Reprinted with permission SCCCS Penpoint November, 2000
It's November. The national presidential campaign is virtually over. In a few days we'll go to the polls and cast our ballots and await the dismal results (since a viable third party, especially a Christian constitutional party, is not strong enough to make a move ... yet).
At least the noise of the campaign is over! No more "town hall meetings." No more "debates." No more TV and radio spots. A merciful end to the endless discussions by journalists about "negative campaigning." All over.
Like me, you might find it refreshing to turn for a few moments from the devilish din of the national campaign (and a thousand others like it across the nation) to hear the comforting words of Matthew the Evangelist (quoting Isaiah the Prophet):
This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah: "Here is my servant whom I have chosen, the one I love, in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him, and he will proclaim justice to the nations. He will not quarrel or cry out; no one will hear his voice in the streets. A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out, till he leads justice to victory. In his name the nations will put their hope." (Mt. 12:17-21)
Here we have the divine promise reiterated in eschatological fulfillment that King Jesus will bring about the victory of His "campaign" to lead justice to victory and give hope to the nations without even raising His voice in the streets, much less quarreling or crying out!
This passage has much to say to us about the goal and methods of the kingdom of God in Christ. Often in human experience the ends dictate the means (some would say, "justify the means"). But here Matthew tells us that Jesus uses unexpected means, because He is resting the success of His ministry on the promise of the Father to "lead justice to victory" through Himself, the Messiah, God's beloved Servant-Son.
On this occasion Jesus had withdrawn from the area of Judea into Galilee because of the threat upon His life from the Jewish leaders (v. 14). He had warned the people not to tell who He was (v. 16), though they paid little attention to His request. The resulting self-imposed obscurity of Jesus' ministry calls for some explanation. We might have expected Jesus to cultivate His growing fame to develop a base of popular support especially in view of the opposition of the official "Establishment." Jesus was preaching the kingdom of God and everyone understood that's the way kingdoms advance in this world.
But no.... Instead, Matthew directs his readers to the prophecy of Isaiah 42:1-4. There, in the promise of the Father expressed through His prophet, we have God's explanation of both the goal and the method of His Son in establishing His kingdom in the earth.
Leading Justice to Victory
The goal of the kingdom of God is the fulfillment of the Father's promise to "lead justice to victory" through the ministry of Messiah. Jehovah had declared through Isaiah, "Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him and he will bring justice to the nations.... In faithfulness he will bring forth justice; he will not falter or be discouraged till he establishes justice on earth" (Isa. 42:1-4). The "Servant of the LORD" is of course the promised Messiah, the Heir of the promise to David. He comes to center stage in the last third of the prophecy of Isaiah (chs. 40ff.). The Servant will bring salvation to Israel by means of His substitutionary sufferings as a sin-offering for both the people of Israel and the Gentile nations who will put their trust in Him (cf., Isa. 52:13-53:6).
Matthew, by quoting this passage from Isaiah, means to clearly identify Jesus of Nazareth as God's chosen Servant the Messiah. This was anticipated in the baptism of Jesus (Mt. 3:17) and will again be revealed in His "transfiguration" (Lk. 9:35). Jesus ministers in the fullness of the power of God the Holy Spirit as promised by Isaiah's prophecy (42:2; cf., Jn. 1:29-33). The "new" element in Matthew's citation is the setting forth of the messianic program of Jesus in terms of "proclaim[ing] justice to the nations" (12:18) and "lead[ing] justice to victory" (v. 20).
What is this "justice?" Herman Ridderbos describes it as follows:
The word "justice" refers to the system of laws that God had given to Israel for ordering its life as a nation. More generally it refers to God's revelation in its entirety, in short, to all that has been made known to Israel about God and His covenant. The Messiah's work will be universal in its scope, not limited merely to Israel. Even the heathen will share in its blessings.
John Calvin comments:
By the word judgment [justice] the Jews understand a government which is correctly and properly arranged, in which order and justice prevail. The design of the prophet is to inform us, that a person will come who will restore justice that had fallen, who will be the governor not of one nation only, but will also bring under subjection to God the Gentiles, among whom dreadful confusion formerly prevailed. And this is the import of the word "bring forth," which the prophet employs; for it was the office of Christ to spread throughout the whole world the kingdom of God, which was at that time confined to the corner of Judea; as it is said in another passage, "The Lord will send forth the scepter of thy power out of Zion" (Psalm 110:2).
Jesus the Messiah "proclaims justice," that is, He rules with justice and promotes God's righteousness among men. "He will reign on David's throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever" (Isa. 9:7). "With righteousness he will judge the needy, with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth" (Isa. 11:4; cf., 16:5; 32:1,16; 33:5). "'The days are coming,' declares the LORD, 'when I will raise up to David a righteous Branch, a King who will reign wisely and do what is just and right in the land. In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety. This is the name by which he will be called: The LORD Our Righteousness'" (Jer. 23:5-6). The messianic kingdom will be one of justice and righteousness. The presence of that kingdom Jesus came to proclaim: "The time has come.... The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!" (Mr. 1:15).
