Matthew 12:15-21 – Jesus – God’s Chosen Servant

Review

Last time we looked at God’s ordained weekly Sabbath rest. We discussed how people dishonor God’s Sabbath by simply ignoring it altogether, and by heaping additional Sabbath rules and regulations concerning what we may and may not do on the Sabbath day. Finally, we looked at Jesus’ claim of authority over the Sabbath because He was and is God come in the flesh of a man, and thus entitled to that authority – not the Pharisees and other legalists down through the years who have usurped Jesus’ authority over the Sabbath to proclaim their own illegitimate Sabbath rules and regulations.

Matthew 12:15-21 – Jesus – God’s Chosen Servant

Matthew continues now by quoting from the prophet Isaiah concerning God’s chosen servant, and saying that Jesus does indeed fulfill that Prophecy.

15Jesus, aware of this, withdrew from there. And many followed him, and he healed them all 16and ordered them not to make him known. 17This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah:

18“Behold, my servant whom I have chosen,
my beloved with whom my soul is well pleased.
I will put my Spirit upon him,
and he will proclaim justice to the Gentiles.
19He will not quarrel or cry aloud,
nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets;
20a bruised reed he will not break,
and a smoldering wick he will not quench,
until he brings justice to victory;
21and in his name the Gentiles will hope.”

Matthew 12:15-21 [ESV]

15Jesus, aware of this, withdrew from there.

Matthew 12:15a [ESV]

Recall from our previous study that Jesus had healed a man with a withered hand on the Sabbath, claiming Himself to be LORD of the Sabbath. By that declaration, Jesus implied of course that the Pharisees who had called Him out for doing unlawful activities on the Sabbath were not the lords of the Sabbath they had set themselves up to be. Matthew 12:14 explicitly says that therefore, from that point on, they sought a way they could destroy Jesus. Here in verse 15, Matthew states that Jesus was aware of their schemes and departed from Capernaum where He had healed the man with the withered hand.


15And many followed him, and he healed them all 16and ordered them not to make him known.

Matthew 12:15b-16 [ESV]

Nevertheless, many of those who had witnessed His works in Capernaum followed him out of the town seeking healing for themselves. Despite the danger from the Pharisees who were already seeking to kill Him, Jesus did not forbid the crowd to follow Him, and He honored all of their requests for healing made in faith. Jesus healed these many people out of love and compassion for them, not in any way seeking glory for Himself, but instead honoring the faith of those He healed. Thus, Matthew reports that Jesus told the ones whom He had healed not to report the truth of how He had healed them. This was a common theme early in Jesus’ ministry. Jesus Himself gave His reasons for this “stealth ministry” in one of His answers to the scribes and Pharisees.

Jesus answered, “If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing. It is my Father who glorifies me, of whom you say, ‘He is our God.’

John 8:54 [ESV]

As we have noted before, Jesus most often accompanied His healing miracles with a lesson – either for the person being healed, or more often for the onlookers. In these cases, Matthew doesn’t report about the lessons Jesus taught with each of these healing miracles. Instead, Matthew goes on to point out that Jesus’ actions were a fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy.

17This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah:

18“Behold, my servant whom I have chosen,
my beloved with whom my soul is well pleased.
I will put my Spirit upon him,
and he will proclaim justice to the Gentiles.
19He will not quarrel or cry aloud,
nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets;
20a bruised reed he will not break,
and a smoldering wick he will not quench,
until he brings justice to victory;
21and in his name the Gentiles will hope.”

Matthew 12:17-21 [ESV]

The specific passage in Isaiah to which Matthew refers is Isaiah 42.

1Behold 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.
2He will not cry aloud or lift up his voice,
or make it heard in the street;
3a bruised reed he will not break,
and a faintly burning wick he will not quench;
he will faithfully bring forth justice.
4He will not grow faint or be discouraged
till he has established justice in the earth;
and the coastlands wait for his law.

Isaiah 42:1-4 [ESV]

Looking at this passage from Isaiah in comparison to Matthew’s quote in Matthew 12:17-21 highlights some of the problems of translation. No two languages have a precise parallel in expressing concepts into words. Furthermore, the translator always brings personal baggage to the table. Thus no translation is ever completely exact. Matthew’s gospel is written in Greek, while Isaiah’s prophecy is written in Hebrew. So although Matthew’s quote provides the gist of Isaiah’s prophecy, there are notable distinctions when the two texts are further translated into English.

The first striking distinction is the last word of Isaiah 42:1 which the ESV renders as nations and Matthew’s quote renders as Gentiles. The Hebrew word here is גּוֹי gôy. Throughout the Old Testament, this word is used to refer to non-Hebrew peoples. Sometimes it is also translated uncharitably as heathens. Here in Isaiah 42:1 it is translated in the KJV and NKJV as gentiles, while most other modern English languages translations render it as nations. In quoting this verse, Matthew uses the Greek word ἔθνος éthnos from which we derive our English word ethnicity. This Greek word is used to refer to various people groups, nations, and tribes including Hebrews. It may also be used to refer to all of humanity. Clearly Isaiah intended to express the idea that Jesus’ mission would be to bring justice to all people – not just Hebrews.

In Isaiah 42:2, we see another aspect of the prophecy which matches perfectly with Jesus’ nature. Throughout His ministry He continually pointed toward and glorified His Father rather than Himself. In His flesh, He humbled Himself, setting aside for a time the glory and power to which He is clearly entitled, to take upon Himself the role of a servant to all mankind. Jesus Himself expressed this in contending with the Jewish leaders over their accusation that He was possessed by a demon.

