AS THE SPIRIT-EMPOWERED SERVANT OF THE LORD, THE CHOSEN MESSIAH WILL BRING JUSTICE TO THE GENTILES WITH COMPASSION AND POWER
Grant Osborne: Thus far we have seen Jesus in the power and boldness of his miraculous ministry and prophetic preaching. Now we see the other side of Jesus, stated first in 11:28–30. He is the meek and humble Messiah who is here to serve God and humankind. This is exemplified especially in the cross, when he becomes the atoning sacrifice for Jew and Gentile alike.
D. A. Carson: But even within this chapter, the twin themes of Spirit and Gentiles are programmatic (Cope, Matthew, 32ff.; Hill, “Son and Servant,” 10–11). God has poured out his Spirit on his Servant; so the exorcisms he performs by the Spirit constitute proof of the kingdom’s inauguration (v.28). Therefore, blasphemy against that Spirit cannot be forgiven.
Scott Harris: As we examine this text this morning, we are going to find in Jesus the example we need to follow. Success for the Christian does not come through attaining positions of worldly power, though God often does put Christians in those positions, for success for the Christian is not in having power, but in being a faithful servant of the omnipotent God. Jesus never attained any position of worldly power. He never sought such a position; instead He was God’s gentle servant. He was merciful, meek, chosen of God; quiet, sympathetic and unlimited in whom He would minister to as God’s representative.
Stanley Saunders: Because he is aware of the Pharisees’ murderous intent, Jesus withdraws but heals all who follow him. “Withdrawal” in Matthew is nearly always followed by healing (4:12, 23–25; 14:13–14; 15:21–31). Jesus’ flight and subsequent admonition to his followers not to make him known (12:15–16) do not signal fear. His calling is to bring healing, not to become captive to the conflicts the healing generates. Matthew uses the withdrawal and call to silence to make a christological assertion, by means of a fulfillment citation based on Isaiah 42:1–4, the opening portion of the first of Isaiah’s “Servant Songs” (Isa. 42:1–9; 49:1–7; 50:4–11; 52:13–53:12). Isaiah 40–55 concerns God’s promise to return the exiles from Babylon. God has chosen a servant, either an individual or Israel itself, to bear witness, to be a light to the nations. In contrast to the force and violence of the powers that have enslaved Israel, this witness demonstrates God’s power through care and healing for the people. The analogy between Jesus’ ministry and God’s servant is clear, not only here in Matthew 11–12, but throughout the Gospel. The citation recalls language from Jesus’ baptism (12:18; cf. 3:16–17): Jesus is God’s chosen one, upon whom God pours the Spirit. He will announce justice, or judgment, to the nations (perhaps anticipating 28:18–20). The remaining clauses of the citation emphasize the gentle, merciful character of the servant’s work: he does not quarrel or shout, and preserves both the damaged and worthless reed and the light of a flickering lamp until God’s justice is victorious (12:19–20).
Michael Wilkins: Matthew identifies Jesus with the messianic Servant of Isaiah 42:1–4. The identity of the Servant in Isaiah is perplexing, because it vacillates between the nation Israel as the Servant and an individual who leads the nation. Jesus emerges as the Servant Messiah who has a ministry and mission both to Israel and the nations and who is the gentle Spirit-endowed Servant with a mission of justice to the nations.
(:15-16) PROLOGUE – WITHDRAWAL OF JESUS
A. (:15) Continuing His Ministry of Healing
“But Jesus, aware of this, withdrew from there. And many followed Him,
and He healed them all,”
Daniel Doriani: Jesus had to reckon with leaders, the Pharisees, who had the disease [of legalism] and had no interest in recovery. Jesus was not afraid to die, but he had to die at the right time. Therefore he withdrew from the hostile Pharisees to avoid provocation, for it was not yet the time for him to die.
Grant Osborne: Every time Jesus goes somewhere, the people enthusiastically follow (esp. 4:25; 8:1 with similar language). There is no hint of discipleship in “followed” (unless one sees here potential disciples).
Donald Hagner: Further healings by Jesus, apparently large in number, are now reported briefly in a summarizing fashion together with a paradoxical warning concerning the spreading of the news of his presence. The “messianic secret” motif is then supported by a long quotation—Matthew’s longest—from Isa 42 that indicates how far this Messiah is from the popular expectation. In the present context of hostility and rejection, this passage takes on special significance. The unexpected side of the messianic deliverer as servant is but the fulfillment of the OT promise.
Robert Gundry: As in 4:25; 8:1, the “many crowds” that “followed” Jesus stand for his professing disciples. Here they follow him in his exemplary withdrawal from mortal danger. That he “healed them all” displays his mercy, also exemplary, especially against the backdrop of the Pharisees’ lack of mercy.
