The setting of the portrait is that the Pharisees have just decided to kill Jesus for healing a man on the Sabbath (v4).
Instead of taking up arms to protect himself and establish his kingdom by force, Jesus quietly withdraws. It’s what you might call a tactical retreat until the proper time. But even in retreat he continues to heal the sick (v15).
"Many followed him and he healed them all." But notice that just like he tries to avoid violence with the Pharisees, he also tries to avoid notoriety and prestige with the people. He orders them not to make him known (v16).
He refuses violence and he refuses fame, and quietly goes about his works of mercy. .
1. The Source of Jesus’ Life
In verse 18 God speaks and says, "Behold, my servant whom I have chosen, my beloved with whom my soul is well pleased." The source of Jesus’ life is that he was chosen, loved, and enjoyed by God. It’s a remarkable thing to be chosen by God. God’s choosing is not like our choosing. We are given options. God is not given options; he makes options. The kind of love that God the Father has toward the Son is not a disinterested benevolence; but a deep pleasure in God’s soul: "Behold, my servant whom I have chosen, my beloved with whom my soul is well pleased." John Piper "God the Father loves the Son with spontaneous pleasure". Jesus is God’s greatest delight because Jesus is God. From that relationship flows everything that he is and does.
2. The Spirit of Jesus’ Ministry
a) The Surprising Method of the Kingdom
What makes this feature of Christ’s portrait so amazing is that Jesus Christ holds the most privileged position in the universe. He has absolute authority over every creature. If any ruler ever had a right to reclaim his own kingdom by force of arms and battle shouts, it was Jesus Christ. But when God anointed him with the Holy Spirit, the result was very different from that. "He will not wrangle or cry aloud, nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets." He will not deal with his enemies now by desperate quarrelling or loud disputes or uproars in the streets.
When the river of your life runs deep, the waters can be peaceful.
Too many people today are trying to show the fullness of the Spirit by loudness and harshness and much show. Jesus simply did his work and tried to avoid notoriety.
"In quietness and trust will be your strength" (Isaiah 30:15).
The kingdom of Christ is not of this world. If it were, there would be clashes in the street, loud disputes, and battle cries of violence (John 18:36). But instead the kingdom comes like a mustard seed, like leaven in a lump of dough. It comes as righteousness, joy, and peace in the Holy Spirit (Romans 14:17). It is received like a child (Mark 10:15). It conquers by the force of truth, love, and spiritual power.
b) The Gentleness of Jesus
Jesus shows tenderness to people who are broken and weak. Verse 20 is a beautiful stroke in the portrait of our Lord:
"He will not break a bruised reed or quench a smouldering wick."
Picture an amaryllis bulb—the kind that grows about an inch a day and has a huge beautiful flower on top. Then imagine a toddler coming along and pulling the tablecloth so that the plant turns over and the stem is bent. You try to stand it upright but it flops down every time as though it had a hinge. The flower may be pretty now but it is really done for. So we break off the stem and hope for another.
But not Jesus. He does not break a bruised reed. Not that he doesn’t ever do some painful pruning in our lives (John 15). He does. But when life has dealt us a devastating blow and we are deeply bruised in spirit and our head is on the ground with desperation, Jesus does not come along and say, "O well, too bad for this one." Clip!
Psalm 34:18, "The Lord is near to the broken-hearted, and saves the crushed in spirit."
The Lord uses splints and props and soft bandages. He does not kick you when you are down. He does not trample the oppressed. He does not break a bruised reed.
"Nor quench a smouldering wick" (v. 20). My guess is that this morning some of you feel like your spiritual lamp has almost gone out. For some the flame is burning very low. For others all that’s left is a smouldering wick. The word of the Lord for you this morning is that Jesus does not quench the little spark of spiritual life left in you. The Spirit of the Lord is upon him gentle for now.
As long as this life lasts the atmosphere of Jesus is all oxygen. The faintest spark of spiritual life will glow and grow when it comes into contact with Jesus. "God sent not the Son into the world to condemn the world but that the world through him might be saved." Jesus did not come to snuff out your struggling flicker but to fan it carefully into a torch for his glory.
c) Jesus’ Different Tone with the Unrepentant
These are comforting words from God’s Word. But for whom? Who should be comforted by them? Jesus did not speak tenderly to everybody. The bruised reed and the smouldering wick are sinners who are crushed by circumstances or by their own failures. They are the poor in spirit who mourn (Matthew 5:3, 4). They are the publican who cries out "God be merciful to me, a sinner!" For these there is great tenderness, forgiveness, healing, comfort.
But the tone of our Lord is very different toward the unrepentant. There are a lot of people today who feel just as miserable as a bruised reed and a smouldering wick but who have no intention of leaving their sin.
When Jesus told the rich young man, "Sell what you possess and give to the poor," the man turned away sorrowful (Matthew 19:22).
He hung his head like a broken Amaryllis. He was like a bruised reed, but he would not submit to Jesus’ command. There are many such people and these words of Isaiah in Matthew 12 are not intended to comfort them in their rebellion. It is not a loving thing to comfort unrepentant sinners in their sin.
Loving words for the unrepentant are words of warning, not words of comfort: "Truly, I say to you, it will be hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 19:23). But for the poor in spirit, who humble themselves and cry out for mercy and turn from their sin, Jesus is a tender healer and life-giver. "He will not break a bruised reed or quench a smouldering wick."
3. The Success of Jesus’ Struggle
The last part of v20 says that Jesus will pursue his ministry "Until he brings justice to victory; and in his name will the Gentiles hope." As long as evil people prosper and people who trust Christ are bruised and crushed, justice has not come.
But God promises that one day justice will come to victory. The tables will be turned. The meek shall inherit the earth. Those who mourn will be comforted (Matthew 5:4, 5). The weeds will be gathered and thrown into the fire and the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their father (Matthew 13:41–43).
Isaiah 11:3–4, "He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear; but with righteousness he shall judge the poor and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; and he shall smite the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall slay the wicked."
Justice will finally come to victory when the wicked who do not repent are punished and the bruised reeds are vindicated and raised to glory.
Some implications for our lives from these three features of Jesus’ portrait.
1) If we want to see and hear what delights God, we should look at Jesus. For God to delight in us, we must trust and obey Jesus and be filled with his Spirit.
2) Take heart, you are never beyond healing unless you are beyond humbling.
3) No matter how much it costs to follow him in this life, we should set our hope only on him. The attempt to find happiness in life by pinning your hope on something other than Jesus is like:
"A lamb trying to satisfy its thirst at the nipple of a mother wolf. The source of your brief satisfaction will eat you for supper when evening comes."