My reading this morning included Matthew 12. This chapter covers ground quickly, and with passages covering the proper view of the Sabbath, accusations that Jesus performs miracles by the power of demons, and Jesus’ subsequent condemnation of the faithless generation to which he was speaking, it is easy to overlook the Christ hymn placed in the middle.
Here is my servant whom I have chosen,
the one I love, in whom I delight;
I will put my Spirit on him,
and he will proclaim justice to the nations.
He will not quarrel or cry out;
no one will hear his voice in the streets.
A bruised reed he will not break,
and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out,
till he has brought justice through to victory.
In his name the nations will put their hope.
This hymn quotes the first part of Isaiah 42, and fits perfectly in its surrounding context. In fact, it fits so snugly with the other content of the chapter, I find myself naturally reflecting on the declaration that Jesus is the Father’s servant living in the power of the Spirit (a trinitarian declaration), and is therefore Lord of the Sabbath.
I am easily drawn to considering that Jesus’s proclamation of justice to the nations doesn’t necessarily look like the sort of justice I expect (or even want, sometimes), because it means pardoning offenders, and condemning the (self)righteous religious elite.
I am struck by God’s goodness and mercy, when I read that “A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.” I have taken this to refer to sinners (including me), and am thankful that Jesus came to restore the lost, not beat them into submission. Though I also recognize that the time for sinners to turn to him is not infinite (“till he has brought justice through to victory”).
And I am still sometimes stunned that Jesus embodied all of these things in humility (“no one will hear his voice in the streets”), not considering any of this as something to be used for his own advantage (Philippians 2:6-11).
But with all of these wonderful things to ponder in this Christ hymn, the one that is most difficult to me is the last promise: In his name the nations will put their hope.
I mean, it is easy to get behind Jesus when he is pulling the God card. I even kind of like it when he doles out his brand of justice. Let’s face it, we all know some holier-than-thou self-righteous “Christians” that we would love to see put in their place, and if that means looking past some sinners and their dirty deeds, then so be it. I even get the humility thing. After all, aren’t we talking about gentle Jesus here? And I’m as humble as they come. (tip: read this whole paragraph as sarcasm)
But when I read the promise that nations will put their hope in Jesus’s name, and I am forced to consider that I am an individual included in that group, I am also forced to consider what a crappy job I do of living into this promise.
You see, I love Jesus. I have given my life over to him, repented of my sins, and proclaim him as Lord. I recognize my own inability to do anything that pleases God, and rely on his Spirit to transform me into the man he created me to be. I believe that God calls us to live lives of self-sacrifice and service to others. I believe that the greatest commandments of loving God and loving others places demands on me and the way that I live my life. I believe that no one will see the Father, except through his Son Jesus. And I believe that God has raised up his church as a light to the world. And I believe that all of this is God’s plan for reconciling a sinful world to himself, so that his name will be glorified, and so we might enjoy eternal life with him as he intended it when he created Adam and Eve.
You see, many of us (myself included) place our hope for eternity squarely in the hands of Jesus. But what about our present hope; what about our daily hope for joy, and peace, and prosperity, and security, and love?
It is easy, when the cares of daily life begin to weigh us down, to place our hope in some future promise. It is easy to look forward and proclaim with the Psalmist that “someday” justice will win out, and the faithful will receive their reward. It is easy to place our hope in a future life lived with the God of all creation. But we have been called to more than this.
We have been called to be a people of hope. Yes, that hope is a future hope of salvation and eternal life with God. This hope has been secured for us through the blood of Jesus Christ. But this is not the only purchase his blood has made for us. God’s kingdom has already begun breaking in to this broken world. Already we can see glimpses of God’s glory as his people follow him into places of darkness, chasing away the shadows with the light of Christ. And if the blood of Christ can chase away the shadows of the world, they can also chase our our most inner shadows, the ones we keep hidden in our hearts.
When we place our trust and hope in Jesus, he doesn’t stop with forgiveness. He is not content to merely overlook our sins. Sure, that provides us a hope for a future. But what about our present. If I am forgiven my sins, but have no hope for avoiding them, what hope do I have for the present? If I continue in sin, no amount of forgiveness will improve my current situation. I will continue to hurt those that I love, I will continue to be unable to choose what is right and good, I will be unable to do anything to please God, and I will be continue to walk a path that leads to destruction. At best, I will live my present life hoping for an escape, so that I might attain the promises of God before I have a chance to become unfaithful again.
I am so glad that God is in the business of saving lost people, because really saving someone isn’t just promising them that everything will be OK in the future. Really saving someone also means empowering them with hope for the present.
God has promised us in his word that, when we place our full trust in Jesus Christ, we are saved, not just from the guilt of sin (though that itself is a miracle), but also from the power of sin. We are made new in him. The Bible says we are born again, and this does not just mean that we start from scratch, destined to make the same mistakes over again. It means that we are new creatures. New. As in different, remade. And by the power of God’s Spirit, we can choose to walk in the light and carry that light to others here and now. We don’t have to live in sin any longer, but are freed by God to live lives that reflect our new place as citizens of his kingdom, children of the Most High God.
So when I read in Matthew 12 that all nations will put their hope in the name of Jesus, I have to remember that my hope isn’t just in something that is yet to come, though it is that too. My hope is also in the power of God to change me, here and now, into the person he created me to be, holy and pleasing in his sight. When Christians live into this promise of God for the present, as well as his promises for the future, we have the opportunity to become a part of proclaiming the hope of Jesus Christ to the nations, both now and forever.
Now that is something worth hoping for.