It's all been a waste?
When Monday morning comes we often feel like that! There really was no point! All the efforts seem a waste! I'm exhausted in the work and think I've had enough!
Isaiah's Second Servant Song
Take comfort faithful servant! Messiah had such thoughts! God had fully armed Him for His work! His preaching was power-packed! His Word was penetrating!
He made my mouth like a sharp sword; in the shadow of His hand He hid me; He made me a polished arrow; in His quiver He hid me away. And he said to me "You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will be glorified - Isaiah 49:2-3.
Yet, what was the result, for being shunned and spent? As far as Jews go, His message seemed, on the surface, at first, to have minimal, if any, impact.
We can almost sense His shock as His sinless, tender, heart is broken by lack of response! Few, if any believed. They just demand more signs. And when he heads to Zion, crowds start to take cold feet. This may be Jesus' autobiographical summary of His three-year Galilean ministry:
But I said "I have labored in vain; I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity" - Isaiah 49:4
Three words are brought together to that sum up feelings of saints gripped by biblical emptiness - an unformed, disordered mass like earth before daylight; the vanity of vanities that gripped the heart of the author of Ecclesiastes; as void and frustrating as blighted farmers crops in the book of Leviticus.
Can you picture Jesus looking down on the lake one last time, sitting on the hilltop, with his prayerful head in his hands? Momentarily, and sinlessly, Messiah shudders internally at this disconsolate thought - all His exhausting work, that left Him totally spent, has been a total waste, as judged by outward results.
"But wait a minute", says the Servant, "I know that can't be true." That isn't the full story, for beyond the immediate present, and Israel's caustic response, is a satisfying outcome and full reward from God. The final outcome will prove the shrewdness of wholehearted personal investment. The end-game is the key that makes it all now seem worthwhile: He'll save a Jewish remnant to shine Salvation round the world!
Is it too light a thing that you should be my Servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to bring back the preserved of Israel (a remnant preserved by grace); I will make you a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth - Isaiah 49:6.
As John Mackay so wonderfully points out:
"He will not only announce the message of salvation; he will BE MY SALVATION ...He not only provides light; He is the light ...In this the Servant's role is more than prophetic; He is both messenger and message!" 249.
A handful of fellow-countrymen is no slight thing for Christ, and as if that was not enough, God promises even more - Kings and Princes bow in homage to the Savior of Yahweh's choice. Formed by the Potter and appointed to this specific task - predestined from Mary's womb for the Salvation in God's world? Right at the end of history, Messiah has been chosen to ripen God's plan for creation by bringing redemption to fruition. Listen, child of God, to the speech of Immanuel:
Listen to me, O coastlands, and give attention, you peoples from afar: the LORD called me from the womb, from the body of my mother he names my name ...You shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins - Isaiah 49:1 & Matthew 1:21.
Downhearted certainly, but not overwhelmed by despair - far from it in fact! If that was true for Christ how instructive it is for us:
- Note how Messiah himself felt about his initial lack of success: he was not immune from feeling discouraged by the rejection of His message. It was a spiritual, sinless, response of His holy, sensitive, soul that created His sense of deep distress at his fellow countrymen's unbelief. Is that is how you feel about your church or class? Do you feel discouraged and faint at blank looks of colleagues and friends for whom you've prayed and to whom you've witnessed for years? Remember Jesus Christ has an overflowing fountain of sympathy and strength for all such troubled saints. It's a mark of faithful servants to share to some small degree in Christ's ministerial heartache. A stranger to such pangs has more to worry about than those who are temporarily despondent or deflated at the lack of Gospel results!
- Note also the confidence of Messiah who was enabled to entrust all spiritual reward, remuneration and recompense to God - he knew that in the end, none of the labor, from an eternal standpoint, would be in vain, wasted, or fruitless. Vanity of vanities is never true of church work or any Gospel or mission endeavor. Praying, preaching, teaching, lecturing, open-air meetings, manning bookstalls, giving out tracts, popping leaflets through doors, uploading sermons to websites and running children's club - and all such means of sharing Christ - will never, ever, be a waste, no matter how much it seems or we think it is. Take heart faithful Christians, be encouraged in your work, expect to see fruit when poured out and totally spent!
- Note the Word of encouragement Messiah receives from God - this word glorify is related to headdress, an object of beauty, an ornament of honor, a symbol of splendor, by which the LORD obtains glory for Himself - it is in the very mission, frustration and suffering of the Servant, deeply despised and abhorred, that Yahweh gets the glory - for Christ that is enough. It should also satisfy us that the LORD get final praise - let all discouraged servants content themselves with that.
- Note that Messiah, as your Prophet, Priest and King, has endured and experienced such dark, despondent, thoughts you entertain with much greater heartbreaking, soul-burdening intensity and pain. His heart was pierced repeatedly by the contradiction of countrymen. He is fitted in every way to know just how you think, and is moved with pity to supply needed grace and strength. Your merciful High Priest will keep on track all faithful servants who remember to get help.
John L. Mackay reminds us that the practical upshot of this passage is firm resolution to remain steady in the work - a holy, spiritual, Christ-given, prayed down determination, which keeps us at the work, fixes the face like flint, and helps repair the heart. Jesus knows our thoughts, has power to expel fear and, by virtue of His death, and the Spirit He commands, has grace to fortify saints.
"The resolve of faith does not focus on how we see ourselves, or what other say of us. It views life and its setbacks in the light of the overarching purpose of God and how He will evaluate our faithfulness to His instructions."