Eternal Horizons: How Jesus’s Mission Required Him to Trust the Father, and How We Must Do the Same (Jesus the Servant, Pt 2)
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But the Pharisees went out and plotted how they might kill Jesus.
Aware of this, Jesus withdrew from that place. A large crowd followed him, and he healed all who were ill. He warned them not to tell others about him. This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah:
“Here is my servant whom I have chosen,
the one I love, in whom I delight;
I will put my Spirit on him,
and he will proclaim justice to the nations.
He will not quarrel or cry out;
no one will hear his voice in the streets.
A bruised reed he will not break,
and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out,
till he has brought justice through to victory.
In his name the nations will put their hope.”
The warmth and beauty of this prophecy from Isaiah is hard to overstate. Its perspectives on the heart of God are gorgeous: Jesus is not merely the servant of God, the chosen one, but one who is loved, one in whom the Father delights.
The passage gives us perspective on Jesus’s mission as well: Anointed by the Holy Spirit, he comes to proclaim justice, not only to Israel but to all the nations of the world.
Justice, mishpat in Hebrew, indicates a right-ordering of things. We who hunger and thirst for righteousness — for things to be made right, inside of us and outside of us — will be filled. Rightness is under siege in our world. So much is broken, blinded, and bent. But Jesus, the servant of God, will see our deepest need and desires through to victory. And he will do it for the whole world: for every people group, every nation, every tribe and tongue.
As we saw in the last post, Jesus came to do this work quietly, gently, against all the expectations and even hopes of his countrymen who were looking for a violent revolution. It’s not that he couldn’t do it violently if he wanted to; after all, at times in history, God acted violently to set things right (the flood is the prime example of this).
But in this case, the Lord knows that too many bruised reeds would break; too many smoldering wicks would be snuffed out. His desire to preserve and rescue his people, to bring all who stand precariously on the brink of ruin, home — that is the ruling principle of his nature here.
And again: Isaiah revealed that the mission of God’s servant would extend beyond the borders of Israel. The children of Israel, God’s chosen nation, were only the beginning. From the very start, God had always intended to do more — to rescue all his children. To give even the most pagan and corrupt of nations a reason for hope.
The Obedient (and Narrow) Focus of Jesus
If we can step back a moment and look at Jesus’s ministry from our privileged vantage point in the future, this passage brings up an interesting paradox: that Jesus, whose mission was to “proclaim justice to the nations” and give them a name in which to put their hope, rarely left the borders of Israel. And even when he did, he never went anywhere important.
He didn’t go to Rome, the center of the civilized world in his day. He didn’t do what Paul did and travel to the great Greek cities, centers of commerce and crossroads of the Gentile world: Corinth, Ephesus, Antioch, Athens.
Instead he stayed mostly inside a backwater province, ranging about 3000 miles in his lifetime.
And he let his journey take him to the cross at age thirty-three.
Think about that: Jesus chose to give his life long before his earthly mission, to proclaim justice to the nations, could possibly be fulfilled.
Remember Jesus the Man
That Jesus is fully God and fully man is a mystery beyond our comprehension, but let us stop and ponder this for a moment. What does it mean to be a man with a vision and mission that cannot be fulfilled within one limited lifetime?
What does it mean to be a man whose mission consciously extends into the next life?
These are important questions for us, because if we try to follow Jesus, we’ll have to grapple with them too. We have a mission that is beyond us.
It’s easy for us to assume that because Jesus was God, he just knew how everything would work out — that he never wrestled with fear or doubt or foreboding. Yet Hebrews tells us he was tempted in every way just as we are, and surely that included the need to trust the Father, truly choose to trust him, which implies that at times he would be tempted not to.
Imagine the faith it takes, the very practical, one-foot-in-front-of-the-other trust it requires, to stay focused on a limited, proscribed task right in front of you when you feel the weight of the world on your shoulders. How much did Jesus have to trust in the Father to stay within the boundaries of Israel, to preach the gospel of the kingdom to the Jewish people without taking steps to go beyond them, when he could hear the whole world calling?
How much trust did it take to walk a road that he knew would lead to his suffering and death, when he had so much to accomplish? So much to get done?
The Faithfulness of Jesus
In Isaiah 42, which Matthew quotes in this passage, this emotional wrestling is brought out more clearly. Verse 4 assures us that God’s servant “will not fail nor be discouraged / Till He has established justice in the earth / And the coastlands will wait for His law” (NKJV).
Isaiah’s language is lofty, but Matthew brings it down to the mud and dust of Jesus’s life. Here in Matthew 12, Jesus faced the opposition, slander, accusation, and dismissal of people who should have been his most faithful allies. The Pharisees, committed to doing God’s law to the tiniest jot and tittle, accused Jesus of undermining Israel’s quest for righteousness. The disciples, called to accompany Jesus on his mission, barely seemed to grasp what that mission was. The crowds, healed and helped by Jesus, couldn’t even be counted on to follow his most basic request — not to spread the word of his miracles far and wide.
Jesus faced enormous opposition and challenges. He had an impossible mission: bring righteousness to the entire world. He was one small man, one young man. He had no clear path to success. But he kept going. He trusted God to work it all out.
Just as he calls us to do.
Following Jesus in His Work
Jesus faithfully followed a hidden, faithful, obedient, strategically self-limited, and gentle God. He had a single purpose and a total commitment to it, but from the very start, it was a purpose absolutely beyond the reach of any single human being.
He had to trust the Father with it. There was no other option.
So here we are: called to follow Jesus, called to recognize God in him, called to trust him and join him in his work of proclaiming justice to the nations and seeing the reconciliation of the world through to completion.
This work is beyond us. To think we can do it in our own strength is absurd.
Our mission extends beyond us, past the end of our limited lifetimes and into eternity. It requires us to trust God with our limits, trust God with our weakness, trust God with our suffering. It calls us to believe in resurrection and put our hope on a horizon that is outside of our line of sight.
Jesus has walked this road before us. He has trusted God, in this way, before us.
With his eternal vision and his incredible mission, Jesus was content to stay in one small space and do one small work, within one unusually short lifetime.
Such is our call too.
We all dwell within constraints. We’re all stuck inside tight borders. We all live limited lifetimes.
But we can matter for eternity.
That’s the path laid out before us. That is the path we too can choose to walk.
This is Part 211 in a series on the Gospel of Matthew, which you can access here. Unless otherwise marked, quotes are from the Holman Christian Standard Bible.
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