1st Sunday after Epiphany
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ,
We make a lot of assumptions in life, don’t we? An assumption is something that is accepted as true or certain to happen even without proof. And there can be safe assumptions. We can safely assume that winter in northern Minnesota is going to be cold, we can assume we will have a fair share of below zero temperatures, we can assume that there will be snow. We can safely assume that our major lakes will turn into little villages of fish houses when the ice is thick enough. We can safely assume that the news coverage will talk a lot about those who were newly elected to government positions. We can assume that those people who were elected into positions of power and authority will use that power to accomplish what they want to accomplish. We make many assumptions about life, about how life is going to go, about people. But sometimes our assumptions – no matter how definite we feel about them – can be wrong.
Well, we just finished celebrating Christmas, what are your assumptions about the new born Savior? John the Baptist assumed that Jesus was too great, too majestic to be baptized by him. But he assumed wrong. Many people at Jesus’ day assumed the Messiah was going to be a great earthly king, a second king David, free them from the Romans. But they were wrong. What are your assumptions about Jesus?
In our text this morning God tells us about His Servant. He’s talking about Jesus and what Jesus would be anointed to do and how he would carry out that work. In the first part, it’s as if God is standing here and He’s pointing to Jesus and saying, “Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chose one in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him and he will bring justice to the nations.” When did God do that? When did God say, “This is my Son whom I love; with him I am well-pleased”? When was the Holy Spirit visibly put on Jesus? This happened at Jesus’ baptism. Jesus was designated by God the Father as the Anointed One who’s come to be God’s servant, to do what God wanted Him to do.
And how will he carry out that work? Normally, when an individual is given power, he or she uses that power to do what they want. No doubt, when Donald Trump takes over as president he will use the power of that office to try and accomplish those things that he has in mind to do, just like President Obama did. But what about Jesus? What are we told about him? “He will not shout or cry out, or raise his voice in the streets.” That’s not what a king does, that’s not what a ruler does. Someone in power uses their power to accomplish what they want to accomplish. They raise their voice, they drown out the voices of those opposed to them. But not Jesus. Jesus will accomplish the goal of a king – bringing about justice, making things right – without using the methods of the king – using power and might, shouting, crying out.
But think about it. Sometimes in real life or maybe portrayed in a movie we see someone great- maybe powerful, important, rich, famous, intellectually brilliant – and what do they do? Take advice from their driver. Make a meal for their sick neighbor. Sit and listen to a problem of someone who is in the human scheme not very important. How do you feel when you see that? You feel that this great person is even greater for not acting great. You feel this majestic person is more majestic for not acting majestic. That’s a slight glimmer of what we have in Jesus.
Jesus comes he doesn’t cry out in the streets, make a big show or display of power, he tells people whom he heals not to tell anyone what he’s done for them, the very Son of God Himself, our King of kings and Lord of lords, the one whom all of heaven and earth cannot contain, and what? He’s baptized just like what His creatures need, He associates with fishermen, common people, tax collectors, and sinners. He singles out deaf and mute people. His heart is full of compassion and mercy for the sick and helpless.
“A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.” The word “bruise” is more than we normally think. We think, “It’s just a bruise, get over it.” But the word used is a bruise that’s mortally damaged a vital organ, it means something that’s been snapped or broken. If you have a garden, like me, sometimes for whatever reason one of the plants gets bent over and snapped, like a corn stalk that’s hanging at an angle or a tomato plant that’s broken but not severed or a flower stem that’s been snapped but not broken apart. That’s what a bruised reed is. You can’t bandage it, you can’t salvage it, it’s hopeless, it might as well be replaced. And a smoldering wick was usually a piece of flax that was put in a clay jar with oil, the flax soaked up the oil and burned a nice flame, but if you let the oil run out the wick would turn into a dry piece of ash that when you’d try to light it, it would just go out, it would be much easier to replace the wick than to try to revive it.
We might assume that the Son of God, the Messiah, the King of kings, and Lord of lords would just come and snuff out all evil, all oppression, all the garbage and hate of this world. Have you ever thought that? Perhaps you’ve even had those assumptions about God. If God’s in charge, why doesn’t He just stop all this evil, put an end to all these awful terrorists who injure and murder, snuff out all these drug dealers, human traffickers, sexual predators, rapists, corrupt officials, etc? Why doesn’t he just put an end to all the bad people in the world?
