The Chosen Ruler

By Tuesday night we may have an idea who will fill the office of President of the United States for the next few years. What kind of character will this person have? I’m not telling you how to vote nor what my vote is. But Matthew 12:15–21 describes a ruler who does not fit the mold of those running for president or for other offices in the election this week.

You have a chosen ruler. Jesus is the Servant chosen by the Lord. In this country we have an election by the people. But Jesus is chosen, not by popular vote or an electoral college. Rather, he is chosen by God. Jesus is being attacked by the leaders of Israel. “Aware of this” in verse 15 refers to the plot of the Pharisees in verses 9–14. Matthew’s quote from the Old Testament is bracketed on the other side by the Pharisees accusing him of being demon possessed, verse 24. Jesus, aware of the plots, but keeping to the time ordained by his Father, leaves. He will lay down his life at the appointed time. It will not be taken from him. It certainly will not be taken from him prematurely. Yet his ministry of healing goes on. Matthew quotes from Isaiah 42 to describe the meaning of Jesus’ ministry. Jesus is the Servant. Isaiah’s title speaks of humiliation and suffering. The prophet will go on to use that title in the richest description in the Old Testament of the messianic suffering. Yet this Servant who humbles himself is chosen by the Lord, loved by him, and is the one in whom he delights. The silence which the Messiah requires of those he heals indicates his willing acceptance of the role assigned to him by his Father. “This connection between Jesus’ appearance and that of the Servant of the Lord in Isaiah is very important. For this Servant of the Lord had to atone for the guilt of many and to submit to suffering and death before being exalted.” (Herman Ridderbos, The Coming of the Kingdom,p. 164)

Though he is a humble figure, justice is what the Servant proclaims to the nations. God’s people in Old Testament times longed for the Lord to come and accomplish justice. That was their cry in Egypt. It echoed through the oppressions during the time of the judges. And it rose up again when they were led into exile. This Servant, lowly though he is, proclaims the Lord’s justice. He brings deliverance for those in bondage. That power is seen as the sick are set free from their illnesses. That liberating force is evident as Jesus casts out demons and heals a man possessed, verses 22, 23. Notice who the recipients are of this proclamation. It is the nations, the despised foreigners, who experience the liberating message. Although this may not have been as evident during Jesus’ earthly ministry, by the time Matthew wrote his Gospel (several years later) the nations were coming into the kingdom. Isaiah’s prophecy looks to the cross, and beyond it the resurrection, ascension, and Pentecost. Messianic suffering is crucial to his work, but equally important is his glorification, where he exercises his rights as King. “[T]he proclamation of the gospel of the kingdom as the gospel of the poor rests upon the covenant relationship between God and his people which has its deepest origin in the divine good pleasure. The confirmation and renewal of this covenant word and work, especially from his expiatory death.” (Herman Ridderbos, The Coming of the Kingdom,p. 207)

The Servant speaks and acts gently. Dealing with the nations, proclaiming justice: these are the activities of a forceful, strong figure. But this person works gently. His speech is mild. You know how your voice rises when you’re sure of your position, and your opponent won’t be convinced? There’s none of that here. He doesn’t quarrel. His actions are gentle. A reed was common. Whole, it could be used for making a pen, a flute, or used as a measuring rod. But a bruised reed was tossed aside and another picked. And a piece of flax used as a wick in an oil lamp, was discarded and replaced if it wasn’t right. But the Messiah deals gently with the bruised and damaged. He’s concerned for what the world considers worthless. That attitude had already been seen in his compassionate healing of the sick. It would be evident in his silently enduring the suffering of the cross. That gentleness continues to be seen as he compassionately draws sinners to himself, as he comforts and strengthens his people, battered and bruised by the world. His church, called to put on the mind of Christ, needs to have a similar compassion and concern for those who have been battered, those who have been bruised, whether by physical violence or by verbal or other abuse.

Hope in Christ’s name. He leads justice to victory. If you were selecting a CEO for a company, would you pick someone with those characteristics? Does this person sound like the commander-in-chief you want to lead your nation? But Christ’s humiliation does lead to victory Beyond the cross lies the empty tomb. The biggest problem I have with Easter is its tendency to limit our celebration of Christ’s victorious resurrection to one of the 52 Sundays a year. In Christ God’s justice comes to its fullest and richest expression. And it triumphs. You see sinners declared righteous and lives changed. The work of the powerful Holy Spirit brings about change that no political ruler can institute. Regardless of Tuesday’s outcome, God’s people can rejoice in the victory that Christ has accomplished. Those that follow him may be called to live in difficult circumstances. “After Jesus died and was raised, it became much clearer to his disciples that the kingdom he preached—the kingdom with all its benefits of forgiveness, righteousness, and eternal life—was acquired by his suffering and death; and that he has been raised and glorified by the Father precisely to the end that he would apply these benefits to his own. The application is inseparable from the acquisition. It is one work that the mediator has been mandated to accomplish; and he will not rest until he can deliver in toto the whole kingdom to the Father.” (Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, Vol. 3, p. 498)

Put your hope in his name. Beware of thinking that the kingdom of God rises or falls with whoever wins or loses a political election. As God’s people we have a responsibility to apply the principles of his Word to the choices we make in voting. But remember that the kingdom of God is far broader than one nation. That kingdom exists, and even grows, even where there is opposition. Matthew pictures the crowds placing their hope in Christ. They follow him. They bring their sick for healing. He gives hope and they trust him. And that hope springs not only in Israel, but in the nations. Jesus is the light of the world and the hope of the world. Matthew’s Gospel presents you with the Lord’s humble Servant—and invites you trust in him.

In this hurting, sin-cursed world, you need more than a friendly compassionate word. You need more than a political victory. While those are important, what you need most of all is One whose gentle compassion led him to the cross and the empty tomb for your salvation. You need the One who was endowed with the Spirit, and who has poured out his Spirit on you in order to serve him.

About jwm

I serve as pastor of Trinity Presbyterian Church, Newberg, Oregon.
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