The Servant Who Reigns
Ours is a world that seems to rot and decay with evil more and more every day.
In spite of our best and hardest efforts, power-crazed dictators like Kim Jong Un still sit upon their political thrones, children are still sold into slavery by the likes of Boko Haram, and the Brock Turners of the world get by with little more than a slap on the wrist.
And even for the evils that we can do something about and the evils that we do punish, ten more seem to crop up in reply - and that’s nothing to say of the personal pain and despair that we each of us hold in our own hearts, of the cruel words spoken to us by people we love, of the haunting memories of our traumatic pasts. Injustice often seems to sweep through the landscape totally unchallenged.
What are we to do?
Whether they are emotional wounds hidden in shadow or whether they are atrocities committed continents away, if we are left to such burdens and sorrows long enough, we will eventually stagger and break beneath their weight. If we have no shelter from the devastating winds of injustice, the faint hope that lights our steps will flicker and wane like a dying candle, threatening to leave us in utter darkness.
In the face of such overwhelming realities, our need for a good and just ruler becomes more apparent than ever. We long for a leader who can relieve us of these heavy loads, who can shelter us with a shield of peace, and who sits on a throne established in true justice. The tragedy is that we can find no such king or queen among us. No politician, no spouse, no pastor fully lives into our expectations or yearnings for such a ruler.
But there is One who has come to us from a far kingdom, One who has promised that he can fulfill our longings for such a sovereign - but he comes to us in a completely unexpected form.
The Servant, Chosen and Beloved
God spoke through the prophet Isaiah about this man.
“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.
He will not cry aloud or lift up his voice,
or make it heard in the street;
a bruised reed he will not break,
and a faintly burning wick he will not quench;
he will faithfully bring forth justice” (Isaiah 42:1–3).
One of the most shocking things about this passage is the dissonance between what this man will do (bring forth justice to the nations) and the title by which he is called. When we think of someone who is capable of ushering in justice on a global scale, I’m sure that most of us imagine a regal king or queen of some sort, clothed in purple robes and lounging on a golden throne, issuing edicts as they see fit, establishing justice by brute force, creating “peace” in the likeness of the Pax Romana.
But that is not the image we see here.
God’s chosen title for this unbelievable figure who will bring forth justice to the nations is not king or prince or president; it is servant. “Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights.” But how is it that this servant, a person with such a lowly and despised position, can bring forth justice to the nations?
We are shown exactly how this can be: this chosen servant walks in the very Spirit of God. “I have put my Spirit upon him,” God tells us.
And because this justice-bringing agent comes to us as a humble, Spirit-empowered servant, he does not act heartlessly nor indifferent toward those of us who feel bruised by the world’s sorrows. He does not look at those who are suffering as roadblocks on his path toward completing his next task. He himself knows what it is like to feel the deep pangs of grief, to be struck and afflicted (Isaiah 53) - and so when we feel like fragile reeds ready to snap in half, or waning candles just waiting to be snuffed out, “a bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench.”
This, indeed, sounds like just the sort of man our aching bones have longed for.
The Very Power of God
So who exactly is this wonderful servant with kingly powers? It is none other, of course, than Jesus of Nazareth - the man who did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself by taking the form of a servant and dying a slave’s death (Philippians 2:5-8).
This unexpected combination of power (the execution of global justice) and position (servant) is striking. The world did not, and still does not, expect this. In fact, the message of a suffering servant who died to save his people is utter foolishness to the perishing world; but to those who feel like their spines are ready to crack under the weight of their anxieties and burdens, to those who look at the world and feel like the light of hope is mere moments away from being burnt out forever, to those who weep and do not know why, the message of this suffering servant who has tasted our sorrow is the very power of God for salvation (1 Corinthians 1:18, Hebrews 4:15, Matthew 11:28-30).
And make no mistake: though his complete and perfect reign of global justice has not yet encompassed the world, the greatest servant who ever lived is reigning at this very moment with the name that is exalted above every name, subjecting his enemies and putting them under his feet (Philippians 2:9-11, 1 Corinthians 15:25). And one day, he will destroy the great destroyer itself, the last monstrous enemy of us all: death (1 Corinthians 15:26)
And when death at long last dies, when all evil is crushed and all darkness is smothered, then all things will be recreated, and creation will be landscaped in justice and flooded with peace (Revelations 21:1-7); and all because Jesus Christ came thousands of years ago, not as the iron-fisted king we were looking for, but as a servant who gave his life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45).