Servant of the LORD

The theme of fulfillment is prominent in Matthew’s gospel. In Jesus, the promises of God began to find their fulfillment though often in paradoxical and unexpected ways. Peter, for example, confirmed that the Nazarene was the “Messiah,” but he failed to understand that Jesus came to fulfill his royal role as the suffering “Servant of Yahweh,” the one sent to die for the sins of his people.

Matthew calls Jesus “the Son of David, the Son of Abraham.” He is the royal descendant from the House of David who is destined to reign over the nations, and he is the heir of Abraham who will fulfill the Abrahamic Covenant.

Cross on Church - Photo by Markus Schumacher on Unsplash
[Photo by Markus Schumacher on Unsplash]

Abraham was wealthy, and David was a warrior-king, but how could a humble man from an insignificant village in Galilee accomplish all that God had promised to His covenant people? 
What kind of Messiah would he be?


An angel informed Joseph that Mary was pregnant. He was commanded to name the child “Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” The angel attributed his conception to the “Holy Spirit.” From the start, IT WAS THE PRESENCE OF THE SPIRIT THAT SET JESUS APART FOR HIS MESSIANIC MISSION – (Matthew 1:21).

The name ‘Jesus’ or ‘Ye-Hoshea’ means “Yahweh saves,” or perhaps “salvation of Yahweh,” a name that anticipated what God would accomplish in his Son. As the Messiah, he would “save his people from their sins.” This clause echoes the depiction of the “Servant of Yahweh” in the Book of Isaiah, and the image is employed several times in Matthew:

  • Behold, MY SERVANT shall deal wisely, he shall be exalted and lifted up, and shall be very high… And Yahweh has LAID ON HIM THE INIQUITY OF US ALL… Who among them considered that he was cut off out of the land of the living FOR THE TRANSGRESSION OF MY PEOPLE TO WHOM THE STROKE WAS DUE?... He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied: by the knowledge of himself SHALL MY RIGHTEOUS SERVANT JUSTIFY MANY; AND HE SHALL BEAR THEIR INIQUITIES Because he poured out his soul unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors: YET HE BARE THE SIN OF MANY, and made intercession for the transgressors.

When he was baptized by John in the Jordan River, the Spirit descended on Jesus “like a dove,” and the “voice from heaven” identified him as “my Son.” The language and imagery allude to two passages in the Hebrew Bible. In this way, God confirmed his status as the Messiah, but He also revealed HOW he would fulfill that role:

  • (Psalm 2:7) - “I will surely tell of the decree of Yahweh: he said to me: YOU ARE MY SON, today, I have begotten you.”
  • (Isaiah 42:1, 6-7) - “Behold, MY SERVANT whom I uphold; my chosen one IN WHOM MY SOUL DELIGHTS. I HAVE PUT MY SPIRIT UPON HIM; he will bring forth justice to the nations… I, Yahweh, have called you in righteousness and will hold your hand, and will keep you, and give you for a covenant of the people, for a light of the Gentiles


In Matthew, Jesus is the royal “Son” and the Messiah of Israel anointed by the Spirit, and he will indeed reign over the nations. But he will do so as the “Servant of Yahweh.” The same passage is cited again to describe his ministry, only more fully. Noteworthy is the stress on the Messiah bringing Good News and hope “to the nations”:

  • (Matthew 12:18-22) - “And perceiving it, Jesus withdrew from thence: and many followed him; and he healed them all and charged them that they should not make him knownthat it might be fulfilled which was spoken through Isaiah the prophet, sayingBehold, MY SERVANT WHOM I HAVE CHOSEN; MY BELOVED IN WHOM MY SOUL IS WELL PLEASED. I WILL PUT MY SPIRIT UPON HIM, AND HE SHALL DECLARE JUDGMENT TO THE NATIONS. He shall not strive, nor cry aloud; Neither shall anyone hear his voice in the streets. A bruised reed shall he not break, And smoking flax shall he not quench, till he sends forth judgment unto victory. AND IN HIS NAME SHALL THE NATIONS HOPE.

At his transfiguration, the same voice spoke once more, and again, it echoed the passage in Isaiah - While Peter was yet speaking, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them: and behold, a voice out of the cloud, saying: THIS IS MY BELOVED SON, IN WHOM I AM WELL PLEASED; HEAR HIM - (Matthew 17:1-5).