Further, Messiah's proclamation will be effective. He will "establish" justice which is to say "bring out [ekballo] justice into victory," i.e., "cause [justice] to proceed to it's goal." Again, echoing the promises of Isaiah (chs. 2, 11, and 60), Matthew declares the inevitable victory of Jesus' kingdom! The Father has promised His Son the total victory of His kingdom among the kingdoms and nations of this world in the present age before the consummation (cf., Heb. 1:13; Ps. 110:1; Heb. 1:3; 10:12-14; Rev. 11:15; 1 Cor. 15:20-25). How can it be otherwise?
In keeping with the eschatological universalism of the new covenant, the Gentiles the unbelieving nations of the world figure prominently in this prophecy: "[My Servant] will proclaim justice to the nations.... In his name the nations will put their hope" (Mt. 12:18, 21). The book of Acts and subsequent church history has been the unfolding story of the fulfillment of this promise.
The Servant of the LORD will bring justice to victory by transforming the hearts of men from rebels to loving, obedient sons (cf., Heb. 8:6-13; 10:12-17). By His sacrificial death Jesus secured both justification (pardon from sin) and the powerful inward transformation of man's heart (and with it every area of life, cf., Pr. 4:23), which will in turn bring about the transformation of human society and institutions through the gradual "leavening" of all things with transforming grace (Mt. 13:33). Thus Jesus "leads justice to victory."
Not Quarreling or Crying Out
In view of the certainty of the Father's promise, the Son adopts His unexpected method of dealing with men: "He will not quarrel or cry out; no one will hear his voice in the streets. A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out" (Mt. 12:19-20). In the words of the hymn attributed to John Calvin, Jesus has "the true and perfect gentleness. No harshness hast thou and no bitterness."
Calvin rightly observed remember the recent presidential campaign "[E]arthly kings ... in order to draw admiration upon themselves, produce great noises wherever they go, and fill cities and towns with commotion." By way of contrast, Calvin points to the self-chosen weakness and humility of the Lord of Glory: "We are not at liberty to imagine to ourselves a Christ that corresponds to our fancy, but ought simply to embrace him as he is offered by the Father. He who is offended by the low condition of Christ, which God declares to be agreeable to his will, is unworthy of salvation."
Apart from divine authority and promise, men and their institutions must resort (in the end) to some form of "might makes right" or "the ends justify the means" in order to accomplish their purposes. The "kingdoms of this world" can only advance in this way. With the kingdom of Christ it is not so. Indeed there is a danger that, in contending with the "kingdoms of this world," the kingdom of Christ (in its various institutional manifestations) will be tempted to adopt the methods of the world. Jesus would not have it so. "My kingdom is not [from] this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place" (Jn. 18:36). Because the authority and power of Jesus' kingdom is from the Father, and rests upon His sure promise of victory, His disciples need not take up arms to deliver Him from Pilate. Later in the New Testament Paul reminds us:
For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. And we will be ready to punish every act of disobedience, once your obedience is complete. (2 Cor. 10:3-5)
So the rancor and public clamor of the recent presidential campaign was pointless the true Victor was announced many years ago: "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me" (Mt. 28:18). "Be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ" (Ac. 2:36). "[Jesus] must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet" (1 Cor. 15:25).
A Word to the Wise
The clamor of the theonomic reconstructionist is no more helpful to the cause of Christ's kingdom than is that of the secularists. As a movement we have a reputation (sometimes well-deserved) for being feisty, belligerent, and even cruel. Not that we do not live in a wimpy culture that has no tolerance for the claims of truth clearly and forcefully put. "Gentle Jesus" did cast out the moneychangers and curse the Pharisees and teachers of the law.
But the passage we've been considering ought to give us pause. Does it not often seem that we act as if we believe that man's anger does bring about the righteous life that God desires (contra Jas. 1:20)?
What we might call the "method of victorious gentleness" adopted by our Savior during His earthly ministry permeates the New Testament. We face the constant temptation of losing sight of Christ and the promise of the Father and as a result adopting other methods that appear more "effective."
Individually, we are quick to "stand up for our rights" even to die to protect our rights. Yet Jesus said, "Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles" (Mt. 5:39-41). Is there a place for that kind of kingdom righteousness in our ethic?
What about our family relations? How can a believing wife submit to an often sinfully demanding husband (Col. 3:18)? Only if she believes that Jesus will "lead justice to victory" in her family. How can children obey their parents in everything (Col. 3:20)? Only if they are confident that the Father will keep His promise to the Son. Only servants who self-consciously submit to their unseen Master, one who has already taken His great power and begun to reign, will be able to "obey [their] earthly masters in everything, and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to win their favor, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord" (Col. 3:22).
In the church, ministers and elders facing frustration and disappointment in shepherding the sheep are too often tempted to become heavy-handed Diotropheses. They become quarrelsome (contra 1 Tim. 3:3). The Holy Spirit warns:
Don't have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels ... the Lord's servant ... must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will. (2 Tim. 2:23-26)
These qualities of ministry are directly connected to our Lord Jesus and His confidence in the fulfillment of the promise of the Father to "lead justice to victory." This is "practical post-millennialism" in ministry.
Finally, in the spreading of the gospel and in the pursuit of godly social goals, we must not contend with the powers of this present evil age on their own terms. We've already looked at 2 Corinthians 10:4, "The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ." In so doing, God "leads justice to victory" through us.
Let your confidence in the promise of the Father dictate not only the goal you are pursuing, but also the manner in which you seek to advance the kingdom and righteousness of King Jesus in this world.