B. (:16) Continuing to Guard against Revolutionary Populism
“and warned them not to make Him known,
in order that what was spoken through Isaiah the prophet,
might be fulfilled, saying,” [Is. 42:1-4]
Charles Swindoll: He also continued to downplay his identity as the Messiah (12:16). Why would He do that? Think about it. There were a lot more followers of Jesus than credentialed scribes and committed Pharisees. Aware that many in the crowd had in their minds a false image of a battle-ready Messiah, Jesus knew that too much talk of his legitimate kingship in the wrong way or at the wrong time could have incited the crowd to band together against the establishment and revolt.
R. T. France: Jesus has withdrawn in the face of hostility and is anxious to prevent people forcing the issue of his Messiahship by inappropriate publicity. Controversies will continue in vv. 22–45, and the atmosphere will become even more highly charged, but by inserting this quotation here Matthew helps his readers to put the confrontation in context: it is not of the Messiah’s choosing. . . Jesus’ withdrawal reflects the instruction he has already given to his disciples to move on when they meet a hostile reception (10:14, 23).
Grant Osborne: The fulfillment formula is unique to Matthew and found ten times (1:22–23; 2:15, 17–18, 23; 4:14–16; 8:17; 12:17–21; 13:35; 21:4–5; 27:9–10) to indicate Jesus’ fulfillment of OT messianic expectations. The emphasis is on God’s sovereign control of salvation history in such a way that Jesus is the culmination of his plan.
Craig Blomberg: As part of the first of the suffering servant songs which culminate with chaps. 52-53, Isa 42:1-4 points to what Matthew will have Jesus make increasingly clear: his cross must precede his crown. He comes first to suffer before returning in splendor. His disciples must often follow a similar path (16:24). Still, Christians are not called to quietism and inaction in the face of injustice but to patience, prayer, and a prophetic voice that denounces evil. But they await ultimate vindication from God, to whom alone belongs vengeance and the ability fully to right the wrongs of this world (cf. Jas 5:1-11).
John Nolland: In some important sense Matthew sees the quotation as offering a cameo of the ministry of Jesus and thinks that now, just over a third of the way through his story, is a suitable time to make use of it.
Donald Hagner: Again we are made aware of the paradoxical character of Jesus’ messiahship. Matthew has deliberately portrayed Jesus as powerful in both word and deed. And yet this is not the essence of Jesus’ ministry, which is to be found not in power but in servanthood expressed through humility, meekness, and gentleness. Matthew identifies Jesus and the nature of his ministry directly with the servant described in the first of Isaiah’s songs. The story of Jesus narrated in Matthew agrees exactly with Isaiah’s portrayal of the servant. And thus the unusual, apparently unassertive Messiah, who fails to bring judgment to the enemies of God’s people and justice to the earth and who accordingly was unacceptable to his contemporaries, is shown to have been prophesied by the prophet. The one who was uniquely related to God as his chosen and beloved, upon whom the Spirit uniquely rested, came also as a servant who was ultimately to die, in agreement with Isaiah’s last Servant Song (52:13 — 53:12). This strange sequence of events and this paradoxical Messiah are central to the gospel as Matthew relates it.
5 CHARACTERISTICS OF THE SERVANT OF THE LORD
I. (:18a) DIVINE APPROVAL OF THE SERVANT
“Behold, My Servant whom I have chosen;
My Beloved in whom My soul is well-pleased;”
Matthew McCraw: Whereas Israel failed to live as a faithful servant of God, Jesus the Messiah would succeed as God’s faithful servant.
Jesus the Messiah was God’s beloved servant, who was chosen by God for this purpose, who was beloved by God, in whom God delighted, and on whom God’s Holy Spirit would rest.
This moment, this man, this mission was prophesied long ago and Jesus is living it out in Matthew 12.
By the way, you can notice all three members of the Trinity present in this prophecy. The Father is speaking about the Son, on whom the Holy Spirit will rest.
II. (:18b) DIVINE EMPOWERMENT OF THE SERVANT TO PROCLAIM WORLDWIDE JUSTICE
“I will put My Spirit upon Him,
And He shall proclaim justice to the Gentiles.”
III. (:19) MEEKNESS OF THE SERVANT DESPITE MALICIOUS OPPOSITION
“He will not quarrel, nor cry out;
Nor will anyone hear His voice in the streets.”
Grant Osborne: The Isaianic Servant will not “open his mouth” (Isa 53:7). Jesus’ reaction to the loud, insistent opposition of the Pharisees will not be to retaliate verbally. As the humble messianic Servant, Jesus refuses to “retaliate” or “make threats” but rather “entrusts himself to him who judges justly” (1 Pet 2:23). This hardly means Jesus will not speak at all. He will “proclaim justice,” but he will not respond to his opponents. The public proclamation will be positive, not negative, related to the good news rather than defending himself against the leaders (the “hypocrites” who in Matt 6:5 pray loudly “on the street corners [to] be seen by others”).
