord.
Let us understand one thing: The servant was not given this teaching from God all at once; it was a process. He grew in wisdom as he listened daily to the Sovereign Lord and practiced obedience in the context of the troubles of life. Because he was fully man, every day, morning by morning, he studied the word of God in great humility.
The Bible speaks about other great men in the Bible who were not fully compliant and became rebellious. In Exodus 4:13 we find that Moses wanted to turn away from his God-given calling. The book of Jonah tells us that Jonah initially disobeyed when God commissioned him to go to Nineveh. Even Jeremiah cursed the day he was born (Jeremiah 20:14) when he faced opposition. But this Servant is greater than Moses, Jonah, and Jeremiah. He embraced the teaching of suffering fully and learned obedience from it.
If we want to become useful to God and to man, we must also learn obedience. As Samuel said to Saul, the first king of Israel, "Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the voice of the Lord? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams. For rebellion is like the sin of divination, and arrogance like the evil of idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, he has rejected you as king" (1 Samuel 15:22-23).
Though Saul failed to obey, the Servant of Isaiah 50 would obey perfectly. Yes, this great scholar would also be tempted to disobey God and leave the path of suffering. But, unlike Adam, this second Adam would live by the word of God. Every time he was tempted, he would say, "It is written . . . ." and not succumb to temptation.
The Servant would also be a man of prayer. Mark 1:35 tells us, "Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place where he prayed." He enjoyed continuous communion with God.
This Servant would also be a man of the word. As he grew up, Jesus paid very close attention to the word of God, memorizing Scripture and meditating on it. Even when he was being crucified, Jesus was meditating on Psalm 22.
This Servant would also be a man of faith, trusting in the Sovereign Lord to help him. He trusted implicitly God's promise to vindicate him by raising him from the dead, and that is what happened.
As a divine scholar, this Servant would be under the sole direction of the Holy Spirit-the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel, the Spirit of power, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. Isaiah says in chapter 11 that this Servant of God would delight in the fear of the Lord.
This Servant would always do the will of another, the Sovereign Lord. Even in Gethsemane, when he was in deep trouble, he would pray, "Not my will but thine be done." The will of God from all eternity for him was to suffer. (PGM) This is revealed more fully in Isaiah 53, but it is also mentioned in Isaiah 50:6: "I offered my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who pulled out my beard; I did not hide my face from mocking and spitting." This Servant freely offered his back to judicial beatings and let himself to be insulted and treated with utter contempt. His enemies would pluck out his beard and humiliate him by spitting on his face. But he freely offered his body to such treatment, laying down his life, because it was the will of God for him to suffer on our behalf.
Jesus, the Sinless Servant
As we read this passage in Isaiah, we may ask the question, "Who was beaten? Whose beard was plucked? Upon whose face were they spitting?" When we come to the gospels, this Suffering Servant is identified: His name is Jesus, the sinless One.
In Isaiah 50 the prophet proclaims that this Servant is sinless. And yet, though he was sinless, he suffered freely in utter humility. Pilate also confessed three times that this One was sinless: "With this [Pilate] went out again to the Jews and said, 'I find no basis for a charge against him'" (John 18:38); "Once more Pilate came out and said to the Jews, 'Look, I am bringing him out to you to let you know that I find no basis for a charge against him'" (John 19:4); "'As for me, I find no basis for a charge against him'" (John 19:6).
Jesus also spoke of his sinlessness. In John 8:46 he put out the challenge: "Can any of you prove me guilty of sin?" What is the expected answer? "No one." In John 14:30 he said, "I will not speak with you much longer, for the prince of this world is coming. He has no hold on me." Satan has no hold on him, and death itself could not hold him, because he is without sin.
Behold, then, the Suffering Servant, the sinless One! He is the perfect student, highly acclaimed by his divine instructor, who said, "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased: Hear ye him!" He suffered and died, but was vindicated by God himself, as we read in Isaiah 50:8-9: "He who vindicates me is near; who, then, will bring charges against me? Let us face each other! Who is my accuser? Let him confront me! It is the Sovereign Lord who helps me. Who is he that will condemn me?" This Servant was disgraced, yet he was not disgraced forever. He was vindicated as the sinless One when he was raised from the dead.
The Rest-Giving Ministry of the Servant
What was the purpose of this Servant's discipleship? Why did he receive this divine instruction? What was the purpose of the divine incarnation?
