Pulpit Today Sermons

Robert D. Pace

Isaiah 42:1-4

This message is for those that have, at some point in their Christian experience, had the wind knocked from their sails and felt useless for Kingdom work. It’s for those that have been hurt or disappointed and frankly just wanted to bail out and become a spectator. It’s for those that believed a failure disqualified you from service. If you have never suffered these frustrations you won’t get much this morning. But if you have there’s something here for you!

Let’s begin by examining what Isaiah says in verse one. It’s almost missed in the NIV but if you’re reading from another version the first word is probably “Behold.” The NAS says: “Behold, My Servant, whom I uphold; My chosen one {in whom} My soul delights. I have put My Spirit upon Him; He will bring forth justice to the nations.” This is a Messianic Scripture that instructs believers to contemplate Christ. That word “Behold” tells us to do more than cast a casual glance toward Him, it instructs us to take a sustained gaze Him; it requests a discerning, investigative, penetrating study of Him.

(Example) Have you seen someone and said, “That’s an attractive person!” but when you looked closer you noticed they weren’t as attractive as you thought? They had crow’s feet around their eyes or age had begun to crease the skin or perhaps they were scarred from an accident.

(Humor) Ladies, you can rejoice in this. The Bible says, “love covers a multitude of sins,” but Revlon covers a multitude of blemishes.

But then, for some people it’s not the outside that needs constant management it’s the personality. From a distance, they appear likeable and compassionate, but when you engage them you discover glaring character flaws. In essence, the closer you look at some people the more earthly they become. But that’s not so with Christ. You can study Him from any angle and never find a fault! He’s unblemished! And Isaiah challenges us to take a deep, probing gaze when he says, “Behold, My Servant.” He wants us to study His character and attributes. He wants us to parse Christ’s words and scrutinize His actions under the most sensitive spiritual microscope. Isaiah wants us to analyze every aspect of His nature. This is what we’re called to do—learn more of God. Put Him up to Gandhi, Confucius, Mohammed, or Buddha. When you do this you’ll understand He’s perfect in every way—flawless! Like the soldier at the cross, you’ll “find no fault in Him.”

    1. When you study Christ, you’ll understand He is perfectly good and His plan for you operates for your highest welfare.
    1. When you contemplate Christ you’ll realize that He loves you unconditionally!
    1. And during the process of learning more about Jesus you will discover how He dealt with hurting people.

(Illustration) When I first began my ministry, my dad told me: “Son, people are hurting. They listen to cursing and filthy language all week. They see scheming and deceit. When you stand in the pulpit don’t browbeat the people. Encourage them.”

That’s what this passage in Isaiah 42 is about. It reveals the Messiah’s disposition toward flawed flesh. When Isaiah foresaw the social skills of Christ he was certain the Man of Compassion would never “break a bruised reed,” or extinguish “a dimly burning wick” (42:3). Had we been a contemporary of Isaiah we would have readily understood His analogy here. But since this is the twenty-first century, it needs some amplification. Let’s try to decipher what Isaiah had in mind.

(Example) Hebrew children would often play by the river. And growing along the riverside were thick straw reeds that could be cut in half, hollowed out, and used as flutes. There were thousands growing along the riverbank. But many of these reeds were imperfect. And when the kids found one cracked or frayed they would thoughtlessly break it into and discard it. That’s because a flute required a perfect reed. A broken reed was worthless and insignificant. People trampled on them and ignored them.

When the Holy Spirit impressed Isaiah to write these words he knew these reeds symbolized people—multitudes of people. And He also understood the word “bruised” referred to those that were oppressed, defeated, and discouraged. People that just didn’t feel they had much to offer.

Then Isaiah said Jesus wouldn’t extinguish a “burning wick.” And this phrase referred to those exhausted or burned-out in their Christian walk; people that have failed; the misfits, the outcasts, and those that don’t have their lives together. And the great revelation Isaiah conveyed when he cast that prophetic gaze toward Christ was this. Jesus never treats broken or exhausted people with contempt. Even with six billion people populating this planet He doesn’t sift and sweep aside the broken and wounded people and call them “useless” or “worthless.”

There are multitudes of people that are bruised and flickering out. People that have suffered defeat, setbacks, or heartache; people that feel their setback disqualifies them from service in the kingdom. And while others are quick to dispense of these folks, Isaiah says Jesus will never “break” or “extinguish” them. He’ll stand by them and reassure them of His restoring grace.

The Gospels are full of people that Jesus dealt with that were “bruised reeds” or “smoldering wicks.”

