The Model Servant - Matthew 12:15-21
Perhaps you’ve heard some variation of this statement attributed to president Harry Truman: “It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit.” Truman held the highest position of elected leadership in our country; he was what we call a public servant. Elected officials, those in government roles, even pastors hold jobs which exist not primarily to earn money for themselves but to serve others. Public service is a public trust. Thomas Jefferson expressed the basic principle of public service this way: “When a man assumes a public trust, he should consider himself as public property.”
The public servant belongs to the people he serves. This is why it is especially disappointing when public servants take advantage of those they vowed to serve rather than caring for them and choose instead to serve themselves. They fall short of our standards for those who serve.
But to a degree, all of us fall short of the ideals of serving others. We naturally prefer to be served than serve. Serving can feel burdensome. We know serving is honorable, but at some point, in goes against our nature. Sometimes we don’t want to serve others and put the interests of others above our own. We can resent serving others when we feel we are not valued as we should be. And we can undervalue the services others perform for us. We can even feel as though serving entitles us to something from those we serve. And so, we might use service as leverage to get what we want. We may start out with right motives in serving but self-serving feelings bubble up from within. Even with the disciples of Jesus, when some of them began to argue over who would be the greatest in Jesus’ kingdom, he told them that he “came not to be served, but to serve.”
Primarily, Jesus served us to redeem us from our sins, but also, to model servanthood. As the perfect, selfless servant, he sheds light on our self-serving ways. So, we look to Jesus as the model Servant. But what kind of things do we learn about perfect servanthood when we look to him? Well, three things listed on page 6 in the worship guide. As the model servant, Jesus: was content to fulfill the plans of Another; satisfied to follow the direction of Another, and overjoyed to secure the joy of another.
Now, in Matthew 12:14, we saw that the Jewish religious leaders known as Pharisees were plotting to kill Jesus because he was exposing their wrong teachings of Scripture,and in doing so he was undoing the control they had over the Jewish people. He was taking away their followers and their pride was wounded. Even though he was displaying obvious divine power through his miraculous works, they did not accept him. They should have recognized him, humbled themselves, and led others to do the same. After all, they were the public servants of Israel. But they were only serving their own interests.
Jesus responds in a seemingly non-confrontational way. Verse 15, “he withdrew from there.” And he goes about healing people of various ills, but, verse 16, he “ordered them not to make him known.” Why? Matthew says this fulfilled OT prophecy, the plans of God the Father foretold in Isaiah 42. When we read this Isaiah quote here in Matthew, it seems to obviously be about Jesus Christ. But if you go back to Isaiah and read up to chapter 42, Isaiah is talking about Israel, the nation, the OT people of God.
That people group had a mission to worship God and serve him by living for his glory and bringing the light of God to the other nations of the world. But they failed. They became like the other nations in sinful idolatry and immorality. This chapter 12 quote is more evidence of Matthew’s intention to show us how Jesus is the true Israel – that he is the true and perfect servant of God who would bring justice and light to every nation. All of the OT, in fact, helps us understand Jesus, and so we acknowledge that we need the whole Scripture to know the whole Jesus.
The Pharisees had the book of Isaiah, but they didn’t see this. Pretty much no one saw it at first. In fact, the Jewish people were puzzled that Jesus was going about his mission not by setting up a political or military movement, and not in a flashy way like a typical king, but rather, with gentleness and humility. But their Scriptures had told them this.
Notice verse 18. Isaiah writes and Matthew quotes that God said,  “Behold, my servant whom I have chosen, my beloved with whom my soul is well pleased. I will put my Spirit upon him, and he will proclaim justice to the Gentiles.” “Gentile” meaning those who were not ethnically Jewish. Jesus was a servant content to fulfill the plans of God the Father. Only Jesus could fulfill this role as servant perfectly because he was and is fully God, while also fully man. Jesus perfectly submitted to the plans of God.
God redeemed Israel from slavery in Egypt, Exodus 8 says, so they could serve the living God. They fell short of their calling. For those of you who are born again in Christ, God redeemed you to serve him. Don’t you fall short of perfect, selfless servanthood? But, see, God’s purpose was to send One who would not fall short. And so, Jesus was chosen. He is a worthy Savior who saved his people by fulfilling Another’s plans.
We all make plans for our lives. It’s good to make plans. But our plans don’t always match up with the plans of God, do they? Some modern-day ideas about God present him as one who created the universe and then stepped back to let it all play out. The idea is that God won’t intervene and even he doesn’t know exactly what’s going to happen. That view of God is not present in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments. It sounds like the rhetoric of people who don’t want anyone infringing on their plans. But God the Father has plans for his creation. He had a plan for the earthly life of Jesus Christ. He has a plan for your earthly life as well.
Can you be content to fulfill God’s plans above your own? We know from the gospels that fulfilling the Father’s plans was not always easy for Jesus. When it came to the cross, he would have preferred another, less-painful way. But He put us above himself and submitted to the Father’s plans.
Now, how did Jesus do that? Well, verse 18 says that the Father empowered his servant with his own Spirit – the Holy Spirit. Jesus was without sin in his own right. By birth, he did not have a sinful nature. But it was essential that the Spirit of God come upon him for the miracles he performed, and for guidance and direction. And the Spirit of God directed Jesus to serve in gentleness and humility. Verse  “He will not quarrel or cry aloud, nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets; The servant of God would not seek attention and glory.