In Isaiah 50:4 we read, "The Sovereign Lord has given me an instructed tongue . . . ." First, this servant was taught by the Sovereign Lord so that he might become a learned person and have an instructed tongue "to know the word that sustains the weary" (v. 4). This Servant was trained by God to know and speak the word that will sustain, help, strengthen, comfort, and save those who are wearied and burdened.
To whom does this servant minister? To the weary people of the world. Who are the weary? Isaiah 49:6 tells us they are Jews and Gentiles: "It is too small a thing for you to be my servant to restore the tribes of Jacob. . . I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth." Who are the weary? They are his elect people: "For the Lord comforts his people and will have compassion on his afflicted ones" (Isaiah 49:13). Who are the weary? They are the church, whom Christ loved and for whom he gave himself up. Who are the weary? They are the useless ones, the bruised reeds and the smoldering wicks. Isaiah 42:3 tells us, "A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out."
The weary are those who are crushed by the guilt of sin. Fed up with sin and realizing it cannot save them, they want to forsake it and find a savior. Such people will readily acknowledge that they are bruised reeds and smoldering wicks. Unlike the self-righteous Pharisee, who needed no savior, they will cry out with the publican, "Have mercy on me, the sinner!" They will acknowledge they are chief of sinners and deserve only hell.
The weary are like the woman who suffered from bleeding for twelve years without any remedy, spending all her money on doctors, and ending up still sick and now poor. They are like the one who was filled with a legion of demons-restless, naked, and wandering. They are like the blind Bartimaeus, who cried out for sight. They are like the ten lepers who came to Jesus for cleansing. They are like Zacchaeus, the chief tax collector who would do anything to receive forgiveness of sins and salvation. They are like the woman who, caught in the very act of adultery, was facing the sentence of death. They are like the synagogue ruler's daughter who died. They are like the Philippian jailer who cried out in the middle of the night, "What must I do to be saved?"
The weary can be found in every country in the world. They are weary of sin and weary of the deceptive philosophies of the world. They hunger for salvation, forgiveness of sins, and the gift of perfect righteousness.
The Servant Sustains the Weary
What about you? Are you weary? Are you hungry and thirsty? Do you acknowledge you cannot save yourself? Do you acknowledge that you need a Savior who can speak a word that will sustain the weary? If so, I want to introduce to you Servus Servorum and Rex Regum-the Servant of servants and King of kings, the Lord Jesus Christ, the only Savior of the world. He invites all the bruised reeds and smoldering wicks of the world to come to him and be saved.
The thief came to destroy us, but this divine scholar, the Suffering Servant, came and suffered for us to save us. The punishment that brought us peace, Isaiah would say later on, was upon him, and by his stripes we are healed. It is he alone who can speak a word that will sustain the weary-no one else. It is he who came to seek and save that which is lost and to give his life as a ransom for many. He invites the weary, the poor, the miserable, the blind, the wretched, the unrighteous, and the sinners to his banquet, saying, "Come unto me, all who are weary and crushed under your burdens, and I will give you rest." And if we come to him, he tells us, "Your sins are forgiven; go in peace. Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more." He says to us who are dead in trespasses and sins, "Lazarus, come forth!" He tells us, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved." He says to the leper, "I am willing; be cleansed." He says to the one possessed of the legion of demons, "Come out of him and be gone!" He says to the bleeding woman, "You are healed; go in peace. Your faith has made you whole." He tells the blind Bartimaeus, "Receive your sight; your faith has healed you." He says to Zacchaeus, "Today salvation has come to this house." He puts his hands on the woman bent over for eighteen years because of an evil spirit and he says to her, "Woman, you are set free from your infirmity," and immediately she straightens up and praises God.
If you are weary today, I hope you will hear the voice of the Savior, saying, "Be healed, be cleansed, be saved, get up and walk." The Son is in our midst to set us free. He is coming now to speak the word that will sustain us. Even now he is stretching out his hands and touching us, cleansing us, forgiving us, and setting us free.
Therefore, rise up, people of God! May you go home with joy, walking and leaping and praising God. And, in view of what he has done for you, be a disciple of this Disciple. Let him open your ears and heart and teach you morning by morning, that you also may speak in his name a word that will sustain the weary. May God save his people, heal his people, and grant them eternal life even this day. Amen.
Thank you for reading. If you found this content useful or encouraging, let us know by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright © 2003, P. G. Mathew
Scripture quotations marked (NIV) are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® (1984 version). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com The "NIV" and "New International Version" are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™