    1. What about the tax collectors with whom Jesus associated? They were crooks! And the Jews hated them. They hated the very people Jesus dined with. But Jesus wiped their slate clean and commanded them to leave their life of sin.
    1. What about the man born blind in John 9? The Pharisees condemned him as a sinner simply because he had a birth defect! Here was this blind man with his life smoldering away until Jesus embraced him and opened his eyes.
    1. Then there are the unapproachable lepers that had to live outside the camp. But Jesus found them, touched them, and healed them.
    1. How about the man who’s existence had been defined simply by a number: “Legion”? He was possessed with 6000 demons? Nobody wanted near him, but Jesus found him, delivered him, and let him sit at His feet.
    1. And what about Matthew 15:30-32? Here’s who Jesus associated with. Matthew said: “Great crowds came to him, bringing the lame, the blind, the crippled, the mute and many others, and laid them at his feet; and he healed them. (31) The people were amazed when they saw the mute speaking, the crippled made well, the lame walking and the blind seeing. And they praised the God of Israel. (32) Jesus called his disciples to him and said, “I have compassion for these people.”

You know what these passages announce? Jesus cares! God won’t give up on you! With all your flaws, He’ll love you, accept you, put you on the Potter’s Wheel, and fashion a work of marvelous restoration. Christ will take a “bruised reed” that’s worthless in the world’s eyes and create beautiful music. He will take a smoldering wick that is annoying to others and make it radiant.

(Illustration) There’s a story of a boy that wondered where babies came from, so he asked his mother. “Mom, how did I get here?” She wasn’t quite prepared so she told him a tall tale about a stork delivering him. Without further questions, he ambled upstairs to see his grandmother. “Grandma, where did my mom come from?” Her story deviated slightly but she painted a tale of a beautiful white bird that delivered her from a remote island. Later that afternoon his mother overheard Johnny’s conversation with a friend. He said, “You know Billy, I asked my mom and grandma about my family history today and I’m worried. There hasn’t been a normal birth in our family for three generations.”

(Illustration) Awhile back, the New Yorker ran a cartoon about a father scowling at his son’s deficient grades on a report card. In defense, the boy was pictured standing there asking his father: “So what do you think it is, Dad? Heredity or environment?”

Folks, do you want to hear something that will liberate you? Everybody in this sanctuary, everyone in this world, regardless of your pedigree or position, everyone has an area of your life that’s cracked or bruised. If you are a mature adult, your life at some point almost flickered out! That’s because you are human! Abraham was like that. Moses was bruised and nearly flickered out. So was Elijah, David, Simon Peter, and all the Apostles!

(Example) Years ago, in a church I pastored, a man testified that he never experienced a “down day” since the moment he was born again. Now, that’s not just ridiculous, he was living in denial! The reason I know his statement was indisputably ridiculous is because I knew his wife and children, and if I had even lived across the street from them they would have driven me crazy!

If you’re confused, broken, or hurting it’s alright to be honest with God and admit it. It’s OK to say, “Heavenly Father, things are out of control! I’m perplexed about decisions. I’m hurting. I have been slandered and betrayed. Or, I’ve blown it.” Hear me, Dad: it’s alright if you’re not Superman! Mom: it’s alright if you aren’t Wonder Woman! The Good News is, there’s more than a Superman available to help you. There is a Supernatural Man available to help you! And His grace, and power, and ability to restore your life are greater than your weaknesses and failures!

The Apostle Paul said in 2 Corinthians that there would be times we would be overwhelmed, crushed, and almost snuffed out. But if you will remain faithful during seasons of trouble you will be able to minister to the needs of others. You see, it is impossible to relate to hurting people if you have never been touched by adversity. That’s why Jesus suffered. He suffered so He could fully identify with our shortcomings.

Hebrews 2:17 says: “For this reason he had to be made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God . . . (18) Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.”

Saints of God Jesus, our Example, led the way. And He wants us sympathetic to the need and pain of others! The last thing we should do is display a cavalier spirit toward those that aren’t on top or snub people that are discouraged and confused. We’re here to show mercy and compassion. If you want God’s mercy for your times of brokenness and smoldering, you need to extend mercy. Matthew 5:7 says, “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.”

(Transition) Turn to Luke 18 and let’s read the Parable of the Publican and the Pharisee.

Publican and the Pharisee

(Read: Luke 18:9-14)

The Pharisee began his prayer by alluding to the faults of others and thanking God those faults weren’t his. Look again at verse eleven. He smugly “stood up and prayed . . . ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector.”

He thanked God he wasn’t like other men, but he should have thanked God other men weren’t like him! He continued praying with the boast of his self-righteousness reminding God of his fasting and liberality.

The Pharisee rambled on about everything that didn’t matter when all that mattered was the condition of his soul. When you need God’s grace, it’s not time to expose the sins of others. It’s time to humble yourself and ask for mercy.

The reason Jesus railed on the Pharisees and the religious elite is because they operated without mercy. It’s why He couldn’t forgive them. You say, “Now wait. How does that square with Isaiah’s prophecy that the Messiah wouldn’t “break a bruised reed”?

The Pharisees weren’t “bruised reeds.” Jesus said they were “vipers.” He called them “open graves full of dead men’s bones.” There’s a difference between sincere, but broken seekers, and those that are arrogant, stubborn, and hostile to Christ’s ways.