But we have to stop right there. Because if we’re honest with ourselves are we really the “good” people? The same sinful nature that leads evil people to do absolutely atrocious things also lives inside you and me! And God tells us that whoever hates his brother is a murderer, whoever looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery. God tells us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. God tells us that anyone who is angry with his brother is subject to judgment. God tells us that if we don’t forgive others as God has forgiven us we are not forgiven. God tells us not to worry, not find our treasure in the things of this world. So, if we say God should do away with and snuff out all the evil people, we’re saying He should do away with us and snuff us out too!
Jesus came to achieve the results of a king without using the methods of a king. Jesus came to achieve justice without using power and might. See how often that comes up? “He will bring justice to the nations” “He will bring forth justice” “He establishes justice on the earth.” We all want justice. Yet, normally when we think about “justice” we’re thinking about rectifying justice. What’s that? Rectifying justice is when we punish evil doers, they’ve broken the law, made a violation, we punish it. Rectifying justice is putting things right. But the Hebrew word for justice here is primarily used in a much bigger, wider, and broader sense. It describes a time, a place, a society where rectifying justice is not necessary because everything IS in a right relationship with everything else. It’s absolute peace, absolute well-being. Rectifying justice is putting things in a right relationship, primary justice is everything IS in a right relationship. Think about your body. What is being healthy? Healthy is when all the parts of your body are in a right relationship with every thing else. When you’re sick, when you have cancer, when you have a disease, your body parts are no longer in a right relationship, they are working against each other.
Jesus has come to bring about primary justice, to bring humans into a right relationship with God. Our relationship with God was broken ever since Adam and Eve disobeyed God and brought sin into the world. Ever since then humans are born into this world opposed to God, but not only that, we’re also opposed to ourselves- we’re burdened by sin, guilt, remorse, regret. But not only that, we’re also opposed to each other: we’re selfish, not self-sacrificing, we put others down to try to build ourselves up, instead of giving ourselves to our spouse we try to take, we demand, we cry out, raise our voice in the street. So we could rightly assume that God’s Servant has come to do away with all of us, to snuff us all out.
But then Jesus arrives on the scene, He’s baptized, He’s God’s chosen and anointed Servant. Instead of breaking the broken reed or snuffing out the smoldering wick, instead of crushing us for our sins and punishing us for our transgressions, He’s snuffed out! He’s the broken reed! He’s crucified, He takes our punishment on Himself, He was pierced for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities, the punishment that brings us peace was upon Him, by His wounds we are healed. He’s lets himself be snuffed out on the cross in order to snuff out our eternal punishment! Jesus came to bring primary justice, justice between you and God, all of your sins were placed on him and all of his righteousness was transferred to you so that God can now through faith, through the waters of your baptism say about you what He said about Jesus, “You are my beloved son or daughter, with you I am well-pleased.”
That’s what Jesus came to do! And we see it in his life. He came to “open eyes that are blind, to free captives from prison and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness.” Jesus did more than just open the eyes of a blind man, he told him that his sins were forgiven. Jesus didn’t just protect an adulteress from being stoned; he assured her that her sinful past had been wiped clean. Jesus didn’t just tell doubting Thomas to put his fingers in the nail marks of his hands; he told him “Peace be with you.”
Jesus came to bind up the broken hearted, proclaim freedom for those held in sin’s prison. Are you bruised? Are you broken? Are you a smoldering wick? Do past sins still haunt you, does the burden of regret or doubt fill your heart? You can assume God is out to get you, to punish you, to forget about you, but your assumptions are all wrong. Jesus came to bring justice for you, true justice, ultimate justice- peace with God, your sins are forgiven. Hear what God says to you, “You are my beloved child; with you I am well pleased.”
We can assume a lot of things about other people, assume they’re fine, assume they’ll make it through. But do you know someone who is a broken reed or a smoldering wick? Someone struggling and in pain? Someone racked by sin and guilt? Maybe someone who’s eyes are blind to their Savior, someone who’s a smoldering wick about to be snuffed out without saving faith in Jesus? We’re Jesus’ hands and Jesus’ mouth in this world!
We can assume they’re a lost cause, we can assume we don’t have the time, we can assume that we won’t know what to say. But those assumptions are wrong. See how tenderly Jesus has dealt with you with love, compassion, and mercy; how He’s given you real justice, peace with God. Share it, spread it! No matter what your assumptions about yourself, others, or the world, know this, God has anointed you, too, to be His servant to share the good news peace and justice in Jesus to a broken and sinful world. Amen.
 Mishpat is “that life-giving order which exists when the creation is functioning in accordance with the design of its Lord.” (John Oswalt)