“On August 18, 1988, George H. W. Bush received his party’s nomination for president of the United States. In his acceptance speech, he calls for a ‘kinder, gentler nation.’” Today, some people may wonder if the American public and the electoral college are voting between a hot-headed president who enjoys controversy and a quieter, more diplomatic president. Of course, there are many political, social, and economic issues and platforms, but the candidates personalities are in view. On a more personal level, I find that the more unexpected things pop up in my day or complex issues that surface, the less gentle and peaceful I am, even if they are small or meant by God to redirect my attention. Fortunately, our King of kings who reigns above all presidents and rulers is both gentle and victorious, above all questioning, doubts, and criticism. Jesus Christ is the Alpha and Omega, the Lion of Judah, and the Lamb of God. He is the Messiah who gently and victoriously ministers to the world through the gospel. As we begin to consider the spiritual fruit of gentleness from Galatians 5:23, the Lord’s humility comes first, since he is the source and picture of gentleness that we receive through the Spirit, for all circumstances in this life. Matthew recognized Jesus as the promised humble servant described by Isaiah after a controversial healing on the Sabbath. “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. He will not quarrel or cry aloud, nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets; a bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not quench, until he brings justice to victory; and in his name the Gentiles will hope. He 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; Matthew 12:18-21)
“The Jews of Christ’s day wanted a Messiah who would drive out the Romans and establish a revived Jewish state. The disciples themselves had such thoughts even after the resurrection (see Acts 1:6). Jesus went about his work quietly, teaching and at last dying for his people. ‘What is pictured is a ministry so gentle and compassionate that the weak are not trampled on and crushed till justice, the full righteousness of God, triumphs,’ as it certainly will in the end.” (1) “[Isaiah 42] begins with a prophecy concerning the Messiah, under the character of the servant of the Lord, and his elect, whom he supported, and was well pleased with; whose work is pointed at, and for which he was well qualified with the Spirit without measure, and is described by his humility and meekness, by his tenderness to weak and ignorant persons, and by his courage and resolution…[having the Holy Spirit] not on him as a divine Person, as such he needed him not; but as man, with which he was filled without measure at his incarnation, and which rested upon him, and qualified him for his work and office, as Prophet, Priest, and King.” (2) Isaiah, through the Spirit, states that Jesus brings justice to victory on the earth to all people three times in these four verses. He “…will proclaim justice to the Gentiles. (v. 1); “…brings justice to victory…” (v. 3); and will establish “…justice in the earth; and the coastlands [that] wait for his law.” (v. 4)Christ does this is through His humility and submission to crucifixion.The Savior gently and victoriously ministers to the world through the gospel. He calls us to submit to the gospel gently in response to others’ felt and real needs—whether for justice, comfort, spiritual or physical needs.
Also significant is what the Messiah won’t do through the work of the Spirit. “He will not quarrel or cry aloud, nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets; a bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not quench…” (vs. 2-3). There are five significant ways that Christ humbled himself as he ministered on earth. “He shall not cry…he shall bring no complaints, or enter an action against any, but rather suffer wrong, as he advises his followers. [Matthew 5:41 “And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.”]…he sometimes preached in the street, as in many other public places, but not in a clamorous contentious way; not in an opprobrious and menacing manner; nor in a way of ostentation, boasting of himself, his doctrines, and miracles, but behaved with great humility and meekness; his kingdom was without pomp and noise.” (3) Concerning those who are weak in faith, Matthew Henry comments, “He is tender of those oppressed with doubts and fears, as a bruised reed; those who are as smoking flax, as the wick of a lamp newly lighted, which is ready to go out again. He will not despise them, nor lay upon them more work or more suffering than they can bear…Let us with cheerful confidence commit our souls to so kind and faithful a Friend. Far from breaking, he will strengthen the bruised reed; far from quenching the smoking flax, or wick nearly out, he will rather blow it up into a flame. Let us lay aside contentious and angry debates; let us receive one another as Christ receives us. And while encouraged by the gracious kindness of our Lord, we should pray that his Spirit may rest upon us, and make us able to copy his example.” (4) This is the gentleness that we all need and is readily available through the Spirit’s application of God’s Word in our hearts, minds, and lives, for ourselves and others with whom we engage.
Christ supplies the justice we long for, unavailable from anyone on earth, and does so with great loving-kindness and gentleness. He will continue to work quietly and with determination beyond our comprehension. “He 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) We rarely speak of determination and gentleness in the same sentence or regarding the same person. Resolve calls up pictures of assertiveness, skillful speech, and charisma. Gentleness probably makes us think of an easy-going, uncontroversial person who avoids conflict. However, God makes it clear in this passage that these characteristics are not in opposition but complement each other. Most importantly, “The servant is unweakened by the demands of his mission.” (5) I confess that sometimes I think I have to be a different kind of person to accomplish some things in my ministry—more proactive, more challenging, or more assertive—even when I am submitting to the Lord for his direction. But, this may be in direct opposition to Jesus’s call to the gospel in Matthew 11:28-30, where he describes himself and his person and gospel as restful, gentle, humble in heart, easy, and light. What will it take to gently submit to Christ’s gospel in response to others’ felt and real needs? Even the need for political stability or change?
Paul writes in Galatians, “…the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.” (Galatians 5:22-26) God’s Word is always relevant and is needed during this tumultuous time in America and all over the world. Coupled with Jesus’s own words, we are assured that the gospel’s quiet, gentle, victorious work in us will produce the fruit of the Spirit. “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:44) “The product of a true, growing, gospel-centered nature is often gentleness.” (6)
Related Passages: Isaiah 49:8–10; 50:4–9; 52:13–53:12; 61:1; Matthew 5:41; 11:28-30
- Boice, James, Boice Expositional Commentary Series, Matthew 12:1-22, Baker Books, Software version, 1998.
- Gill, John, “John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible,” Isaiah 42:1-4, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/isaiah-42.html
- Gill, Ibid.
- Henry, Matthew “Matthew Henry’s Complete Commentary on the Bible,” Isaiah 42:1-4, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/mhm/isaiah-42.html
- English Standard Version Study Bible Notes, Isaiah 42:1-4, (digital edition), Crossway, 2008.
- Keller, Timothy, Tweet on 11/4/20–@timkellernyc
November 6, 2020