The Deacon and His Deacons

Sermon by David Strain on Nov 10

Isaiah 42

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As we prepare for the ordination and installation of our brothers to the office of deacon in Christ’s Church tonight, I thought it might be helpful for us to reflect for a little while on the One whose diaconal life and ministry stands as both the foundation and the template for the service of deacons and indeed for the diaconal ministry of the church as a whole. So let me invite you please to take a copy of the Scriptures in hand and to turn in them with me to the prophecy of Isaiah chapter 42; Isaiah 42 on page 602 in the church Bibles. 

This is the first of the four so-called “Servant songs” of Isaiah that predict so clearly for us the person and the work of the Lord Jesus. It begins, you will notice, in verse 1 with familiar words - “Behold my servant.” So God the Father is proclaiming to us the characteristic mark of the ministry of Messiah. He will be His servant. Interestingly, the apostle Paul in Romans 15:8, likely reflecting the language of this text, Isaiah 42:1 where God’s servant brings forth justice to the nations, Paul calls Jesus a “diaconos.” He is God’s deacon; His servant, He says, to the nations. Christ is the Deacon of whom our deacons are always to put us in mind. 

And as we consider that, it’s important I think that we really take the summons expressed in the very first word of our passage this evening seriously. God the Father, notice, calls us to “Behold my servant.” Is there anything more important for any of us to do than this, than to behold God’s servant, the Lord Jesus Christ. There is a summons to contemplate Christ, to “fix our eyes upon Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith.” Think about, you know, those posters we sometimes see - they look at first like a random pattern of dots and blots and squiggles. But then as you stare and stare at it, eventually an image begins to emerge. Sometimes, let’s be honest, the message about Jesus can get a little lost. Can’t it? It is familiar, after all; commonplace at least to us. But here in our text, God Himself calls us to take a longer, harder look; to really stare, as it were, into the mystery of His person and work in this passage and to begin to see as we behold His servant in the Scriptures, details, glories, that perhaps we often overlook, emerging more and more clearly into view. That is our task for this evening. 

If you look at the passage, you’ll notice it has two major sections - verses 1 through 4 and then 5 through 9. The second half, verses 5 through 9, really go back over the same ground as verses 1 through 4, adds some color and detail, but the second half essentially recapitulates the message of the first with this important difference - in verses 1 through 4, God the Father is speaking to us about His servant. Do you see that? Whereas in 5 through 9, He is speaking to His servant about His person and His work. In 1 through 4, the Father is preaching to us about Jesus. “Behold my servant,” He says to us. And that’s wonderful enough. But then in 5 through 9, the addressee changes. Now it’s as though we’re eavesdropping, listening in on this secret counsel of the blessed Trinity as the Father commissions the Son for His saving work. And that’s a thrilling idea to contemplate. 

And I wish we had the time this passage really deserves to dwell on those details, but we simply don’t. All we can really do is pick out a few of the prominent details and meditate on them. Let me mention three for your consideration this evening. First, I want you to see that the Father delights in His servant. The Father delights in His servant. Secondly, the Father ordains His servant. The Father ordains His servant. And thirdly, the Father empowers His servant. The Father empowers His servant. The Father delights in, ordains, and empowers His servant. Now before we consider those themes, let’s pause and pray together.

Holy Spirit, we pray now that You would come upon this gathering of Your people. You have given to us life in union with Christ, having been sent to us from our Father. And we remember how Jesus taught us, promised us, that the Father will give the Holy Spirit to those who ask. And so now we pray for Your presence and ministry anew in our midst. Open our eyes to behold marvelous things out of Your law, for we ask it in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.

Isaiah 42 at the first verse. This is the Word of God:

“Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my Spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations. He will not cry aloud or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street; a bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice. He will not grow faint or be discouraged till he has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands wait for his law. Thus says God, the Lord, who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out the earth and what comes from it, who gives breath to the people on it and spirit to those who walk in it:  ‘I am the Lord; I have called you in righteousness; I will take you by the hand and keep you; I will give you as a covenant for the people, a light for the nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness. I am the Lord; that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to carved idols. Behold, the former things have come to pass, and new things I now declare; before they spring forth I tell you of them.”

