Why were the Pharisees so “dead set” against Jesus? Basically, Jesus wasn’t playing by their rules. He broke some of their petty regulations regarding Sabbath observance. Jesus was healing people on the Sabbath, and he was drawing crowds. The Pharisees were afraid of losing their power and position to Jesus, the young and popular up-start.
What was Jesus’ response to the Pharisees? Did he try to seize power and take it away from them? No. Rather than throw his weight around, Jesus chose to act as a servant. And that is what we see in Matthew 12:15-21. . . .
Aware of this (the Pharisees’ plan to kill him), Jesus withdrew from that place. Many followed him, and he healed all their sick, warning them not to tell who he was. This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah:
“Here is my servant whom I have chosen,
the one I love, in whom I delight;
I will put my Spirit on him,
and he will proclaim justice to the nations.
He will not quarrel or cry out;
no one will hear his voice in the streets.
A bruised reed he will not break,
and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out,
till he leads justice to victory.
In his name the nations will put their hope.”
Rather than duke it out with the Pharisees, Jesus chose at this time to withdraw from the location where he was experiencing their opposition. The text doesn’t tell us where Jesus went. But often when the crowds were getting to be too much, Jesus would withdraw to a quiet place where he could talk to his heavenly Father alone. Perhaps that is what Jesus did on this occasion. Jesus knew where his power, real power, came from—not from political position or popular vote, but rather from his Father in heaven.
How do you react when life gets tough, when opposition rises, when you suddenly feel like you are in over your head? Jesus went to a place where he could remember he was in his Father’s arms.
Over the years each of our boys have learned how to swim but I remember well the times when they couldn’t. Before they learned how to swim they enjoyed going in the water, as long as I was holding them. But as I would take them into the deep end of the pool a look of panic would start to rise on their faces. It didn’t matter that I could still touch bottom. All they were looking at was all that water, and how far away they were from the edge, and they were thinking about what it would be like to be under that water, unable to get to a place of safety.
We all tend to react that way when we find ourselves in difficult situations in life. We panic. We look at the depth of the water. We focus on how far we are from the edge, rather than looking into our Father’s eyes and realizing he has everything under control.
Jesus had an amazing ability to keep his focus on the Father, even when he was in the deep end of life. But as on many other occasions so it was on this one, Jesus just couldn’t get much time alone. The crowds who loved him followed him to this remote location. And rather than rebuff them, Jesus met their needs. He healed their sick.
And Jesus did one other thing. He told the crowds not to tell who he was. In other words, the crowds were beginning to sense that Jesus was the Messiah and Jesus didn’t want that knowledge trumpeted in the streets.
Why? Why was Jesus so secretive about his identity? Reflecting back on Jesus’ ministry many years later Matthew sees an answer to this question in the writings of the prophet Isaiah. Matthew quotes from Isaiah 42. This is the seventh time in his Gospel that Matthew uses his fulfillment formula—“this took place to fulfill.” Four out of the seven times Matthew quotes from Isaiah.
Isaiah 42 is the first time that Isaiah tells the story of God’s chosen servant. The Lord says that his servant is one whom he has chosen, whom he loves, and in whom he delights.
If the Lord said that about you, how would you feel? Would those words make you feel special? Secure?
Matthew is telling us that these words apply to Jesus. Jesus is God’s chosen servant, whom he loves and in whom he delights. Jesus drew a sense of security from his relationship with Abba. Nothing was able to threaten that sense of security, at least for now, not even the Pharisees plotting to kill him. Jesus withdrew to a quiet place in order to draw deeply once again from the well of his Father’s love for him.
Is that what you do? Is that what I do, in times when our livelihood or our very lives are being threatened? I believe that’s what the Father wants us to do. For in Jesus we too are God’s chosen servants. He says about you: “I love you. I delight in you.” We need to take time apart from "the madding crowd" in order to get quiet enough, in order to be still enough to hear our heavenly Father say, “I love you. I delight in you.” And when we do that, when we crawl up into our heavenly Father’s lap—that will give us a peace that the world can never give.
That’s what Jesus found in his Father’s presence as he withdrew from the presence of the Pharisees. But there is more. In the Father’s presence Jesus found a renewed sense of vocation.
The Lord says about his servant in Isaiah 42, “I will put my Spirit upon him and he will proclaim justice to the nations.” In the Father’s presence Jesus discovered a fresh supply of the Spirit to carry out his God-given mission—to proclaim justice, or righteousness, to the nations. And Jesus didn’t just talk about justice; he didn’t merely proclaim righteousness; he lived it out. He was and is righteousness. He was and is justice. The world’s longing for justice, and whatever individual desires we have for righteousness, will one day find their fulfillment in him. Jesus’ justice, Jesus’ righteousness, isn’t the legalistic righteousness, the petty regulation-keeping of the Pharisees; it is wholeness in living that no one else has ever fully realized. But he realized it. And he can pass that wholeness, that holiness on to us, as we invite him to live out his life in and through us. As we spend time in the presence of our heavenly Father he fills us afresh with his Holy Spirit and he empowers us to fulfill the calling he has placed on each of our lives to live out his radical holiness.
A circus trapeze artist once explained the purpose of the net. He admitted that the net was there to catch him and his fellow trapeze artists if they fell. But, he said, “The net also keeps us from falling. Imagine there is no net. We would be so nervous that we would be more likely to miss and fall. If there wasn’t a net, we would not dare to do some of the things we do. But because there’s a net, we dare to make two turns, and once I made three turns—thanks to the net!”
