The Gentleness of Christ and the Character of the Missionary

Gospel workers need to remember that Christ doesn’t break the weak and downtrodden—and neither should we.

Behold my servant, whom 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 aloud or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street; a bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice. He will not grow faint or be discouraged till he has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands wait for his law. (Isaiah 42:1-4)

This passage of Scripture comes from a section of passages in Isaiah that are called the “Servant Songs.” The Servant Songs are prophecies of Jesus Christ. The most familiar Servant Song is Isaiah 53, which is a prophecy of Jesus’ death. This earlier Servant Song in Isaiah 42 is just as important because it introduces us to several features regarding Jesus, his reign, and his care for the nations beyond just Israel.

The Lord Jesus is, of course, the Son of God. But in his coming, he is also the chosen Messiah. The Father sends the Son and designates him for his mission. With these words in Isaiah, we are reminded of the baptism of Jesus where he is anointed for his Messianic mission. At Jesus’s baptism, the Spirit descends like a dove and the Father proclaims, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17). The Lord delights in his Son and the work that the Son will do.

One of the most comforting verses in all of Scripture is verse 3, “a bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench.” This is a powerful image. Think of a piece of reed or a stalk of long straw-type grass. Once it is bruised or bent over, it only takes the slightest bit of movement to snap the stalk. Even trying to straighten the bent reed can cause it to snap in two since movement intended to straighten it can actually apply too much force on the delicate fibers. Similarly, think of how the smoldering wick of a candle with that last little glow of an ember can be easily snuffed out. The slightest movement of air and it is extinguished. If you have ever walked a birthday cake across a room with the candles lit, you know the flame can be snuffed out just from movement. Consider how much more quickly the smoldering wick is extinguished. This is how gentle Jesus is in his care and restoration of those who are needy, desperate, and even sinners before him. Often times in our lives, he does not crush us with justice but heals and restores as the gentle Shepherd caring for his sheep.

First, we can take comfort in this gentleness we find in Christ. The Lord delights when the sinner, the desperate, and broken run to him. He is the merciful and faithful high priest who is able to sympathize with us in our weaknesses (Hebrews 4:15-16). Having put on true humanity, the Son of God has been made fit to minister on our behalf. If you are weary in your heart and soul, there is no better place to run than to Christ. He restores. He will nurse you back to health and vitality in your soul in such a way that will not break you in your fragile estate. His heart is not calloused. His judgment is not crushing. Instead, he sympathizes with our weaknesses and ministers grace from his throne.

Second, we can learn from this gentleness. So often in our zeal for evangelism and discipleship, I fear that we err too much in delighting in calling out sin and forcing conviction upon the sinner. We fail to see the individual as a bruised reed or a smoldering wick that can be easily crushed by our zeal. No doubt it is the work of the Spirit as part of the application of the Word of God to bring conviction. Yet, we need to be careful that we are not crushing the sinner under our own added pressure when they also need to see the life-giving restoration and salvation that comes from Christ. Simply put, ours is not a ministry of shaming sinners but of being ambassadors of Christ. We are ministering reconciliation with God. While the missionary or pastor, like a doctor, must faithfully diagnose the ailment, we do this in order to lift up the beauty and magnificence of the cure, a cure which outshines, outlasts, and overcomes all the sin, wickedness, hurt, brokenness, and turmoil of this present age.

Let us exhibit a Christlike gentleness in our care for the ailing sinner and in our attention to a whole range of other physical, emotional, and spiritual needs that are right before us. There is immeasurable comfort found in Christ and, sadly, our lack of Christlike gentleness often does a poor job of ministering to the deepest hurts of others. Like the doctor bringing the cure, our bedside manner can make a difference. May the Lord grant us wisdom in these things.

Finally, in the exercise of his kingship, the Lord will not grow weary. Jesus Christ has not yet established justice over all creation. We still see injustice everyday in the world around us. As Christians, we should be concerned about these things as we know that Christ is the true king who will one day set all things right. Those under the weight of injustice or the recipients of unfair treatment either by laws, biases, favoritism, or prejudices will feel over time like the broken reed and the smoldering wick. They need the salvation offered by Christ and perhaps a cup of water, warm blanket, or a caring hug offered in his name. We need to display love and care as the hands and feet of Jesus Christ.

The hope of the nations is a peace and justice that comes only from Jesus Christ. He will take his law to the ends of the earth not only in establishment of a kingdom over all the earth and the restoration in the new heavens and new earth, but in the new covenant, he is, even now, writing his law in the hearts of individuals all over the globe and transforming lives. The Spirit is upon the Lord Jesus. In his resurrection and the exercise of his Messianic kingship, Jesus is giving the Spirit to individuals and peoples all around the world to bring them to his name and before his throne.

Tim Bertolet

Tim Bertolet serves with ABWE as Director of Instructional Design and Theological Education. He’s served in pastoral ministry for sixteen years and knows the life of an MK firsthand. With a Ph.D. in New Testament Studies from the University of Pretoria, and degrees from Westminster Theological Seminary and Lancaster Bible College, he specializes in Bible and theology and is passionate about applying it to life and ministry. Tim’s also an adjunct professor, research fellow with BibleMesh, and a published author. Tim lives in York, Pa. with his wife and kids. He enjoys reading, writing, science fiction, and gardening roses.