2nd Sunday after Epiphany
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, in Jesus’ name, dear friends in Christ, “When I was just a little girl, I asked my mother what will I be, will I be pretty, will I be rich, here’s what she said to me: que sera sera, whatever will be will be, the future’s not ours to see, que sera sera, what will be will be.” Doris Day sang that song in the 1950s in an Alfred Hitchcock movie that won an Academy Award for best original song. And it became quite a popular song. And, perhaps, it’s one that many people can relate to. If you’re young, that might be a question on your mind: “What will I be? What job will I do? Will I get married? Will I have children? Will I be successful? Will I find a career that I love and enjoy?” And perhaps you’ve even tried to help a young person answer those questions and have learned how difficult that can be. But then, perhaps, later on in life, you begin asking the same question: Am I doing my “forte”? Is this really what I always dreamed I’d spend my life doing? Is this the job that I want or could I do better? Is there something else out there where my talents could be put to better use? Boy, if only God would have written on our birth certificate or our baptism certificate exactly what our future would be, what we would find the most fulfillment in life doing, what job we would like the best, right? But, then again, Doris Day was right: “the future’s not ours to see.”
But that wasn’t the case for Jesus. Some 700 years before the Christ took on human flesh to live among us, God had the words of the prophecy before us written down. The book of Isaiah is really a fascinating book. You see, Isaiah wrote to the Israelites about an event that wouldn’t happen for over 100 years in order in part to give comfort to the people after that event happened. Over 100 years before the Jews would go into captivity in Babylon, God had Isaiah record how the Lord was going to deliver them from captivity and then bring them back to their homeland all before any of it happened! Why? So that when it did happen, just like God had said, they would have further reason to trust God and particularly trust God in what gives people, all people, not only the OT people, but us, the NT people, the most comfort, and that’s the promise of the Savior. The Jews might have been comforted to know they would return to their land, but the only reason they’d return to the land was so that God could fulfill His promise to send the Savior, who would rescue them not from foreign armies and foreign nations, but from their worst enemies: sin and the devil and eternal death.
This text before us is one of those promises of the Savior. What we have here is a conversation between the first and second persons of the Triune God, in other words, a conversation between God the Father and God the Son long before Jesus took on flesh and was born in Bethlehem. It begins with Christ talking, “Listen to me, you islands; hear this, you distant nations” – all people, not just close, but those far off are encouraged to listen to what he is about to say. “Before I was born the LORD called me; from my birth he has made mention of my name.” So, before Jesus was born God called him. We might first think of when the angel appeared to Mary and told her that she would be with child and give birth to a Son and she would give him the name “Jesus.” But then there are many other times too, like earlier in Isaiah when God said that the virgin will be with child and give birth to a son and he will be called Immanuel. Or even back to the beginning of time just after Adam and Eve sinned and God promised to send a Savior from sin. In other words, Jesus was called by God long in advance.
And “He made my mouth like a sharpened sword,” His mouth, the place where he speaks from is like a sharp sword, his weapon will be His words, “For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword” (Heb. 4:12). He hid in the shadow of God’s hand, like an arrow in a quiver. In other words he is concealed until just the right time for God to use Him to carry out His plan.
Then He (God) said to me (Christ), “You are my Servant, Israel, in whom I will display my splendor.” What does this mean? Well, first we need to go back to the two-fold purpose of the nation of Israel. They were to be the bearers of the Savior- the people through whom God would fulfill his promise to Adam and Eve. Secondly, Israel was to serve as a beacon of light in a sin-darkened world. And what I mean by that is, Israel was to make God attractive to all nations on earth that they would come to Israel to find out who the one true God is, and find out from the OT Scriptures of God’s promise to send a Savior for the world. However, Israel failed to be what God wanted them to be, failed to do what they were supposed to, they fell into idolatry, sexual immorality, they sinned in more ways than the unbelieving nations around them! So, since they failed, God here promises that He will send His Servant, the ultimate Israel, in whom He’ll display his splendor. There will be one Israelite who will display God’s splendor, because they failed. God would send Israel – reduced to one- Israel par excellence, His own Son, the Messiah, to be His servant to display His splendor.
