Isaiah 42:1-7 Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight. I am placing my Spirit upon him. He will bring forth the verdict for the nations. 2He will not cry out. He will not raise his voice. He will not make his voice heard in the street. 3A bent reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick he will not snuff out. He will faithfully bring forth the verdict. 4He will not grow dim, and he will not be crushed until he establishes the verdict on the earth. The coastlands will wait for his teaching. 5This is what the true God says, the Lord, who creates the heavens and stretches them out, who spreads out the earth and everything that comes out of it, who gives breath to the people upon it and life to those who walk on it. 6“I am the Lord. I am calling you in righteousness. I will grasp your hand, and I will guard you. I will appoint you to be a covenant for the people, to be a light for the nations, 7to open blind eyes, to bring the prisoners out of the dungeon and to bring those who live in darkness out of prison.
I visited Tim in the Sturtevant Prison. One of our members had asked me to visit her grandson, Tim (not his real name), while he was there.
Tim told me that he had attended Epiphany many years ago, as a child. But he had long since fallen away from the church. He said that during his teenage years he became rebellious and defiant. He got involved in drugs and alcohol. Then, to pay for his addictions, he stole money. He admitted that he even stole from his grandmother.
As he traveled farther away from God, he wanted to make it even more obvious that he wanted nothing anymore to do with God. So, he got involved in Satanism.
Tim admitted that he was not a nice man and he had done a lot of horrible things – especially to his family.
That’s when he began to cry.
He was repentant and wanted to know if God could ever accept him back after all that he had done. Then he said that the worst thing he had done was to get a 666 tattooed on his heart. While he was involved in Satanism, he wanted to prove to himself that he truly hated God. He felt that the best way he could show that was by having the devil’s mark of 666 (Revelation 13:18) tattooed on his heart.
I asked Tim if he had been baptized. He had. So, I opened my Bible to the Book of Revelation. I talked about how in Revelation 13 the devil marks his own so that unbelievers can see who belongs in Satan’s company. But then we read Revelation 14, where St. John writes, “Then I looked, and there before me was the Lamb, standing on Mount Zion, and with him 144,000 who had his name and his Father’s name written on their foreheads” (Revelation 14:1).
I then explained how God wrote his Triune name on Tim’s forehead in his baptism. He may have marked himself as belonging to the devil, but God had marked Tim first as belonging in His holy family. The mark on his chest was visible to others, but it was only written in ink. The mark of the cross on his forehead was only visible to God, but it was written with water and the Word. That baptismal mark on his forehead trumped any mark on his body.
Tim cried again. This time, tears of joy.
Tim had been connected to the Lord’s servant in his baptism. It took the pastor meeting with him in prison for Tim to be reintroduced to the Lord’s servant again.
The Lord Himself introduces all of us to His servant when He says, “Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight. I am placing my Spirit upon him.” It is as if God had His arm stretched out and pointed to this one, saying, “Here He is!” Which is exactly what He did at His Servant’s baptism in the Jordan River. There Jesus was baptized with water and the Word by John. He was anointed by the Holy Spirit descending upon Him as a dove. And the Father spoke from heaven saying, “This is my Son, whom I love. I am well pleased with him” (Matthew 3:16-17).
The work of the Servant is summarized as bringing justice. “He will bring forth the verdict for the nations.” Is this verdict one of guilt or innocence, damnation or salvation? Do you read anything about destruction? Do you hear anything about fire and brimstone?
No. The Servant does not establish justice with force. “He will not cry out. He will not raise his voice. He will not make his voice heard in the street.” Jesus was always humble and unassuming. He didn’t need to shout to get His message across. People flocked to hear His simple message of salvation.
Jesus didn’t need to shout at Tim. God’s Word planted deep within Tim’s conscience began to get his attention. Jesus doesn’t need to shout at us, either. He gently invites us to worship. He warns us about our sins. He leads us to repentance. He announces His forgiveness. He bathes us in His mercy and feeds us with His grace. He doesn’t have to raise His voice one time to do any of that.
The Servant brings this justice with faithfulness and gentleness. “A bent reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick he will not snuff out. He will faithfully bring forth the verdict.” In a world where the powerful, wealthy, and ego-driven vie for success, the Servant takes care of the bruised, timid, and hurting.
We, like Tim, have been hurt by our own sins. They have left us as damaged goods. We are bruised reeds swaying in the wind. We are smoldering wicks barely hanging onto a flame. Jesus does not prey upon the weak or snuff out all who stand in His way. The Lord’s Servant doesn’t bully you into a corner, start yelling at you, and beat you up, like you might expect. He doesn’t make you feel worse than you already feel. If you are broken because of your sin, He doesn’t break you more. If you feel like your faith is dying out, He doesn’t extinguish it for you. Instead, He treats you with gentleness and care. He gives divine strength to the feeble. He provides godly healing to the frail. He offers eternal life to the dying.