But this time the voice added the instruction, the disciples must “HEAR” him. Not coincidentally, the transfiguration was preceded by three incidents that prepared the disciples for this revelation.

First, Jesus asked the disciples what others were saying about “Who the Son of man is?” They responded, “Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, or one of the prophets.” He asked who they believed he was. Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God. He then called Peter “blessed” since the Father revealed the correct answer to him. But Jesus forbade them from revealing his identity to others - (Matthew 16:13-20).

Second, “from that time” Jesus started to warn them about his imminent suffering and death at the hands of the “elders and chief priests and scribes.” But Peter objected to the very idea and began to rebuke him.” Jesus recognized Satan’s attempt to thwart him from his path and rebuked the Devil - (Matthew 16:21-23).

Third, Jesus explained that if anyone desired to follow him, he must deny himself, takup his cross, and follow him. “Whoever will lose his life for my sake will find it. He then told them that some of the disciples would “see the Son of man coming in his kingdom” before they tasted deathIn the narrative, these words are followed by the transfiguration - (Matthew 16:24-28).

Later, Jesus commanded them to tell no one what they had seen until after his resurrection. They then asked why the Scribes claim that “Elijah must come first.” He responded: “Elijah” had come already, alluding to John the Baptist, and to him, the Scribes “did whatsoever they would. Even so shall the Son of man also suffer” - (Matthew 17:9-13).


Two themes are prominent in the preceding stories. First, his impending suffering and death. By revealing this, Jesus demonstrated exactly what it meant to be the Messiah. Second, he summoned his disciples to emulate him by living lives of self-sacrificial service for his Kingdom. Despite the foretaste of his coming glory in the transfiguration, HE WAS CALLED TO SUFFER AND DIE.

Later, two disciples asked to be placed at his side “When you come into your Kingdom.” Jesus used the opportunity to explain what it meant to follow him, and how “greatness” is measured in the Kingdom of God:

  • (Matthew 20:25-28) – “But Jesus called them unto him and said: You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. Not so shall it be among you: but whosoever would become great among you shall be your servant, and whosoever would be first among you shall be your slave, EVEN AS THE SON OF MAN CAME NOT TO BE SERVED, BUT TO SERVE, AND TO GIVE HIS LIFE A RANSOM FOR MANY.

Jesus pointed to his imminent sufferings as the ultimate example of what it means for his disciple “not to be served, but to serve.” In doing so, he echoed the description of the “Servant of Yahweh” - “Because he poured out his soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors. Yet HE BORE THE SIN OF MANY AND MADE INTERCESSION FOR THE TRANSGRESSORS.

His life was the “ransom price” for the redemption of others. Paul employed this same image to demonstrate how believers must have the “same mind, which was in Christ Jesus.”

Unlike Adam, Jesus did not attempt to seize “likeness with God.” Instead, he “poured himself out and took the form of a SERVANT… becoming obedient unto death, even, the death of the cross” – (Philippians 2:6-8).

Shortly before his death, he broke bread and told the disciples to eat it, “For this is my body.” Next, he passed the cup, commanding them to drink it, “For THIS IS MY BLOOD OF THE COVENANT.” Once more his words reflected the prophecy about the “Servant of Yahweh”:

  • I, Yahweh, have called you in righteousness and will hold your hand, and will keep you and GIVE YOU FOR A COVENANT OF THE PEOPLE, for a light of the Gentiles” – (Isaiah 42:6, Matthew 26:26-28).

At the conclusion of Matthew, Jesus declared that he had received “All authority in Heaven and on Earth.” He is the messianic king who reigns over the nations, and he now is dispatching his disciples to proclaim the Good News throughout the Earth.

His exaltation and enthronement came only after his death and resurrection. It is the suffering “Servant of Yahweh” who achieved victory over sin and death, and who now reigns supreme over all things.

Thus, as the Messiah of Israel, Jesus fulfills the role of the Servant of Yahweh, the one who “gave his life as a ransom for many.” Neither his identity nor his mission can be understood apart from his self-sacrificial act.

Moreover, his life becomes the model and the imperative for how every disciple must live in this fallen world, and how they will reign with him over the nations as the servants and heralds of his Kingdom.


The Suffering Servant

The Living Word