Amen, and we praise God for His holy Word.

The Father Delights in His Servant

Well first of all, we said that the Father delights in the servant. The Father delights in the servant. Verse 1, “Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights.” It’s almost as though God the Father were boasting to us about His servant here. Isn’t it? We certainly see that in earthly fathers often enough. You see it on Facebook constantly. We’re always going on about our little darling’s achievements and their successes and how cute they are and how funny. And while that may be tiresome for the rest of us, we keep at it, because we’re proud of them! Right? We delight in them. We can’t help trumpeting their triumphs to the world. Now listen, whatever delight earthly fathers have in their sons, that is but a dim shadow of the way God the Father delights in His servant, His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. God the Father loves His Son. That’s why, you remember, when Jesus was baptized by John in the Jordan River and the Father spoke about His love for His Son, He did so echoing the language of the Greek version of our text here this morning. “This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” “Behold my servant, in whom my soul delights.” The Father delights in His servant. 

And that’s why He tells us to “Behold, to look here, and give attention to My servant. Look at My Son. I love Him. I am well pleased with Him. I want you to listen to Him. I want you to fix your gaze upon Him. I want your heart to find the same delight in Him that I find in Him. Behold my servant.” And look, if God the Father finds in Jesus His Son a deep mine of joy for His heart, His soul, don’t you think we can too? We don’t know better than God, after all. God’s soul delights in Christ. What do you delight in? What do you delight in? Aren’t we busy, truth be told, quenching our appetite for joy with the fleeting pleasures of the world, numbing our capacity for joy with the downloadable anesthetic of 24/7 entertainment? C.S. Lewis’ great rebuke to us in his book, The Weight of Glory, was right on point. He famously said it this way. “It would seem that our Lord finds our desires not too strong but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition, when infinite joy is offered to us. Like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because we cannot imagine what is meant by an offer of a holiday at the beach. We are far too easily pleased.” 

We fill our eyes with visions of shiny new things we can acquire at the store - with internet pornography, with the admiration of others and countless other empty, worldly treasures, and they are temporary, and yet they are temporary delights. We have forgotten that “Fleeting is the worldlings pleasure, all his boasted pomp and show. Solid joys and lasting treasure, none but Zion’s children know.” “Behold my servant, in whom my soul delights,” God says to us. Jesus is endlessly fascinating, even to God the Father. So make obedience to the command of God in this text the great preoccupation of your life and behold His servant. Fix your eyes on Jesus. Make Jesus the chief study of your life. There are endless delights, solid joys and lasting treasure, to be found only in Him. The Father delights in the servant.

The Father Ordains His Servant 

Then secondly, notice that the Father ordains the servant. The Father ordains the servant. Because He loves the servant, He calls Him, verse 1, His chosen, His elect one. He is ordained, as it were, set apart by God for the work of saving sinners. We might even say that verses 6 and 7 describe His ordination engagement. Do you see them in verses 6 and 7? Look with me there for a moment. Here is the work for which the servant is chosen and set apart. “I have called you,” the Father says to Him, “I have called you in righteousness. I will take you by the hand and keep you. I will give you as a covenant for the people, a light for the nations to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeons, from the prison those who sit in darkness.”

Now to be sure, this ordination service here tonight is a very poor shadow of the ordination of the divine Son to be Savior of the world. He is the Servant of the Father, the Diaconos of the Father, sent to the nations to bring deliverance to them. But I do think we can still hear, if you listen carefully for it in the vows these brothers will take in just a few moments, an echo, an echo of our Savior’s willingness to embrace the cost laid upon Him for us and for our salvation. “Will You go?,” we imagine the Father asking the Son. “I will,” He says. “Will You bear all the weakness of human nature, joining Yourself to humanity in the womb of the virgin?” “I will,” He says. “Will You endure the reproach of the world and the rejection of Your people and will You obey in the crucible of temptation?” “I will,” He says. “And will You suffer and serve and lay down Your life for the sheep?” “I will,” says the Servant.

