Isaiah 42:1-9: One Word

God’s ancient seer and prophet, Isaiah, needs no cackle or scream to pronounce justice in the land. In silent strength, a mere breath of a word will do! No clamor or loudness, only a single word, a whisper of truth to fulfill something unheard of in earlier centuries of shouting.

From today’s Old Testament text, this prophet will not screech or yell, or make loud speeches in public. Without shrieking, violence, or aggression, a peaceful proclamation will resonate through time and space. A gentle grace will echo forth to proclaim something essential.

A road placard reads “stop,” and we pause our driving, a specific syllable halting movement to a standstill. No further explanation is necessary. A bill requires you to “pay,” and if able, your wallet or purse will open. Its authority, simplicity, and impact reverberate.

Why shout, cry, or raise your voice, if one word can be a commanding force, a single sign to heed? Why waste precious breath away? No shouting or wailing, only a word! “Let your ‘yes’ be ‘yes’ and your ‘no’ be ‘no,’” our Lord taught. “Anything more is from the Evil One” (Matthew 5:37).

God’s spoken utterance accomplishing His mission is a theme so often traversed throughout the second half of Isaiah. Fierce and captivating, this word sings with melody, engaging our ears and hearts. “The grass withers and flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever.” “So shall my word go forth from my mouth and not return to me empty.” “The Lord God gave me a learned tongue, to console the weary with a word” (40:8, 55:11, 50:4).

Two centuries before Judah’s exile (Israel’s Southern Kingdom), Isaiah foretells of God’s Servant, to fellow Israelites exiled in Babylon, in the 6th century BC. A time of untold weeping, with Jerusalem’s Temple burned and demolished, nothing but ruins. Former King Zedekiah, shamed and sentenced, forced to gaze upon his sons, killed and slain. After which, enemy soldiers steal his eyes away.

By Nebuchadnezzar’s hand, Judah’s entire way of living experienced a brutal end. Exiled, they believed themselves abandoned. In defeat and despair, Isaiah summarizes their anguished thinking: “The Lord is unaware of what is happening to me; my God disregards the justice due me” (40:27).

Of course, if you suffered through divorce or abandonment, a similar heart-wrenching cry of loss and melancholy echoed in your life. Hurt so deep you couldn’t reach far enough inside to express the pain—you lived this nightmare. Suppose you fought horrifying demons in earlier years. Well you recognize this chaos of fears, arising and lingering in the deepest depths of your soul.

Overcome by the chaotic disorder in their lives, Jewish exiles strive to pursue solace in the momentary and fleeting. Desperate for a faint flicker of hope, they become bold in their bravado. “Come, I’ll fetch wine. Let’s fill ourselves with strong drink, and tomorrow we’ll do the same, or better still” (56:12).

In the abyss of life’s defeats, the hollow pleasures we may seek in relief can become a sweet sinful seduction, bringing forth destruction. In quick revenge, spouses entangle themselves in one-night stands. Many students cheat, adopting a shortcut mentality, forsaking their integrity. Whenever ambition serves as a false comfort, parents disregard their children for their careers, harming their families.

The result? A shroud of darkness descends on us in our despair of exile. Soon, we discover ourselves crying in concert with the ancient Israelites. “The Lord isn’t watching what’s falling upon me. No, He ignores my predicament.”

Enter Isaiah’s prophesied Servant. This One doesn’t “shout or cry out or raise his voice in the streets” (42:2). To help us understand better, let’s borrow a question the Ethiopian asked Deacon Philip in the book of Acts. “‘Tell me, of whom is the prophet [Isaiah] speaking, himself or someone else?’ Beginning with this scripture passage, Philip opened his mouth and proclaimed Jesus to him” (Acts 8:34-35).

The Servant within our Old Testament reading is Jesus, descended from on high with a divine purpose only He can fulfill. With a solitary word, He comes to complete His Father’s mission, bringing order to a fallen creation, to mend what’s broken and undone. Now, 30 years old:

To Jordan’s stream came Christ, our Lord,
To meet the water with His word,
And take our sins upon Himself,
Granting to us His righteous wealth.
From heaven’s heights, the Father beamed,
Pleased with His Son, soon to redeem,
Anointed by the Spirit’s breath,
To pardon sin and battle death.

Wet from the waters, Christ now goes,
Facing the Tempter’s evil throes.
Deep thirst and hunger sway Him not
As He endures the Devil’s plot.
Undaunted, Jesus presses on,
Refusing each temptation strong,
Refuting Satan by a word,
His cursed schemes, destroyed, deferred.

