The Songs of the Servant
By: Frank Tunstall, D. Min.
In four passages commonly called the Servant Songs, the prophet Isaiah foretold that Messiah would come to serve the redemptive plan of His Father. The four songs sat on the shelf of prophetic history for about eight centuries before Jesus began His ministry. Since then, they have become so very important because the character of Messiah and the Servant Songs match with 100% accuracy.
- The Tenderness of the Servant (Isa. 42:1–4)
Jesus was a kindhearted servant, the chosen and the delight of His Father. Isaiah foretold this very gentle servant would not raise His voice in the streets, break a bruised reed, or snuff out a smoldering wick (Matt. 12:20; 20:28); nor would He be discouraged or falter until He finished the job of establishing justice on the earth, including the remote islands of the seas. Jesus Christ is not in the business of breaking off bruised reeds; instead, He wants to bring them back to life, and bring people who are like smoldering wicks back to the full flame and life-motivating vision.
The light in the life of Simon Peter in Pilate’s judgment hall was smoldering with only a flicker when Peter denied three times even knowing the Lord (Matt. 26:34; Mark 14:30–31). Jesus could have easily snuffed out Peter’s faith that dark night. But His goal was to soften the very hardened wick Peter had become, bringing it back to full flame—and He succeeded. Peter was such a bruised reed in those moments that the song went out of his life and he knew It; he went out and “wept bitterly” (Luke 22:62). But sweet, indeed, was the “music” that came from the Apostle to the Jews in his sermon on the day of Pentecost (Luke 22:31–34; 54–62; Acts 2:14–41; Gal. 2:8).
- The Call of the Servant (Isa. 49:1–7)
God, from eternity, gave Jesus a servant’s commission. He was the sharpened sword in His Father’s hand and the very special polished arrow in His quiver. Messiah’s job description was to call Israel back to God. But calling Israel alone was much-to-small an assignment for Messiah. Instead, He would also be a “light for the Gentiles,” successfully bringing “salvation to the ends of the earth” (Isa. 49:6). In achieving so grand an objective, Messiah’s ministry displayed the Father’s splendor.
- The Obedience of the Servant (Isa. 50:4–9)
Isaiah portrayed the submission of the Servant, recording Jesus’ testimony in advance: “I have not been rebellious; I have not drawn back” (Isa. 50:5). The prophet actually described the Messiah in the sharp terms of the self-emptying (kenosis) principle that the Incarnation revealed centuries later (John 5:19–36; Ps. 16:7–8; Acts 2:25). In fact, Isaiah put this declaration in Jesus’ mouth:
“The Sovereign Lord has given me an instructed tongue, to know the word that sustains the weary. He wakens me morning by morning, wakens my ear to listen like one being taught. The Sovereign Lord has opened my ears, and I have not been rebellious; I have not drawn back” (Isa. 50:4-5).
In the context of describing Messiah’s obedience, Isaiah used Jesus’ suffering to model the extent of the Lord’s faithfulness: “I offered my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who pulled out my beard; I did not hide my face from mocking and spitting” (Isa. 50:6; see Mark 14:65). Isaiah even penned the Lord’s testimony as He made His last journey to Jerusalem: “I set my face like flint, and I know I will not be put to shame” (Isa. 50:7). This phrase, “put to shame” is best interpreted by adding the word, permanent – “put to permanent shame.” Jesus did drink the bitter cup of shame to its dregs, but then walked out of His tomb on the third day, never to taste shame again. Some seven centuries after Isaiah’s prophecy, Jesus vindicated all of Isaiah’s predictions.
- The Suffering of the Servant (Isa. 52:13–53:12)
As the Father’s loyal servant, the Messiah was willing to pay the ultimate price for man’s salvation. For example, Isaiah anticipated the high cost of redemption just in the disfigurement of Messiah’s face and body, and wrote about it in the past tense, as if it had already happened. He was “marred beyond human likeness.” Jesus was also “despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering” (52:14; 53:3).
Isaiah’s prophecy was accurate. In Isaiah 53, the prophet wrote that Messiah submitted to His Father to the point of being “pierced for our transgressions” and “crushed for our iniquities” (v. 5). He carried our punishment and healed our wounds (v. 4). The Father chose to give His Son rather than give up on humankind. Hence, God made this abused and suffering servant, who served all the way to His shameful death, the ultimate guilt offering (v. 10), taking on Himself all our guilt. By His death, Jesus achieved His goal and satisfied the requirements of His Father for the justification of all who call on God for salvation (v. 11). Indeed, the opposite demands of justice and mercy met in harmonious embrace in Messiah’s outstretched arms on Golgotha’s tree (Rom. 3:26). At Calvary, both rested their cases in the heavenly courts and were satisfied (Isa. 53:11).
The Lord’s objective, to bring the love of God to the earth, was a most challenging concept to the Hebrew mindset. The Jewish people just did not grasp that their King would come to them “gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt the foal of a donkey” (Matt. 21:5; Zech. 9:9). This difficulty also shows how far Abraham’s seed had drifted from the servant heart of God, as mirrored in the Golden Rule (Matt. 7:12).
The Ultimate Portrait of the Servant
Jesus in His ministry demonstrated He would serve the needs of a Roman centurion as quickly as He would a son of Abraham (Matt. 8:5–13). The apostle Paul later perceived that in Jesus’ great mind, a centurion with a heart to believe God was a son of Abraham (Gal. 3:29).
Jesus taught His followers the best way to win people to God is to serve their deepest needs selflessly, even when they do not know what their needs are. “Whoever will be great among you,” Jesus said, “let him be your minister; and whoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant: even as the Son of Man did not come to be ministered to, but to minister, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matt. 20:26–28, kjv). In fact, a requirement for a believer to be able to say truthfully, “I belong to my lover,” is to make a free and loving choice to adopt the Servant-Messiah’s attitude and lifestyle (Song of Sol. 7:10; Phil. 2:5). Doing so is also the best possible way to work out one’s own salvation with fear and trembling (Phil. 2:12–13).
On Golgotha, implicit trust had its finest hour. The Cross, therefore, is the ultimate portrait of Jesus as the servant to His Father’s plan. Could there be a greater example of a loving, servant-like attitude? No man before or since has demonstrated loyalty on that scale. This is all-the-more-true when one comprehends Jesus could have reached for the independent display of His omnipotence and, with a word, sent His enemies into hell (Matt. 26:53; Luke 8:31–32; Rev. 20:1–3). But He did not do It; instead, He died to save Jews, Greek, Romans, and all pagans – whosoever will.