We have security in our relationship with our heavenly Father. When we feel safe in his arms we can attempt great things for him. We can dare to be holy. We can dare to be obedient. We can dare to share his truth and his love with others. We can dare because we know his everlasting arms will catch us even if we fall.
The story of God’s chosen servant in Isaiah 42 also characterized Jesus’ life in another way. Jesus was not one to quarrel or cry out. He was not pushy but rather gentle in the way he fulfilled his vocation. He went quietly about the business of bringing healing justice, healing righteousness, to people’s lives.
Are you sometimes tempted to throw your weight around? Do you live by the motto: “The squeaky wheel gets the oil?” I know I am tempted to do just that—to quarrel, to cry out, to raise my voice until I get my way. And in the course of doing this in my life I’m sure I have bruised some reeds and snuffed out the smoldering wicks in the lives of others. But this was not Jesus’ way. Jesus was gentle—strong but gentle. And he can empower us to live out his gentle strength if we will just give him room to work within us and through us.
This kind of life of gentle love will also, one day, be rewarded. We read that God’s chosen servant will lead justice to victory. Those who seek to bring God’s healing righteousness into the lives of others will give others hope. In the name of God’s chosen servant the nations will put their hope.
But that doesn’t always seem to be the way of it, does it? As N. T. Wright has written, “The nations—and, alas, Israel as well, as becomes clear in Matthew’s story—are bent on violence and arrogance. Those who want peace and who work for it are always, in the end, shouted down by those who want more money, more land, more security, more status, and are prepared to fight and kill to get it. Those who are great and mighty in this world’s terms make sure their voices are heard in the streets. Those who shout loudest get obeyed the soonest.”
That’s the way it was in Jesus’ day. The Jews wanted deliverance from Rome and many, if not all of them, were prepared to fight to get it. As is all too clear in the news from time to time, that fighting over the land of Palestine is still going on to this day. But Palestinians and Jews aren’t the only ones fighting to get what they want these days. We all tend to approach life that way.
James says, “What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You want something but don’t get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have . . .” Why? “Because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.” (James 4:1-3)
How do we untangle ourselves from this wrong approach to life where we battle to get what we want? We untie the knot by coming to our heavenly Father through Christ and asking, “What do you want Father? How do you want me to live? What do you want me to say or do in this situation?” And then we ask the Father for the power to live out his calling—to live out his justice, his righteousness.
I had a conversation some time ago with someone who was telling me how depressed she was because of past problems in her life. This person is divorced and remarried. Her ex-husband has yet to pay what he owes her for their divorce settlement. Her other family members are constantly inviting her to get involved in the emotions of the past: “What an awful guy that ex-husband of yours is. You should fight to get what’s coming to you!”
How would you counsel someone going through those kinds of problems? I don’t know what you would say but here is what I said. I urged my friend just to pray and read Scripture before and after each conversation with her ex-husband, and with her other family members whom she often talks to over the phone.
I think the hardest job we have as Christians is simply to remain in our Father’s presence, to stay in his lap throughout the day, every day. That is the hardest thing we have to do, and yet it is the most delightful thing we have to do. Why do we have such trouble staying in the Father’s presence? Because as we go through the day, something happens here, someone says something there, that tempts us to handle life in our own power, by our own wisdom, utilizing our own resources, following our old, worldly patterns of living. Then we climb down out of our heavenly Father’s lap and we handle life our own way.
When I was in seminary I had a Scripture verse in a frame hanging above my desk. The Scripture was John 15:9 where Jesus says, “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love.” But the frame only had the last four words: “Remain in my love.”
When I was facing difficult times in seminary, when I wasn’t sure if I was in the right place, when I wasn’t confident of making it through Greek class, or when I was dealing with countless other sources and situations tempting me to feelings of insecurity, those four words reminded me of the Father’s love; those words helped me to stay in the Father’s lap.
We each need those four words emblazoned in our minds and hearts, so that when the world tempts us to leave the Father’s presence, when friends or family invite us to doubt the Father’s good provision and plan for us, we just respond by saying: “No. Thank you very much for your advice, but I’m going to stay right here in my Father’s arms, because this is where I can hear him say: ‘You are my chosen servant. I love you. I delight in you. My Spirit is upon you. I’ve got a job for you to do and I’ll help you handle whatever is coming your way today.’”
And of course there is one more reason why we have difficulty feeling secure in our Father’s presence. That is because we can’t see him. Sometimes when we are going through the deep waters of life we cry out and say, “But Father, if I could only see you, it would help me to make it through this difficult time.” The Lord doesn’t often give us visions, even in response to such desperate requests, because he knows that not seeing him will build our faith muscles.
During the Second World War, when Germany was bombing London mercilessly, a father, holding his young son’s hand, ran from a building that had been hit by a bomb. Not too far away there was a shell hole. Knowing that was the closest shelter, the father jumped into the hole, held up his arms and said, “Jump son! I’ll catch you.”
The little boy replied, terrified, “But Dad, I can’t see you!”
The father, looking up to the sky painted red by the burning buildings behind his son, called to the silhouette before him, “But I can see you, son. Jump!”
And the boy jumped because he trusted his father.
In the midst of even the greatest difficulties of life we can leap into our heavenly Father’s arms and we can know that he will catch us, not because we see him, but because he sees us, and calls out to us.
Jesus knew this. He lived out a life of faith-leaping for us, so that we also might walk in his steps by the inner empowerment of his Spirit. In him we too are God’s chosen servants, whom he loves and in whom he delights. Why not leap into your heavenly Father’s arms today?