First century Jews were eagerly waiting for the promised Messiah to come and establish a Hebrew kingdom that would free them from Roman occupation. As we have been journeying through the Gospel of Luke here at Graceway, we have observed an ever increasing and accelerating conflict between Jesus and the traditional Jewish leaders. Jesus is going contrary to just about everything they had envisioned.
- They expected the Messiah to emerge from the Temple in Jerusalem – he began his ministry in Galilee of the Gentiles where he and his disciples were raised.
- One would expect the Messiah to surround himself with the great leaders of the day – he chose a group of twenty-somethings to be his official representatives (apostles), and none of them had any formal theological training. None were from the “right” families or social circles.
- Many imagined the Messiah would spew forth thunderous pronouncements of Jewish nationalism and rally his people in the effort to throw off Roman oppression – it never happened.
- Those who clung to the scriptures and ancient tradition of their fathers expected him to issue a call to return to the glory of days gone by – instead of offering an update to the Torah, or an add-on, he pronounced it fulfilled in his very person and his teaching was a radical reversal of conventional thinking – a brave new worldview.
Reading in Matthew the other day it strikes me that in his Palestinian ministry Jesus exhibits what I would call “soft strength.” Make no mistake, Jesus is strong! He is the Creator, the living Word, God Almighty. But when he appears, his strength in this first coming is strangely bridled. The passage that captures my imagination is in Matthew 12 just following Jesus’ healing of the man with the withered hand. That he would do such a thing on the Sabbath incenses the Pharisees to the degree that they begin plotting to destroy him. How does Jesus respond?
But when Jesus knew it, he withdrew himself from thence: and great multitudes followed him, and he healed them all; And charged them that they should not make him known: That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Esaias the prophet, saying, Behold my servant, whom I have chosen; my beloved, in whom my soul is well pleased: I will put my spirit upon him, and he shall shew judgment to the Gentiles. He shall not strive, nor cry; neither shall any man hear his voice in the streets. A bruised reed shall he not break, and smoking flax shall he not quench, till he send forth judgment unto victory. And in his name shall the Gentiles trust. (Matthew 12:15-21)
Have you ever wandered by a stream and seen reeds of grass broken by the intrusion of your steps or those of others? What difference would it make to snap one off? It’s already broken or bruised. Have you ever felt that YOU were the bruised or broken reed and feared that it sure wouldn’t take much for someone to simply snap you off?
Have you ever been sitting by a warm and lovely candle when the wick begins to sputter and die, sending a plume of dark smoke toward the ceiling? Might as well snuff it out, right? Or, maybe it’s YOU at the point of burnout, smoking and just waiting to be snuffed out.
On this occasion, Jesus chooses to quote from the Isaiah scroll (42) that no one fully ever understood until this moment. Yes, the Messiah will bring judgment to the Gentiles (nations or peoples). But certainly he will not do this in the way that the leaders of Jesus’ generation are expecting. Not only will he bring judgement to the Gentiles, the Gentiles will also trust in his name. Instead of breaking off the broken reeds, he will heal them. Instead of snuffing out the sputtering wicks, he will revive them and bring them to life. Soft strength.
So, if you are bruised and broken, if you are sputtering and approaching burn out, hold on! Jesus is passing by. I don’t know how he will heal us or revive us, but I would suspect it won’t be exactly like we might imagine. But, it will be complete and it will be real. Soft strength. We might even want to learn how to emulate our Savior and show his soft strength to others.