The Healer of Bruised Reeds
How Jesus Changes the World
by Ray Ortlund
Pastor, Nashville, Tennessee
There are two opposite ways to change the world: our way versus the Jesus way. Our way is to get pushy, even violent. The Jesus way is to get humble, even overlooked. Both the extreme political left and the extreme political right in our nation today too often choose the foolish way. And any politics, without the beautiful humanity of the Jesus way, ends up making life worse for everyone.
Advent is a good time for all of us, whatever our politics, to slow down and stare at Jesus for a while. Doing so can only make life better for us and for everyone.
Change Through Swagger
The prophet Isaiah foresaw the only one who can change the world for the better — permanently. One of Isaiah’s favorite ways of describing Jesus was as “the servant of the Lord.” But right before Isaiah introduces him in chapter 42, he shows us another world leader in chapter 41. In the words of God himself:
I stirred up one from the north, and he has come. . . . He shall trample on rulers as on mortar, as the potter treads clay. (Isaiah 41:25)
“Advent is a good time for all of us, whatever our politics, to slow down and stare at Jesus for a while.”
God is claiming sovereignty over Cyrus the Great, the Persian warlord whose armies swept victoriously over the ancient world five centuries before Christ. Cyrus was one of this world’s typically successful tough guys. He stepped on people to get ahead (Isaiah 41:2).
And brutality is one way to change the world, I suppose. But does it work, really? One political overreach only sets in motion a pendulum swing in sharp reaction, back and forth, on and on. That’s our way.
Change Through Humility
Thanks be to God, the bullying and brutality all across the sad length of human history — our defunct strategies — are not our only hope. There is also the Jesus way of changing the world. Isaiah introduces this humble servant with words from God himself:
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. (Isaiah 42:1–4)
The key word is justice. We see it three times. Isaiah’s Hebrew is not easy to translate. The English word justice is accurate, but the Hebrew suggests more than legal correctness.
This word is used, for example, in the book of Exodus for the plan of the tabernacle (Exodus 26:30). God gave Moses a kind of blueprint for building the tabernacle, and it came out just right. That’s the word Isaiah uses. It tells us that God has a plan, a blueprint, for truly human existence. But we can’t achieve it by fighting to get our own way. “He will bring forth justice” the Jesus way — by serving us, as an egoless nobody.
He Heals the Bruised
He was not Jesus the Great, to outmatch Cyrus the Great. He came to us as the Lord’s servant, with spiritual power not of this world. Two thousand years ago, with no fanfare, no hoopla, Jesus began a change that will not stop until all his people are healed (Matthew 12:15–21).
A world conqueror with no threats, no saber-rattling, no big-deal-ness? Jesus lived so modestly that no one paid him much attention until he started performing miracles. Even then, his miracles were always to help someone else, never himself.
“A bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench” is a roundabout way of saying he will heal that bruised reed and will rekindle that faintly burning wick. Jesus restores broken people. He isn’t recruiting the heavy-hitters. He wants wounded people, exhausted people, people with doubts, people with weaknesses, injured by their own sins and by the sins of others. Those are the people he brings into his kingdom and serves.
Jesus is the only world leader who can say to us, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).
He Never Grows Weary
But can Jesus handle all this human need we bring to him? What about all my need, plus yours? Does he care enough and love enough and forgive enough, to make everything right again for everyone who comes to him? Look again:
He will not grow faint or be discouraged
till he has established justice in the earth,
and the coastlands wait for his law. (Isaiah 42:4)
“Today, the risen Jesus is caring for our needs, and he is not overwhelmed.”
He is gentle, but not weak like us. We start projects with high hopes. Later, we quit. But at his cross, the servant of the Lord took all our failures to himself as if they were his own. Today, the risen Jesus is caring for our needs, and he is not overwhelmed. He doesn’t need to get away from it all for a few days. Right now, as you’re reading this, Jesus is not tired, and he is not tired of you.
The Jesus Way to Change
A new world of perfect justice, created the Jesus way, is not an ideal we must attain. It is a promise of God that he will fulfill.
Even “the coastlands,” Isaiah says, will wait eagerly for his new way of life. And the coastlands were the most remote areas Isaiah could think of. The complete triumph of the gospel is not a hot trend to hit the big cities but leave out the boondocks. There’s just no pride in Jesus at all. His heart is moved for you, wherever you are.
This world will never change by our tribe, whoever that might be, finally winning so big that the victory can’t be reversed. Our tragic world has already begun to change for the better — the Jesus way. Here we find the delight of God, the Holy Spirit, humble modesty, gentle healing, faithful resilience — all of this in Jesus Christ crucified, risen, reigning, and returning.
Advent reminds us not to stake our hopes for the future on worldly strategies. Let’s dare to follow the Jesus way. It’s how his new world appears even now.