A Mission of Service

“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” (vv. 20–21).  

- Matthew 12:15–21

Jesus describes Himself as “gentle and lowly in heart” (Matt. 11:29), but this gentleness is by no means weakness. The Lord is unafraid to confront authorities who lead His people astray (23:1–36). Neither does He let opposition from the religious leaders keep Him from cleansing the temple when necessary (21:12–13). Jesus also allows the people to pay homage to Him as the Christ on Palm Sunday (vv. 1–11), though it must be admitted that He generally discourages such enthusiasm prior to His triumphal entry (16:20).

These controversies and Jesus’ self-identification as the Messiah will occur in Jerusalem a few days before His death, which explains His reticence to draw attention to Himself in Galilee. Today’s passage tells us of Christ’s withdrawal after proclaiming His messianic authority on the Sabbath (12:1–14). He also continues to forbid those whom He has healed from spreading the word about Him (vv. 15–16). Jesus knows such acclaim will earn Him enemies and notoriety beyond what is prudent if He is to complete His work before going to Calvary. When the time comes in Jerusalem to die, Jesus will thrust Himself into places where hatred will certainly meet Him. Until then, He walks away from trouble and asks others to refrain from saying too much. To do otherwise would fan the flames of messianic expectation and jeopardize His life before the proper time.

If the people really knew what the Messiah would have to do, Jesus could proclaim Himself as the Christ. But the Israelites want a conquering king, not the Suffering Servant who goes to the cross before receiving the crown. Thus, as Matthew says in verses 17–21, Jesus’ hiding of Himself fulfills Isaiah 42:1–4. As the prophet predicted, the servant does not cry aloud; that is, He does not make His identity known at first. Christ will wait until He has fulfilled His mission to broadcast the truth about Himself far and wide (Matt. 28:18–20).

The son of David comes first as the Suffering Servant unwilling to break the bruised reed and smother the smoldering wick (12:20) — to discard what may otherwise appear useless. His army will be made up of the broken and oppressed who through their suffering help usher in God’s kingdom.  

Coram Deo

The truth that Jesus will not snuff out a smoldering wick or break a bruised reed is one of the most encouraging truths of Christianity. When others would give up on us because of our failures, lack of money, talent, or experience, Jesus still sees fit to use us. If your faith is weak this day, know that Christ will not put it out but will, by His Word and Spirit, fan it into a glowing flame by which He will guide others into His fold.

Passages for Further Study

Judges 7
Matthew 5:10–12
Colossians 1:24–29
Hebrews 2:9

First published in Tabletalk Magazine, an outreach of Ligonier. For permissions, view our Copyright Policy.