We all have favorite verses of Scripture. Probably the most highlighted Scripture in all our minds is John 3:16. That’s an easy one. Can’t miss the point there. There’s no possible mistake about the heart of God in that verse. But I also love the little, tucked away, seemingly ‘just in passing’ Scriptures that are placed throughout the Word of God that, for the most part, don’t capture our attention just right away. They’re sometimes so easily overlooked, only to be discovered another day. One Scripture that seems obscure, one that I have grown to love over the years is found in Isaiah 42: 1-3, ‘behold my servant, who 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 out or raise His voice, nor make His voice heard in the street. A bruised reed He will not break, and a dimly burning wick He will not extinguish.’ The first couple of thoughts are often quoted. This Servant would certainly please God. And, in the New Testament we discover that the part about not raising his voice in the streets is a specific prophecy about the ministry of Jesus during the last few days of his life. But it’s the last sentence that catches my attention these days: it’s the bruised reed and smoldering ember part.
Much of the time we say that we want to know God more, that we need to understand the nature of God more. Somehow we think that after we understand God, we will be better prepared to respond to God. We then discover that we never seem to get to that place of understanding. We may go to a few meetings, read a book or listen to tapes, but we never seem to get to the point of completely trusting Him. That small Scripture, I think, helps us understand God a little more and can create a confidence that He is for us, over and over, for us.
In Old Testament times, during the process of cultivation, it was the grower’s practice to observe the crop for any imperfect or damaged reeds. If any were found they were pulled and destroyed. They did not survive the careful and critical inspection of the gardener. In this Old Testament parable, the Father tells us of a chosen One that would have the Spirit of God on Him and, while not proclaiming Himself, but representing the Father’s heart, that chosen One would not pluck up the imperfect and destroy it, but offer Grace and a chance for the imperfect to grow and reach for maturity. Amazingly, we can expect this One to intercede in our behalf, actually substitute his righteousness for each one of us. This One would impart Holiness as a gift to the imperfect (1Peter 1-16).
Have you ever had to start a campfire? Now I mean, start it the old fashioned way. That means no charcoal starter or the forever forbidden gasoline. Starting a fire from scratch is a process of great care. To work from a small spark to a roaring fire has to be done with an intricacy that obligates the starter to patience. As a boy scout I remember having to make what we call ‘fuzz sticks’, small branches that had been whittled so that they had cuts all around and created a surface to make starting the fire easier. Even then, we started with a small ember. We would take that ember and gently, ever so gently, blow on it so as not to blow so much that it would blow the ember out. We would ignite it by supplying oxygen in a manner that enhanced its potential to increase, to grow into a huge cooking fire. That gentle blowing is the care and hope that I think this Scripture in Isaiah implies. God’s gentle breath on us encourages us. While the smallest ember of faith is all that He might have to work with, work with it He will. We all come up short, at least I know I do, and I’m pretty sure you do as well. But, God never gives up on us! He never leaves out of frustration or anger; we are the ones that seem to quit on Him.
When we were made alive unto God, He accepted us just where we were! You did not have to get your life ‘straightened’ out in order to be precious in His sight. Even now, we never get to the place that we qualify as ‘perfect’. While our hearts were quickened immediately toward Him, we struggle because our mind and flesh have to be persuaded toward Him. We can’t give up on becoming fully persuaded, because He does not give up on us.
In so many ways, Peter’s a great study. Peter never did get it. It would appear that he might have been more at home at the local Harley shop rather than the local fellowship. He begins to walk on water and in the middle of that miracle, finds a way to sink. He promises to be loyal and immediately denies Christ three times. In Acts, the Apostle Paul scolds Peter (a pillar of the faith right?) for teaching Law to new converts. I think Peter qualifies as a bruised reed and small ember. Peter is again less than distinguished in John chapter 13. While the others present with Christ seemed not to object, Peter, being Peter of course, could not let ‘sleeping dogs lie’. Jesus had been washing the feet of the disciples, without protest from anyone. But Peter spoke up and questioned Jesus’ actions, first, refusing to have his feet washed and secondly, to demand that Jesus, if Jesus insisted on washing, wash him hands and head also. Following Peter’s interruption, Jesus explained that what Christ washes in part is clean in full, that is, the new creature is cleansed by the very touch of Christ. Jesus taught that where the heavenly (our new nature) touches the earthly, we would need continuous washing (by the washing of the water of the Word). But that which has been made holy is holy in full.
It seems that God has more faith in us than we have faith in us. We become alienated in our minds, losing our hope. But faith is the substance of thing hoped for. God knows that and practices that in His faithfulness about us. God operates with a great Hope for us. He sees the ember of faith in us. He gently fans that ember in us. He hopes for a roaring fire, while we are only aware of how small the ember is. Sometimes we don’t think we will ever catch on, but He is faithful when we are not faithful. He sees us loaded with potential, while we see ourselves tragically flawed. He sees us flawed but suitable for the inheritance of His Grace through faith in Christ. Some of the flaws have occurred because we’ve made bad decisions, many times they’re found in us because of things we never had any control over, just life’s bruises from living in this world. If we fall, He is there to help us up. He will stand us up, dust us off and encourage us “come on you will make it”; which is really ‘we, He and us, will make it.’
The Father is well-pleased with us because He is well-pleased with Christ and we are in Christ! The Son always does those things that are pleasing to the Father. If we were always perfect it would be wonderful that God should show us favor. At least, that would be a justification because our actions deserved the approval. But His grace is shown toward us when we did not deserve it, before the foundation of the world, before we were born! It continued toward us while we were still alienated from Him. That God ever set His Love toward us, in spite of us, is truly an amazing grace! Being toward us, in Christ, we can understand why the Bible can say: neither death nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor any other creature, is able to separate us from the Love of God, which is in Christ Jesus…( Romans 8:38-39). Though we may change a thousand times a day; though our circumstances, feelings and moods change; though we may fail, may wander away and mess up, yet, He remains faithful, He changes not!
Max Lucado tells a story about his grandnephew. Seems they were playing basketball at one of those fancy basketball goals that you can lower and Max picked up the child and ever so slowly, the nephew rolled the basketball over the edge of the rim. As Max stood the child down to his feet the nephew ran off saying, ‘all by myself, all by myself’! Well, not really. But that’s how we feel sometimes. We are not by ourselves. We have help. Even when we lack ability, He makes up the difference for us. When we make a goal, I guess we should all look to see Who is holding us up.