Nov 29, 2023
After a great statement about the Servant’s guaranteed success in
Isaiah 49:2-3, the Servant admits,
4 ... “I have labored in vain; I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity... (Isaiah 49:4 ESV)
Suddenly students of God’s Word find the great and mighty King, the Holy One of Israel, the Servant, battling a loss of hope, discouragement, and the great disappointment that descends like a dark cloud of gloom on those who cannot see any fruit from their difficult labor. This Servant, though secure in the promises of the LORD and the strength of His might, knows an internal battle - a tug on the heart toward perseverance, hope, trust, and unwavering resolve along with a countering tug on the heart towards despair, the throwing up of His hands in defeat, and a resolution to spend no more of his energy laboring in such a vain endeavor.
1 I was ready to be sought by those who did not ask for me; I was ready to be found by those who did not seek me. I said, “Here I am, here I am,” to a nation that was not called by my name. 2 I spread out my hands all the day to a rebellious people, who walk in a way that is not good, following their own devices; 3 a people who provoke me to my face continually, sacrificing in gardens and making offerings on bricks; (Isaiah 65:1-3 ESV)
The Servant would possess an internal ache to work and rescue, but though He labored He would see, for a time, no fruit. The people would not receive His salvation; the rebellious children would not submit. Those in darkness would choose to remain in darkness. The Servant would know a sense of failure for a time. He would experience a battle within, a temptation to shrink back from the work.
But, the Servant would not succumb to such ideas of quitting. He would not wave the white flag of surrender, nor say to the nations, “I am done. I have met my limit of your rebellion and your hard heartedness. I have done all I am willing to do!”
Instead, the Servant would persevere by reminding Himself that His
4 ...vindication is with the Lord, and [his] reward is with [his] God. (Isaiah 49:4b CSB)
The Servant would meet rejection, injustice, mockery, false accusations (Is 52-53). His difficult labor would for a season yield for Him no more than a big-fat, nothing burger. But, He would press on until He knew success by reassuring Himself of two realities.
First, the LORD would judge Him not by the effectiveness of His labor but by the faithfulness of it. When He could not see any tangible accomplishment of His work in the present, He drew strength from the thought that somewhere down the road, the LORD would judge His life’s work, and pronounce over it, “Well done good and faithful Servant.”
Second, the Servant trusted that the present and apparent vanity of His labor did not negate the reward promised to Him by His God and waiting for Him at the end of His work. The reward promised Him for His work was not immediate success in the here and now. The wage of His work was not instant fame, mass conversions of sinners, and rapid growth and multiplication, increasing bottom lines, measurable results, and positive gain. Rather, He would receive the glory of God as His reward (Is 49:3) for faithful endurance.
God’s Servant, Jesus, Endured for the Joy of Glory.
When the apostles wrote about this Servant, Jesus Christ, they did not shrink back from showing Jesus’ internal struggle throughout His labor here on earth. Can you hear His sense of failure?
17 “O faithless and twisted generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you?
Can you hear the sorrow in His heart as He laments over Israel?
37 “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! (Matthew 23:37 ESV)
Do you see the disappointment expressed in His words to Philip,
9 “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? (John 14:9 ESV)
Jesus, the Servant, came just as God promised. But, He did not know immediate success. His own people rejected HIm. At the most difficult season of His service, His closest friends abandoned Him as fear of man scattered them. He worked and labored, He sacrificed and served, but as He went into the garden of Gethsemane to pray before His execution, He went alone, empty handed, and an apparent failure.
There in that garden, Jesus did not give himself a personal pep talk. He did not reassure himself with self help statements such as, “Jesus, you’ve got this. You can do this. You are strong. You are confident. You will win!” Instead, He came into the darkness of that night distressed to the point His pores opened up to release sweat drops filled with blood. In great trouble of the soul, He cried out to the one who sent Him,
39 ...“My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; (Matthew 26:39 ESV)
Thankfully, the Servant that night in the garden overcame any desire in Him to stop short. Thankfully, Jesus looked to the joy that was set before Him - to the prize given to Him at the end of His race - and he with gladness endured the cross. As He always does, God the Father proved faithful to the Son. Just as He had promised, He accepted the Servant’s faithful service. He looked upon him with delight and approval. He exalted him in glory and He has given to Jesus His just reward.
Take Comfort As You Look at Jesus
This quick look at Jesus should produce at least two effects on your heart.
First, take comfort in your discouragement. Do you feel like you labor as a parent in vain? Do you look at your attempts to make disciples and feel as if you see no fruit in those to whom you have given so much time? Do you sense that all those minutes or even hours spent pleading with God in prayer have failed to unleash God’s power? Does your heart, upon inspection of your life, cry out, “vanity, vanity, all is vanity?
If so, take comfort. You have One who serves you even now from the throne of heaven who knows exactly how you feel. He knows the temptation to throw up your hands and give up. You have a Great High Priest who understands you in your weakness. When others may not “get” you; Jesus, the Servant does.
Second, resolve yourself to faithful obedience. In Jesus, you have the same exact assurances that strengthened Him. The joy set before Jesus has now been set before you. If you will persevere by faith, if you will not turn to the left or to the right, if you will endure your own cross, one day you too will be looked upon by God with acceptance and approval. One day, God Himself will place on your head a crown of glory. This promise depends not on the tangible results you might measure here on earth. Indeed, you may labor your entire life for His glory without any trace of present progress. Obedience may leave you unrecognized and unnoticed. But, one day the mundane, seemingly unfruitful practice of difficult obedience will give way to an eternal weight of glory.