John Nolland: It is this verse that justifies Matthew’s location of the quotation. Jesus’ handling of the hostility of the Pharisees illustrates the fact that he is not strident or disputatious; his approach is not aggressive or self-assertive. ἐρίζειν means to quarrel or wrangle. κραυγάζειν means simply ‘to call out’, but in the context here it must have overtones of verbal violence. Matthew clearly does not intend to insist that Jesus never disagreed with others or disputed their opinions. Attitude and approach are in view.
Walter Wilson: The Son of David and lord of the Sabbath, then, is also a gentle and humble servant, one who cares for those bearing heavy burdens through his ministries of teaching and justice. Insofar as it draws attention to the servant’s demeanor in facing verbal confrontations, the description in 12:19 accords with the narrative context provided in 12:1–14 in another way as well.
IV. (:20) COMPASSION AND POWER OF THE SERVANT IN ACCOMPLISHING JUSTICE
“A battered reed He will not break off,
And a smoldering wick He will not put out,
Until He leads justice to victory.”
Grant Osborne: There is general agreement that the two are metaphors for the weak and helpless, the “harassed and helpless” of 9:36, the “weary and burdened” of 11:28. Reeds were proverbially noted for their frailty, and the flame of the wick was weak and about to go out. The gentle Servant would handle them delicately and make certain they were not lost or destroyed. He would not increase their burden but would instead give them rest.
John Nolland: What are these images to be applied to? In the context of Deutero-Isaiah the application would seem to be to the exiles as displaced and devalued people. In Matthew the shortest bridge is to the tax collectors and sinners, valued by Jesus but marginalised in their own community (9:10-13). After 12:1-8, the poor in their neediness may also be in view (and perhaps even the sick in their suffering after vv. 9-14).
V. (:21) ULTIMATE DOMINION OF THE SERVANT AS A BEACON FOR HOPE
“And in His name the Gentiles will hope.”
Matthew McCraw: The Jewish people were not only wrong about what type of Messiah Jesus would be, they were also wrong about the scope of His Messiahship, and praise God that they were wrong!
Jesus not only brought hope for the people of Israel; He brought hope for the nations!
John Nolland: That the God of Israel might be the hope of nations (beyond the Jewish) went far beyond normal Jewish thought. The claim is being made that the action of God now initiated through the Isaianic servant has goals as wide as humanity. The universal mission to invite people to participate in this hope is anticipated in 24:14 and established in 28:19-20 (the ‘name’ language used in 12:21 to express allegiance to Jesus recurs in 28:19). The language of hope is suggestive of a process underway, which fits well with the way the kingdom of God is conceived in Matthew.
Charles Swindoll: Matthew’s quotation also explains Jesus’ ministry methods. Instead of engaging His adversaries with swords, He engaged them with words. And His words were well chosen, terse, and few. This, too, was in keeping with the messianic prophecy of Isaiah. The mission of the chosen Servant was to be
- well-pleasing to God (12:18)
- accomplished through proclamation (12:18)
- free from quarreling or crying out (12:19)
- without ruckus or riot (12:19)
- considerate of the weak and vulnerable (12:20)
- focused on the goal of justice (12:20)
Daniel Doriani: The Messiah’s ministry will have four traits:
- He will proclaim and bring justice to the earth (12:18, 20).
- He will be quiet and humble, not a loud demagogue (12:19).
- He will be gentle to the weak and the bruised (12:20).
- The nations will hope to be saved through him (12:21).
a He is beloved of God (12:18a).
b He proclaims justice (12:18b).
c He has a gentle voice (12:19).
c’ He is gentle to the weak (12:20a).
b’ He leads justice to victory (12:20b).
a’ He is the hope of the nations (12:21).
The Bible teaches us to take each calamity as a call to get right with God. In the vision of Revelation 8–9, trumpets announce a series of disasters—lightning, fire, volcanic eruption, and a poisoning of ocean waters. The point of these, Revelation says, is to call people to repent. In true repentance, we turn away from sin, but we also turn to something, or someone, that is, Christ. It sounds overconfident to some Americans, but the Bible is clear. Christ is the hope of the nations. No one fully understands why disasters strike nations and individuals. No one can infallibly, exhaustively interpret history. But the Bible gives us glimpses into history’s meaning and here is one. Every disaster shows that humans are bruised reeds, smoldering wicks. Jesus is willing to strengthen and to heal every broken one who comes to him.