All the earth puts its hope in the Lord’s servant. “He will not grow dim, and he will not be crushed until he establishes the verdict on the earth. The coastlands will wait for his teaching.” Does Jesus’ care for the weak and frail mean that He, Himself, is weak and frail? Not at all. His light will not go out. He cannot be crushed. Instead, He is the One who crushes His opponents and shines His light to scatter the darkness. Even the inhabitants of faraway coastlands – even those along the shore of Lake Michigan – will be able to hear of His teaching.
At first, the Lord was describing the work of His Servant among us. Now, the Lord changes direction and begins to speak directly to His Servant about His work. We are listening in on the conversation. “I am the Lord. I am calling you in righteousness. I will grasp your hand, and I will guard you. I will appoint you to be a covenant for the people, to be a light for the nations, to open blind eyes, to bring the prisoners out of the dungeon and to bring those who live in darkness out of prison.”
Jesus is the physical embodiment of the covenant promise God made to Israel. Jesus is the physical embodiment of the light that pierces the darkness of the Gentiles. Jesus comes for both Jews and Gentiles. He comes both for egregious sinners in prison and upstanding citizens in church. He comes for all of us because we are spiritually blind, captives in the prison of our sin, and trapped in the dungeon of hell.
By his own admission, Tim was guilty. He didn’t end up in prison for a few minor misdeeds. By his own admission, he was a bad guy.
I hope you admit that you are a bad guy or gal. Because you are. And as bad as you think you are – in reality - you are even worse. The police may not have locked you up for your crimes, but God has seen them. He knows. You are guilty. Guilty before your co-workers. Guilty before your spouse. Guilty before your children. Guilty before your parents. And especially guilty before God.
You may not have tattooed the mark of the devil on your skin, but you have the devil’s markings all over your life. The lust tattooed on your eyes. The gossip tattooed on your tongue. The foul language tattooed on your ears. The callouses on your hands or the pillow marks on your face that show how often you have missed worship. The failure to be able to speak the truth in love that shows how often you have failed to read God’s Word. The misbehavior of your children is a testimony to how they have not had God’s words and commandments planted in their hearts.
For all of this, you deserve to be locked up in the prison of hell for eternity. Justice should be delivered. The verdict should be guilty. Your crimes are just as damning in God’s eyes as Tim’s are.
Yet, what is the verdict that the Lord’s Servant delivers? It isn’t one of guilt, but rather of innocence. That’s because justice was served. Jesus took our verdict of guilt upon Himself. He paid the hellish penalty. He took our place in death. We are not merely excused for the sins we have committed. We are redeemed. Jesus paid the ransom price with His innocent suffering and substitutionary death. God did not simply brush our sins under the rug. He punished them with the wrath they deserved. But the beautiful part of this justice is that it was not poured out on the nations. Rather, it was poured out on the Lord’s Servant, Jesus.
Our forgiveness is not injustice, but rather divine justice, bought at the terrible price of the suffering and death of the very Son of God. The Lord’s Servant opens your eyes to see His sacrificing love on a cross where He died your death. The Lord’s Servant frees you from the prison sentence of hell by sentencing Himself to feel hell’s horrors upon the cross. The Lord’s Servant releases you from the dark dungeon you deserve and brightens your life with the promise of Paradise. Because of the Lord’s Servant, you have received the verdict of innocence.
This verdict was delivered to you in your baptism. Baptism is not a mere symbol or an outward sign. Baptism is no fluffy feel good deed done to prove you love God. Whether it was Tim years ago, or Antonio today, baptism is God’s proof that He loves you.
In your baptism, the Holy Spirit seizes your sinful nature and drowns it in baptismal waters. Just like Pharaoh’s army was drowned in the depths of the Red Sea.
In your baptism, your sins are washed away, just like the filth of unbelief was washed away in the Flood.
In your baptism, you are set apart from the unbelieving world and kept safe and secure in the holy ark of the Christian Church.
In your baptism, you are crucified with Christ and raised to live a new life in Christ.
In your baptism, you are ripped out of the devil’s claws and placed into the arms of your Good Shepherd.
In your baptism, you are saved.
In your baptism, God’s Triune name of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is written on you. The cross of Christ is tattooed from your forehead to your heart. And you are connected to the Lord’s servant. Amen.