God is full of compassion but He can only minister compassion to the humble. He’s in the business of mercy and forgiveness but it’s impossible for Him to break past prideful and calloused hearts. You have submit to Christ if you want Him to work!

And that’s what the Publican did. When he entered the sanctuary, he couldn’t even lift his eyes heavenward. He stood at the back and the only prayer he could muster was: “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” And Jesus said the Publican went home justified while the Pharisee went home dignified. I’d rather go home justified any day!

(Transition) Let’s talk about the most familiar “bruised reeds” of Scripture—Simon Peter. He experienced a miserable failure.

Simon Peter, the “Bruised Reed”

Simon was an accident waiting to happen. He was impulsive and quick to speak. On the eve of the crucifixion Peter went so far as to deny Christ with curses. He couldn’t even tell a mere servant girl that he knew Jesus. Moments later, he realized he’d woefully failed. The Bible says Simon left that place and wept bitterly. You know he felt worthless and wanted to die! But Jesus had different plans. Can you image it? You’ve just denied the Son of God! Three days after the crucifixion Jesus fulfilled prophecy and rose from the grave. When He appeared to the women He said: “Go tell the disciples and Peter that I am alive.” Jesus singled out Simon Peter because He understood how Simon humiliated himself for vehemently denying his master.

One of the last conversations Jesus had with Simon was at the beach. He pulled Peter aside and asked: “Peter, Do you love me?” And when Jesus employed that word love He used that strong, unfailing word agape,—“the God kind of love.” The apostle heard Him ask, “Peter, do you have that love for me that never fails?” But when Peter replied he didn’t answer with the word agape. He was still reeling from his shameless denials and like a “bruised reed,” he answered with a lesser word than agape. He said, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love (phileo) you.” You know I’m you’re friend, Lord.’ But Jesus wouldn’t let him off. As a matter of fact, Jesus structured the sentence with yet stronger terminology. He said: “Simon, son of Jonah, do you truly [agape] me?” And again, Peter replied with the same verb when he said: “Yes, Lord, you know that I love (phileo) you . . . [You know I’m your friend!”] He still refused to use that unfailing term, agape.

What’s interesting about the third time Jesus pressed Simon with this question is Jesus switched and employed Peter’s terminology. In essence, Jesus said: “Alright Peter, you want to talk about friendship love? We’ll do it. Forget the unfailing love for a moment.” So Jesus rephrased the question: “Simon, Son of Jonah, do you love (phileo) me?”

That’s when Peter knew the word games were over. Peter wasn’t just anxious and uneasy, he was exasperated and ready to end the conversation. Peter’s final answer began: “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love (phileo) you.” I believe when Peter said, “Lord, you know all things” the implication was, “Lord, if You are pressing me because I denied You, You know I failed You. My cursing and denials were reprehensible! I can’t shake it from my memory. I’m a marked man.” Every time Jesus said: “Do you love Me?” Peter recoiled remembering his denials. But that’s not the point Jesus was trying to make in this relentless exchange. Do you recall what Jesus said after every answer that Peter gave Him? Jesus said, “[Peter] Feed my sheep.” Jesus wasn’t trying to shame Peter or make certain he never forgot his guilt. Jesus was re-commissioning Peter! He was renewing His purpose in the kingdom. He was taking a cracked, ‘bruised reed” and saying, it’s alright that you failed. I want you in My orchestra anyway! I’m not even going to take back “the keys of the kingdom” that I handed you.”

And it was at that moment that Simon’s life started over. And the man that couldn’t testify to a servant girl at the crucifixion fearlessly stood before a multitude at Pentecost and preached a sermon that converted 3000. The “bruised reed” had been repaired!

Do you know why God believes in you, commissions you, and uses you despite your failures? Because His plan isn’t contingent on the frailty of your flesh, He’s based it on the super-abounding power of His grace! His grace can work past failures, disappointments, tragedy, loss, confusion. I’m talking about, “Grace, grace, God’s great grace”!

Do you know what God wants? He wants you to let Him reassemble your life. He’s waiting for you to say, “Father, I’m a “bruised reed . . . a smoldering wick.” I’m probably more of a nuisance to others than a blessing. But would you heal me?”

Maybe some of you can’t even admit that you want your place back in the kingdom—you’re without any desire to participate. But you know Romans 11:29 says, “God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable” and it’s time to re-enter the ranks.

    1. Maybe you haven’t been the perfect dad. You can start over today.
    1. If you’ve been offended, it’s time to let it go.
    1. If you self-destructed years ago, it’s time to let God reassemble you.
    1. If the burden of life broke you there’s life after brokenness.
    1. If you were crushed by tragedy it’s time for God’s healing.

“Behold, My Servant, whom I uphold; My chosen one {in whom} My soul delights . . . A bruised reed He will not break, and a dimly burning wick He will not extinguish.” He’ll cast none aside!