6th Lenten Service                                                     
Rev. Dr. D. K. Schroeder
Isaiah 42:1-4 Sermon                                                                            
March 20, 2013 


TEXT:  “1 Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my Spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations. 2 He will not cry aloud or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street; 3 a bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice. 4 He will not grow faint or be discouraged till he has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands wait for his law.”  

          I want you to imagine that you are at home one evening.  You’ve had your supper, and you are sitting in your easy chair relaxing a bit.  Then all of a sudden, the phone rings.  The voice on the other end tells you that a close relative has just been in a serious automobile accident.  You gasp in shock.  “Oh my!  Is he all right?”

          The voice answers, “Yes, he’s all right; he just has a few bruises and cuts.”

          You breathe a sigh of relief.  Just a few bruises and nothing serious.  After all, what are a few bruises?  Just some black and blue marks, also known as hematomas in medical terminology.  Just some small patches of clotted blood from a broken blood vessel.  It’s pretty common stuff.  A few days, and your relative will be as good as new; everything will be healed up, just like the accident had never happened.  A few bruises are really no big deal as far as we’re concerned.

          So let’s look at some bruises in a different instance.  I’ve been a police chaplain for the past 14 years.  I was in my very first year, when one night I got a call from the police dispatcher to go to an apartment in Lincoln’s near south neighborhood.  It was a domestic dispute.

          When I got there, it was a scene where a husband was physically abusing his wife.  The police had taken the husband away and put him in jail.  The wife was sitting in a chair at the table, looking all disheveled, and softly sobbing.  I could immediately see on her face where she had been repeatedly and violently slapped.  I’m sure that there were other areas on her body covered by her clothing that would show further signs of her abuse, the likes of which I would never see.  And even deeper than that were the emotional bruises, which were probably the worst of them all.

          I wasn’t in her home very long before I realized that she needed more immediate medical attention, so I radioed for the paramedics to take her to the trauma center.  Unlike the victim in the car accident, her bruises were certainly a very big deal, both physically and emotionally.

          Since that time, I’ve been involved in numerous cases of domestic violence; and many times I’ve had to transport some very frightened and upset women to Friendship Home, often with their children in tow.  And the bruises they all carry are indeed very real, and the healing process is frequently lengthy and difficult.

          In our text for today, the prophet Isaiah talks about two very important attributes of the Messiah.  In verse 3 he records:  “…a bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench.”   Matthew, in chapter 12 points out that Jesus indeed fulfilled this prophecy.  The thing that we learn from all of this is that Jesus has a heart for the people.  His compassionate nature is one that reaches out to those society has condemned, those who have been deemed as inferior, those who are openly regarded as little more than human waste polluting the earth.

          With this in mind, we should first look at the entire human race.  In Genesis, we are told that man was created in the image of God.  What does that mean?  Does that mean that God has the physical qualities of a human being, and that he actually resembles people like you and me?

          That’s not the image of God that the Bible talks about.  God’s image is that of righteousness and holiness.  If we look at Ephesians chapter 4, verses 22-24, the Apostle Paul gives us a good description of this:  "22You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; 23to be made new in the attitude of your minds; 24and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness."

          The image of God given to man at creation has been totally demolished.  The image didn’t simply get blurred or slightly corrupted, it was completely lost.  Sinful man in no way resembled God’s holy and perfect nature at all.  And that’s tough to think about sometimes.

          Lutheran theologian Dr. C. F. W. Walther has this to say:   "According to God's Word, the image of God consisted in things which no man any longer brings into the world. It was a reflection of divine glory….Where is this blessed state now? It has disappeared.  Man, who bore God's image in himself when first created, now bears at his coming into the world the image of Satan, namely error, sin, misery, and death.”

          If we think in terms of the metaphor Isaiah uses, what good is a bruised reed?  Reeds were used in many things back in those days.  They were woven into baskets and mats and other useful objects.  But if a reed was bruised and bent and half rotted, it couldn’t be used.  It had to be cast aside, and a strong and straight reed used instead.  If a basket were to be made with bruised reeds, it would probably just fall apart.

          But Jesus sees the value in the human soul.  Even though the image of God had been lost because of sin, that image was restorable. There was hope for sinful humanity.  There was a way that the image of God could be restored, and that describes the purpose of Jesus’ ministry.  Jesus came to restore that image of God to sinful mankind through faith alone.

          The truth being known, there are multitudes of people that are bruised and flickering out.  There are many that have suffered defeat, setbacks, or heartache.  Sin has infected each and every person on this earth.  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.

          Jesus was sharply criticized by the Pharisees for his compassion, especially when it came to those they regarded as less than human, and not of any regard.  Just think of some of the examples of the “bruised reeds” and the “smoldering wicks” the Bible gives us:

          The tax collectors were crooks, and the Jews hated them.  But Jesus associated with them, and told them to leave their life of sin. 

          And what about the lepers?  They were unclean and unapproachable; but Jesus found them, touched them, and healed them.

          Or then there was the man born blind.  The Pharisees condemned him because of his birth defect.  But Jesus embraced him and cured his blindness.

          Then there was the man who was possessed by 600 demons.  Nobody would go near him; but Jesus found him, cast the demons from him, and let him sit at his feet.

          I also think about the woman who was caught in adultery.  The self-righteous crowd was ready to stone her to death.  But Jesus says, “I do not condemn you; go and sin no more.”

          Listen to what Matthew records in chapter 15, verses 30-32 as he describes who Jesus associated with.  “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. 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.  Jesus called his disciples to him and said, ‘I have compassion for these people.’”

          Do you see what these examples are describing?  Jesus cares!  That’s right!  He really does care!  And what a blessing that is for people like you and me.  With all of our flaws and imperfections, Jesus loves us and accepts us.  He hasn’t given up on us, regardless of what has happened in our lives.

          When I was recuperating in the nursing home some weeks ago, every morning on my breakfast tray I had a banana.  One day I picked up the banana and peeled it.  On the outside, it looked perfect.  But when I looked on the inside, it looked like someone had been using it to practice kicking field goals.  I can’t remember ever seeing a banana that was so badly bruised.  It was completely inedible.  There wasn’t so much as one good bite left.

          That’s the effect that sin has had in our lives.  We might look perfect on the outside, but sin has bruised us beyond recognition.  On our own, we’re of no more value than that bruised banana, or the bruised reed that Isaiah describes.

          But faith in Jesus Christ changes all of that.  Through faith in him alone, we are completely restored.  Our faith has reclaimed God’s image in our lives.  Instead of our sinfulness, God sees Christ’s righteousness, which is the image of holiness and perfection that God requires.  Nothing we can do will earn it for us.  We can’t work for it, or earn it, or pay for it.  It’s a free gift that Jesus bought for us with his blood.  It’s like Dr. Luther says in his explanation to the second article of the creed:  “He has redeemed me, a lost and condemned creature, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil; not with gold or silver, but with his holy, precious blood and with his innocent suffering and death.”  

          This blessing we have received is also a blessing that we as Christians share with the world around us.  There are a lot of bruised reeds and smoldering wicks out there that need to know the forgiving love of their Saviour. When we consider the smoldering wick of faith, Paul tells Timothy in his second letter “…to fan into flame the gift of God.”  That’s what the Holy Spirit does.   When we understand the level of compassion that Jesus had, it serves as a pattern for us.  We need to see things in the same way he did, and have the same love for souls.

          There are certainly those out there who are bruised and hurting.  There are those who have a faith that is little more than a smoldering wick.  But no matter how bruised the reed, we are still dealing with souls that God loves.  He’s done it for you in your life, and he continues to call people through the Gospel to come to him and be completely restored.