“The True Servant”
Text: Isaiah 50:4-9a
Grace, mercy, and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
A servant’s whole public identity is based on the person they serve. The servant dresses in the manner the master approves, acts in the manner they’re directed to, and even suffers the same fate as the master in times of adversity. Throughout history, you can find the devotion of servants to their masters, even unto death. And most times this service is done with gladness. There’s a level of obedience and following that a true servant has that’s always focused on the master, and done with a happy heart.
Unfortunately, we can never be really true servants; disobedience is programmed into us. It’s our nature. In fact, the only thing we truly serve with gladness is ourselves and our own sinful nature. And yet, God desires a true servant – one who is obedient in all ways. We sinners are not those servants He desires, but Isaiah sang of such a servant. A servant who obeys His Father’s will even if it means humiliation and death. The Servant of Isaiah’s Servant Songs is the true Servant.
AND THE TRUE SERVANT, JESUS CHRIST, IS OBEDIENT EVEN UNTO DEATH.
We are disobedient servants. Like hired servants whose only motivation is the paycheck at the end of the day, and not the true service of the master, we rebel against God’s Law. Too often, all that matters is what we get out of the relationship, and not what we’ve been asked to put into it. It’s in our sinful nature not to want to learn from the Master’s teaching, and so we rebel against Him in sinful disobedience. You probably remember that stage of life, as soon as you became a teenager, when all the knowledge of the entire world flooded your brain, making you the smartest person that ever walked the face of the earth. No authority and no master would be able to tell you anything you didn’t already know. So often this is how we act with God and His authority. As if somehow we know better than the creator of the world. As if we are anything other than humble servants of the master who has all authority to direct us in the way He would have us to go. And so, we flee from the kind, wise, guiding nature of the Master as though our lives are being threatened.
In this disobedience, we cease to be servants of the Master, and become servants of sin. Because regardless of what control we believe we have, we’ll always be servants to something. We’re reminded of this in John 8 where Jesus says “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin.” And as a servant to sin, we’re forced into lives of servitude. And whatever it is we serve, it becomes our master. Sometimes the master we choose to serve is clearly sinful desire and living. But there are also other masters that seem harmless on the outside. Some of us serve the master of jobs and commitments that overtake our lives. Others serve the master of friends and family commitments. Still others are servants of the multitude of activities that can so easily find their way into our schedules. None of these things are wrong or bad in themselves, but when any one of them, or the combination of them all, serve to obscure the true Master we should be serving, they have to be seen for what they are. Distractions to the service God has called us to. What’s more is that in our service to sin, our eyes are drawn away from the neighbors around us who we’re called to serve in love.
Christ is the true servant. He is the only One who is able to be fully obedient to His Father’s teaching. As Isaiah says, He is given “the tongue of those who are taught” and He speaks to us the Father’s Word. Not only is He given the words we need to hear, but He is ready with an awakened ear, eager to hear from us. Much has been written and said about Servant Leadership lately. Jesus is truly the model of all leadership, but especially servant leadership. One of the key attributes of any leader, but especially a servant leader, is the ability to listen and to hear the voices of their people. And not just to listen and to hear, but to respond to them. Our Good Shepherd always hears the voices of His people as they cry out to Him and responds to His people in love. The pleas of the people will never fall on deaf ears when directed to the servant who sees and hears, and responds to the needs of each of His people.
As the true servant, Christ is obedient to His Father’s will. A servant does not shirk His responsibilities, nor does he disobey the master. And Christ’s obedience is both active and passive. He actively obeys the Father by serving God and His neighbor (each of us). And He passively obeys by “giving his back to those who strike, and his cheeks to those who pull out his beard” as Isaiah says. “I hid not my face from disgrace and spitting.” Even today, as we celebrate Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, we know what this week will bring. A sharp turn from the praise of Palm Sunday to the passion Jesus will endure before the week is out. A week where the obedience of the true servant will be tested, and where in the end, He will remain obedient, even unto death. Even as He’s accused unjustly and tortured mercilessly, He “set His face like a flint.” He remained in faithful service to His Father, even though it ended in His crucifixion.
And now, Christ the true servant, serves us with His perfect obedience. An obedience we’re connected to in our baptism as we now have obedient ears to hear God’s Word rightly. As we’re now blessed with obedient tongues to confess God’s Word to the disobedient world that surrounds us. Whatever obedience we have is only a result of Christ’s obedience being given to us. Just as we say in the meaning of the third article that I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him, we believe that the Holy Spirit calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth. And in doing so, the obedience of Christ becomes ours. We fight our own disobedient tendencies, but the only way we can be the servants we’re called to be is through the obedience of the One who always obeyed. The One who serves us His body and blood to forgive all our disobedience.
The final verses of the servant song we heard from Isaiah this morning say, “He who vindicates me is near. Who will contend with me? Let us stand up together. Who is my adversary? Behold, the Lord God helps me; who will declare me guilty?” It is the perfect servant, Jesus Christ who was vindicated when He was raised to life at the end of Holy Week. And it is each of us who believe in Him and His resurrection who will be vindicated when, in the resurrection, we will see that God has indeed declared us perfectly obedient by our incorporation into Christ.
The true servant is the one we see on Palm Sunday, riding into Jerusalem in all humility on the colt, the foal of a donkey. He is the Suffering Servant, who goes forward to Golgatha in obedience to His Father’s plan of redemption. One of the great Lenten hymns proclaims The Lamb goes Uncomplaining Forth. And as we just sang on Wednesday “Ride on, ride on in majesty! In lowly pomp ride on to die.” It is for each of us sinful servants that Jesus obediently goes forth to die. The faithful servant will die for the sinful servant, giving His life for ours.
Yet the true servant is also the risen servant, who is present here to serve us with His perfect obedience. Because of His Divine Service, we are no longer servants of ourselves and servants of sin, but we are transformed into servants in His likeness. We’re freed from servitude to sin in order to serve God and our neighbor. May this week be a reminder to us of the true servant who gave everything He had, even His life, in service to His Father, that we might enjoy the fruits of His obedience to life everlasting. Amen.
The peace of God which surpasses all understanding guard our hearts and our minds in Christ Jesus.