Now it wasn’t just Israel who failed to be the servants they were supposed to be, was it? While God hasn’t told us WHAT we should be or do in life, he hasn’t told us what career we should pursue, or when we should retire – he leaves those things up to our judgment, while He hasn’t told us WHAT we should be or do in life, He HAS told us exactly WHO we should be in life, God wants everyone to be His servants, His people, to do His will, to follow him. Think about what a servant is. A servant is… But WE don’t want to be Servants of anyone. The core of sin is selfishness and self-exaltation. Adam and Eve were free in the garden, but not absolutely free, they were free to do anything except eat from one tree, and they rebelled against being God’s perfect servants in that one thing. And ever since then this world has been filled with unfaithful servants of God. It doesn’t take long looking around in our world to see it. People were created to be God’s servants. A servant works hard, not for his own betterment, but he works hard for his master. A servant doesn’t put in his time or punch a time clock because ALL of a servant’s time belongs to his master. But what do we see in the world? We have people who murder and try to get away with it, we have people who would much rather BE served, be served by others, fill their pockets at the expense of others, be served by the government, rather than be servants themselves. We have people in the world who breathe God’s air, drink God’s water, use God’s world and then snub their noses at God or have nothing to do with God or ridicule God or His Word, the Bible! We live in a world of unfaithful servants!
But before we start pointing fingers, what about us? When we plan our lives is our first question: ‘How can I serve the Lord?’ Or is it, ‘How can I make things better for me?’ As God’s servants do we work hard for Him? We might work hard for a lot of things, we might work hard for the pleasures of life, work hard for the perks, work hard in order to get something for ourselves, but do we work hard as God’s people? Work hard to fight temptation? Work hard to live like Christ? Work hard to serve others? Work hard to be patient, kind, caring as God wants us to be? Do we view our time as belonging to God? Or would we rather act like our own masters, it’s MY time, it’s MY time to do what I want! We, too, have been unfaithful servants.
And so, we can understand Jesus’ words of frustration here: “I have labored to no purpose; I have spent my strength in vain and for nothing.” Jesus came to his own, but his own did not receive him. He had people turn their backs on Him. And where did it all end? On a cross. And whom did He do it all for? People like you and me who are so often unfaithful servants. Did Jesus know the feelings of frustration? Sure. Jesus didn’t just seem like a human, he is a human and therefore has felt the temptation to despair. But in the end, He kept perfect trust in God. God who would be the judge of the worth of His work: “Yet what is due me is in the Lord’s hand and my reward is with my God.”
And what does God who formed Him, who honored him, who has been his strength say? Essentially, “It’s too small a task for My ultimate Servant, My Messiah, to save the Israelites, he’s FAR too qualified for just that job, I’m going to give him a larger task: He will save the whole world! He will bring my salvation to the ends of the earth! Jesus isn’t just a big enough Savior for Israel, He’s not just a big enough Savior for Americans, or Norwegians, or Germans, or WELS members, He is the Savior of all people! That was Jesus’ mission, that was the purpose of His life: to be the Lamb of God to take away the sins of the world! And so, since Jesus completed His mission to save the world, than you know without a doubt, with certainty that he has saved you, because he has saved the world, and you are part of that world!
And what does that mean?
That means if I decide to do this job or that job, move here or there, go to this college or that one, or even if my life isn’t all that I dreamt about as a child or things haven’t turned out as I had hoped, Jesus will still be my Savior because He’s the Savior of the world. And that means wherever I am in life, if God has placed people around me, then Jesus is a great enough Servant and a great enough Savior to already have paid for their sins too… so they need to hear about! You don’t have to wonder, “Hmm…should I share the good news of Jesus with this person, or not?” Since Jesus is the Savior of the world, God wants the world to hear about it.
And so, even if you’re not in the position in life that you’d hope, even if things in your life haven’t quite turned out like you had dreamt about, you don’t have to resign yourself to singing “que sera sera” and wishing your life could be better, Because the future is yours to see. Because of your Servant Savior Jesus you know the outcome of your life, because He IS the Savior of the world and therefore your Savior, you know the best life is waiting for you with Him in His eternal kingdom. Thanks to Jesus, the most important part of your life, you don’t have to wonder about! Amen.