Matthew12:15-21: JESUS: GOD'S SERVANT

Introduction. Read Matthew12: 15-21

This passage allows us to identify seven characteristics of God's servant, Jesus. If we model ourselves on Jesus then they should be characteristics we share with him.

Jesus was:

(1) A prudent servant. But the Pharisees went out and plotted how they might kill Jesus. Aware of this Jesus withdrew from that place.

Sometimes in church affairs disagreements occur, disputes arise and tempers are inclined to get frayed. In such circumstances it might be sensible for both parties to agree to a cooling off period. Jesus gave his enemies time to think better of him.

In the 18th Century John Wesley and George Whitefield sharply disagreed over points of doctrine. Westley published an article in which he rejected the doctrine of predestination. He also taught that a Christian could attain the state of sinless perfection. George Whitefield disagreed with Wesley on both issues. However, he forbore taking up the cudgel against his erstwhile close friend and fellow evangelist. Whitefield did not speak on these subjects. He concentrated more and more on preaching the gospel. This meant the two men were never permanently estranged.

For a time George Whitefield spoke at a new chapel called Long Acre in London's West End near to the theatres. This was not the best location for a man known for his public criticisms of the theatre. Some members of the actors' guild took steps to disrupt his services. A gang waited outside the church ready to ring bells, bang drums and sing bawdy songs as soon as Whitefield commenced his sermon.

Whitefield showed prudence in having another chapel built in London's Tottenham Court Road. This was far enough away from the theatre district to discourage rioters from disrupting his sermons.

(2) A merciful servant. And great multitudes followed him, and he healed them all. AV.

Jesus did not withdraw to the countryside to sulk. He did not give up his healing ministry because of the opposition he faced in the town. Jesus was not like Elijah who fled into the wilderness to escape the wrath of Jezebel. The prophet eventually collapsed under a desert shrub and in deep melancholy asked God to take his life. Elijah was so upset by rejection that he wanted to give up.

I love how the AV describes Jesus' ministry: He healed them all. There was no disease beyond him - no condition that he could not remedy. All who came to him were healed.

No one is so far gone in sin, no one so depraved, no one so profoundly lost, that Jesus will not and cannot save them.

The Countess of Huntingdon was a good friend to George Whitefield. She arranged for him to preach to her aristocratic friends. One such friend was very upset because George had said that Jesus was so willing to receive sinners that he did not object to receiving even the devil's castaways.

Whitefield explained what had given rise to his assertion. A poor, miserable woman had asked to speak with him. The evening before, she had overheard the evangelist preaching as she passed the open door of the chapel. The woman had heard Whitefield say that Jesus was so eager to receive sinners that he would not refuse to receive even the devil's castaways. The poor women said, "Now, sir, I have been on the town for many years, and am so worn out in his service, that I think I may with truth be called one of the devil's castaways. Do you think, sir, that Jesus would receive me?"

Whitefield paused and then looking at the Countess and her friends said, "I assured her that there was no doubt of it, if she was but willing to go to Him."

As the old Sankey Hymn puts it:

          Sinners Jesus will receive;
          Sound his word of grace to all
          Who the heavenly pathway leave,
          All who linger, all who fall!

          Sing it o'er and o'er again:
          Christ receiveth sinful men;
          Make the message clear and plain:
          Christ receiveth sinful men.

(3) A self-effacing servant. After Jesus had healed the sick Jesus asked them, "Not to tell who he was."

It seems that Jesus did not want those he had miraculously healed to go away and promote him as the promised Messiah. I imagine that he did not want this sort of publicity because of the popular misconception of the Messiah's role. We know that after the feeding of the five thousand there were elements in the crowd who wanted to take Jesus and proclaim him king. Jesus was having no part of it. He packed his disciples off - dismissed the multitude and climbed a hill to pray.

Jesus was very different from many leaders, both secular and religious, in shunning publicity. He was prepared to work in relative obscurity. So all those of God's servants who do the same, should take heart that, they are treading in the footsteps of their Master.

George Herbert, the famous 17th century poet and hymn write, when in his mid-thirties gave up his secular ambitions and took holy orders in the Church of England, spending the rest of his life as the rector of the little parish of St Andrews Church, Lower Bemerton, Salisbury. He was noted for unfailing care for his parishioners, bringing the sacraments to them when they were ill, and providing food and clothing for those in need. Henry Vaughan called him "a most glorious saint and seer". Never a healthy man, he died of consumption at the early age of 39. Perhaps it was in obscurity that he wrote his well known hymn:

          Teach me, my God and King,
          In all things Thee to see;
          And what I do in anything,
          To do it as for Thee

          All may of Thee partake;
          Nothing can be so mean,
          Which with this tincture, 'For thy sake,'
          Will not grow bright and clean.

          A servant with this clause
          Makes drudgery divine;
          Who sweeps a room, as for Thy laws,
          Makes that and the action fine.

(4) A cherished servant. God said: "Here is my servant whom I have chosen, the one I love, in whom I delight."