And now brothers, if I can address you directly, you are being set apart for the service of diaconal ministry yourselves tonight. Know that you are following in your Savior’s steps. The Father elected Him and appointed Him and sent Him to serve. And now He has chosen and appointed and sends you. And your service is to follow the template, the footprint of His. He is your paradigm. He came, remember, “not to be served, but to serve, and give His life a ransom for many.” And now Christ, the Servant, calls you, His servants, to imitate Him in pouring yourself out for the flock of God amongst whom you have been called as deacons. Your standard in doing so is not the best example of any earthly mentor. It is Christ Himself who, you remember, washed the disciples’ feet. Who, having loved His own, loved them to the end. That is your calling as you follow in your Master’s steps - deacons, servants, following the Servant of the Lord. 

The Father Empowers His Servant 

The Father delights in the servant. The Father ordains the servant. And finally, the Father empowers the servant. Having been sent into the world, you’ll notice the Servant is upheld. Do you see that word in verse 1? He’s upheld by God. He is endowed with the Holy Spirit for His ministry, verse 1. God will take Him by the hand, verse 6. He will keep Him. How is it that the servant of the Lord brings forth justice to the nations? Why doesn’t He cry aloud or lift up His voice amidst all the accusations that were hurled against Him? By what means is He enabled to care for the weak and the wounded, not breaking the bruised reed nor quenching the smoldering wick? How does He bring light to those who are in darkness and set the prisoners free? How does He do it? He does it all by depending on the supply of the Spirit of the Father to empower His obedience in our nature. The Servant, you see, is the Spirit-filled man. Christ is the Spirit-filled man. At every stage of His life and ministry He did all that He did in our human nature by dependence upon the strengthening and enabling of the Spirit. His body, remember, was formed in the womb of the virgin “by the mysterious work of the Spirit of the Most High who overshadowed her,” Luke 1:35. It was by the Spirit that He “grew in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and men,” Luke 2:40 and verse 50. By the Spirit, He confronted Satan and triumphed - Matthew 4:1. By the Spirit, He cast out demons - Matthew 12:24. By the Spirit, He obeyed and by the eternal Spirit offered Himself unblemished to God the Father at the cross - Hebrews 9:14. He was declared Son of God in power through the Spirit of holiness who raised Him from the dead - Romans 1:4. And then ascending to the right hand of the Father, He received the promised Holy Spirit that He may pour Him out in turn upon the Church. The Servant did all His work for us and for our salvation by the enabling help of the Holy Spirit. 

And this same Spirit that rested upon Him and empowered His obedience and His saving ministry, He now gives to you and to me. He pours out upon the Church to equip us for works of service. The work to which you are called, brothers, in the diaconal office, will often be demanding and costly and challenging and hard. How will you persevere and be faithful in it? Not by your own strength, but by looking to Christ, the Spirit-filled man, to give you a fresh supply and the strength of His Spirit. He taught us to pray, reminding us the Father gives the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him. I would think it would be the ordinary cry of a faithful deacon at every moment of every day and in every task that your office requires of you, to say, “Father, fulfill the Savior’s promise. I want to honor You in this, but I am weak. Give me the Holy Spirit that I may put the people of God in mind of the Spirit-filled Savior in the way that I love them and serve them and pour myself out for them.” 

How will you faithfully fulfill the office entrusted to you? You will do it delighting, like the Father Himself delights, in God’s Servant, the Lord Jesus Christ. Fix your eyes on Him. He is all the treasure your heart needs. You’ll do it following the Servant’s example, who was ordained by the Father, to give His life for the flock. Give your lives in your Savior’s service. And you will do it depending on the strength of the Holy Spirit whom Jesus promises the Father will give to His children who ask Him. May the Lord bless you, brothers, as you obey His call, and may He make you a blessing to all of us as you serve among us. Let us pray.

Our Father, we praise You for these dear brothers and for Your call in their lives. Continue with them, equipping them for Your service, and use them among all of us. Put us in mind of Jesus by the way in which they serve. Strengthen them by Your Spirit. Strengthen us all by Your Spirit that we, like Christ, may point to Your redeeming love and grace that there may be a great harvest of sinners, men and women and boys and girls, brought to know Him. For we ask it in Jesus’ holy name, amen.

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