First century Jews have waited on a son of king David to rise up and set them free. Here comes one, doing the works of God, speaking the truth with authority, but he’s not soaking in the fanfare. He has this lowly, unpretentious way about him. He’s a servant. And notice how Jesus goes about his mission. Verse  a bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not quench, until he brings justice to victory;” Two illustrations here describe how God the Spirit led God the Son to fulfill the plans of God the Father. First illustration – a bruised reed.
We have these green plants in our front yard called hostas. They have a very leafy base, and they produce stems that grow tall and make flowers. We had our first one of the year about to produce the flower and I accidentally bent it over with the water hose. I tried to stand it back up, but it bent to the point where it couldn’t stand anymore. It was broken. It just laid over.
This is how the Bible describes the weak and needy people of the world. Do you ever feel like a bruised reed, unable to stand? In the ancient world, kings wielded their power, brought others under submission, and then beat their chests and boasted about it. The poor and needy were expendable, bruised reeds good for nothing but snapping off. King Jesus, however, did not snap off the bruised reeds. He healed them.
Second illustration – a smoldering wick. Maybe you like to burn candles in your home. You enjoy the warm glow and sweet smell. What do you do with a candle when the wick had more or less burned down and it’s barely making a flame? Blow it out, get a new candle, one that burns bright and strong. The Bible says that those close to losing faith and hope are like smoldering candle wicks. Do you ever feel like a smoldering wick, about to burn out? Jesus doesn’t extinguish that wick. He’s gentle and kind with it. This is the way of the Holy Spirit.
Jesus was firm when he had to be firm. He was bold, he was unbending, he was determined and diligent. But he was not cruel and unjustifiably harsh. He was empathetic, patient, compassionate. He followed the Spirit’s direction, displayed the Spirit’s way, and he was satisfied in it. Jesus did not run over weak people. He stopped and gave them attention. Women, children, the poor, the outcasts, those hindered physically or mentally. He went where the Spirit led him.
How does this kind of servanthood sit with you? To follow someone else’s direction? It can sound worrisome. You might think, “If I submit to the direction of the Spirit, God might send me to Africa.” That’s true, he might. But if he does, Africa is where you want to be. Fulfilling the Father’s plans in the Spirit’s way is the best thing for you and I.
So, Jesus was focused on fulfilling another’s plans, following another’s directions, and last, but not least, securing another’s joy. In fact, it brought him joy to do so. Notice verse 21. God says, “and in his name the Gentiles will hope.” This could also be translated from the Greek as “the nations will hope.” “His name” seems straight-forward enough. The name of Jesus. What all mankind needs is found only in him. What do we need? Hope. The “hope” in view is the ability to wait for salvation with joy. To confidently wait on God.
When Jesus entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, the people cried out “Hosanna,” an expression which meant, “Save us.” I was moved recently by the lyrics of a song by Andrew Peterson which he titled “Hosanna.” He expresses the deep struggles and longings of every human heart. “I am tangled up in contradiction. I am strangled by my own two hands.
I am hunted by the hounds of addiction. Hosanna! Hosanna!” What contradictions do you see in yourself? In what ways do you naturally harm yourself?What addictions plague you? We need saving. I’m you’re all good people, but if you’re honest, your heart cries, “Hosanna!” Next verse: “I have lied to everyone who trusts me. I have tried to fall when I could stand. I have only loved the ones who loved me. Hosanna! Hosanna!”
This the cry of the people of every nation. Interestingly, this term “the nations” might not have had the same sentimental ring to it back then that it has today. For Israel, the nations were those godless, immoral people out there. It would include the rotten countries that invaded and enslaved Israel. What? The servant of God would secure their hope, also? Their joy, as well? Yes. What is in view here is the whole human race, every ethnicity. This was the plan of God all along. We see it from God’s covenant with Abraham. The blessing of the nations through Abraham’s descendant Jesus.
Jesus obtained, through humble servanthood, every believer’s hope of salvation. We understand there to be an “already” aspect to salvation and a “not yet” aspect. What does that mean? Already, those who are born again are saved. Our justification and adoption is secure in Christ. And yet, still in our earthly bodies, the sinful nature is not eradicated. We have power over sin but it nags and hinders us.
So, there is a “not yet” aspect to salvation that will be complete when we are with God in eternity. Hebrews 12 says that “for the joy set before him, Jesus endured the cross.” It brought Jesus joy to pursue our joy. Are you as concerned with the joy of others as you are with your own joy? This is true servanthood. Jesus was glad to serve us in this way.
They say if you want to recognize a counterfeit, study the real thing. And when we look at the servanthood of Jesus, we see how short we fall of God’s glory. But glory to God, Jesus served for this purpose – to save us from our sinful shortcomings that deserve the wrath of God! Have you trusted in Jesus in this way, as the only one who can save you?
Have you turned from sin, and do you turn daily from sin and to Jesus each day? Only he can soothe your guilty conscience and restore your hope. Listen to this final verse of the song we are about to sing: No guilt in life, no fear in death, This is the power of Christ in me! From life's first cry to final breath, Jesus commands my destiny! No power of hell, no scheme of man, Can ever pluck me from His hand! Til He returns or calls me home, Here in the power of Christ I'll stand!
Bow with me in prayer.