45But because I tell the truth, you do not believe me. 46Which one of you convicts me of sin? If I tell the truth, why do you not believe me? 47Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God.” 48The Jews answered him, “Are we not right in saying that you are a Samaritan and have a demon?” 49Jesus answered, “I do not have a demon, but I honor my Father, and you dishonor me. 50Yet I do not seek my own glory; there is One who seeks it, and he is the judge. 51Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.”

John 8:45-51 [ESV]

Isaiah 42:3 highlights an aspect of Jesus’ character which we find both awe inspiring and confusing. Clearly Jesus – being God in the flesh – has limitless power to do anything at all. Yet throughout His earthly ministry, He chose never to wield that power even to defend Himself against those who sought His life. We see this aspect of His character explicitly stated in Jesus’ own teaching and exhibited in His submission to those sent to seize Him at Gethsemane on the night He was betrayed.

14I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. 17For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. 18No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.”

John 10:14-18 [ESV]

3So Judas, having procured a band of soldiers and some officers from the chief priests and the Pharisees, went there with lanterns and torches and weapons. 4Then Jesus, knowing all that would happen to him, came forward and said to them, “Whom do you seek?” 5They answered him, “Jesus of Nazareth.” Jesus said to them, “I am he.” Judas, who betrayed him, was standing with them. 6When Jesus said to them, “I am he,” they drew back and fell to the ground. 7So he asked them again, “Whom do you seek?” And they said, “Jesus of Nazareth.” 8Jesus answered, “I told you that I am he. So, if you seek me, let these men go.” 9This was to fulfill the word that he had spoken: “Of those whom you gave me I have lost not one.” 10Then Simon Peter, having a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant and cut off his right ear. (The servant’s name was Malchus.) 11So Jesus said to Peter, “Put your sword into its sheath; shall I not drink the cup that the Father has given me?”

John 18:3-11 [ESV]

In submitting to those who came to take Him at Gethsemane, Jesus demonstrated practically the meekness He pronounced His blessing upon in The Sermon on the Mount.

“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

Matthew 5:5 [ESV]

Meekness is defined as the quality of being humble, moderate, and submissive. In our “winner take all” society, we tend to confuse meekness with weakness. Jesus’ submission to the will of His Father was not from a position of weakness. Jesus clearly had the power to defend Himself against those whom Judas led to capture Him that evening, yet chose to allow Himself to be bound and led away although He was fully aware that He would inevitably come to be nailed to the cross by doing so. He allowed this so that He might fulfill the prophecy of Isaiah 42 as Matthew points out. Since Jesus will one day return to inherit the earth in His final victory over Satan, His blessing upon the meek in the Sermon on the Mount is also prophetic.

Matthew uses a challenging phrase at the end of Matthew 12:20 – “…until He brings justice to victory.” The parallel phrase in Isaiah 42:3 is – “he will faithfully bring forth justice.” We know that Jesus is the very embodiment of justice and righteousness.

21But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 22the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

Romans 3:21-26 [ESV]

Yet almost all of us would agree that in our present time, justice is floundering rather than ruling victoriously over our shattered society. In fact if the truth be told we are in the midst of a twisted social structure against which Isaiah himself railed thousands of years ago.

Woe to those who call evil good
and good evil,
who put darkness for light
and light for darkness,
who put bitter for sweet
and sweet for bitter!

Isaiah 5:20 [ESV]

Nevertheless, we who have called upon the Name of Jesus for salvation patiently wait for the time we see promised here in Matthew 12:20 and Isaiah 42:3 when He will finally overthrow the rule of sinfulness and Satan in our fallen world, bring forth His justice in victory, and reestablish His righteousness over all creation.

1Behold, a king will reign in righteousness,
and princes will rule in justice.
2Each will be like a hiding place from the wind,
a shelter from the storm,
like streams of water in a dry place,
like the shade of a great rock in a weary land.
3Then the eyes of those who see will not be closed,
and the ears of those who hear will give attention.
4The heart of the hasty will understand and know,
and the tongue of the stammerers will hasten to speak distinctly.
5The fool will no more be called noble,
nor the scoundrel said to be honorable.

Isaiah 32:1-5 [ESV]

Finally, let’s take a quick look at the final verse of Isaiah’s prophecy quoted here in Matthew 12:21. We’ve already looked at the Greek word ἔθνος éthnos that Matthew uses here. We find it rendered as either Gentiles or nations in various English translations of Matthew 12:21. In employing this word, once again Matthew emphasizes that Jesus’ ministry and salvation are for all people, not just Israelites. The corresponding Hebrew word אִי ‘î (pronounced ee) in Isaiah 42:4 that is translated coastlands in the ESV is translated as islands in other English translations. The NLT translates this word as distant lands beyond the sea. It means coast, island, shore, or region. In Isaiah’s time, the coast of the eastern Mediterranean Sea was occupied by the Philistines in the south around the area of Gaza, and the coastal areas of modern Lebanon – particularly Tyre and Sidon – were controlled by the Phoenicians along with the large islands in the eastern Mediterranean. Isaiah’s point then is clear – that one day these people too would come to know and obey the God of Israel. Matthew, of course affirmed that Jesus – the promised Messiah – is the One who fulfilled Isaiah’s prophecy.

22“Turn to me and be saved,
all the ends of the earth!
For I am God, and there is no other.
23By myself I have sworn;
from my mouth has gone out in righteousness
a word that shall not return:

‘To me every knee shall bow,
every tongue shall swear allegiance.’

24“Only in the LORD, it shall be said of me,
are righteousness and strength;
to him shall come and be ashamed
all who were incensed against him.
25In the LORD all the offspring of Israel
shall be justified and shall glory.”

Isaiah 45:22-25 [ESV]

Looking Ahead

Next time, God willing, we’ll look at Jesus’ response to the accusation that He cast out demons by the power of Beelzebul.

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