God could not have chosen a better servant to carry out his wishes. I always find the Parable of the Tenants incredibly sad. A landowner planted a vineyard and rented it to tenants. At each harvest he sent his servants to collect the fruit to which he was entitled. Two lots of servants were badly beaten up. Finally the landowner sent his son to them. "They will respect my son," he said. But this was not the case - the son was thrown out of the vineyard and killed. It is an awful indictment of humanity that they took the son God cherished and rejoiced in and subjected him to every humiliation before nailing him to a cross of wood

Jesus was God's one and only son - the son he loved and delighted in. Jesus was so close to his Father that we can be absolutely sure that everything he revealed about God is true. This is something Jesus affirmed over and over again in John's Gospel. For example, at the Feast of Tabernacles Jesus said: "Yes you know me, and you know where I am from. I am not here on my own, but he who sent me is true. You do not know him, but I know him because I am from him, and he sent me" Jn7v28and29.

Jesus was meek and lowly of heart but there was one thing he would not compromise over and that was his relationship with God the Father - a relationship confirmed when Jesus was raised from the dead.

If we serve Jesus faithfully we too will be loved of God and we will share in Christ's bodily resurrection. Jesus was the firstfruits of them that sleep.

(5) A responsible servant. "I will put my spirit on him and he will proclaim justice to the nations. .... In his name the nations put their hope."

I don't think the meaning of this is very clear. Jesus was going to be the one who provided a way for the Gentiles to be treated justly. They would be given the same opportunity as the Jews to become members of God's chosen people. Everyone would be able to enter God's family through faith in Jesus. He is the Saviour of the World. John the Baptist said: Behold the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the WORLD. ALL men and women who believe in Jesus share a common hope.

          My hope is built on nothing less
          Than Jesus' blood and righteousness;
          I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
          But wholly lean on Jesus' name.
          On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;
          All other ground is sinking sand.

Jesus himself is the hope of the nations. His blood and righteousness avail for all. As the great apostle asserted in his letter to the Galatians: You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptised into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise. Gal3v26to29.

The great 18th century evangelist, George Whitefield, did not oppose the practice of slavery in America but he was the first well-known religious leader in the modern era to address their spiritual needs in a serious and consistent way. He made every effort to ensure that slaves were exposed to the gospel message. Whitefield's insistence that Jesus came to redeem blacks as well as whites contributed to the growth of the anti-slavery movement. Eventually they received justice.

Another hymn I love to sing because it celebrates the hope of the nations is:

            Take the name of Jesus with you,
            Child of sorrow and of woe;
            It will joy and comfort you -
            Take it then where'er you go.

            Precious name, oh, how sweet!
            Hope of earth and joy of heaven!
            Precious name, oh, how sweet!
            Hope of earth and joy of heaven.

(6) A quiet servant. "He will not quarrel or cry out; none will hear his voice in the streets.".

The Greek word translated, 'cry out,' could equally well be translated, 'bark or howl like a dog.'

Jesus was no demagogue. He did not rant and rave to the masses like some first century Hitler. He was, on the whole, a calm, quiet and dignified teacher. We see this in the way he responded to the various tests the religious leaders devised to entrap him, like whether taxes should be paid to Caesar. In the end we read in Luke: And no-one dared to ask him any more questions. Lk20v40.

There were times Jesus was angry - as when the Pharisees dragged the woman taken in adultery before him. It is significant that Jesus took time to collect himself by doodling in the dust before responding in a calm and measured way.

However it must be admitted that Jesus gave no quarter to the religious leaders whom he attacked for their legalism, self-righteousness and hypocrisy.

We should try and avoid religious controversy that gives rise to heated name calling and ill will. There was a lot of that in the 18th century during the early years of John Wesley and George Whitefield. It is to the latter's credit that he worked hard to be reconciled with the Wesley brothers notwithstanding doctrinal differences. Whitefield believed brotherly love was more important than doctrinal exactitude. Christians should reserve their criticism for leaders in the church who exhibit the characteristics of Jesus' inveterate enemies the Scribes and Pharisees. In everything we should be like him.

(7) The resourceful servant. "A bruised reed he will not break and a smouldering wick he will not put out."

I love this verse. It is one of my favourites! I have an exposition based upon it. See exposition on Matthew 12: 20. I feel that this is one of my best efforts!

I will just summarise my exposition here. Jesus is willing and able to use imperfect instruments to achieve his purposes. In the day of Jesus reeds were used as measuring sticks. It was very irritating to have a measuring rod with a kink in it - one which would not stay straight. The temptation would be to throw it away. Jesus is wonderfully condescending to use very imperfect instruments for his purpose. The original 11 disciples were a case in point - so too was William Booth, the founder of the Salvation Army.

If there is a lesson for us it is this: We must be tolerant of the weaknesses that irritate and annoy us. Sometimes our irritation is out of all proportion to the offence. Whenever I am with my brother, Paul, he fiddles. He has been fiddling for over 60 years! If he has a pencil in his hand he will tap it incessantly. This really gets on my nerves! But his misconduct is a trifling matter.

We must not reject Christians who talk too much, are blunt, pessimistic, look miserable, are obsessed with their health, blow hot and cold, are all things to all men, have no dress sense and so I could go on. These things are of very little consequence to Jesus. What matters to him is whether a man or woman is willing to be used. Think what a bruised reed like William Booth achieved by the grace of God and mercy of Jesus. He started out as a pawnbroker's clerk in Nottingham but founded a Christian mission that swept through the world and in the 21st century is the one voluntary organisation which the federal government of the United States regularly makes responsible for disaster relief.