Pray, tell, what is this unstoppable word with which our Savior strides into conflict? “Gengraptai,” one word in Greek. In our tongue, “It is written,” by which Jesus foils the Tempter’s every scheme.

So too did Jesus heal a person stricken with leprosy. Again, a single word; “be clean,” is our translation, cleansing him of disease and making him whole. After chaotic winds and waves arose, Jesus stilled the storm with a simple word: “Silence!” To the deaf and mute man, He gave voice to his release: “Open!”

In the Hymn of the Reformation, “A Mighty Fortress,” Luther proclaims the strength of Jesus’ almighty word. “One little word can fell him,” referring to Satan.

A single utterance from our Lord
Strikes fear in hell’s foundation.
The potent power of His Word
Secures us our salvation.
The Lord’s Word shall hold,
Not falter nor fold—
He will always reign,
His Kingdom stands the same
Through every generation.

Today, our Redeemer’s Word still reverberates through the cosmos, trampling away our sins, bespeaking us His forgiveness.

A concerned Jesus talks to a Roman Centurion with a sick servant, “I will come and cure him.” The officer responds. “Lord, I am not worthy of such an honor, but only speak the word, and my servant will recover” (Matthew 8:7-8). A humble man, he understands not the total weight of his prayer, unsure of the miracle Christ may unfold. Marveling at the man’s faith, Jesus does as the man prayed, “Genethato,” “be done!” Across the many miles, His power echoes to heal the Centurion’s servant from afar.

The heaven-sent Messiah will marshal one more word, the prophet Isaiah heralding the future moment. “My back, I offered to those who strike me, my cheeks to those who pulled at my beard. From spit and scorn, I hid not my face” (Isaiah 50:6).

Darkness hovers, crushing the air with fear, but rising from our sinful chasm, God’s plan of salvation draws near. With hands bound, arrested, His liberty stolen away. Accused, put on trial with false charges. Slapped and scourged, stripped of every honor. Broken and bruised, Christ stays the course. Nailed to the wood, loneliness piercing as sharp thorns, forsaken by many closest to Him.

One more word, Jesus puts forth, stirring with power to effect justice, order, and restoration, “tetelestai”; in English, “finished.” What the Old Testament foreshadowed, foretold, predicted, and promised is now complete. Fulfilled are the ancient prophecies, our redemption, achieved. Washed clean and set free from sin’s yoke: forgiven, justified, and loved, basking in God’s grace and favor.

The Father sends His Spirit, who breathes life into the stillness of death. Based on the Jewish reckoning of time, the crucified Son rises three days later. The prophet of old unveils why, “He will not grow faint or quit until he establishes justice on the earth” (Isaiah 42:4).

Meaning what? Our Lord still speaks order into the chaos threatening to overwhelm us! “The word of God [Jesus] is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword” (Hebrews 4:12). Greater than our sins is heaven’s mercy; God’s Word, connected with water, bread and wine, to heal and mend. God saves us anew by grace, born from above, Spirit-filled by water and word. By His Word, He delivers healing and forgiveness into our sin-parched mouths. Bought by our Savior’s blood, sealed with the Sacraments, we abound in hope and joy!

Yes, Jesus still speaks to the student, aching of heart and dashed of dreams. The wife whose womb remains barren, He consoles, who longs for a child to care and nurture. To the Christian who struggles against his sinful flesh, He encourages, though the Christian sins once more.

So, you suffered the brush of death’s embrace, the sting of the Law, and guilt’s consuming pain. In a spoken word of promise, love, and peace, Jesus brings His mercy and compassion, transcending our anguish, guilt, and death. In times of uncertainty, He strengthens our faith, beckoning us to rise from our brokenness and despair, giving us hope, joy, and strength. Today, He comes to redeem, remake, and refresh us by His grace.

Ah, but the final restoration still draws near, yet to come. The grandeur will defy description. At our Lord’s concluding epiphany, Isaiah’s Messianic Servant will return as our King of kings. On the Last Day, He’ll pronounce the ultimate one-word victory, “Gengonan,” “done,” as recorded in Revelation 21 (vs. 6). The Redeemer returns, fulfilling forever what He speaks, where He makes everything right, restoring us, body and soul, in His righteousness.

Remember, the grave is not your final resting place. “Lord, only say the word, and we’ll be well.” By His word, darkness turns to light, and death gives way to life. Amen.