In Isaiah 49 we hear the Lord Jesus, as Jehovah’s perfect Servant, speaking about His service, and we are privileged to hear, in verse 3, a communication within the Godhead. The Lord spoke to His Servant, commending Him to that service: “And said unto me, thou art my servant, O Israel, in whom I will be glorified.”
Verse 3: The Servant’s Commendation
It might seem that the Lord was speaking to the nation of Israel, rather than to the Lord Jesus, when He said “Thou art my servant, O Israel …”. But Israel’s Messiah was so identified with the nation that God saw Him as the true Israelite, a Prince with God, while He moved on earth as the perfect Servant. Israel the nation was the servant of Jehovah who failed so miserably, but everything that God looked for in Israel, and failed to find, He found in fulness in the Lord Jesus. These ‘servant songs’ in Isaiah direct our thoughts to the Servant of Jehovah who did not fail, but who pleased and glorified His God. The Lord Jesus was uniquely worthy of Jehovah’s commendation: “Thou art my servant, O Israel, in whom I will be glorified.”
This commendation was also the perfect Servant’s constant motivation; namely, to glorify the One who had called Him to serve. We see the evidence of that in His life, especially in John’s Gospel: “he that seeketh his glory that sent him, the same is true, and no unrighteousness is in him” (Jn 7.18); “I seek not mine own glory” (8.50); “Father, glorify thy name” (12.28); “Now is the Son of man glorified, and God is glorified in him” (13.31); “I have glorified thee on the earth: I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do” (17.4). He was the Servant Son who glorified His Father, and every believer in the Lord Jesus Christ is thankful for this truth, because it brings assurance that God has found eternal and infinite satisfaction in His Son, and on that basis our eternal salvation in Christ is secure.
In the degree to which the Lord Jesus glorified the Father, He must always have the pre-eminent place. But we today, as believers in the Lord Jesus, should also be motivated in all that we do and say by the opportunity to bring glory to God: “Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples” (Jn 15.8). The Father in Heaven looked down upon the Lord Jesus on earth, and He was glorified in His Son. The Lord is now at the Father’s side yet, remarkably, the Father can still look down upon earth and, by seeing His Son reproduced in us, He is glorified. This is not through any expression of great gift, or engagement in powerful preaching on our part, but by “much fruit” being produced in our lives. When the character of Christ is reproduced in believers here on earth, the Father is glorified in us. This is an honour that no angel has ever had, and yet every child of God possesses it now. In eternity, all will glorify the Father but, here and now, by the Spirit, we can reproduce something of the moral features of Christ for the Father’s pleasure, since such fruit-bearing brings immeasurable glory and joy to the Father.
So, in a world in which unbelievers dishonour His Name, we have the wonderful opportunity to do as Christ Himself did: to live our lives in service for God, and for His glory. Paul taught the Corinthians “ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body” (1 Cor 6.20) and, in all that we do, our motivation should be that God will be glorified. Later, he made a general, and widely applicable, statement: “whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God” (10.31). So, when we consider the activities in which we engage, the way in which we spend our time, and the places to which we go, rather than asking if it is permissible for a Christian to do such things, it is better to ask if such activities are going to be for the glory of God the Father. This is a far higher, and clearer, standard to guide us in our desire to walk worthy of our calling.
Verse 4: The Servant’s Determination
Sometimes the service of God is very difficult, and can leave us with a feeling of apparent failure. But we notice the determination of the perfect Servant of Jehovah: “Then I said, I have laboured in vain, I have spent my strength for nought, and in vain: yet surely my judgment is with the Lord, and my work with my God.” The Lord Jesus was the Servant who truly “laboured” to the point of weary exhaustion and, from the human perspective, spent all His strength. The Gospels record how, in His diligent service, He was “wearied with his journey” (Jn 4.6), and how “he fell asleep” in the hinder part of the boat (Lk 8.23). He truly laboured to the point of physical exhaustion in His service, and spent all His strength. We see that same Christ-like determination in the apostle Paul: “And I will very gladly spend and be spent for you” (2 Cor 12.15). We, too, are to serve with such willingness to spend all, so that there is nothing left to spend; for the Lord, for God’s assembly, and for the saints of God.
But, in this verse, there is also a thought of sadness: “I have laboured in vain, I have spent my strength for nought, and in vain”. We understand that the Lord knew all things, and that He knew He would be rejected and put to death. Nothing overtook Him unexpectedly, or by way of surprise, to leave Him disappointed. Nevertheless, He felt the heartache of being rejected by His own people, and even His own earthly family. There was the sadness of Nazareth, the place of His upbringing, where men sought to cast Him over the brow of the hill, and of His own city, Capernaum, not repenting after witnessing so many of His mighty works. There was also the heartache of rejection by Jerusalem: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem … how often would I have gathered thy children together, as a hen doth gather her brood under her wings, and ye would not!” (Lk 13.34). These words of pathos truly convey the feelings of the rejected Servant.
No doubt, many of God’s servants through the centuries have felt that they have “laboured in vain” and spent their all “for nought”. Week after week of regular assembly meetings, much energy expended on special series of meetings, many hours of visitation, and at times all seems to be in vain. Our blessed Lord, the perfect Servant, knows that situation exactly, for He too felt the rejection. However, although He cared about those who rejected Him, and He lamented the multitudes that turned away, He never despaired. He states His determination to continue steadfastly, despite the apparent lack of response: “Yet surely my judgment is with the Lord, and my work with my God.” A great comfort for every servant of God is the knowledge of His sovereignty: it is His work, and the results are not dependent on us. We leave the judgment and assessment of our work, and the outcome of it all, entirely with Him.
That is precisely what the perfect Servant did. The Lord lamented the failure of the cities of Chorazin, Bethsaida and Capernaum to repent at His mighty works, but “at that time Jesus answered and said, I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes. Even so, Father: for so it seemed good in thy sight” (Mt 11.25-26). He was thus able to commit it all to the sovereign God, for Him to do whatever seemed good in His sight. Again, we read of Him: “Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously” (1 Pet 2.23). He was always able to say “My judgment is with the Lord, and my work with my God.”
In 1 Corinthians 3.6, Paul recorded “I have planted, Apollos watered”: the responsibility of the servants is to work and serve. However, “God gave the increase”: the sovereign purpose of God determines the outcome. The responsibility of the servant, and the sovereign working of God, are in perfect balance, and thus we continue steadfastly, tirelessly and with determination, content to leave the outcome of our service with Him.
(To be continued …)